Sunday, March 20, 2011

I often find myself intoxicated by nature...

As a walked a solitary trail in Edgewood County Park a couple of weeks ago, I found myself reflecting on Howard Gardner’s addition of the Naturalist Intelligence to his theory of multiple intelligences. Just as some people are energetically fed by social interactions, it is clear to me that some of us in particular come alive in the presence of natural beauty.

Let me describe two instances for you.

Behind our cottage-like house we have a spacious backyard where two navel orange trees grow at the edge of a large picnic lawn. I gave myself an internet crash course on oranges when it appeared that our trees were overly abundant and ready to be harvested. A specific technique for determining ripeness was not readily available, but I appreciated the description of one small-scale farmer, “When the orange feels like a tennis ball—firm with a little give—then the orange is ready to be picked.” A big storm system was on the way, and I decided to harvest as many oranges as I could to share with our family and friends. Slowly at first, I tested each orange, looking for a slight squish with a heavy dense feel. I moved around the tree, discovering many more pockets of orange goodness. With each release of the stem I felt a glow from this gift of future nourishment inside its round package. After a good half hour of picking, I suddenly realized that I could sense which oranges were ripe even before I touched them. Where did this knowledge come from?

Similarly…back to my hike. I had yearned for years to find the trailhead for this path I saw winding across an open grassy hillside on my drive up the peninsula. The particular day was breezy and the trails were sparsely visited. Treasuring the time on my own, spotting deer from afar, and catching birds in the lens of my camera, I discovered that my sure-footedness returned about two-thirds of the way through my adventure. I felt my inner jackrabbit padding across the hillside, and I smiled as I easily leaped over muddy patches.

Reconnection. The smell of those oranges and the groundedness of my body along those trails brought the experience of mindful presence and peace to my otherwise busy life. Without any other stresses to occupy my mind, my breathing slowed and my face softened. What better gift to give ourselves than that?

My personal and professional work has recently led me to examine the research on the benefits of mindfulness practices more deeply, and their findings are irrefutable. One minute of breathing, a walk in the neighborhood or nearby park, a cup of tea…taking time to do one thing at a time goes miles for our health and well being. What small moment will you give yourself today?

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