Modern life bombards us from every direction, leaving us hyper-stimulated and consequently stressed, depleted, distracted and our senses dulled. Finding the space to reflect, centre and balance yourself with natural rhythms and energy is vitally important.
Learn simple meditation and Qi Gong (energy practices) techniques to become more present, relaxed and open to the wonderful harmonious energy of wild nature. Come and revitalise your connection with nature and yourself in the process!
Our one day retreat programs, ‘Nibbles of Nature,’ offer a taste of what is possible. We select a beautiful setting in nature where we can escape the busyness and demands of everyday life and find solace in natural rhythms and the sensorial embraces available to us by slowing down.
Some one day programs follow a particular theme while others are simply about nature connection in general, taking you through processes and teaching you skills to more deeply connect with inner and outer nature.
- May 23 – Paruna Wildlife Sanctuary (SOLD OUT)
- May 30 – Paruna Wildlife Sanctuary
- June 21 – Kings Park
Unless otherwise specified, all 1-day programs are $75, running from 10 am to 4pm and include lunch and any entry fees.
Please note I will be away from March 30 to May 10 (learning more beautiful practices to share with you!) and will be out of contact for that time. If an event happens to reach capacity during this time, I will give priority to those who got in first.
Email me to book and I will send you details for bank deposit or Paypal.
- Paruna Wildlife Sanctuary – forms an important link in the ecosystem in the Perth Hills.
- Kings Park, Perth – Beautiful, sacred and conveniently located!
The ability to focus is absolutely crucial to being able to live Slow. For the last month, myself and a small group lightly held the intent to inquire into the nature and mechanisms of focus. Here is what I discovered to be foundational to my ability to focus:
Crystal clear thinking benefits greatly from the energy flowing through a healthy body, along with escaping the distractions of physical complaints. As we know, physical and mental health go hand in hand and it works both ways. I chose this month as a focus month because of the many challenges life is passing my way at the moment. In the ‘less centred’ moments that come along at such times, my old neck injury flares up, leaving me stiff, in pain and fuzzy-headed. Ah yes, there’s the reminder to dedicate some of your focus to self care and compassion! I did a 1-day juice fast to give me body space to reset and it did wonders.
Routines work wonders for focus because you are not wasting any of your attentional effort on the little things. It works for me to consider appropriate rest cycles; work in rounds of 50 minutes on, 10 minutes rest and have one day a week which is more rest than work. It also helps at the end of each day to think about the 3 most important things to do the next day to help set boundaries by eliminating choice. Take a brief moment to plan how to go about your day ahead before launching into the work.
BUT be prepared to give all the above up and just do. I noticed myself spending so much attention on wondering if I had my schedule right, caught in expectations I had set for myself, that it was better just to release that expectations and just start.
Begin the day with a small ritual to centre on your intent. Meditation plus visualisation is great, although I found a shortcut of simply verbalising my intent was better than nothing!
In the evening reflecting on what you are grateful for is an alchemical powerhouse, helping to melt the internal contractions that would only serve as distractions. A little prayer before bed is a nice implant into the subconscious also.
Connect with what excites you about your work. Amazing how distractions disappear when you play!
Reflect on what you are avoiding by choosing not to focus. That fuzzy abyss between where you think you want to be and where you are is probably due to things you are avoiding.
Consider how you can set up your surroundings to aid focus. Decluttering, having a dedicated work space (in my case as opposed to the kitchen table next to the refrigerator), visual prompts to remind you of your 3 most important ‘to-do’ tasks and turning off email and social media notifications is a good start. Also consider not checking email except at certain times of the day. My rule was no email or Facebook until after midday, leaving more space for my most important work at the most productive time of day.
There is simply no avoiding the fact that if you want your mind to focus better, you MUST train it. Modern life is so full of distracting stimuli that clamber against each other for your precious and limited attention. If we allow the mind to switch-task or engage in continual-partial-attention constantly, it wires itself for distraction. Conversely if we train it through meditation, our attention becomes a tool for us, not the world around. Focus is empowerment.
Improving your ability to focus is possibly the best way to enable Slow to permeate your life. Here is a brief overview of why focus is fundamental. I will expand on this topic in the coming month to coincide with the Fabulous Focus Challenge.
Staying with a moment longer allows you to go deeper
Being present surfaces previously unseen details. It also exposes the depths. I like to think of it as moving from 2D to 3D as we sense into a moment with our hearts and minds. This also relates to ability to learn; research has found that multitasking impairs our learning ability.
Attention is linked to emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence requires awareness of our own thoughts and emotions as well as empathy. Both self-awareness and empathy rely on our ability to skilfully work with our attention, to turn it inward and direct outward. Following on from the first point, if we can’t go deep with sensing into ourselves or others, our awareness of the subtleties playing out will be limited. Similarly, research has found multitasking to be linked to impaired ability to be nice to other people.
