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Chris Packham Has A Moment

Chris Packham, the presenter on the BBC’s magical Spring Watch appeared to be expecting something rapturous during the ninety-second mindful moment that the program now contains. I wondered whether Chris, standing in the middle of a field in Norfolk, and the Buddha, sitting beneath a tree in North India, both ‘in nature’, did in fact have anything in common?

The Buddha does, kind of, give us some instructions on how to be mindful in nature. He says:

"The meditator should find a secluded spot – the forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a rocky ravine, a cave, cemetery, forest grove, the open air, a pile of straw or a deserted house; he should sit down cross-legged, straighten his body, and establish mindfulness in front of him."

Scholars have wondered about this. Does it not seem he has described how we start and where it may lead but has missed out the whole middle bit about how we become mindful? How exactly do we do it?

Thankfully the Buddha has left us two teachings that fill this gap, the Discourse on In and Out Breathing and the Discourse on Being Present with Awareness. The first does exactly what it says on the tin - it teaches us that through being mindfully aware of our breath we may achieve awakening - whether we are sitting beneath a tree or - for that matter - in our city flat or even within a prison cell.

The second, Being present with Awareness, takes us deeper. It describes four ‘pastures of mindfulness’ - our body, sensations, the mind and patterns of thoughts and emotions that either hinder or help awakening. Let’s take a quick look at these instructions. First the body - this is back to the breath and through it we establish a foundation of embodied calm, a place to return to and a refuge from driven thoughts and emotions. Next comes sensation - noticing whether what we sense is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and next how the mind almost immediately cloaks these simple reactions in wanting and not wanting, the poisons of greed and aversion. And finally how we weave the complexity of our past experience into the simple immediacy of this present moment, obscuring its freshness with the encumbrance of our past.

So do Chris and the Buddha have anything in common? Yes and No. Chris clearly understands that for our sanity the natural world offers a tonic. But the Buddha takes this a step further and suggests that even when we are seated beneath our tree it is our mind that we will meet, and that is what we must be mindful of.

NW.17.6.22 With thanks to Chris Packham and Pattie Summerville

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