Does your mind ever stop and take a break? Some days I wish I had a switch. Just like a radio. Where I could turn off the incessant ramblings of world news, current affairs, fretting about unfinished work, of meetings and endless to-do lists, of friends, family and loved ones, of inadequacies and inner demons… I’d even settle for a dimmer switch or volume control.
Working in the environment sector, I have known for years how valuable nature is for mental health and wellbeing, but there are some days where you truly feel and experience its power…
I spent a sunny May evening walking along an old, re-purposed railway line near to where I live. It is now a pedestrian and cycle highway connecting one side of town to the centre, with trees, shrubs and mown grass lining the route, outdoor exercise machines scattered intermittently and birds chirping cheerily as they compete for territory and vie for a date. This is a walk I have done many a time, wind, rain, snow and shine, but this time, as the day filled with spring sunshine, I looked up into the canopy above to noticed the rich blueness of the sky, the scattered streaks of clouds from destination-flung airplanes, the twinkle of sunlight as it struck through the leaves of the trees, the swatches of green flickering across the contrasting background creating a multitude of shapes and forms. As I noticed the vibrancy of nature surrounding me, I also felt the quiet, clearness of my mind. This realisation of serenity hit hard as I returned to the usual downward angle, staring at my feet thumping along the pavement, avoiding eye-contact with fellow travellers and back to the constant mumblings of my inner thoughts.
I looked up again. And there it was. Silence. Peace. Relief.
As I continued to walk, my head inevitably drifting back to the floor, back to my feet, the path and the noise began again.
Looking up swiftly, I tried to hold my gaze towards the sky for as long as I could, watching, exploring the trees, the sounds of the birds and where they were hidden in the layers of green. Not too high that I’d fall flat on my face or stumble into the first unsuspecting cyclist, but enough to make me admire the variety of trees in the canopy, to try to spot the chirping robin, to noticed the gazillions of mozzies buzzing wildly left and right just above my face…
That evening I got thinking about how much we look down. Most of us look down as we walk, watching our feet rather than, god-forbid, making eye contact with anyone ahead; looking down at our mobile phones, ignoring the real world in favour of the digital; looking down at our laptops, for hours on end, day-in, day-out; looking down on others – those who have a sense of over superiority often do this regardless of whether it is warranted or not; and, of course, looking down on ourselves, dismissing our capabilities, feeling inadequate and putting unnecessary strain on ourselves to do more than required.
I propose that next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, with too much on your mind, or needing a moment to recoup, pop outdoors, or even look out of the window, and try just looking up – be that at the sky, or the tree canopy. Explore the shapes, colours, sounds, movements, the dancing light, the breeze on your face, through your hair…
How does it make you feel? Does it quieten your mind like it does mine?
I’d love to hear if it acts as a dimmer switch for you too, or provides any other mental relief. Pop them in the comments below.