Mind-wandering is stressful and makes you unhappy
Harvard researcher Matthew Killingsworth found that mind-wandering is one of the biggest predictors of unhappiness, with an effect far greater than the amount of money we make. I can corroborate this evidence with my current personal experience, finding that despite greater financial pressure than I’ve probably ever had to face, my gradually improving ability to keep myself in the present moment (and therefore maintaining gratefulness for the beauty in the here and now) is resulting in my overall happiness levels not seeming to be changing too much.
There is also preliminary evidence to suggest that mind-wandering leads to premature ageing and an increased risk of death. Wow! There is motivation to stop multitasking if I’ve ever heard it.
So much goes on in our brains that never is brought into conscious awareness. When we go deeper into a moment and pick up on the details, we are much more able to connect the dots in the future. It also means that when we are trying to listen to our intuition, we are more able to filter out mental chatter, enabling us to tune in to our gut feeling more effectively. It doesn’t have to be intense focus either for creativity and intuition, simply a calm, relaxed mind.
Where we place our attention determines our contribution to the future
We connect with what we place our attention on, which creates understanding, care and ultimately action. Energy goes to where our attention is. Form follows consciousness. Where we place our attention matters.
So guess what my advice is going to be? Stop multitasking and start meditating.
Multitasking trains the brain to constantly monitor for seductive stimuli. Unless the tasks are extremely simple, you are not actually multitasking, you are switch-tasking: moving your attention from one thing to another and back. This impairs your ability to concentrate.
When beginning a practice to cultivate focus, it doesn’t really matter what kind of meditation practice you start, all forms of meditation are versions of attention training.
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Scharmer, C. O. and K. Kaeufer (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future, Berrett Koehler Publishers.
Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, HarperCollins.
Right at the end of 2014 I found out that I did not secure a scholarship to continue with my PhD in 2015. Needless to say this news put a little spanner in the works! However my reaction was nice confirmation that I must actually be getting somewhere with my intent to live Slow principles. I reflected on the value of coping constructively with sudden change; it is an important life skill in general and essential for change leaders.
After I received the news, I waited for that feeling of overwhelming stress but I was pleasantly surprised that I remained calm, didn’t criticise myself and switched to constructive thoughts about opportunities.
I was curious as to what was going on internally that allowed me to react constructively so I made that point of observing myself. Here’s what I learnt about coping with sudden change:
- Mindfulness is crucial to check in with yourself and watch for negative thoughts.
- Go for a walk and make a cup of tea. At times like these there are only so many thoughts that are helpful. Get out of your head and into the sensations of your body and the world around you to keep yourself grounded.
- Make no decisions, do nothing (except write!). I remind myself that it is worthwhile to stay in the negative space of not knowing and be ok with the mess.
- Focus on relationships. Who can help you and how you can help others? One part of me wanted to flee to finding a safe ‘normal’ job but I reminded myself that I am on a path doing what allows me to contribute to the world.
- Be grateful and look at the big picture. A lot of heavy stuff went down that week globally, in Australia and in my local community, reminding me that I still have so much. Don’t get self-absorbed and relax in the liberation that comes from knowing you are just one part of the bigger picture.
- Keep in mind that the hard times in life can be sources of the most profound and valuable insights. I asked myself what is the silver lining. This allowed me the opportunity to critically question if doing a PhD was what I should be doing right now, not just something that I went with because it seemed to fall into place that way. The answer still seems to be yes, and now I know I really mean that.
- Make time and space to slow yourself down. Thoughts and questions will continue to stir so sit in mindfulness meditation for as long as it take to re-centre yourself and return to just being.
Change and surprises are part of life more and more these days. Being centred and mindful will make a difference in whether the change is one you will benefit from.
Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind rest at peace.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.
They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Fast culture is rampant but the counter trend, the Slow Movement, is underway. The intent of The Slow Project is essentially to contribute to the movement restoring balance by helping implement principles and practices that counter the negative impacts of Fast culture. Part of the strategy to deliver on this goal involves helping people learn Slow practices and skills via immersive nature retreats. I recently headed over to the US to undertake training to allow me to be a guide with the Way of Nature.
The training was 16 days with Way of Nature founder, John P. Milton, followed by 28 days of solitude at a site on ridge heading up into the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The AllOne time allowed me to put into practice all the things we had been learning in the guide training. This type of learning is incredibly deep and embodied and it has taken me a while to feel up for trying to put it into words on a page. Lets see how I go.
To my mind, the Way of Nature process incorporates Slow principles and practices more than anything else I’ve ever come across hence why I’ve committed myself to this direction. Part of the opportunity I saw with the Slow trend is that people seem to be wanting to be more Slow, and trying a few things, but given that we don’t really get taught Slow ways in Western culture, there is a gap in terms of incorporating practical and effective Slow processes in our lives. I think the future can really be something to look forward to once the balance between Fast and Slow is restored.
