illustration of a woman practicing mindfulness in nature, walking along a river

Increasingly, Mind & Life presenters, grantees, and partners are exploring the healing benefits of mindfulness in nature. Below are highlights from this growing area of inquiry.

Practicing mindfulness in nature isn’t just about getting outside and experiencing the natural world; it’s about cultivating awareness of our interconnection by immersing ourselves and being fully present to the beauty of the wonders that surround us. Below are four ways that mindfully spending time in nature benefits both people and the planet. But first, let’s define what mindfulness in nature is.

What is Mindfulness in Nature?

Mindfulness in nature is the practice of being completely present and engaged with the environment around us. It’s about noticing the play of sunlight as it shines through leaves, the patterns of shadows on the ground, and the intricate details of a single flower or blade of grass. Why do we feel so invigorated and at peace when we engage in mindfulness amidst nature?

Nature, like a meditation practice, can act as a canvas that reflects the vastness of our inner world, a space where thoughts are like passing clouds in an expansive sky. “Our meditation practice becomes an invitation to connect to that openness and spaciousness, and to rest there and hold our thoughts,” says meditation teacher and Buddhist scholar Willa Blythe Baker. “To let all of that be arising, just like the clouds arise, coalesce in the sky, and dissolve back into the sky,” she adds. When we practice mindfulness in nature, we’re reminded of the rhythm of the living world, which can lead to a deep sense of ease and spaciousness.

1. Nature Has the Power to Heal

Incorporating mindfulness practices into time spent outside isn’t a new concept; it’s rooted deeply in Indigenous wisdom traditions that understood the healing power of the Earth. Indigenous practices, like the Mesoamerican agricultural system known as milpa, play a crucial role in cultivating a closer connection to the natural world. They are also vital for advancing climate solutions rooted in an understanding of our interdependence. “Mounting research attests to the crucial role Indigenous Peoples can play in advancing climate solutions and the recovery of biocultural diversity,” writes contemplative scholar and Indigenous activist Yuria Celidwen.

Modern science is now confirming what ancient wisdom traditions have long understood—nature heals. It reduces stress, improves our mood, and even enhances cognitive functions. By combining mindfulness with the healing power of nature, we embark on a transformative journey toward individual, societal, and planetary well-being.

2. Ecodharma Can Be Woven Into Daily Life

What exactly is ecodharma, and how does it intertwine with mindfulness in nature? Our friends at the BESS Family Foundation recently published a compendium that explores mindfulness and meditation practices that are earth-based. In it, they define ecodharma “as a term often used in American Buddhism to describe work at the intersection of ecological concerns, mindfulness, and meditation.” 

Says Dharma teacher Kaira Jewel Lingo, “[Ecodharma is] a skillful means to emphasize something that’s already at the heart of what spiritual practice is and needs to be. That addition of ‘eco’ is needed because we forget that our spiritual practice needs to be about engaging on behalf of all of life—all of the humans we share this planet with, all of the other species, all the water, all the air, all the soil, all the future generations.”

How can we integrate ecodharma into our everyday routines? From simple acts like walking mindfully in a park or your neighborhood to intentionally carving out time for dedicated practices—such as Earth-based body scans, connecting with and listening to a place, remembering our ancestors, or meditating on the elements—ecodharma can be woven into our daily life, fostering a sustainable and compassionate lifestyle.

3. Mindfulness in Nature Can Help Combat Eco-Anxiety

With the climate crisis looming large, eco-anxiety has become a palpable part of our collective consciousness. The climate crisis stems from our inability to see—and feel—our interconnectedness, says mindful policy advocate and contemplative teacher Jamie Bristow. “Part of this lack of care and awareness stems from a basic lack of connection to nature,” he says, “and actually to ourselves.” 

Research shows that these challenges are internal relationship crises, and points to the role of our minds, mindfulness, and compassion in stemming the climate crisis due to their potential to foster fundamental aspects of connection. Mindfulness in nature also offers a way to help us cope with ecological grief, anxiety, and trauma.

4. We Can Cultivate Community through Nature

Mindfulness in nature can also be a collective endeavor. Engaging in group practices, like community gardening and storytelling, strengthens our social bonds and our connection to the environment. Community, compassion, and dialogue can also move us beyond despair and toward of shared sense of possibility and action. In one example, over 40 individuals gathered online to generate new ideas, connections, and partnerships and demonstrated what’s possible when committed community members come together, each with their own gifts and contributions.

As we continue to face environmental challenges, the call to action is clear. Mindfulness in nature urges us not only towards personal peace but towards active and collective participation in the healing of our planet. 

When we mindfully step into nature, we enter a world of awe and connection that can profoundly benefit our health and well-being. It’s a journey that starts with stepping outside and noticing our breath and can become a lifetime practice of connecting to and protecting the world around us.

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