Stop reading right now… Take a deep breath and close your eyes for just ten seconds…
Mindfulness in nature is something we’re rapidly losing in today’s frantic world. We’re always looking ahead, thinking of the future, making sure we’re planning and not missing out on anything.
But we forget the now… the moment… being fully aware of the present. We are collectively losing mindfulness in nature.
Mindfulness is a state of focusing our consciousness of the very present moment we find ourselves in. It also involves fully acknowledging how we feel, what floods our thoughts and how our bodies are responding at the moment.
When we close our eyes and breathe, do our minds continue to flutter around or do we actually hear ourselves breathe? Do we feel calm or anxiety?
Small acts of mindfulness in nature is something I’ve been trying to work on everyday, amidst the pull of my smart phone, family responsibilities, running a business with various initiatives, and constantly being on the go. It could be something as simple as turning my face towards the sun and closing my eyes, or simply taking deep breaths.
And sometimes, we require an abrupt break in our daily routines to force us into varying states of mindfulness.
This was what I explored while traveling around Costa Brava in search of the most holistic wellbeing experiences. From forest bathing and connecting to nature through touch to anchoring myself back to nature through sound and appreciating nature once again through taste.
Here are some mindfulness in nature experiences that reconnect you with yourself as well as nature in Costa Brava.
Touch -> Forest Bathing
“We have broken our bond with nature,” Isabel tells me as we stop in front of a tree. She gently places a hand on it, feeling the bark’s roughness beneath her fingers. That’s when I spot it. A tiny mushroom, almost microscopic in size, growing from a groove in the tree’s bark. I would never have spotted it had I not consciously stopped.
For the last few years, Isabel Verdaguer has been working as a forest therapy guide. While in Caldes de Malavella, she picked me up from Hotel Balneari Prat and in less than fifteen minutes, we were in the nearby De Can Fornaca forest reserve.
“We are nature,” Isabelle continues. “Once we break our bond, there are consequences. Physical consequences. Mental consequences. Health problems… And this is why we really need to be connected with nature. If not, we can’t be happy.”
Isabelle goes on to explain that when we’re wrapping under mindfulness in nature, we feel fine and happy because humans have been living in nature from the dawn of time. It’s only over the last centuries that we’ve started living in cities, far away from forests.
“Forest bathing isn’t just about hugging trees,” Isabelle laughs. Developed in Japan during the 1980s, “Shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing is healing that comes from just being in the forest and mindfully soaking up its atmosphere as a form of preventive health care in Japanese medicine.
“Japanese culture has always been very connected to nature. That was why they started wondering if something was happening with their way of living that was causing health problems,” shares Isabelle. “After in-depth scientific research, the conclusion was that spending time in forests in connection with nature has restorative effects.”
As we slowly walk through the forest, sounds become sharper and louder. I begin to notice things – insects, weeds, fungi – I normally would have glossed over. And the overarching feeling I had as I walked slowly was one of calm and safety. Being out in nature should intrinsically make us feel safe because we are deeply tied to it.
There is a word for this -> Biophilia -> Our natural capacity to feel at home very quickly in forests and out in nature. That is why, even if we’ve been living in cities for a long time, when we spend time outdoors, we begin to relax in a way that feels intrinsic.
But centuries of disconnection from mindfulness in nature through industrialization and technological advancements have actually created a new breed of humans that are more afraid of nature than are comforted by it.
There are also spiritual benefits to being out in nature and, as Isabelle notes, forests have served as churches and religious spaces for a long time before physical structures came into play.
“Every plant in the forest breathes,” Isabelle tells me. “Their breath passes through our human skin too. There are chemicals which are part of the way plants communicate with each other as well as with other animals, insects and us humans.”
According to Isabelle, plants send tiny molecular messages to us through touch and breathing. They signal to other animals and plants if they need help or are under attack.
Forest bathing sessions usually last between three to four hours and as we walk through the forest, you usually keep a distance of about ten meters from the person in front of you as well as behind. This builds natural intimacy with the environment and invites a certain level of silence that pushes you into a state of mindfulness in nature – where you’re listening to both yourself and the forest breathing.
Taste + Smell -> NaturalWalks in Girona
“As a nature guide, my job is to show you how culture comes from nature. Culture is a transformation of nature because it shows us humans different ingredients, what to eat, how to stay healthy and what herbs can cure us physically and nurture us spiritually,” biologist Evarist March tells me.
As a consultant and biologist for over 20 years, his experience covers botany and the environment, especially related to the use of plants, algae and edible fungi within gastronomy, health and ecotourism.
