This week I am starting a new series of articles in the blog – Be mindful in the Garden.
Mindfulness is “a state of active, open intentional attention on the present,” according to Psychology Today. Much guidance on practicing mindfulness starts with a focus on your breath as a way to still your mind and become attentive to the present.
Instead of your breath, each week’s blog will take you out into your garden. Your goal is to concentrate, to be totally present and attentive to one small aspect of the natural world. Immerse yourself in exploration. Engage your physical body and your senses in ways you may not have done before.
This week, here’s what to do. Observe leaves. Here's how.
Start with a shrub that’s near your front door. Notice the shape of one leaf. Inventory the shrub. Are all the leaves the same shape? Or are young, emerging leaves different from older ones?
Pull off one leaf and look at the leaf’s edges. Observe whether the border is smooth or scalloped with the rounded curves on the outside or scalloped with the rounded curves on the inside, making points along the leaf edge.
Check the front surface of the leaf. Does it look smooth, rough, furry? Flip the leaf over. Is the back of the leaf the same as the front? Maybe the back displays more raised veins. Maybe the back is a bit fuzzy, or even a different color than the front.
Rub the leaf between your fingers on your dominant hand, very gently. How does it feel? Even a leaf that looks smooth can feel rough, even sandpapery, to your fingers. Now switch the leaf to your non-dominant hand and feel it again. Do you notice any difference in the sensation in your fingertips? Pay attention to whether the fingers on each hand perceive the leaf exactly the same way. Closing your eyes can help your attention to narrow to the sensations from the leaf.
Continuing with your eyes closed, hold the leaf in your hand and feel the weight. Does the leaf feel warm or cool against the skin in your palm? Hold the leaf against the skin on your cheek. Compare the temperature sensation you perceived in your palm with that of your cheek.
Now try holding the leaf against the skin on the top of your opposite foot. If you held the leaf in your right palm and against your right cheek, for example, place the leaf on the top of your left foot. Notice both temperature and the weight of the leaf compared to its weight in your palm.
While you’re observing the leaf, rub it a bit more firmly between your fingers, then hold the leaf to your nose and smell it. Does it have an aroma that’s strong or faint? It may be pleasant, causing you to inhale its odor again. If it’s sharp, you may immediately want to move it away from your nose. If that happens, stay with that sensation for a little while. If you hold it a a certain distance away from your nose, is the odor more bearable? How far away must you hold it for the odor to stop being discernible?
After you’ve experienced one leaf in detail, try another plant, and another. Immerse yourself in gathering all the sensory stimuli you can get from each leaf.
When you stop, pay attention to how you feel. You have been totally attentive, totally in the present. It feels good, doesn’t it?
Read the description of one exploration each week, then try it out for yourself. Plan to spend 10 to 20 minutes in discernment of the richness that nature brings to our lives through physical experience. Allow your senses to perceive deeply, to discover everything possible in your encounter with the garden. Ready? Let’s go.