As we all see our lives going through changes during this period of distancing, it can be easy to focus on our limitations. We think about the places we can’t go right now, or the things we can’t see, or the people we can’t be with. A walk outdoors can be the perfect way to allow ourselves to recognize the best of what we still have. When we approach with an attitude of mindfulness and presence, a walk can fulfill so many of our needs. While staying at home, stagnation, a lack of change, can be oppressive. It can be easy to tune out of our lives.
The promise of nature is one of constant change, life, and growth, all things we desperately need right now. Taking a walk outside can offer us an escape from our over-familiar surroundings and fill us up on so many reserves that we’ve been lacking.
Here are a few ways you can bring mindfulness to your outdoor time; with some attentiveness, walks can become a practice that helps to support your overall health and happiness.
When you go outside do you usually listen to music or a podcast on your headphones, or take a call from a friend? In times of stress the prospect of silence can be a threatening one; opening ourselves up to quiet reflection when we are battling so many stressors isn’t always our first choice. But if you allow yourself the chance, you might start to notice many sounds you’ve been missing out on. Let the soft rush of the wind blowing through the trees bring you comfort. Try to count out all of the different bird calls you can hear and see if it doesn’t make you feel a bit less lonesome. You’ll start to realize that very rarely are the outdoors silent— instead, they are bursting with life.
We are in the midst of springtime, when nature brings out the best it has to offer us. Although we might not be able to take advantage of all our usual springtime activities, our access to nature’s bouquet is never closed. As you walk around your neighborhood, don’t forget to stop and inhale. My favorite scents on my walk are the earthy scent of junipers wafting in the wind and the sweetness of the honeysuckle bushes I pass. What are yours?
You might be used to seeing and appreciating the beautiful nature you encounter on your walks. But what if you really started to study it? Try taking pictures or sketching plants and birds and you’ll be surprised by how much variety is all around us. It’s amazing how many different flowers, trees, and animals are in your neighborhood when you start looking out for them. The Cornell Ornithology Lab has a bird identifier so you can start to learn the names and calls of birds you’ve been seeing and hearing your entire life. You can start taking note of all the flowers that are blooming with the PictureThis app, which will tell you what any plant or flower is when you take a photo of it. Deepening our understanding of the species around us can help us feel more invested in our environment and add a level of fulfillment and reciprocity to the time we spend outside.
Just because we’re distancing doesn’t mean we have to give up our human connection to others. If you see someone out in their yard or pass a person walking alone, take the time to say hello. This can be a lonely time for all of us and a few kind words might change their entire day. It can be so helpful just to remind ourselves, and others, that we are not alone.
5. Play with your routine.
Going out at different times of day can be a great way to vary your routine and see different things. If you normally go out in the afternoon, try getting up a little early to experience crisp, refreshing morning air. If you normally take morning walks try going out in the evening, when things are winding down and the sunset begins to paint the sky. As the days get hotter in many climates, switching to a morning or evening walk can also keep you more protected and ensure you enjoy your time outside.
Getting outside can be such a gift, and reflecting on all that nature has to offer can be a powerful remedy against feelings of stagnation, boredom and restlessness. Coming back to nature as a practice has always left me filled with gratitude, peace, and a deep sense of belonging and taking the time to experience it fully can grant us some much needed balance and movement now when we need it the most.