Outdoor Meditation: The Power of Site Selection
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
It is no surprise that human nature craves the outdoor environment. From watching a sunset over the horizon, to smelling flowers growing in a beautiful planter, to listening to the flow of a boulder-filled creek, the outdoor environment is lush with observation. For those who practice and enjoy meditation and seek to spend time practicing outdoors, the natural environment can present some unique challenges but rewarding opportunities as well.
Research indicates that in as little as five minutes, people begin to feel the psychological benefit of outdoor space. Spending time outside improves mental health (such as cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being) and physical health as well. Vitamin D obtained from the sun, breathing in fresh air, and having opportunities to play outdoors are undeniable benefits for human health. Simply finding space outside to step away fosters social connectedness and being outside tends to encourage human interaction. Commenting on current weather or the surrounding environment are simple conversations that foster human connection. Consider how often you casually talk with someone you pass by in the park, a plaza, or on a park bench.
Sitting with eyes closed in a relaxed state is an activity that would rarely be preferred on a bustling urban park bench when compared to sitting on a boulder in a serene meadow. With the increase in world populations in urbanized areas, the high reliance on technology, and the growing amount of time people are spending indoors, the reality is that the built outdoor environment needs to be considered as an accessible meditation setting. Built outdoor environments are designed spaces such as parks, plazas, and patios. It is important to not overlook these environments for meditation settings as they can offer the same benefits as outdoor environments. The rewards of forest bathing coupled with the relaxing value of meditation support outdoor meditation.
Being away from a pristine natural environment doesn’t stop us from seeking space to still enjoy nature. Built environments such as frequently accessed areas surrounding homes, workplaces, or businesses often include established parks, gardens, or plazas. While it’s common to only think of structures in a built environment, the surrounding space holds considerable value as well. This space is often professionally designed and manicured, and whether it is in a park or plaza, an urban, suburban, or even a rural environment, this outdoor space has created not only a natural setting, but also an experience for you.
Sitting on a park bench overlooking a pond, enjoying a trail through a park, or smelling the flowers in a rose garden are all built environments that are impressive for a park experience, yet are not typically designed for a comfortable, solitary, and comfortable meditation. When it comes to meditation in the built environment, a private space where you can sit undisturbed is not typical. Intuitively, it’s more enjoyable to sit near a tree in the sunlight in a part of the park away from a sidewalk compared to a park in front of a busy fountain.
Recently, while skiing along a remote trail, I found a beautiful view of a waterfall. It was at a spectacular viewpoint, and I wanted to take in all I could along with a few solitary moments of meditation. However, with nowhere to sit away from others, but also wanting to enjoy the view, I had no choice but to take some ski steps off and away from the trail. Stepping off the trail allowed me to choose my own unique site for solitary enjoyment of the waterfall and provided a great setting for a private meditation. Sitting on the snow with my eyes closed, I let myself feel the rushing tempo and sounds of the waterfall, taking deep breathes of the crisp air and allowing a cold breeze to aid my relaxed state. The wind was blowing and blustery, but knowing that I could only sit in the cold snow for a limited amount of time made me cherish this experience even more. The sound of silence that can be experienced in an alpine environment free from human voices or animals bustling was very refreshing. Although I was in a remote environment along a secluded trail, this experience reminded me that the same lessons apply both in the natural outdoor environment and the built outdoor environment when it comes to outdoor meditation.
In landscape architecture we refer to the site selection process as choosing an appropriate location for elements or features while designing the landscape. Therefore, along with the desire to be in nature, the conscious choice of site selection for where to sit can enhance the experience of outdoor meditation. The ability to choose your own place to sit in nature is a wonderful opportunity and builds upon the unscripted experience of being outside. A recent trip to my local park in Denver on a snowy day provided me with a similar opportunity to connect with nature. Taking a break from a ski around my local urban park, I found a place where I could find some solitude. Similar to the experience in the remote environment, it did not require taking too many steps away from the established pathway. I was able to take in the calm created by the freshly fallen snow: the birds chirping in the distance, the cool shadows cast by the trees above, and the smell of the wet, clean earth below. When my brief meditation was complete, opening my eyes allowed me to enjoy the variety of trees delicately holding the snow. Noticing the people in the distance was a nice reminder that I was not alone, although I felt like I had just escaped from the city.
Next time you’re outside strolling in your nearby park, feel free to walk off the pathway and select your own site to meditate. Consider varying these new locations. There is an endless variety of spaces and perspectives for outdoor meditation. By taking charge of your own site selection, you can provide yourself with an unscripted experience just as unique as both forest bathing and meditation.