The past year has redefined the outdoors. For one, when we weren’t sheltering in place, we carried on as best we could outdoors, as it was considered one of the safer gathering spaces in the midst of the pandemic. As we emerge and adjust back to a new normal — shedding masks, connecting, and traveling again — how can we reflect more deeply on our relationship with ourselves, the outdoors, and the earth?
At Esalen, the majesty of Big Sur and its sacred grounds have been available for decades to explore and discover one’s potential: a true gift. How do we look ahead and move forward with a more responsible and purposeful approach to nature? The answer may start with mindfulness.
Mark Coleman, mindfulness teacher and wilderness guide, took some time to chat via email from the U.K. in advance of his upcoming workshop at Esalen, Awake In the Wild: Meditation in Nature, May 28-30.
Here, he shares his take on earth, screens, being in nature, pandemic healing, and more.
Christine Chen: Some say the earth showed us it needed space to heal, and we saw signs of it while we were all more indoors. What did you observe?
Mark Coleman: The pandemic did give many ecosystems a moment to pause. Human influence is vast and as we've slowed down, it has allowed more quiet in the oceans for marine life, less pollution in the air, more quiet for songbirds to hear each other etc. The key is how we learn to continue to live in better harmony with the earth going forward.
CC: What does this observation tell us about mindful relationships with nature as we emerge from the pandemic?
MC: There are many lessons from the pandemic. One is how vital getting outdoors is for our sanity, health, and well-being. It also reveals how profound an impact humans have on the earth, and so wakes us up to the need to be more mindful of all that we do both individually and collectively, so we are supporting a regenerative way of living that is sustainable rather than one that is exploitative and extractive.
CC: After a year or more of screens, is nature part of our healing path?
MC: Absolutely! Getting away from screens and out into the sensory 3D world of nature is essential for our well-being and health. Research shows that spending time outdoors increases well-being, reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels. And we know intuitively that going into nature uplifts our spirits, opens our sense of perspective, and nourishes our hearts.
CC: How do we reframe our relationship with nature?
MC: We reframe by stepping into the outdoors and beginning to listen, sense, and cultivate a quality of receptivity, where we see we are always in relationship. It’s a reciprocal dance of mutuality. It’s about seeing we are “of” the earth, not on the earth.
CC: What are the benefits of being outdoors and in nature? Are they mental, spiritual, physical, or all of it?
MC: So many benefits. Being in nature opens us to joy at the beauty that is everywhere; peace as we come into the presence of wild things not taxed or stressed as humans are; love as we feel moved by the grace of a hummingbird or the steadiness of an old tree. Our mind calms and clears, our body feels more ease, and spiritually we connect with something greater than ourselves that creates wonder and a sense of the sacred.
CC: What is special about practicing mindfulness and especially mindfulness in nature at Esalen?
MC: Practicing mindfulness at Esalen is a joy. I often joke with participants: "Why would you not want to be mindful here?!” To be mindful at Esalen is to be kindled into joy, wonder, and delight at the beauty of nature, whether you are gazing at the ocean, walking through fields of flowers or listening to the serenade of waves. The beauty makes you want to pay attention!
CC: What types of practice techniques do you recommend for what we might be experiencing at this time?
MC: I recommend inclining your attention to joy, to whatever uplifts your mind and gladdens your heart. There has been so much stress and difficulty for so many and it is important to turn our attention to also noticing spring blossoms, morning song, and the resilient nature of the earth so our heart has more resilience when times are challenging.
CC: Your workshop is happening at the end of May. What will people come away with?
MC: People will leave with a sense of being profoundly touched by beauty, wonder, and joy as they learn to train their minds, open their senses, and learn to live into an embodied sensory awareness that brings presence and peace wherever they are.
Learn more about Mark Coleman.
Christine Chen is the host of Esalen’s social media talk shows, Esalen Live! on Facebook and YouTube, and Esalen Presents on IGTV. Christine is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, a best-selling author, and master yoga teacher (ERYT500, ERYT300, YACEP) who encourages yogis to practice and live with purpose. Learn more.