Phone. Photos. Peace: Photography Meditation

Is it possible to capture calm? So that we may return to it when we need it. Can we freeze a moment of serenity and save it? So that it can be shared to spread some peace in turbulent times.

In this article we explore some engaging games and activities in nature, based on the art of photography. Almost all smartphones carry a camera now. While we are often caught up in its web of apps, there are simple ways to use this tool for helping us improve our focus and peace of mind.

Let’s see how we can turn our device of distraction into a mode of meditation.

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SCIENCE

COLOURS: Our visual sense is the strongest sense. We are influenced by the quality of light, the colour of light and also the source it comes from. It affects our mood as well as energy levels. The colours of nature soothe our mind and the play of light in the forest helps to break our pattern of thoughts.

FRACTALS: Certain fractals, the geometric self-repeating patterns present abundantly in nature activate the parts in our brain, which are involved with regulating emotions. It is the same region, which is active while listening to music.

Being out in nature has multiple benefits for our mental, physical and emotional health. Check out some interesting links, films, and articles on our resources page. Large scale research from the UK, found fewer cases of disease amongst people who lived near parks or open green spaces. Studies also showed that people with no windows or unattractive views took longer to recover when compared to those who could see trees and grass from their hospital windows. Similarly, classrooms with windows revealed better performance by students and lesser incidents of violent behaviour.

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PHOTOGRAPHY MEDITATION

Here’s a set of creative exercises in nature that use the camera to create some calm. You can try them on your own, but it’s more fun when you go out with a group of friends. It’s a great way to get new insights and create new bonds.

Directions: Some points to note are – move in silence and go slow. Think less and feel more.  Spend 10-15 minutes for each activity in a particular area. We generally tell participants that they can only take one picture for each exercise. This allows them to be more mindful of the picture they wish to take. At the end of each exercise, group together to share your pictures and thoughts for a few minutes. After sharing, read out instructions for the next exercise and continue your walk in silence for 10-15 min to another area.

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A Healing Image
Create a picture of something in nature that represents healing for you. Share in your group, why you chose that particular image. This is a very good opening exercise because it gets people to search for metaphors and meaning in nature. It opens the mind to look beyond the obvious.

Library of Textures and Patterns
Become aware of the myriad textures and patterns that are present in nature. In the bark of tree, among rocks by the river, in the wings of a butterfly…and so much more. Try and capture some calming textures and patterns on your walk.

Visual Story
Create a story through a set of images. No words required. Build a relationship between your images and your imagination. When doing this activity in a group, you can either choose a theme for the story before you start or share your pictures in a circle and see what story emerges.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
~Ansel Adams

Portrait of a Tree
Get to know a tree. Look at it from different angles. Try to find out its story. Once you have spent some time with the tree, capture the essence of the tree in a portrait shot. If you’d like to know more about your tree later, you can download the plantsnap app.

Snapshot of Silence
Take a few minutes to compose a picture in your head that evokes peace and stillness. As you walk in nature try to recreate a frame that comes close to the picture in your mind or click a picture that echoes the same emotions.

The Invisible Picture
End your walk by asking participants to put away their phones. Simply walk in silence and create a mental snapshot of the forest in your head. A memorable image that you would like to carry back with you. Participants end the walk with a closing circle and talk about the image in their head.

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The aim of these meditative photography exercises is to make us realise that the picture in our mind is far more valuable than the one in our camera. Phones may keep changing, but when you create a strong mental image tied to a peaceful emotion, it can become a lifelong memory.

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Download a free poster to create an event. You can easily add details in the blank space using sites like Canva.com | Download link

EXTRAS – PHOTO MEDITATION IDEAS

Close-up
Take a close-up shot of something in nature that represents a part of you. Look closely, open your senses and start observing. Connections will begin to appear. Notice the things that you connect to.

Contrasts
Find contrasts in nature. The easiest contrast is to capture life and decay, but look beyond the obvious. The language of nature is filled with contrasts. Notice how they mirror the contrasts in your own life.

Macro World
Hidden in plain sight is the tiny world of insects and other friends. While most of our attention is focused on the larger objects and wide landscapes, a magical world exists where you seldom look. Try and take a picture of an unusual creature.

