And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. – John Muir
Modern life is filled with a myriad of technological connections. Look around your place at night, how many different colors of light do you see from various plugged-in mechanisms? Directly in front of me as I write, the six green lights on my router tell me in an instant I can look through a different window and transport bits of my attention around the world. Perhaps I am a dinosaur of sorts in that I don’t commit chunks of conscious thought towards so-called social media. Because so many of us do fracture and subdivide our attention throughout the day, our focus drifts, and we suffer directed attention fatigue. I want to offer a simple way to regain vital energy and mental focus. According to ART – Attention Restoration Theory, spending time in nature increases our ability to concentrate. Through something called – soft fascination – Nature restores our attention.
Mindfulness shifts our attention away from the past and future and brings into focus on the Here and Now. A search for mindfulness books on Amazon produces 60,000 results with tens of thousands receiving four star or better reviews. A Google search for “mindfulness” brings 93,400,000 results. You do not need a teacher to mindful of the moment. Nature is the only teacher you need. And soft fascination is the key that unlocks the door to being in the moment. Nature abounds with soft fascinations such as rolling waves, drifting clouds, birdsong, and trembling leaves. These fascinations help our minds effortlessly drift away from deliberate attention to spontaneous enjoyment.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. – Albert Einstein
Professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan developed ART (Attention Restoration Theory). They specialize in environmental psychology. Their research on restorative environments has influenced landscape designers for decades. They found that mental fatigue develops when people focus too much of their attention on tasks for too long a period. Their work showed that direct exposure to nature has a powerful curative effect on people. Being in a pleasing natural environment allows the mind to flow along in the default mode network which is the area of the brain active during daydreaming. This is the large-scale brain network which is accessed during: meditation, acupuncture, sleeping, etc. We are animals and as such nature is essentially our ancestral home. That is why in Daoism (Taoism) naturalness is defined by the concept of Ziran – “of its own self”; spontaneous.
The Universe is ever-emerging. But humans try to impose order upon reality. Goal oriented efforts such as: governments, business, work, remove people from the original creative forces of the universe. Returning to nature brings about moments of flow and spontaneous fascination which reconnect our spirits to the fertile grounds of the true reality. To be mindful is to Be Natural. Spending time in nature allows us to remove the layers of artificial importance we place on “likes”, tasks, checklists… In a 1959 essay, the great Japanese scholar, D.T. Suzuki, said: Living is an act of creativity demonstrating itself. Living is a creative process of embracing the unknowable. By letting soft fascinations moderate your directed attention towards mindful serenity, you become the true you. Your “you-ness” is spontaneously boosted.
People do not have to climb mountains, or hike hundreds of miles of wilderness in order to “find themselves”. The path is within your heart, your spirit – right now. The attraction of nature will lead you away from fatigue, fret and frustration, and towards the soft fascinations of your own raw, native humanity. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads.