Finding Your True Self in Nature

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness – John Muir

There is no doubt we have all being going through some challenging times recently due to the pandemic. This has taken a toll on our mental wellbeing. But it cannot all be blamed on the pandemic. There are many other facts at play, such as where we live, how much time we spend on our devices and if we venture outside or not. Here are some facts that may surprise you.

  • 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas – the largest percentage in human history. That’s not all, it is due to increase to 70% by 2050. In Japan it is already 80%.
  • It has been estimated the average American, over their lifetime, will spend the equivalent of 44 years looking at their devices.
  • The average American now spends more than 90% of their time indoors.
  • 792 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide.

Mental health is a complex topic and not one I am qualified to delve into. But I do have a suggestion about how we can increase our mental wellbeing, and that is to spend more time in nature.

Nature gives our brains time to reset from the hectic pace of modern life and gives our mental health a well-deserved boost. Being outdoors can reduce your stress levels, help fight anxiety and depression, boost your mood, improve your immune function, provide relaxation and rehabilitation, and of course, give us the exercise we all need.

Forest therapy is one way of getting our mental health hit. It has been scientifically proven trees have many healing properties. The healingforest.com state:

Certain trees like conifers emit oils and compounds to protect themselves from microbes and pathogens. These are called Phytoncides, and they are good for our immunity. So, spending time with these trees is a special form of Forest Therapy.

Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience – Ralph Waldo Emerson

While we are in the forest, we can do some forest meditation, which is a way of finding calm and balance with the help of nature. In traditional meditation, we withdraw our senses and focus inward to reach a state of inner peace. While in forest meditation we open our senses to experience the peace that exists in nature and deepen our realization.

The mind gets blown around like a leaf in the wind. That makes it hard to control and even harder to predict. Especially during challenging times. Our thought process becomes confused and negative. Therefore, forest meditation is essential for our mental wellbeing.

Here are some suggestions for forest meditation:

Gratitude Stroll

Go into a forest and walk at a medium to slow pace for about 20 minutes. While walking, focus your attention on nature and your breath. You may like to alternate between slow and slightly faster walking.

Slow walking fosters a heightened state of awareness, calm, and connection with the natural world. Medium to fast walking relieves stress and energizes the body. No matter how you walk, make sure you pause along the way to notice the small wonders of nature, such as birds, insects, wildflowers, and of course, the trees.

As you marvel at the wonders of nature create a feeling of gratitude. Feel grateful to be in nature, for all the plants, trees, and animals, and above all, to be alive. By focusing your attention on things that fill you with gratitude, you can shift your mind from any negativity or pessimistic thoughts.

Circle of Awareness

A wonderful practice to do in the forest is to sit down and create a circle in your imagination. Now become aware of everything in the circle; plants, flowers, leaves, twigs, insects, and anything else you can see.

Then slowly make your circle bigger and bigger. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring it back to the circle.

This practice will help you to fully engage with the forest, and maybe even learn a thing or two.

Using Your Senses

Find a quiet place in the forest and sit on the ground. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and begin to feel grounded.

Become aware of your environment by focusing on one sense at a time. Notice the forest sounds, and also notice the silence in-between the sounds. Touch the ground with both of your hands. What can you feel? Smell the different forest aromas. Tune into your body. Put your hands over your heart and feel your heartbeat. Now just sit there with a sense of gratitude, peace, and calm. When you’re ready to open your eyes, open them slowly and take a good look around you. Sit there for as long as you wish, just soaking up the beauty of the forest.

Forest Breathing

Find a quiet place in the forest, take off your shoes and stand barefoot on the forest floor. Focus on your breath without changing it. Just allowing it to find its own natural rhythm. Keep your spine straight but not too rigid. Become aware of any sensations in your legs, ankles, and feet. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable.

Then, move your awareness slowly up from the feet to the top of your head. Notice if there’s tension, stress, or stiffness in any part of your upper body. Take a deep breath, pause for a few seconds, and then exhale. Repeat this for around 3 minutes or for as long as you wish. Imagine the forest air relaxing your body with every in-breath and your mind calming down with every outbreath.

When you have finished, sit on the forest floor, and ground yourself. Check-in with how you are feeling and be grateful for being in nature.

