After nearly 7 years teaching conservation photography workshops at the California Academy of Sciences, I began to really explore ways to deeply connect folks with the natural world. Nature has always been something that truly touched my soul. It was where I went to resource myself anytime I was feeling the stress and challenges of life on earth. I took my DSLR into nature and spent hours making beautiful images. It was more than just an artistic endeavor, it was also an emotional outlet. A place to let go of the stresses of life and recharge my being with awe and happiness.
Many of us find peace and quiet in our hearts and minds when we spend time in nature. It allows us to step away from all the stresses and demands of daily life. For most, it comforts the nervous system and creates the conditions to look beyond the immediate circumstances of our lives. The natural world can be very resourcing. Simply put, it is restorative. Researchers have found that just 15 minutes a day spent in the natural world can be an effective treatment method for mental health conditions – most notable for anxiety. There are chemicals present in evergreen forests, that have been found to decrease the effects of stress in the body. Spending time in nature is a powerful method of healing.
After teaching conservation photography for many years, I had the good fortune of stumbling into mindfulness. I sat with a meditation teacher one evening after work and came out of the hour-long session with the thought “this is it – this is what I’ve been searching for”. I had spent the last several months reading through self-help books and attending community support groups, of all kinds, in search of a way to better understand myself and hopefully find more peace and happiness in my life. I was stuck in a rut and while I was aware that I was stuck. I had no idea how to get unstuck. I didn’t understand what led to all this stuckness to begin with. It turned out that mindfulness held the keys to understanding the patterns of my mind and the choices I made in life that kept leading me around in circles. It was time for a change, and mindfulness had the potential to lead me down a new and better path in life.
In the modern world, life moves a million miles an hour. They say we have over 20,000 thoughts per day. The average attention span lasts just 8 seconds before the mind is ready to move on to the next thing. When we are intentional – when we take time to embrace stillness – we have an opportunity to be aware of so much more of what’s happening in both our inner and outer landscapes. Opening to stillness can open us to the experience of our own minds and create space to be responsive to life rather than simply being reactive. Opening to stillness can bring relief from all the various forms of suffering in our daily lives and open us to a path for joy.
My camera has always brought me joy. Nature had always brought me joy. And now, I was discovering that mindfulness held the keys to understanding my joys and sorrows. As mindfulness created more and more space for joy to settle in, I started to feel my creativity getting unlocked. I would go on a walking meditation during silent weeklong residential meditation retreats and find myself immersed in joy. This joy led to creativity and I found myself once again teaching – teaching in my mind that is. I would develop whole courses on how one could bring this powerful meditation practice together with the love of photography and the love of nature to truly tell stories of inspiring awe and wonder about and for the natural world.
This is when I discovered renowned meditation teacher Mark Coleman’s organization Awake in the Wild. He was leading outdoor meditation retreats – a somewhat novel concept at the time. Most meditators create these quiet, peaceful little curated meditation spaces in their homes where they go to sit quietly and watch the mind. But Mark was taking people into nature. He would say, “let nature be your teacher”. How does walking meditation in beautiful nature settings open you up to life? I found that practicing mindfulness meditation in this way was capable of inspiring some of the deepest appreciation for nature I had ever known. I had always found that I could develop a deeply peaceful mind when in nature, but this took it to a completely different level.
After, sitting meditations with Mark and other teachers who taught us to practice observing the inner workings of the mind while fully immersed in nature, I decided that I wanted to explore the intersection of art and mindfulness – in nature. This is where the idea for Nature Meditations was born – from my deepest desire to share this life-altering experience of connecting deeply with nature through mindfulness. I began to think about how we could express this profound connection to the natural world through nature photography. The Art of Mindfulness is about exploring the awe and wonder of our inner and outer world. I hope to see you in one of my workshops where I can share the ways in which these wonderful things – mindfulness, nature, and photography – can come together to bring you joy.