I spent the weekend in the Adirondack mountains of New York. Instead of sitting on the living room floor of my apartment as I usually do, I meditated on the crest of a snowy hill in a small grove of evergreen trees. The silence of nature is so different than the silence of the city—even during the most quiet moments in my apartment I can still hear helicopters, distant sirens, and my neighbors clomping up and down the stairwell. But up in the mountains, the world was so quiet I thought I could actually hear the snow melting around me. Each breath I took was fresh and cool. Sitting outside reminded me of a paragraph from Mark Coleman’s piece “A Breath of Fresh Air,” included in the Tricycle Teachings: Meditation e-book:
Nature teaches us simplicity and contentment, because in its presence we realize we need very little to be happy. Since we are part of the animal kingdom, our senses are naturally more alive in the outdoors. The rustle of leaves or the rapid flight of birds could indicate the presence of a mountain lion or bear. Hiking in places where we are not the only predator helps us understand that all of life is intimately interwoven and that we are a part of that web. Meditation training, on the other hand, provides the tools to steady the mind so we can be open to receive the jewels of nature. Through meditation we learn how to work skillfully with thoughts and emotional patterns that interfere with simply being able to rest wherever we are, with full presence.
I cannot always sit in a grove of snow covered trees, but for those few days my practice was invigorated by the simplicity and solitude of the natural world. I remembered how important it is to break away from habitual practices and spend time in a new environment. Having been reminded, as Coleman said, of how little I need to be happy, I returned to the city with a calm and steady mind–ready to work skillfully with the thoughts and behaviors the prevent me from being fully present in the world.
Have you joined Meditation Month yet? It’s not too late! Throughout February we’ll be posting videos, audio interviews, articles, and tips from well-known Buddhist teachers. If you need more personal advice for your practice, “Meditation Doctor” and Zen teacher Brad Warner will be answering reader questions here all month. Our meditation e-book, free to supporting and sustaining members, includes 25 articles on meditation that will help you develop and maintain your meditation practice. You can download the Tricycle Teachings: Meditation e-book here.
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