Geometry and Fractals
See if you can capture the unusual geometry and fractals the exist in nature. The beauty of a fractal is that it is a self repeating pattern. Which means, a close up of one part of the subject will be very similar to a wide shot. Just like the branches of tree. Interestingly the nerves in our eyes also have a self repeating pattern.

* Note: If you have a group size larger than 10 people, it is advisable to break into smaller groups of 5 or 6 for sharing and discussion at the end of each activity. It will save time. Remember, conversations with nature should take priority over conversations with people in this walk.

You can share some pictures from your photo-walk in nature on our Facebook group: Art of Nature. Please add these tags when you post your pictures on social media #healingforest, #forestlearning. It will make it easier for us to find them.

*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out these activities on a nature walk, you can proceed to learn the next set of activities at this link.

Bonus: Here’s a link to download a set of 6 nature images. You can use them to attract more people to your walks, or simply use them as meditative wallpapers for your screen. http://bit.ly/hfl-pics

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“A photo is not just a memory of a moment, it is also an expression of You”

NATURE MEDTIATION:

END NOTE: Let us know your experience when you get a chance to try out these wonderful games and activities.  If you have more recommendations for some fun nature-based activities with the camera, please add them in the comments below to grow our collective knowledge.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Waterfall Healing – 7 ways to find calm

When life sends you rain, find waterfalls. This month we explore a collection of short waterfall meditations to help you find your calm.

Waterfalls have this unique ability to pause our train of thoughts, bring our awareness to the present moment and fill us with awe. Seeing the movement of water on it’s journey to the ocean reminds us in many ways of our own journey in time. For a brief moment one is conscious of the larger but unseen laws that govern the flow of nature and life.

Given below are 7 short waterfall meditations. Simple ideas and thoughts that one can contemplate on, while enjoying the beauty and wonder of the waterfalls.  Find an image or words that call out to you and spend a little time absorbing it’s essence.

*Note: Some of the gifs on this page may take time to load on slow internet connections. We hope you patience is amply rewarded.

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Fall. Rise. Repeat

Dance

Everything Changes

Slow down. Find yourself.

Flow

Let Go

From Nothing. Into Nothing.

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We hope these words and waterfalls encourage you to explore the hidden peace, power and potential that lies within each one of us.

It would be really nice to hear your reflections or meditations with waterfalls. Please add to our collective knowledge by sharing your insights and experiences in the comments section.

END NOTE: You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link. We are a small group of friends trying to help people reconnect with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

 

Song of Trees | How to make friends

We have many lessons to learn from the trees. As our understanding and awareness of nature develops, we uncover new findings and wisdom that gives us a fresh perspective on life. In this session, we will learn about making friends and creating better relationships with the help of nature. But first, please watch this 2 min. film on a less known truth about trees…and people.

Song of Trees | Relationships in nature

David Haskell’s work integrates scientific, literary, and contemplative studies of the natural world. His latest book, “The Songs of Trees” examines the many ways that trees and humans are connected. His first book, The Forest Unseen, was winner of the National Academies’ Best Book Award for 2013, finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award.

The Oxford American featured him in 2011 as one of the southern U.S.’s most creative teachers. His teaching has been profiled in USA Today, The Tennesseean, and other newspapers.

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Trees and Friends

“Inside the tree leaf are different species of bacteria, millions of individual bacterial cells, fungi, nematodes and if these inhabitants of the leaf are taken away the leaf can no longer function.

This is also true for roots below ground. The root is made from conversation – between bacteria, fungi and the plant cell themselves. There is communication at the most intimate level, at the level of DNA from one cell to another. They are exchanging information, they are exchanging material. So the tree is a nexus, a hub for a set of relationships.

In fact, just to call something a tree, a noun – a singular being is wrong. This individuality is an illusion. All trees exist only in relationship. So do people.

— David George Haskell (www.dghaskell.com)

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Meditation on Interbeing

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

“Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be”, we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh (https://plumvillage.org/)

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RELATIONSHIP WALK | Making New Friends

In this section we cover a set of nature based creative exercises which serve as excellent tools to build strong relationships. These set of nature activities are most effective when done in pairs or very small groups. The aim of this relationship walk is to work on the  fundamental values of creating friendships: trust, acceptance, appreciation, gratitude, creativity, and truly knowing the other person.

As with all healing forest walks, allow space for 10-15 minute of silent walks in between each of these exercises. Being silent yet comfortable in each other’s presence is a hallmark of deep friendships and meaningful relationships.

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Who Am I?: 
“If you could be one thing in nature, what would you be? And why?”  We start the walk by asking our partner this simple question. Most casual introductions are about people’s professions or achievements and one tries to project their best side. Whereas, creating a nature introduction allows friends to know the things we relate to and also qualities that are important to us in our persona.  

Alternate version: Nature and I
As you take a walk in nature, each person finds an interesting thing that calls out to them like an unusual rock, or a tree and shares why they relate to that object in nature or what is common between them and the nature object.

Turning Points: 
Take 10 minutes to share important memories from your life with your partner. These are memories of important turning points in your life. Events or incidents that have given a new direction to your life. Each partner takes 5 minutes to share 1 or 2 turning points from their life. End the exercise by  sharing an important nature memory from your life. A memorable moment in nature that has stayed with you.

Tree Time: 
In this exercise, each person finds an interesting tree that catches their attention or one they can relate to and spends 10 minutes sitting under that tree or in it’s branches. Reflect on what your tree can teach you about relationships. After your tryst with the tree, share your insights with your partner and listen to theirs.

Forest Baby: 
Find things fallen on the forest floor and create a forest baby. The forest baby can take any form and shape – human, animal or magical. The only rule is that you have to create it in silence. Being silent allows you to observe each other’s working style and share a deeper sense of communication which goes beyond the use of words. It’s basically an exercise in understanding that a large part of relationships are about creating things with each other

Appreciation and Gratitude: 
End the walk with a few words of appreciation and gratitude for nature as well as your partner. Appreciation and gratitude are a form of social glue that binds us as a community. It is also a way of observing and seeing things. A much needed quality that we all need to develop within ourselves to build relationships.

TREE FRIENDS EXERCISE

Here is a fascinating set of questions to get to know a person and make friends in a short period of time. The playful light hearted structure is loosely based on how you would get to know a tree. In these questions, we explore important parts of a personality just as we would observe the different parts thats make up a tree. Each of the different tree parts are used as a metaphor to get to know each other better.

Being in nature allows people to feel relaxed and they find it easier to share their thoughts and feelings. Find any old or interesting tree to sit under with your partner and share these questions and their answers with each other.

Birds & Friends:
What are the places you’d like to travel to?

Leaves:
What gives you energy / What takes away energy?

Branches / Canopy:
Who are the people you are closest to / most connected to?

Tree Trunk:
What are your strengths / weaknesses?

Roots:
What do you value in life / What keeps you grounded?

Fruits:
Dreams / things you love doing / You wish to accomplish?

Seeds
What are the things you wish to leave behind ? / What you would like to be remembered for?

This is an informal guideline. Choosing this structure of questions makes it easy to remember and engaging to play out. Conversations may flow in any direction just like the wind. We hope you have fun with the exercise and get to learn new insights and facets about other people as well as yourself.

There is only one rule to follow. Lend your full attention to hearing the other person and learn to listen like a tree. With acceptance and without judgement or advice.

A FRIEND REQUEST

Unless we grow our collective emotional intelligence we cannot hope to create a better future for all beings.

A society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

~ Greek Proverb

The healing of our society is intricately linked to the healing of our land. It’s because the environment we live in is not separate from us. What we learn from the wisdom of the land, helps us create a deeper understanding of our own interlinked lives.

As individuals, we are like solitary trees, but when we come together we become a forest of friends. In case you would like to connect with like-minded individuals and create something meaningful together you can join our community of forest friends. One of the main goals of this network is to support each other in our learning.

Through the network, we will also conduct 2 healing forest walks in each of our cities every year. One in spring, the other in autumn. The walks are open to all and can be free of charge or based on a gift culture (accept whatever is given with grace).

