Meditation & Nature:
A Powerful Combination for Happiness
As Chicagoans, we understand the value of the outdoors more than most. Being trapped indoors for the better part of five months gives us a cabin fever that detracts from our well-being and mental health. Winter aside, Americans now only spend an estimated 7% of their lives outside. So, whether or not you follow any of the subsequent advice, at least do this: Go outside... Breathe some fresh air... You don't need science to tell you that it will make you happier!
To help with this, I will provide you with some ways to maximize your time outside (especially important in Chicago) through meditation.
Whether it's taking a few moments for some deep breathing or an hour-long meditation, slowing yourself down here and there can have a tremendous effect on your health. The idea around meditation is to train your mind to focus on one thing, most commonly your breath, for an extended period of time. In our ultra-connected world, we let ourselves get absorbed in constant stimulation which at many times is great! The entertainment value is not to be underestimated. However, it comes with a side effect of constant distraction and an addiction to that stimulation. We are quick to tune out of our immediate environment when it doesn't meet the same production value as the video our friend just sent us. We're always striving for the next shiny object that draws our attention. This not ideal for building quality relationships and collecting memorable experiences. How can you remember a fun time with loved ones when you weren't really there mentally?
Meditation trains our minds to be less distracted. If you try to meditate and are unable to sit still for more than 2 minutes, that is a sign that you need it more than the average person! Incidentally, if closing your eyes and focusing on breathing isn't your thing, try active meditation. One of the best and oldest forms of active meditation is gardening. Whether you're planting a tree, watering the plants, or just sitting in the grass soaking it all in, you’re doing something right. If you're able to truly BE in nature for longer than a re-run of Friends, mental and physical health benefits will start to accrue.
As millennials, our generation is seemingly less likely to be found in the garden than our parents. I think that has everything to do with our inability to do something not involving a screen for an extended period of time. It seems boring. This is precisely where we need to rewire our brains! Like eating your veggies, the more you do it, the more your body will crave it because it knows it's healthy. Then, all of the sudden, you’ll love it! This is the positive feedback loop we're looking for to kick the negative loop of craving ever-more media.
I've sold you on outdoor meditation by now and you'd like to try it yourself, here's how to get started....
Find a good place. If you are in the suburbs, this may be easier—grab a chair and place it out in your backyard or even sit cross-legged on the grass. If you're a city dweller, you may not have your own private outdoor space. I encourage you to try sitting in a public park and closing your eyes for a moment. Look for a relatively secluded spot, in a safe neighborhood during the day.
Start bringing your attention to your breath. First, just notice the pace of your breath, the temperature or humidity of the air, the movement of the air into and out of your body, and the natural movement of your body to accommodate space for that air.
You will end up thinking random thoughts during this process that will distract you from your breath. Our mind is always moving. Instead of trying to combat those thoughts like swatting a fly that buzzes around you. Simply move your focus back to your breath. Imagine filling your mind with thoughts about your breath so that there's not much room for any other thoughts.
Simply going through this process is the act of meditation and you can do it in just 2 minutes. I recommend trying to pick a regular schedule for meditation, ideally every day at the same time, when you can meditate for 2-5 minutes. If you'd like to meditate for longer, that's even better, but it's important to establish a habit and routine. Each practice will build on the one before. It’s better to meditate every day for 5 minutes than once per week for 1 hour.
Business Technology Manager & Meditation Leader at Chalet
Lawson balances and blends his work with his lifestyle at his family’s people-centric and nature-inspired business. He helps to keep it on the cutting edge of the garden center and landscape design industries through digital transformation, in which he uses his unique eye for technology and his love for solving business problems. Specifically, Lawson brought the retail business online which has grown tremendously. With a knack for technology and a love for the outdoors, he’s passionate about finding a way to keep humankind’s forward progress strong while not pulling us away from the simple things that make us happy. He is constantly looking for ways to improve day-to-day life exemplified by his meditation practice which he leads regularly at Chalet, in his Chicago community and at Northwestern where he is a an MBA candidate. The positive feedback he has been given is one of the most rewarding experiences of his life and allows him to re-connect with the community that has kept his business strong for generations.
This year, I started hosting meditations for Chalet guests at our Wilmette, Illinois retail store. It has gone great so far and we are currently weighing feedback and getting ready to launch a new schedule. If you'd like to get involved, please fill out the below survey to register your availability. We will have regularly scheduled meditations based on the most popular times.