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Mindful Spring Watch

The delightful BBC program Spring Watch now treats us to ninety-seconds of ‘mindfulness’ during which we watch footage of landscape and various creatures without the overlay of presenters voices. Though pleasurable I am left wondering what exactly is the connection between this and the practice of mindfulness?

This has got me thinking. Last week I was asked to teach about ‘mindfulness and nature’ and my first reaction was I don’t know they have a connection. Since then a few things have come to me. First the core Buddhist value of do no harm. It is extremely easy to extend this to ‘nature’ knowing that as we destroy our natural habitat so we also harm those that depend upon it. Being aware of this, being mindful, and making better choices for all of us can only be for the good.

Second, the Buddha and all subsequent layers of Buddhist philosophy have each in their own way described how we cloak the experience of our senses in the projections of our past and that this prevents us from seeing things as they really are. This of course includes all those sensory experience we call ‘nature’ and it also explains why our own experience - perception and what we add to it - is so different from that of others. While Spring Watch assumes we are all going to have a blissful time, the more nuanced truth is that this entirely depends on our associations from previous experiences. In my own case, though loving the countryside where I live, it has gradually taken on a hint of threat as I realise the enormity of the devastation that will accompany climate change. However, I know I must be very careful here because I also know that my own history often makes things much more dangerous than they actually are. This may be a case for me where something ‘feels true but is not real’. I need to check.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Contrary to the Spring Watch idea it is not about having a lovely relaxing time where we chill out. Rather it is the means to be present with the whole spectrum of our emotions without either being overwhelmed nor needing to defensively cut off. If nature evokes in me both pleasure and fear my mindfulness practice begins to allow me to give space to both. Non-judgemental and kindly it accepts what I experience and does not try to turn it into something else. Developing a little equanimity I can see more clearly what is real and what I an adding to it with my personal story.

And lastly something to be careful of. Having taught mindfulness for some time I have heard many people ask whether walking in the fields and woods with their dog is not being mindful? My answer to this is, in so much as any sensation may be an object of mindfulness when attention is rested upon it then of course yes. But we should also observe our mind carefully when walking - if we find it is simply jumping from object to object or that we are thinking about our day then the question is just how is this mindful? Initially mindfulness is a coming together of calm that is created through concentration and out of this emerges insight. Though lovely, it is not glancing for a few seconds at Geese flying in the sunset nor looking in the long grass for the dogs lost ball. Although it could be noticing how irritating this is and relaxing around the felt-sense of the irritation without adding anything further to it.

NW. 2.5.22 With thanks to the Spring Watch team.

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