In undergrad, I enrolled in an environmental writing course. One assignment was to sit outside and observe. What do we see, hear, smell? What feelings come up? What memories are triggered? What do we witness?
My first time out was in the fall. I had a hot coffee and was bundled up because we had had an early snowfall. In the tree in front of me was a group of birds, all facing inward. They took turns chirping, like they were speaking in a meeting. Then two squirrels arrived in the middle of the circle. The birds went silent, and the bigger squirrel chattered away. The squirrel stopped. The birds took turns chirping. Back and forth they went with the squirrel for a short while. Eventually the two squirrels left. The birds chirped a bit more before they all flew away. Given the early snowfall, I like to think they were discussing their options and figuring out what to do.
Since then, I have witnessed so many fascinating things in nature and learned lessons about myself or life just from observing. Nature has also taught me ways of being that are inspiring, like the slow graceful movement of a humpback whale; majestic as it swims in an ocean inlet with a backdrop of snow capped mountains, traveling at its own pace and going where it wants.
I have found that sitting quietly for ten to fifteen minutes outside is enough time for the animals to get used to my presence before resuming their usual activities. Less time is required if I am in the city.
STEP ONE: Prepare what you need to sit outside for at least 30 minutes—water and a snack (or make sure you eat before going out), a notebook, and something to write with. A chair or a blanket is optional. Leave the headphones/music at home. You want to sit in silence. The environment will provide sound.
STEP TWO: Choose some place where you will not be in the way or bothered. It could be your front yard, backyard, in a park, at a lake, at the ocean, or in the woods. Make sure you are in or around nature and that you are safe to sit and observe for a while.
STEP THREE: Ground yourself. Breathe deeply the smell of the air around you. Feel the power of the Earth holding you up. Feel the sun and the wind on your skin. Take deep breaths in, and when you exhale, imagine your energy going down into the Earth, anchoring you there. Let the Earth hold you up.
STEP FOUR: Observe the world around you. Are there trees, rocks, insects, birds, people? What are they doing? Is it windy, cloudy, sunny—what’s the environment like? What do these things remind you of? Can you see a scene unfolding before you?
STEP FIVE: Write down what you see, sense, feel, smell, witness. Take your time describing it. It can be in the form of a story, monologue, poem, dialogue, or song—however you are able to translate what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, maybe even tasting. You can also write down what you are feeling, learning, remembering, and/or thinking.
STEP SIX: Give thanks to the Earth and to Nature for allowing you to be there. Thank them for any lessons or stories you may take away. If you have trash, take it with you and dispose of it properly.
Repeat as often as you like. Sometimes I do not write anything down—I just take it all in and take the experience with me. Sometimes I share it later as a story to someone. Or accept it as a life lesson.
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