The Wind on Your Face

Stand still and lift your face upwards slightly. Notice the feeling of the wind on your skin. Then lift your arms in the air and notice the wind on your hands and fingers. Then pick other parts of your body and become aware of the wind gently blowing over your skin. Try not to judge or change anything, simply observe.

Spend about one minute on each area feeling a deep connection with the motion of the air.

I used to do this practice when I lived by the sea. On windy days you would find me on the cliff edge feeling the wind on my face.

You’ll never really see the sunset until you throw open the curtains, swing open the door, step outside, and experience it – Jessica Marie Collins

We humans are animals and as such our true home is in nature. We were never meant to live in houses, drive cars or fly in planes. So, do yourself a favour and go back to your roots.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Cultivating Virtuous Qualities

I believe there are three qualities everyone should cultivate. Not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of everyone we come into contact with. The three qualities are being humble, contented, and grateful.

Setting Pride Aside: Humility

I personally feel more at ease in the company of humble people. They do not waste time bragging about what they have, who they are, or where they have been. They play down their achievements and are more attentive to others’ needs.

The opposite of this is true for proud and conceited people. It is a challenge for me to spend much time with someone who boasts. They are only interested in selling themselves and seem to have no interest in who you are or what you think or know.

I have always found people with pride to also have the biggest egos — and usually the biggest mouths to go with them. But a humble person is quiet, respectful, and attentive. Which one would you rather be around? Which one would you rather be?

We must stay open-minded at all times. Just because we know a way to do something doesn’t mean another person doesn’t know a better or easier way. We shouldn’t assume we know best. Humble people will continue to learn throughout their lives.

So, what are the causes of pride? There are many, but two main causes are dualistic thinking and an inflated sense of self.

When people think in a dualistic way, it can stir up pride because they start thinking “I am good and others are bad,” “I am handsome and they are ugly,” or “I am intelligent and they are stupid.” It is this type of thinking that causes us to fixate on “I am this, I am that.” We start to emphasize the sense of self, which leads us to become attached to who we think we are. Both of these lead to pride and conceit. In the Sutta Nipata, Gautama Buddha states:

“By being alert and attentive, he begins to let go of cravings as they arise. But whatever he begins to accomplish, he should beware of inner pride. He must avoid thinking of himself as better than another, or worse or equal, for that is all comparison and emphasizes the self.”

It is clear that humility is a trait we have to work at, or we could find ourselves getting wrapped up in pride. The pride I am talking about here is our overinflated sense of self. It is not the pride we have for our children, loved ones, and so on, which stems from love and compassion — this overinflated sense of pride stems from our ego.

Meditation Practice for Humility

In a meditation session, look at pride and humility. Which one do you lean toward? Think back over the past few days and see what situations stir up pride in you, and which ones make you humble. Only when we become focused on these situations are we able to make changes in ourselves.

Need vs. Greed: Contentment

Oh, to be content. If only we could, but it seems human beings have a natural urge to never be content. Or can we? We have to look at what is need and what is greed. I think we can satisfy our need, but we will never satisfy our greed.

What we need is food, clothes, work, money, and human contact. These bring us security and are things we can satisfy to some degree.

What we want is the latest smartphone, expensive clothes, big cars, huge houses, exotic holidays — in short, we want to not only fit in with society, but we also want to stand out.

We have to train ourselves to know when enough is enough. If we just blindly follow our desire to want more, we will never be content. We have to think carefully to see if we really need something or if we are just trying to buy happiness. That is a fool’s game. If we buy something to be happy, it will not last. As soon as a new version comes out or the thing breaks, we will become unhappy and discontented. To try and buy happiness is like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst — it will only lead to dissatisfaction. Just think, if you could buy happiness, all the wealthy people in the world would be totally content, but they are not. They are just like the rest of us, always searching for something to make them happier.

The desire to want more and more brings us anxiety, worry, and stress, whereas contentment can bring us peace of mind and calmness. The fear of losing our happiness leads us to frantically search for more happiness.

When we cannot obtain the thing of our desire, we become sad and angry; disappointment and despair set in. There are two main reasons for this type of suffering. One is our inability to be content with the present moment. The other is when we make our happiness dependent on someone or something outside us. Our discontentment leads us to have more desires in the hope of escaping this type of suffering.

A note of caution: We shouldn’t take contentment to mean we don’t have to put in the effort to better ourselves — of course we do. We have to find our own level of contentment, and once we do, it will be better than any wealth or material belongings.

