3 nature-connected practices to help you connect with gratitude during the holidays
And you don’t even have to be in nature to do them!
Gratitude is the quality of appreciation and thankfulness. Being aware of and practicing gratitude decreases anxiety, depression, trauma response, and stress. It also enhances our sense of well-being, peace, equanimity, self-esteem, and empathy.
Our lives are like a tapestry of events, where emotions, sensations, and the meanings of what is happening are all woven together in one big picture. Our neurology, however, is pre-wired to look for problems and difficulties, often neglecting to notice what is more pleasant. Our brain is also biologically programmed to retain those problems and difficulties in our memory much more clearly than events and emotions that feel okay or even pleasant. When we begin practicing gratitude we ask our brain to consciously appreciate the threads of the tapestry that are related to being helpful and sustaining, not just the threads that feel bad, scary, or too big for us.
Nature connection is the perfect place to be in a practice of gratitude.
Not only is there a tremendous amount of things for which to be grateful found in nature, but by stepping away from our typical surroundings and connecting with nature it is easier to break out of the default that our brain is in as it constantly looks for and records difficult material.
Here are three easy and meaningful nature-connected gratefulness practices to help get you through the holidays.
None of these involve you physically being in nature. Each one takes a minute or less:
1.) Close your eyes and take one inbreath and one outbreath. As you do, gently say to yourself, “notice, notice, notice” with the mindset that when you open your eyes you will be looking for any aspect of nature. Now with a soft, wide gaze, open your eyes. What do you notice?
Allow the usual human things we ordinarily attune to in our environment to fade into the background and see the nature that is already present-no matter where you are. Every environment is filled with nature: buildings are made from natural things, the drywall that makes up the walls of a room are made from a combination of wood and mineral, human bodies are nature, metal objects come from nature. Even if all you are able to be aware of is the air surrounding the objects you are seeing, remind yourself THAT is nature. Sit for a moment in the awareness of what you are noticing, letting yourself it is nature. Allow yourself to be grateful for all that you are noticing.
2.) The next time you get a drink of water, just before the water touches your lips-pause. Consider for a moment the life of the water you are about to drink. The molecules in the water you are about to ingest has lived in all parts of the world. Through the course of time since the Earth was born and the atmosphere came into existence, the molecules in the water you are just about to take into your body has gone through the water cycle thousands and thousands of times. These same molecules will also pass through your body and continue again through the water cycle, again and again. In a way, as you drink this water, you are touching into timelessness, and you will forever be a part of the story of these molecules of water. Allow yourself to be in gratitude, and even a sense of awe, for all that you notice as you reflect on the water and take your drink.
3.) Try this at bedtime: as you become comfortable and relax, waiting for sleep, allow your drowsy mind to go to a place in nature. If you don’t have a place in nature that you feel you can go to, let your mind bring into focus one aspect of nature, such as, a flower, an animal, a land form, a waterfall. Then let yourself explore the image by asking yourself to mentally visit your inner picture through your sight, through sound, through touch, and through your felt internal sensation, which is called “interoception”. As you take this short mental trip, allow yourself to start feeling the emotional experience of gratefulness, beauty, peace and calm. Gently ask yourself to make a small smile. Then release the image, relax even more fully, and fall asleep.
The holidays can be a wonderful time. Many of us, however, feel an extra sense of pressure and stress when we are involved in the preparation of a holiday or feel conflict toward those with whom we are spending the day. For some, holidays bring on anxiety, depression, and even trauma response.
Gratitude practices help us focus on the aspects of our life that are in a different place in the tapestry of all that is. It opens us to the realization that despite our brain being hard-wired to see the difficulties and challenges of our life, there really is a lot more going on. This helps us feel more balanced, more hopeful, more peaceful, and less stressed. Nature is the perfect companion for a gratefulness practice and can easily be incorporated into even the most busy time of the year.