DIY Project: Reconnect with Nature

Painting by Caspar David Friedrich, Woman Before the Rising Sun, 1818-20

Caspar David Friedrich, Woman Before the Rising Sun, 1818-20, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

This is called a Sit.

1) Take yourself somewhere away from noise and people. It is possible to do this in a garden, or even among your potted plants, but it is easier to do in a natural place. A quiet beach. In a meadow. By a lake. Up in the mountains. Go alone, or have your companion(s) leave you alone for a while.

2) Walk to a place that feels inviting. You’ll know it when you see it.

3) Sit. It’s best to sit on the ground if your body allows it, to be in direct bodily contact with the soil, leaves, sand, rock.  Actually, it’s even better sometimes to lay back on the ground so your whole spine is against the earth–as long as you don’t fall asleep! It’s also nice to lean against a tree. If you’ll be uncomfortable, though, bring a folding chair.

4) You’re going to sit for at least a half hour. A half hour is a good place to start. Longer sits are really nice, but don’t strain yourself in the beginning. It’s distracting to be wondering about time, so put away your time pieces. Turn off your phone. It is easy to lose track of time while Sitting, so if you’re worried about that, you can bring a kitchen timer, or set an alarm on your phone or watch. Then put those distractions somewhere you can’t see them.

5) Sitting, look around you. Sniff the air. Feel the ground under your fingers and toes. Feel the breeze on your skin.  Listen. What do you hear? Make a note of what you hear right off, because the sounds will change. By walking into a wild place, you alarm the birds and little creatures. They may make noises of challenge or warning as you take your place, or they might go silent. If you’re observant, you’ll notice their calls change as you relax–and they relax and accept you as part of the landscape.

6) There is no agenda. Just be. If your thoughts turn inward and you start thinking about work, lunch, or whatever, refocus on nature. Always come back to nature. It’s as easy as that. Be a big eye, seeing but not thinking. Look at the big vista around you. Look at the sky. Look at the small details. The ant on the grass blade. The hawk on the tall branch. Listening to the bird calls or the wind in the trees will help keep your thoughts quiet.

Remember, this is time for yourself. It’s important. We’re so trained to always be doing that it can seem wrong to do nothing. Tell yourself for the next half hour, Sitting is your job.

7) You should never Sit with expectations of what might/should happen. You must remain open, impressionable, soft. Listen with your heart as well as your ears. You may “hear” something. Feel something. Understand something. Let those impressions come. Do not dismiss them.

8) Re: animals.  It’s always a gift to see animals in nature. Your stillness might induce a wild animal to come into view, but wanting or expecting a wild animal to come into view is the surest way to drive it off.  If you really want to see an animal, pretend you’re a rock, or a bush or a tree. Really live it. For instance, if you’re a rock, feel how heavy and old you are. Feel the moss on your surface, the light scurrying feet of a lizard crawling across you. Think rock thoughts. If you can convince yourself, you may convince the animals. At any rate, you won’t be putting off anxious, predatory vibes.

9) Before you finish up, remind yourself that you belong there. You are not an intruder (whatever that angry chipmunk may say) or some sort of alien species born to sit in a cubicle and poke at glowing screens. You are part of the whole. You are related to everything around you, and everything around you is your relative.

10) When you rise, thank the place for hosting you. Say good bye to your relations. And walk peacefully back into the madness.

11) Repeat as often as possible.

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26 Comments

  1. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was an apartment dweller, and I speak from experience when I say it is possible for someone in that position to go weeks, months or even years without ever actually coming into contact with the surface of the earth at all…just concrete — walkways, sidewalks, stairs, etc. What a profound disconnect from Mother Earth. This sitting exercise sounds like a great idea and great way to reconnect for anyone!

    • Thanks! It is so important to touch soil (or rock, or bark, or living water) and yes, so easy to go ages without doing so. It takes a special effort, but it’s always worth it.

  2. Without having tried this yet I believe this would be very similar to a Quaker meeting which are held indoors.

    Wherever we may be, turning the brain off for a while is a powerful experience. I left my first meeting crying and I still don’t quite know why. It wasn’t a sad feeling in the least just profound in a way I wasn’t prepared for.

    • I’ve cried while sitting, or at least have been moved close to tears, and like you, I’ve not always been sure why. You describe it well: profound but not sad.

      I think now that the feeling is the impact of connection. We assume we are alone, though we don’t always recognize it. When we sit in nature, or have true heart-to-heart communication with others, the communion comes as a revelation.