As Gautama Buddha says in the Dhammapada, verse 203, “…contentment is the greatest wealth.”

Meditation Practice for Contentment

In a meditation session, look at the following questions:

  • Am I content?
  • Do I have enough to satisfy my needs?
  • Do I chase after happiness in material things?
  • Do new things bring me happiness?
  • How long does it last?

Give all of these points a lot of thought.

Everything Is Interconnected: Gratitude

Gratitude means to be thankful for, and to remember, the help others have given us. We should also try our best to pay back any help we have received if and when the person who has helped us needs it.

In the Dullabha Sutta, it states:

“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful for a kindness done and feels obligated to repay it. These two people are hard to find in the world.”

Lately, it seems that people have very short memories where being grateful is concerned. Gratitude is a virtue we should do our best to cultivate.

This is only one part of gratitude as far as Buddhism is concerned. The Pali word katannuta has been translated as “gratitude,” but this doesn’t quite cover it. It literally means that you know what someone has done for your benefit. So, instead of it being an emotional thing as gratitude is usually seen to be — for example, we say things like “I feel grateful” — the literal meaning makes it more intellectual. This translation seems to involve an element of knowledge; we know what has been done for our benefit.

This is an important point because it takes in the interconnectedness of everything. If we just sit down and eat our dinner without being aware of what we are eating, who planted and harvested it, who packaged and delivered it, we will not be fully grateful. Being grateful is connected with an awareness of the world around us, how it works, and who is doing what to benefit us.

Meditation Practice for Gratitude

In a meditation session, think about your last meal and follow the process back from your plate to the seed in the ground. Think about all the people involved in the process. It could be a fairly long list. We should be grateful to all of these people because they have benefited us by providing food that we can eat.

It isn’t always easy to set pride aside, focus only on what you truly need, or recognize how everything is interconnected, but it’s worth it to try. Allow yourself the room to learn from past ways of thinking that have kept you separate from the benefits of these essential qualities of humility, contentedness, and gratitude. As you cultivate these virtues, you’ll find you’re giving a gift not only to yourself, but to the world around you.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Coping with Change

Change is never far from our door, whether it’s breaking up with an ex, moving to a new city, the death of a relative, a pandemic, or the loss of a job. Even good changes, such as having a baby or getting a new job, can be stressful.

Change isn’t easy but here are some ways to help you cope with change and make it feel less scary.

Acknowledge your feelings. 

If you feel resistant to change, then it is important to acknowledge your feelings. Don’t avoid your emotions, listen to them. Emotions are part of self-awareness. They help to tell a story. When you acknowledge and accept an emotion, you stop fighting it and are able to understand it and learn from it.

  • Often, change brings up feelings of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and fear. You have to tell yourself that ‘It’s okay to feel worried and fearful.’ It is all part of being a human.
  • If you need to grieve, then grieve and take care of your feelings. Even if the big change in your life is a happy one, accept that there will still be some emotional losses and work through them.


Remind yourself that you can’t control the outside world, but you can control your attitude and actions.
 

Change may turn your world upside down, but you still have control over how you respond to the situation. You can choose to approach the situation with anger and become frustrated or take your feelings out on others, or you can choose to see the situation as a new opportunity and approach it with an open and curious mind.

Journal about your worries. 

  • Change can bring about lots of insecurities, worries, and negative thoughts. Especially if you feel overwhelmed by change, start writing down all the things that contribute to you feeling overwhelmed. Writing things down can help you see that things are less negative than you first imagined.
  • Firstly, write down what has changed in your life and what is challenging about it. Then, write down possible solutions.

But don’t just write down the negatives, write down the positives that have come from this change. There are always going to be pluses and minuses.

  • Maybe due to this change you have met new people. Maybe you started practicing healthier habits. Maybe you became more positive or confident. Maybe the change helped you prioritize what is most important in your life. Change presents us with the opportunity to grow, and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.  

It is always helpful to talk to others who have had similar experiences. 

It can be comforting to talk to someone who’s going through a similar change as you. Talking to someone who’s “been there” can be really helpful, knowing that he or she got through it okay.

  • Ask for advice on what you can do to get through the change.
  • Don’t bottle your feelings up; talk to someone. Talking always helps.

