Have you ever sat peacefully beside a campfire or a warming fireplace and gazed into the fire? You have even lost yourself for moments as you were transfixed by the dancing of the flames. It may have even seemed difficult to turn away from the glowing center of your focus.
Or, have you ever found yourself sitting on the beach watching as the waves roll in, break, and then wash up unto the beach? It is so meditative to walk along the beach and play tag with the waves that are thrown up unto the sand beneath your feet. Sitting by a river or stream can also bring the calmness of mind as you watch the moving water and hear the sound of the water as it washes downstream.
Watching the breezes blowing through tall grasses or leaves on a tree can also lead you into a peaceful, meditative state of mind. But why do these nature visions gently create the relaxed and mellow states of mind and body?
The very act of being out in nature, or finding enjoyment by appreciating natural beauty is one of the most important and most basic tools for finding inner peace and harmony. The very act of “being present” with the glorious natural beauty is another important tool. Find a way to let go of the “past” and release the uncertainty regarding the unknowns of the “future,” even for just a few minutes, can be a practice of restoration. There are many ways to do this such as: following your slowed breath with special appreciation of the cool air as you inhale and the warmth of your breath as you slowing exhale.
In the science of neuro-physiology, you may also learn that the sound vibration of running water (from a stream or from waves upon the beach) resonates with frequency of 10 Hz per second which neuro- psychologists understand is the same as the brain wave state known as the “Alpha” rhythm which, for most people, is the quiet mind, “meditative” state that can be found in EEG (brainwave) patterns of successful meditators. By being around moving water, your own EEG pattern may begin to align with 10 Hz per second and so help you to drift into a more relaxed state.
But what has this to do with the practice of Zen Meditation, which has been taught for thousands of years? Zen meditation, at its most basic level, is the practice quieting the mind by softly gazing through open eyes at the world. It helps to have a peaceful, quiet, meditative point to focus upon such as a candle, flowing water, a mandala, or even the beauty of a flower or tree. To become “present” and to slow your breathing as you focus are the first things to practice. In the beginning your mind may be cluttered with other thoughts and memories, but with dedicated practice you can learn to quiet these thoughts by not judging them and letting flow through you and out of your mind, while returning the soft focus on the beauty in front of you. There are times when times comes more easily and times in life when the distractions are more engaging.
A few moments of peaceful and slow breathing can better help you to prepare for the quieting of the gentle Zen focusing. Your position can vary from standing, to sitting, to lying down, though many trained meditators prefer the sitting position. Whatever your position, it is best to find a comfortable position where you might spend 5 -20 minutes peacefully gazing at the object which you are focusing upon. (If you are using a candle, be advised to do this safely and protected from hot wax or melting candles which may be too close to other flammable materials…)
Be as neutral as you can be regarding the focus of your attention. Accept the beauty and the moment. Allow yourself to drift deeper into the pleasant and relaxing quiet. Many meditators will allow these peaceful feelings to return with them for use through the rest of their day. This can give them a more solid mental and emotional foundation so they can move more smoothly through the interactions of their daily activities. It may not solve all the challenges but it can be a very comforting, “centered” posture to move more gracefully through the dramas which can enter your life…
Pick a beautiful photograph if you can not get out into natural beauty. Choose a quiet time in your schedule when you are beginning this practice, because this may reduce the annoyances which can be distracting in the early stages of the practice of Zen Meditation. Some people pick early morning or sunrise. I like late afternoon or twilight times. Find the time that works best for you and stick with for a while until you know whether it is a good time in your natural schedule for meditation.
Be patient. Start slowly and for shorter periods of time. Remember to breathe slowly and more deeply than you might normally. Look to relax your forehead, your jaw, your shoulders, and anywhere else you may be holding tension.
My friend, Jim Papp, who is the author of the the book, “Inquire Within: A Guide to Living in Spirit” is a strong proponent of finding solitude in nature. His advice includes a walk or hike in a natural setting with the Zen mind of appreciation and “Presence.” The Zen experience of being with and in nature is a grounding exercise and a centering process which most people find meditative and healing of mind, body, and spirit. Finding all of your
senses surrounded by the beauty of the natural world gives a healthy calmness to your mind, body, and spirit. Connecting with nature is a practice that goes back in human history to the very origins of humankind and even basic survival for all lifeforms. The “ancient wisdoms” have been filled with appreciation and “presence” with Mother Earth, though this practice has been pushed into the background by technology and “modern” scientific rational thinking. This modern approach to nature has also gotten humans into a good bit of trouble with the lack of respect and “connection” with the Earth.
Blessings to you on your path toward greater consciousness and keep your eyes “soft focused” on the beautiful moments you encounter!
For more information on managing stress, including using meditation, consider the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com. For more support and information on growing your consciousness and spirit consider the Masters of the Journey community at www.mastersofthejourney.com.