5 ways to meditate outdoors
Now that the days are becoming lighter and warmer, I’m recommitting to my practice of meditating outdoors.
I actually find this easier than practising indoors, because I drop into a mindful state more naturally when I’m outside. Discovering Iain McGilchrist’s work recently, I realise this may be because it helps me to access a more whole-brained, embodied experience.
Here are five approaches I incorporate into meditating outdoors – and none of them will make it seem obvious to people around you (or even yourself!) that you’re ‘meditating’.
My favourite way to squeeze in an extra meditation is to take a cup of tea outside and settle in my sit spot: a place I visit regularly, to encourage a more habitual to shift into mindful attention (my sit spot is the garden bench).
The cuppa doesn’t interfere with the mindfulness, and I don’t feel any need to sit in a particular posture if it’s not working for my body; if anything, because I’m framing it as a period of relaxing, the benefits of practice are increased.
Being outside feels like an antidote to the overloaded ‘busy mind’ that takes hold of me when I’m exposed to a lot of human language (especially if I’ve been online more than usual). I always find it helpful to think of meditating as listening, and physically receiving sounds – of the birds, or the wind – gives me an easy ‘anchor’ for my attention.
Yes, you can meditate with eyes open – it doesn’t mean you’re not doing it properly. Allowing your eyes to wander around the space you’re situated in facilitates ‘orienting’, a practice that tells your nervous system it’s safe to relax (because you can physically see there are no immediate threats).
Looking around you and taking in the various shapes, colours and textures – especially when you can look further into the distance – also supports the ‘broad awareness/open monitoring’ aspect of mindfulness. This balances out the narrow, close-up focus that many of us routinely inhabit. I practice this as softening my gaze, physically and mentally, so that I’m not looking at the world so much as looking from within it.
Meditating outdoors doesn’t have to be done in stillness. When I go for a walk, if I’m intentional about where I put my awareness, it becomes a practice of embodiment that encourages a more easeful flow of emotional energy. This usually mean making – and then re-making – the choice to inhabit the sensations of my body moving through the landscape (even if it’s an urban one). The shorthand for this is that I’m going out to clear my head!
The poet John O’Donohue observed that ‘connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe’. When I’m outside, a connection to the elements plugs me in to an experience that is both embodied and imaginative (the imaginal belonging more to the body than to what we usually think of as ‘the mind’). My sense of existing as a separate self also dissolves a bit.
Getting outside helps me reconnect to a feeling of grounded stability in my body, whether I’m sitting, walking or lying on the Earth. And I find breathing meditation much more interesting when I experience it as a direct connection to the flow of Air, when I’m in relationship to rather than in control of.
None of these ways of practising feels like a strained effort, as they are themselves rooted more in being mode than in doing mode. And that’s all that meditation is, really: inhabiting the being mode.
If you’d like some further resources, I’ve listed a few below.
Related previous blogs of mine:
An interview with John O’Donohue – The Inner Landscape of Beauty
This video of a talk from Iain McGilchrist about his book ‘The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’