Try relaxation techniques 

Relaxation can help decrease stress and increase emotional wellbeing. Techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and pranayama can help you relax and cope with stress more effectively.

Do light exercise. 

Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even just walking around locally can help you feel better. I am not necessarily talking about going to the gym or doing a workout. You could swim, cycle, walk the dog or go jogging – all of these are going to help you feel more positive.

Let go of what has happened and move on. 

Focusing on the past will not help you to move on with your life. We cannot move forward when we are constantly looking back. It’s no use wanting your ‘old life’ back or spending all of your moments wishing things would go back to what they used to be. That type of thinking is just going to hold you back.

  • Instead of focusing on the past, anchor yourself in the present moment by doing mindfulness practice.
  • Try not to rehash the past or rehearse the future. Each time you find yourself doing this bring yourself back to the present moment by using mindful breathing practices.

Keep up your regular schedule as much as possible.

  • The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule. Having some things that stay the same, like walking the dog every morning or waking up at the same time, gives us an anchor. This anchor is a reminder that some things are still the same, and it gives your brain a little bit of a rest. The brain loves routine, so try to stick to a daily schedule.

Calming Self-Talk

The way we talk to ourselves during times of change is so important. If we talk in a harsh and negative way, we are going to make ourselves feel worse. But if we talk to ourselves in a calm, positive and supportive way, it is going to help us go through the change easier.

Here are some supportive phrases we could use:

  • Change is a part of life
  • Everyone finds change challenging
  • I am not alone in the way I am feeling
  • I acknowledge and accept my feelings
  • Things change and that’s ok
  • I will get through this challenging time
  • I will learn and grow from this change
  • Change is a part of life

Finally, give yourself a break. Everyone finds change challenging. You may feel a little out of control – and that’s ok. You may feel like you are not living up to your expectations – and that’s also ok.

My last piece of advice is to make a point to laugh more. Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—and that makes you feel good. Laughing also decreases cortisol—a stress-producing hormone. So, times may be challenging but there is always time to smile.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Changing Your Behaviour

What I’m going to talk about today is a subject that I don’t usually talk much about, because people seem to think it’s a magical or mystical thing or it’s handed down to us from some god or a higher being; none of these are true. I am talking about karma.

Many people think that karma is handed down to us from lifetime to lifetime, and we can’t avoid it.  Actually, karma means patterns of behaviour we have done so often they have become habits. It is no more mystical or magical than that. This means karma is one hundred percent in your own hands. You produce your own karma, not anybody else.

When we do an act for the first time, we plant a seed in our mind. For example, you tell a lie to this person for the first time. That plants a seed, and that seed becomes a potential. If you never tell another lie, then that potential will just sit there dormant, and nothing will happen. But if you tell another lie, what you’re doing is watering that seed, and it will start to grow. The more you keep lying, the more you keep watering that seed, and the more that seed will grow. That seed will now grow into a habit, it grows into a pattern of behaviour, and that is what karma is. It’s a pattern of behaviour.

 

When you keep acting in a certain way, that pattern of behaviour keeps growing, and it becomes part of your character. When that happens, you begin to act in that way from your unconscious mind. You’re now lying without consciously thinking about what you are doing. So, in the first instant when you planted that seed, you are doing it consciously. You consciously made a choice to lie, but the more that you’ve watered that seed, the more it becomes an unconscious way of acting. It is now a habit, your behaviour, your character.

 

It’s nothing to do with a god or higher being, it’s nothing to do with anybody else, it’s everything to do with you. And that’s the good point, because if it’s to do with you, it means that you can change. You can break that habit.

We all have behaviours that we don’t really like, or we don’t want to be that type of person, but we are. If you’re an angry person, if you’re a jealous person, if you tell lies or if you steal things, these are all learned behaviours. You are not born with any of those behaviour. No baby was born a thief, or a criminal, or a murderer, a liar, a cheat. These are all behaviours that we’ve learned. So, because we’ve learned them, we can unlearn them. We can change our behaviour.

If we keep doing the same behaviour, we’re going to keep getting the same result. Now, that is such a simple thing for us to get our heads around. But we all keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The only way to get different results is to do different things. If we want to change our lives, if we want our lives to be happier, if we want to be contented, we have to change our behaviour.

We need to analyse the behaviours we don’t like and start to think of different ways to act. To help with this I have written an acronym called A.W.A.R.E. We can use this practice during our meditation sessions. The A stands for attention, W is why, A is assess, R is reality and E is examine.

