Review: Mindfulness and the Natural World by Claire Thompson

Mindfulness and the Natural World: Bringing our Awareness Back to Nature is a beautiful book of reflections on life, our evolution and development, modernity, self, mind and nature that helps us to understand that we are not separate from the natural world but a part of it, evolved by it, composed of it and never disconnected from it, other than by a focus on an arbitrary self that is actually transient and a consequence of an attempt to survive in and alongside nature.

Nature gives rise to all life on the planet, including our own, and connecting with the natural world is an integral part of our happiness and well-being.

On a quest for meaning that logical thinking could not satisfy, Claire Thompson experienced a moment of profound connectedness in the Chilean Lake District; an understanding that she was a part of something intangible and greater than the self. In that “wordless and thoughtless instant”, she felt a sense of calm that she “could never have sought or created” herself: “It was a larger sense of calm, of which I became an integral part.” In that moment of being tuned into nature, she understood that the meaning of life is simply to experience the joy of being alive, an experience she aims to share with her readers, through mindfulness exercises, philosophical and psychological insights, scientific findings, poetic quotes and personal stories.

Mindfulness is simply about being aware of our experience of the present moment of our lives.

 

Bringing our awareness back to nature lies at the heart of our happiness and of the well-being of all life on Earth.

Via a concise guide through the evolution of the mind, once used to keep us safe, fed and procreating, Thompson notes how in a modern life of comfort and stability, a focus on the self, thoughts and the feelings they create has caused us to identify with an idea of who we are as if it is fixed, true and separate rather than illusory, ever changing and a part of the whole. Through the focus on our thoughts and the feelings they create, we have come to see the self as separate from our bodies and our environments as well as from nature and other living beings. However, we are nature, we are composed of the same substances as nature, nature flows through us, we are a part of its symbiotic processes and connected with all of life and happiness, wellbeing and freedom from the incessant chatter of the mind are found through a realisation and experience of this connection.

Living in the realms of our minds has removed us from the simple joy of being alive.

 

What if simply ‘being’ as we are right now, enjoying the ride of life, is where happiness lies?

Thompson argues that not only have we come to feel as if we are not at home in our bodies, “our chance to embody life here and now”, we are no longer at home in nature and disconnected from it, we are disrespectful of it. In our quest to become richer and happier, we are exhausting natural resources, displacing plants, animals and other people and accelerating climate change. Thompson believes that the answer is a mindful approach to life. That rather than living according to abstract ideals created by the self, we inhabit our bodies once more, noticing our emotions as we allow them to come and go, becoming aware of our thoughts rather than identifying with them and reassessing our definition of nature as something separate to and outside of us in order to understand that as we harm and destroy nature, we harm and destroy ourselves.

Reconnecting with nature through mindfulness is consequently vital if we are to reverse this extremely concerning trend. 

 

Life is fundamentally one. We are life. What we do to one part of life, we do to the rest of life, including ourselves.

By bringing our awareness back to the natural world that we are inextricably part of, Thompson tells us we will enhance the wellbeing of all life on Earth. Noticing and enjoying a little bit of nature every day will connect us with the mysterious and wondrous, allowing us to escape from the mind and immerse ourselves in life, bringing us to an awareness of the demands we make on the natural world that see us exploit it in our quest for the happiness and meaning that actually only nature can give us. Thompson, who reminds us that we are connected with and dependent on nature for food, energy, water, clothing, building materials and many other resources, believes that the more aware we become of our relationship with the world and the unity of life, the more inclined we are to take action to protect it.

Taking action to protect the natural world is no longer about being told to make drastic changes […] Instead, it becomes more about listening to what our hearts are telling us and protecting something that matters to us.

This book has a sense of quiet certainty about it that reminds us of something that deep down we know: we are nature. We feel alive in nature. We are energised and invigorated and brought out of ourselves in nature where we experience a quietening of the mind and a physical groundedness that activate a healthy state of being. We need only invite nature into our lives to remember this and practice mindfulness in order to explore our experience of life and embrace the simple joy of living.

The happiness we find in the natural world is irreplaceable and it is something we can all connect with. It is in all of us. Our innate affiliation with the natural world means that when we spend time in nature’s company, we can open up to letting contentment, ease, peace and vitality into our lives.

Nature is essential to us, to our happiness, our wellbeing and our survival and appreciating and taking pleasure in nature allows us to open up to life and the freedom of the authentic self. Nature offers us an escape from the mind and an experience of meaning, connectedness and wonder that lead to a reverence for the natural world and all living beings that engenders compassion and kindness towards all of life. This awareness takes us out of our minds and into a more present and connected experience, providing us with a sense that our purpose is “simply to be alive and enjoy being a part of the web of life” taking care to respect and encourage the wellbeing of every part of it.