To join the forest friends simply fill in this form.

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MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE FOREST

This page is the concluding part of our nature healing program. We hope you have enjoyed the adventure. 

Always remember, this is a personal journey between you and the forest. Every outcome will flow out of that. Start visiting a forest near you and more ideas will come to you. Ultimately, you can create a nature-walk program that is unique and personal to you.

Human memory is very fickle and unless we repeat or practice what we have learnt, we tend to forget it. So please practice your walks before they fade away from your mind (Even if it is with just one other person).

Our suggestion to you would be to practice each of the walk formats on their own. Sense Walk, Art Walk, Writing Walk, Mindfulness walk, Photo Walk, Relationship walks. Typically a 90 min /2-hour session involves a short introduction to the concept. Followed by 15-minute silent walks interspersed with games/meditations. It’s nice to end the walk with feedback and sharing of insights from the participants.

This is important for you as well as the people you will take with you on your walks.

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END NOTE

Nature is a great place to untangle our thoughts, find fresh perspectives and make new friends. It’s because in nature, all the mysteries of life unfold before us. All we have to do is learn to observe and become aware.

We would love to hear your feedback/experience/suggestions for the learning program. Please feel free to send us an email athealingforest(dot)org(at)gmail(dot)com 

Also, it would add to our collective knowledge if you could leave a comment below on this simple question – What has the forest taught you?

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Forest Meditation and the Wavering Mind

The mind blows like the wind. It is difficult to control and hard to predict. Especially when it is troubled. Our patterns of thought may vary from scattered confusion or wavering indecision to a spiralling into negative thoughts.

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At such times, the forests can offer us surprisingly simple ways to control the commotion in our head and turn a storm of thoughts into a gentle breeze. In this article, we introduce you to the concept of forest mediation and offer some interesting examples to help you find your calm.

What is Forest Meditation ?

It is a way of finding calm and balance with the help of nature. It helps us in becoming free of thoughts that trouble us or hinder us. By connecting with nature we are able to find answers to difficult questions and bring clarity to life.

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, that we are also a part of nature.

Forest meditation is the act of creating a healing experience for yourself. It is about finding the strength of mountains, the compassion of trees and the wisdom of water. The goal of forest meditation is to grow as a person. Above all, it is a journey that creates lasting peace and serenity.

How is it different from traditional meditation?

Many people find it difficult to sit in one place with awareness. The mind is filled with multiple thoughts and the harder one tries to resist, the more they persist.

People who are generally restless or overactive find traditional meditation very hard. Also if one’s mind is already in a state of unrest, or one is going through a troublesome situation in life, it is necessary to calm the thoughts and feelings before one can learn to slow down the thoughts and deepen their focus.

Psychologist Edward Thorndike pointed out that it is not the work expended in the administrative details of an office setting or the algebra in a schoolhouse per se that causes mental fatigue; it is the high energy cost of “inhibiting the tendencies to think of other things.” In other words, mental fatigue was being amplified by firing up the areas of the brain that are required to put the brakes on distracting thoughts.

Forest meditation walks

Start your nature walk by setting an intention for the walk. It helps in channelizing one’s awareness and energies in the right direction.

Be silent. Go slow. Think less. Feel more.

In the first half of the walk use your sense of sight, sound, or smell to bring your thoughts to the present moment. Notice the nature around you and try to find things that fill your heart with awe and wonder.

In forest meditation, we do not try to inhibit or stop any negative thoughts. Instead, we take the help of nature to replace them with positive thoughts, insights, and inspiration.

Creating a relationship with the forest.

Once you are feeling calmer, find a place that calls out to you and sit in silence, observing the world around you. Notice the relationships that exist in nature and the interconnectedness of everything around you. Keep your thoughts in the present moment and learn what nature has to teach us.

Here are a few examples of some forest meditations you could try, the next time you plan to visit a forest or any green space in nature. There is no time limit or rigid rules. Find your own rhythm and choose what feels natural to you. Every person has a unique connection with nature. We hope you find yours.