 

While sitting in meditation, focus on your breath for a few minutes. This will help calm you down and focus the mind. Now, think of a behavioural pattern you wish to change. Then bring an incident into your mind when you behaved in that way.

Now use the AWARE practice:
Attention – look at this behaviour and see if you are working from your conscious mind, or are you working from your unconscious mind. Are you on autopilot, is this simply a habit? You bring your full attention to how you acted.
Why – And then you look at the why you acted that way. Now, when we look at the ‘why’ what we’re looking for is what’s my motivation? What is my intention of acting this way? Why did I behave like this
Assess – then we assess if the action was an ethical way to be. Am I causing harm to somebody else or am I causing harm to myself?
Reality – a lot of the time when we are on autopilot our actions are not based in reality. We tend to generalise or catastrophise. So, here we ask ourselves am I just generalising? Am I catastrophising?
Now we’ve looked at our behaviour and understood that it either stems from our conscious or unconscious mind. We have looked at why we acted that way. Assessed the situation to see if it was ethical and if it was based in reality. So, now we need to examine a better way to act in future.
Examine – if you don’t want to act in the same way in future, you need to explore better ways to act. Ways that are helpful, skilful, ethical and kind. By reflecting on a better way to act, you are planting seeds for the future. So, the next time you find yourself in the same situation you can act in a different way. This will help you water the new seed and the more you do that, the more your behaviour will change. This is obviously a slow process and it will take time and a lot of effort, but it is doable.
I am sure we all have lots of behaviours we would like to change. Just start with a simple one, because once you start to see changes in that behaviour, it is going to motivate you to change other behaviours.
You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.
If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Buddha’s Last Words – The Buddha Dharma Series

All compounded things in the world are changeable.
They are not lasting.
Work hard to gain your own liberation.
Practice diligently.

These are Buddha’s last words and the first part reminds us that all compounded things are impermanent. If we keep this in mind we will not get attached to things, which in turn will reduce our suffering.

The second part, which is the most interesting, says we should work towards our own liberation. Here the word liberation means an end to our suffering. This means we have to look within, take responsibility for our own actions and do the hard work ourselves.

It does not say liberation can be found outside of us, we should blame karma for what is happening in our lives or we have to hand our liberation over to some guru.

I believe we need teachers to help us along the path, but ultimately, we have to decide ourselves what path suits us best and which parts of Buddhism we decide to follow. It doesn’t mean we have to take on other people’s culture or superstitions. We also must decide how much time we devote to that path. The ball is in our court and no one can end our suffering for us.

The final part says that we should practice diligently. It is of very little benefit to simply understand Buddha’s teaching intellectually. They have to be practiced with great effort.

We have to firstly understand the power of the three poisons – clinging desire, aversion/attachment and delusion. Then we need to ensure oou minds are not clouded by these poisons. That is our starting point and something we need to be aware of throughout this path.

We need to fully understand the four noble truths and implement them into our lives. This is a lifetimes work and not something to be taken lightly. The eightfold path, which is the fourth of the truths, is a something we need to constantly ensure we are following.

Meditation is an extremely important part of Buddhism and I would encourage you to learn and practice each day. Mindfulness is also important, even though, the word has been totally misused of late, the four foundations are important to understand and practice.

There are many things in our lives that can bring us suffering and Buddha pinpointed eight of them in the teaching called the eight worldly concerns. Again, it is important to ensure we are not being led astray by these concerns.

Compassion is important in all religions and Buddhism is no exception. But Buddhism does not just talk about that. In the four immeasurables, Buddha spoke about equanimity, kind-heartedness, compassion, and open-hearted joy. All of these help us breakdown the barriers we erect between different types of people.

One of the most difficult to understand but without doubt, one of the most important, is the concept of non-self. We spend so much of our time building our identities and so find it difficult to appreciate that there is no solid, permanent and independent self. I would encourage you to revisit this teaching regularly, so you can slowly understand its importance.

I wish you all the best on your Buddhist journey and hope that these fourteen teachings have helped you in some small way.

I will leave the last word to Buddha:      

‘I say to you that these teachings of which I have direct knowledge and which I have made known to you — these you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice, that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, wellbeing, and happiness of all beings.’

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

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