While in Girona, I met Evarist who took me on a unique exploration of Girona through taste and smell. It was an interesting take on a “food tour” that wound us through the city’s greenest sections, tasting leaves, plants, herbs, and fruits directly from nature.
“We’re in the Mediterranean region, surrounded by natural plants that make up the ingredients of many medicines you can find in a pharmacy,” Evarist tells me.
We stop by a patch of greenery growing by the side of the pedestrian walk. Evarist plucks a few leaves and springs of aromatic plants for me to smell… parsley, wild rosemary, and sage.
As we continue walking around the city, sampling plants and shrubs, I realize a lot of these ingredients that grow so naturally here are essential to Catalan food culture.
“Here, we can identify the plants without actually seeing them. Only through their smells,” He plucks a few bay leaves for me to smell. The scent is reminiscent of growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, and using whole bay leaves to fragrant our popular jollof rice dish.
“It’s a shame how much we’ve lost our connection to nature,” Evarist adds. “We buy most of our food from supermarkets when we could easily get the ingredients right in our backyards and parks.” He walks up to an odd-looking plant of large leaves with jagged edges.
“Look! We’ve just plucked fresh lettuce right in the middle of the street.” The leaves have a milky residue once dislodged from the plant and Evarist explains that it means the lettuce is as fresh as you can get. “The lettuce you buy is dry, less soft, and much more bitter.” He adds. “In Costa Brava, the soil is rich with a lot more moisture, which cultivates a plant with bigger leaves and a lot of moisture – the milky part.”
It’s no secret the Costa Brava region is known for its exquisite cuisine that nets it dozens of Michelin stars each year. Yet, a lot of people don’t understand why.
But as I quickly learned – once you come and connect to nature and see the different plants and herbs that grow in the wild, all next to each other, you begin to understand why this region is popular for gastronomy.
I walked past wild rosemary, growing next to thyme, growing next to wild fennel… and sampling them all along the way as we walked the streets of Girona.
Sound -> MindfulKit at The Citadel, Roses
“Sounds are important because everything is sound,” Edgar Tarrés explains. We’re about to partake in a mindfulness activity on the grounds of The Citadel, the oldest cultural structure in the town of Roses. “Everything that is alive is sound because it’s a vibration.”
Edgar goes on to explain to me that we cannot hear all these frequencies. Humans only hear between 20 to 20,000 hertz. Dolphins, for example, can listen up to 155,000 hertz.
“They are listening to a lot of things we cannot even imagine,” Edgar adds. “Or, elephants, they listen down to 4 hertz, which is very low. The earth is vibrating… it has a vibration of 7.83 hertz. We cannot listen at that frequency because we don’t get below 20 hertz. But a lot of animals can listen to the earth, to the sound of earth, you know.”
This means many animals can pick up impending natural disasters and flee before it strikes.
“But do you know what?” Edgar’s eyes light up as if ready to share a secret about mindfulness in nature. “The earth has a vibration of 7.83 hertz. Our limbic system has the same, the very same 7.83 hertz.”
“The limbic system is a set of brain structures located on both sides of the thalamus that supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction. Emotional life is largely housed in the limbic system, and it critically aids the formation of memories… Source”
“Before, when we were living in caves, in nature, we had the same connection as animals had, but when we started to build civilizations and villages, everything started to change. I like to work with sounds such as gongs and harmonics, to help connect our limbic system back with nature.”
Edgar tells us to pick a tree that “calls” us and sit in front of it with our backs leaning against our chosen trees, eyes closed. A few seconds later and the air is filled with the vibrating sounds of gongs. The vibration courses through me, anchoring me in the present, fully in the moment.
So much so I hear myself breathing and nothing else besides the bass ringing of the gong.
That is when I see him…
All in my mind’s conscious eye. The Iberian soldier wearing a uniform with double-breasted buttons on a white square patch on his chest. We are at the citadel, after all, doing this session. The soldier steps from behind my tree and takes a few steps towards me. And I beg him to please stop. He does.
After our session, I relay all this to Edgar who listens, intrigued.
“We have forgotten where we belong,” Edgar tells me afterwards. “That is why the sound of the gong is important. We listen to that sound and it creates silence inside us. It helps us stop and meditate better because it reconnects us to where we belong.. our true self.”
This is why Edgar uses gongs and other harmonics as a way of returning us to ourselves through silent activity because we live burnt out lives disconnected from nature… our roots.