    • Yes, I’m not Quaker and I’ve only been to a few meetings with a friend who grew up Quaker so I’m not well versed in the theology of it. But I think it is very much about feeling the connection of the community and making a space for the eternal to “speak” to each in attendance.

      When someone feels that the spirit has spoken to them, they are invited to spontaneously share what enlightenment they’ve had. It’s equally amazing how quickly the silence and focus re-asserts itself and envelops the room after each message. It’s a very unique experience.

      I’m thoroughly agnostic myself but that had no bearing on the impact of the experience and I look forward to her visits or when we travel together to visit another Quaker community.

  3. I used to do this so often as a child and young adult. I’ve also done it when recovering from serious illness. It is a real experience of renewal. I need to get back to it–I think most of us do.

    • Ah! Thank you for reminding me. This is an excellent thing to do when you need healing, physical or emotional. I like to lay down on my back in such cases — spine to soil. The renewal flows in.

  4. In my side yard, I have a rustic swing on a tall swing set frame. I placed it facing the house. I can see the St. Augustine grass and trees and wisteria, and barely the house. I often go to sit cross-legged in the swing and just sit with no agenda. I feel refreshed and relaxed after the session of green therapy.

    Many friends suggested I place my swing facing the road so that I could watch people who drive by. “Why?” I asked. Their answer was so I could see who drove by and what people were doing. ??? Eventually, I let the whole side of the yard behind the swing grow up because I am incapable of keeping it neat.

    I do believe going and sitting is the best way to focus. I do it often. Here is a blog post I wrote in 2009 about The Trembling Enchantment of Green.

    http://practical-parsimony.blogspot.com/2011/06/trembling-enchantment-of-green.html

    • Ah! I saw that reviewed on BoingBoing just before the conference… and then promptly forgot about it! Thanks for the tip!

  5. Great post. I have been doing something similar during the past few weeks–but will take further cues from your post. Sitting is helping me unwind. I have just retired from 27 years of teaching middle school.

    • My 94-yr-old neighbor said when she retired from 30 years teaching first grade, she spent three days lying down. Even at the end of her life, except for the last six months, she spent lots of time outdoors, working in her garden, sitting, or walking with her cane to look at her yard.

  6. i do this in our current yard (a small city yard) every day i am off or have a few moments – i sit there with my dog and cat. just sit there or lie there in the grass….just being. yes there is city noise but all i see and feel and hear is the earth and its life all around…all i hear is that i need to leave my life and run off to the land we bought and are trying to build a home on…every day every minute every second all i hear is run run run… i cry many times on the earth….but is that what i should do? quit this job that bought me my land? i cry from fear of doing what i believe to be the right thing and leave the job… from fear and guilt i suppose – what will people say or think – what will society title me as – a drop out, a loser, a leech off my partner….

    but yes sitting there, face to the sun, the three of us….yes it is good and true and right. i suppose we all know this deep inside and yet there is still “reality”….sigh.

    i am so inspired by all of you who have made the dream into reality. i am still working at it.

    • Hey PRB,

      I am going through this as well right now. Unless your disconnected feelings towards your job are a temporary thing, regardless of what your job provides in terms of security and social acceptance, forcing yourself day in and day out to attend to a job or a place you don’t care for will drive you nuts. Or let me rephrase that since I can only speak for myself….it drives me nuts. The problem I am having is will I be able to be productive doing something else, will I be able to make a living at it? Do I have the strength to uproot from where I am in LA and try someplace else or do I make peace with the city and appreciate it for what it is…..an amazing place with good friends and lots going on? I’m not sure. I’m currently training people that are interested in what I do so that I can have more freedom to pursue avenues I like. Maybe you could ask for some extended leave and see how that turns out. I’m going to try and do a road trip.

    • john zapf – thank you for such a thoughtful reply….it has stuck in my head…the line about making sure one is going to be productive doing something else – that really hit me…

  7. Ah, I need to go do some sitting, even if there are almost always angry chipmunks in my favourite places. Thanks for the reminder, and the giggle.

  8. You know it feels like I need to separate my life from my work life and doing different things like this could really help. I used to go camping and I’m trying to connect with nature a lot more. I believe getting away into nature can really be a good thing to help free the mind.

  9. Pingback: Connect with Nature Project #2: Rediscover Your Feet | Root Simple

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