Mindfulness in nature could promote transcendent and holistic understandings consistent with indigenous cultures' beliefs

Adams, D., & Beauchamp, G. (2020). A study of the experiences of children aged 7-11 taking part in mindful approaches in local nature reserves. Journal Of Adventure Education And Outdoor Learning. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14729679.2020.1736110

Outdoor education often involves active hands-on activities with curriculum-related goals in mind. This study focused on a different type of nature experience – that is, mindfulness in nature. Related research aimed to find out what children felt about the experience. Mindfulness refers to “intentionally focusing one's attention on the experience occurring in the present moment in a nonjudgemental or accepting way.”

Four groups of students from four primary schools in Wales participated in mindfulness activities in two local nature reserves. While each group visited only one of the two reserves, their experiences were basically the same. The mindfulness activities included breathing meditations, listening exercises, observing the landscape, watching birds, feeling leaves, and smelling moss. Some of the activities were planned and adult-led; others were generated and led by the children.  After returning to their schools, 22 of the children and 4 teachers participated in semi-structured interviews about the mindfulness in nature experience.

The children reported feeling calm and relaxed; and their behaviors – as noted by the teachers – reflected  this sense of calmness. The children also reported experiencing a different sense of time, a being away from “clock-time.” They felt a sense of being in a different world, an “improved reality”, which they attributed to their immersive communion with nature. The children's responses reflect transcendent and holistic understandings consistent with indigenous cultures' beliefs, where well-being and spirituality are inextricably linked and include a connectedness to the natural world. The fact that children's responses also echo Maslow's concept of plateau experience suggests that mindful approaches in nature may foster optimal mind state. Furthermore, children's responses indicate that mindfulness in nature may help children experience “spiritual moments”. Such experiences also reflect the spirituality of indigenous peoples, which includes feeling a sense of inner peace, wholeness, and an interconnectedness of the elements of the earth and the universe.

This research indicates that mindfulness in nature can promote a sense of connectedness with the more-than-human world and cultivate less anthropocentric perspectives. These perspectives, which are consistent with indigenous cultures, could cultivate in individuals and communities a feeling of interrelatedness with the rest of the natural world.

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