Time Travel: Find a big rock or an old tree and rest against it. Imagine traveling far back in time and reliving all the experiences from the perspective of the rock or tree.

Gratitude Walk: Find something in nature that fills you with gratitude. Stay with the feeling for as long as you can.

Nature Sponge: As you walk in the forest, imagine every pore in your skin is receiving the sounds of nature just like your ears. Absorb all the sounds like a sponge.

World within worlds: Look closely at the tiny world of insects, grass, and small plants that often pass unnoticed under our feet. Find something unique and unexpected. What message, insight and learning do they have for you?

Circle of Awareness: Sit in a beautiful spot. Create a tiny circle of awareness around you. Become aware of all the beauty in the circle. Slowly expand the circle of awareness to include a larger area. Repeat, until you reach the edge of your imagination.

Dissolving: While sitting at a vantage point which offers a scenic vista, eat a fruit or a piece of mint candy slowly. As the mint dissolves in your mouth, imagine you are dissolving into the forest. In the end, only the forest remains.

Connect with nature. Find your calm.

Forest meditation benefits

For centuries people have turned to the forest for meditation and insights. While the primary objective is for self enquiry and reaching a deeper state of awareness, meditation in general has a whole list of benefits for our day to day lives. Here are some of the important ones.

  • Learn to switch off unwanted thoughts.
  • How to feel less angry, anxious and sad.
  • Increase self worth and confidence.
  • Overcome fear, self doubt and a wavering mind.
  • Avoid stress and burnout.
  • How to get better sleep and rest.
  • Strengthen the ability to control cravings, give up addictions.
  • Find peace and happiness in the present moment.
  • Improve relationships.
  • Find answers for important questions and decisions.

An important point to note is that the experience of forest meditation is always unique for each individual. It depends on what stage of your journey you are. Just like the journey of a river that starts with a small murmuring brook, tumbles down through waterfalls into a serene winding river and finally empties into the vast ocean. And then the cycle continues. It can be the same with your thoughts when you meditate.

Having specific expectations of experiences from meditation can hinder one’s progress. The greatest joy of forest meditation lies in accepting the changing nature within and without, and becoming aware of the laws of nature that bind us and the universe in an everlasting embrace.

A FEW MORE FOREST MEDITATIONS

Perspectives: See as far as you can. Observe things as if you are seeing them for the first time. Observe things as if you are seeing them for the last time.

Points of Light: This is an exercise in creative visualisation. Imagine every living being in the forest as a point of golden light. As you walk in the forest, imagine walking through a field of light. Visualise all the lights forming connections and interacting with each other as well as the light within you.

Sound Map: Take around 10 pebbles in your hand and find a peaceful place to sit. Focus on any one sound from nature. Place a pebble on the ground in the direction from which the sound emanates. Close your eyes and stay with the sound until your mind wanders or the sound stops. Do this until you finish all the pebbles in your hand. By the end of this exercise you would have a small circle of pebbles around you, mapping the various sounds of the forest.

The sounds of nature are a beautiful form of relaxation as well as meditation. Here’s a link to nature sounds compiled from around the world by professional sound recordists. http://www.naturesoundmap.com/

Metta Forest Walk: Metta meditation is a very simple but deep meditation which involves sending out loving kindness into the world. The forest version of this meditation involves focusing on your breath. With every breath you exhale, send out love and warmth to the forest. With every breath you inhale, imagine the forest multiplying and returning your love back to you. You may also choose different emotions such as peace, calm, compassion depending on your own mood and liking. This meditation will expand your emotional boundaries and build a deep bond with nature.

Leaving you with a short forest meditation film. We hope you enjoyed this post. Please share it with those may find it of help.

END NOTE:
Everyone understands the benefits of meditation, but very few people actually try it or give up too easily. In a world that is getting increasingly crowded, competitive and complex it has become even more important to take care of our state of mind.

If you have any questions or suggestions for forest meditations, do add them in the comment box below to create a space for shared learning. The idea is to learn from each other and share our experiences from different forests around the world. To get a monthly newsletter with new learning please sign up at this link

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*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out these activities on a nature walk, you can click on the acorn or proceed to this link.