Get yourself a prescription to nature. It’ll improve your mental and physical health. That’s according to doctors in Scotland who are recommending that people in the Shetland Islands get outside.
The program outlines a recommended outside activity per month. For instance, in January you can create a windsock to grasp the full power of the wind. In March, one can “borrow a dog and take it for a walk.”
We belong in the wild, unmoored from the tyranny of our seats. When we disconnect and move outside, we connect with terra firma and reconnect with ourselves. Take your body and thoughts for a walk.
If you’re like me, you have a love and hate relationship with the mindfulness practice. It only seems to work when you’re actually doing it, at home in your chair far away from the chaos of life. The rest of your time you’re trying to install this moment-by-moment awareness into your real life to no avail. It’s both frustrating and hilarious.
The author of America the Anxious Ruth Whippman sums up the insidiousness of mindfulness in a recent op-ed in the New York Times:
“Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them. It’s a special circle of self-improvement hell, striving not just for a Pinterest-worthy home, but a Pinterest-worthy mind.”
There are some benefits of meditation–it calls attention to our lack of focus. We’re all so easily distractable in the smartphone age. Instead of acting smug about inner-noticing and our failure of presence, perhaps the quickest path to emotional calm is to stop trying so hard to be here now in the first place.
“This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving. The problem is not your sky-high rent or meager paycheck, your cheating spouse or unfair boss or teetering pile of dirty dishes. The problem is you.”
If you can find joy in the ordinary and not just the extraordinary moments, you’ll live a much happier life.
When you’re young, it’s the big moments like our first car or getting our first kiss that shapes our lives. As we age, the small things matter — a sip of warm coffee or lunch with a friend.
Joy all comes down to the art of noticing. Says Google’s former mindfulness guru Chade-Meng Tan:
“Noticing sounds trivial, but it is an important meditative practice in its own right. Noticing is the prerequisite of seeing. What we do not notice, we cannot see.”
The practice of noticing everyday moments leads to Meng Tan calls “thin slices of joy,” quite the opposite of “thin slices of anxiety.” Life happens in the moments in between, the dull moments that people usually take for granted.
Financial Times writer Barney Jopson went on the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, a route founded and dedicated to commemorate the original 750-mile trek of Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi. Also known as Kūkai, Daishi returned from studying in China in the late 7th century AD to help import Buddhism in Japan. Jopson biked the route but given the age of many of the participants, most prefer to travel by bus while others walk.
“There are no definitive counts but each year between 80,000 and 140,000 pilgrims — known as o-henro — are estimated to travel at least part of the route. According to one survey, around 60 per cent of them are over the age of 60. The vast majority speed around on air-conditioned bus tours but a hardy band of 2,000-5,000 are estimated to do it on foot, usually completing the circuit in 40-50 days.”
The Japanese are more spiritual than religious. Taking the Shikoku henro route is an act of collective healing– coping with the death of loved ones, past failures, or nagging health problems. Some of the 88 temples serve a specific purpose.
“Certain temples specialise in blessings for getting pregnant, passing an exam or resolving eye problems. Some offer protection for people at unlucky ages: 42 for men and 33 for women. “If you’ve got 100 people, you’ll find 100 reasons for doing the pilgrimage.”
Nature nurtures. God(s) and spirituality help relieve stress. The Shikoku henro sounds fascinating, a mindfulness adventure, social experience, and digital detox wrapped into one.