99% of our ancestors lived in paleolithic times and spent most of their lives outdoors.
It's only in the last few millenia that humans began spending so much time indoors, and only in the last 30 years that we became so fixated on screens. The iPhone is just 15 years old!
Our bodies and minds evolved in relationship to the wild world, but most of us spend most of our time in a built environment that deprives us of the sensory experiences our bodies expect. Many preventable diseases arise from a mismatch between the needs of our animal bodies and the practices of modern life.
So, spending time outdoors is more than a nice pastime. It is an essential nutrient for our health and well-being that many are sorely lacking. But even if we enjoy walking or playing sports outdoors, we're often distracted by other goals. It's rare to really BE in nature with our full attention.
Though it might seem bizarre to our ancestors, our alienated age calls for deliberate practices of reconnection with the living Earth. Nick Beem has recently trained as a Mindful Outdoor Guide, and he's eager to share this simple but profound method with Grateful students.
Each session starts with simple warm-ups and breathing practices to get the body awake and attuned. Then a slow, mindful walk through a local forest or park, with lots of time to explore with all of the senses (well, maybe not taste). There is time for seated meditation, and finally a group sharing of insights.
You can learn more about Nick's approach in this essay. See below for upcoming outdoor events.
Weekly classes in the warmer months
Currently on hiatus for the colder months - stay tuned for monthly workshops
Harbert-Payne Park, Evanston
This weekly class takes place at Harbert-Payne park in Evanston, a hidden gem of Evanston that many have never visited. By returning regularly to this land, we come into greater intimacy with the changing seasons and get to know the particular beings that dwell here.
How to find it
The park is on the east side of the canal, between Dempster and Main. We will meet at the picnic shelter by Harbert-Payne park, on McDaniel between Crain and Greenleaf. See the exact spot by following this link: https://goo.gl/maps/C8yrQEHA8VU8y4v47. Please note the only street you can turn onto from Dempster or Main to reach this park is Fowler, due to many one-way streets and dead ends.
The walk will take place in the grass fields and small cottonwood forest along the canal. The distance travelled will be modest, but it will require navigating wood-chipped trails and forest debris. The class will take place if it is raining, but not if there is lightning or strong wind. Please try to register at least one day beforehand, to ensure you will be notified of last-minute changes.
Recommended gear: sturdy shoes, insect repellent, weather-appropriate clothing, water bottle, bag or backpack
Cost: $20 for a single class, or buy a class package for a lower per-class rate
Register here (advance weekly calendar forward to see other weeks)
I have always loved being in green, wild or natural places. They calm, relax and help me feel deeply connected to all life in ways far beyond the intellectual. And as an experienced traveler, I have long tried to cultivate a sense of awareness of the spaces I am in and to appreciate the uniqueness of each.
Since most of my time is now mainly in urban and commercial spaces, this session helped remind me that mindfulness and gratitude are especially important in relation to our home “natural” environments, and needn’t be saved just for special moments.
I had been feeling emotionally overwhelmed the morning of this experience but I left the experience relaxed and smiling. Thank you!Denise Ahlquist, Evanston
A welcome opportunity to slow down, observe, and listen; to enjoy looking "outward" ( a complement to the yoga "inward"); and to feel connected to the cycle of life all around us, from the large trunks of fallen trees to the tiny new shoots covering the forest floor. Nick's historical introduction to the area provided a valuable link with the past that set the tone for other connections--with the outdoors, and with the members of our group.Denis Heyck, Evanston
After warm up movement in a field of dandelions, we set out on a deliberately slow moving walk through a small forest to enable us to notice the great variety of plant life in the woodland along the North Shore Channel. A concluding ten minute meditation while seated in silence on a log enabled us to focus on one small section of the woodland. I have passed this patch of trees many times on my bike rides. But this was the first time I paid attention to its details. I look forward to further explorations of Earth's varied microcosms so near and yet so far from my human habitat.Frank Senn, Evanston
The Earth in Eclipse: an Essay on the Philosophy of Science and Ethics by David Abram
- A compelling and poetic case for the importance of reconnecting to the immediacy of the livingworld.
How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway by Ming Kuo
- "Enhanced immune functioning emerges as one promising candidate for a central pathway between nature and health. There may be others."
The Next Walk You Take May Change Your Life
- A lifelong nature lover discovers the benefits of slowing down and opening the senses wide.
An excerpt from “At the River Clarion” by Mary Oliver
I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.