Reconnecting with Nature Through Mindful Walking

If you feel like you’re disconnected from nature, there’s a good reason for it. The Environmental Protection Agency approximates that on average, American’s spend 90% of their lives indoors. That’s the equivalent of spending approximately two and half hours outside every day, for your entire life. This might seem like a reasonable number to you until you realize that in reality, many of these hours have been disproportionately allocated to your childhood, vacations, and weekends, leaving few hours for the rest of your weekday adult lives.

My motivation for righting this wrong? I believe that it’s this very disconnection, between us and nature, that is at the root of our apathetic feelings toward climate change and our roles in it. I think that if we all begin to engage in activities that reconnect us to the world from which we came, the natural one, we’ll at least be more inclined to protect it.

So how do we start to reconnect with nature? Well, there are many possible solutions. You could incorporate nature walks or bike rides into your weekly schedule. Or maybe start a garden or take up another outdoor hobby like birdwatching. But most of these solutions require that you find extra time in your schedule to get outside. And while I always recommend finding the time to get outside, I do recognize that sometimes our schedules are just not flexible enough to take on another time commitment.

Seeing the need for a more convenient way to reconnect with nature, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about mindfulness. And more specifically, how you can bring mindfulness to an activity we all do every day: walking.

Multitaskers beware, you’ve got to put down your cell phone, pull out the AirPods, and file your mental to-do list away for another time. When it comes to being mindful, your effort is best spent on being present.

Mindful walking is about engaging your senses and keeping your mind clear from the distractions and clutter that normally occupy your attention. And it requires that you consciously bring your awareness to your surroundings. If this sounds easy, it’s because it really can be. But don’t be fooled. You will find that your mind wanders from the sights and sounds at hand. When you recognize this happening, simply file that distracting thought away for another time and return to your practice.

To help you get started, I’ve put together a simple list that contains some of the things you may want to bring your attention to when you’re walking mindfully (but please, feel free to make the practice your own).

Look.
Notice the colors of a spring bloom, the deep blues and grays of a storm rolling in, or the details in the bark on that weathered tree you pass by every day. I promise you’ll notice something worth exploring further, even if you’re trying this out on a walk you’ve done a thousand times.

Listen.
Maybe you hear birds chirping, a dog barking, or a loud vehicle exhaust. And maybe the contrast of those noises makes you notice a deep contrast between the natural world and our manmade creations.

Smell.
Then maybe you smell that vehicle’s exhaust. Or some fresh-cut grass. Maybe you actually stop to smell a fruit tree in bloom.

Feel.
Notice a soft breeze, or warmth from the sun beaming down on your back. Note how the pavement feels on the bottom of your feet. Soak in the reprise of a cloud passing overhead.

Remember, mindful walking is about engaging your senses and keeping your mind clear. The distractions of everyday life will still be there when you finish walking between point A and B.

And one last thing: please don’t focus on the walking part of this discussion. I specifically chose to discuss mindful walking because it’s something we can all incorporate into our daily lives without requiring any extra time out of our schedules. But you can bring this practice to any activity. Do this when you’re sitting outside, waiting in line, or going for a morning run. You name it, you can be mindful while doing it. You’ll be surprised at just how much you learn when you let your surroundings in. I promise you won’t come away from the experience empty-handed.