If meditating in motion wasn’t really your thing, here’s another approach to meditation that also takes advantage of summer’s more temperate weather!
Most of what I wrote about in terms of beginning meditation was about how to reduce your distractions: quiet time, calm space, and one simple thing to focus on. The approach I’m suggesting this time seems like it’s just the opposite: it’s all about your senses. It’s about letting your senses be your focus, but not any one particular sense or object, the whole flow of things it’s possible to be aware of, all around you.
There’s a constant stream of sense-data that we are capable of getting. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. In order to pay attention anything at all, we have to block out the vast majority of all the potential impressions coming at us. One way to meditate, especially in connection with nature, is to turn those potential distractions into our means of meditating. We can let our usual thoughts and concerns be washed away in the constant stream of physical awareness by opening ourselves to more of it than we usually perceive. This is another way of applying the skill of forgetting in order to be truly present in the single moment and single space you occupy right now.
To try this, find a place where nature is present in all your senses. It doesn’t need to be isolated or totally insulated from obvious examples of human activity, like road noise, it just needs to be a place where there’s at least as much nature for you to see, hear, touch, and smell as there is constructed stuff for you to sense. It should also be a place where the sense impressions you get are ones you can at least mostly enjoy. And finally, it should be a safe spot for you to sit and close your eyes for a few minutes: not in poison ivy, not on top of an anthill, not where you’re going to get sunburned if you sit longer than you thought or fall in the river if you go to sleep.
When you find a spot, settle yourself there however is comfortable for you. It will probably help at first to close your eyes, since vision is a very focused sense. Try to start with your breathing and relax, and gradually open yourself to your senses.
Start with touch: what do you feel? Let yourself be absorbed in your sense of touch, all over your skin. It’s not just whatever you’re sitting or standing on, but the flow of the air around you, the warmth of the sun or the cool of the shade. As you grow more aware of what you’re sensing, don’t just focus on each individual thing in turn. Let all the impressions flow through your awareness; let each impression go as soon as it forms, so that you continue to be receptive to what you’re feeling. Open your awareness to as much as you can all at once. Any time you start to focus on one sensation, let go of it and relax, opening yourself to all the other sensations.
Add in other senses and forms of awareness gradually. Start noticing how humid or dry the air is, how it feels and how it tastes, and what scents it carries. Listen to the world around you; don’t try to block out any sounds, even the annoying ones. Just let your awareness of them go, as you do with all the awarenesses. An annoying one may come back time and again, but don’t give it any more attention than you do the pleasant ones. Treat them all alike, as things simply to be observed in turn, but not concentrated on, even by trying to ignore them. Let that awareness go so that more impressions, each fleeting in their turn, can form.
Concentrating on any one thing, like looking at something in particular, is an active behavior. It’s something we do, with purpose, with intent, even subconsciously. For this meditation, try to let go of that intent, that purpose, and be a passive observer. This is why it’s very hard to do this with your eyes open, especially at first. We automatically focus, literally, our vision on things around us.
If you want to try it, you might let your eyes drift slightly out of focus, or try to look into an indistinct place in the middle distance, so that you’re not looking at any one thing in particular, simply gazing and being aware of as much in your field of vision as is possible. If that’s too difficult or gives you a headache, do this meditation with your eyes closed instead. You might be amazed at how much information is available to you through your other senses, even while you’re sitting still. We depend so much on our vision that it often blocks out our conscious awareness of senses like touch and smell.
Even without vision, the amount of information flowing through our senses is tremendous. By letting go of every impression as soon as it is formed, we let that flow proceed smoothly, like sand through an hourglass or water through a calm river. Opening ourselves to more of that flow means that we can use it to help dislodge persistent thoughts or worries, just as water can move obstacles out of its way. Just for a little while, let yourself be overwhelmed, in a good way, by your senses, so that you can reconnect with the world around you. Let yourself be washed away.