Over the course of the 28 days I was blessed with rich experience in just what happens when we go deep with Slow. This could turn into more of an essay (or a whole lot of anecdotal ramblings!) than a blog article so I’ll share just a few reflections here on how the Way of Nature process embodies Slow principles.
If Fast leaves us hyper-distracted then the natural antidote is to practice living in the present so that we enter each moment more deeply. Not only does the Way of Nature include meditation and qi gong practices that help improve focus and refinement of the senses, but the power of solitude is one of the key ingredients. Being out in nature without other humans around allows us to drop the tensions and distractions that come from being a social animal. Plus, there is no other ‘activities’ to prevent us from being still. With nowhere to go, few tasks to complete, no books, no music, no internet etc and the monkey mind quickly running out of steam in producing thoughts genuinely worth the distraction, there is little else to do but be present. And in a beautiful spot in the wilderness that isn’t such a hard thing to embrace.
Not an unfamiliar term in the West but not something we do particular well either! We can be very good at not doing anything, but if our mind is still jumping around, unable to let go of the past and consumed by worries about the future then we still are beholden to tensions and experiencing stress. Being a passionate, driven type of person, I know relaxing is something that I struggle with even if I’m not stressed about anything in particular and still have time for fun and recreation; there’s just always so much to get stuck into! But, as I mentioned in the post on my journey to Slow, there is a price to pay for that.
Relaxation would seem to be more of a skill than we realise. Many of the Way of Nature practices have their roots in Taoism which is a lineage that contains much wisdom about relaxing. In the face of getting to know many hidden crevices of myself over the course of the 28 days, and the dark things that lurk in those crevices, one of my biggest learnings was about ‘letting go’ and just exactly what that means in practice (it’s funny how when you have deep learning experiences, phrases that you normally take for granted suddenly become more multi-dimensional in meaning). Buddhists would call it non-attachment, being open to what is emerging and letting go of the pull of mental attachments moment to moment.
Another reflection I had was about how the coping mechanism that we often use to deal with tensions is avoidance. I’m generalising here, but in general we do not get taught skills to deal with the tough stuff, at least not in a surrendering, relaxed kind of way (if we can’t deal with something efficiently in a predictable, step-like process then it freaks us out), so we push the hard things aside and try to distract ourselves. But of course ignoring something doesn’t help it to go away so all those tensions remain there, trying to suck us in. Not to diminish the hard things that we all go through, but it actually made me laugh when I reflected on just how easily the dark things and their associated tensions would dissolve with the right mix of open heart, open mind and open will.
Receptivity and openness
With presence and relaxation arises an uncontrived, natural openness to entering a different kind of relationship with inner and outer nature, one that is much more deeply connected in every sense of the word and loving. The ego diminishes which breaks down barriers to connecting with other beings, and our true selves for that matter. We can let go of the need to control and start to get a sense of what ‘going with the flow’ might actually mean. Attachments can cause us to be blind or resistant to subtleties or other aspects of what is happening right now; so with new openness we become highly receptive and start noticing in ways we may have never experienced before.
Added to that, the practices encourage expressions of gratitude. Gratitude to me is an extremely fascinating thing. Not only does it feature heavily in the research on happiness, but it also seems to increase the potential for connectedness.1)Zylstra, Matthew J., Andrew T. Knight, Karen J. Esler and Lesley L. L. Le Grange. 2014. Connection as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice. Springer Science Reviews, 23 September. doi: 10.1007/s40362-014-0021-3
This is purely my attempt at putting into words something that is sensed deeply, but gratitude seems to create an opening in yourself that invites the outer nature to connect with you. It seems to melt blockages within yourself that facilitates a palpable energy exchange and heightening. Now that may sound a little far-fetched to some, but all I can report is what my perception of my experiences and sometimes it felt like I had my finger in a socket!
In terms of providing a counter force to dominant Western culture, learning about receptivity and openness is a great place to start. With our strongly individualistic culture comes a belief that if we ‘just try hard enough’ good things will happen. While that might be appropriate for certain things, we also hang onto that so tight we forget about the wisdom in letting go so we can ‘let come.’2) The idea of letting come from Francisco Varela in an interview with Otto Scharmer available here http://www.iwp.jku.at/born/mpwfst/02/www.dialogonleadership.org/Varela.html
Of course I have many more stories from the 28 days and the Way of Nature guide training which will no doubt be making appearances in future posts. In the meantime, we will be exploring what can happen when we become more present, refined in our perceptions and open in the upcoming events.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Zylstra, Matthew J., Andrew T. Knight, Karen J. Esler and Lesley L. L. Le Grange. 2014. Connection as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice. Springer Science Reviews, 23 September. doi: 10.1007/s40362-014-0021-3|
|2.||↑||The idea of letting come from Francisco Varela in an interview with Otto Scharmer available here http://www.iwp.jku.at/born/mpwfst/02/www.dialogonleadership.org/Varela.html|