by Gowri Varanashi
During Claw 2019, we did something new. We introduced nature meditation as an activity, where we all spread out on the rocks early in the morning and sat quietly listening to the sounds, the wind, looking at birds, the land, feeling and observing everything around us for ten minutes. This became a huge hit amongst our participants, to the point where one evening they themselves decided to do a nature meditation on the rocks for about fifteen minutes to witness the sunset, despite being eaten alive by hundreds of mosquitoes! Why did we teach this and end up doing it?
“In a very basic way, nature observation is the most important of the survival skills. A survivalist cannot build a fire without knowing where to find the necessary materials. He cannot travel safely in a wilderness environment without being alert to the constant changes around him. And he cannot find sustenance without an appreciation for the plant and animal life that dwell in a given area. In the widest sense, nature observation is the basis of all enjoyment and well-being in the outdoors... You feel more fully the joy of living. You hear the voices modern man misses—not just the voices that speak to the five senses, but the universal voice that speaks to the heart".
Tom Brown Jr, Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking.
For me, the above quote sums up why nature connection is important for us at all times but especially in today's world. Our senses and alertness remain dormant, only activated by screens and we spend our lives caught up in stress, work, making money and so we have become disconnected to nature by being embedded in a human made world that isolates us from it. We rarely pause and take minutes to ourselves and use our senses in a context in which we are supposed to be using them, which is in nature. We rarely stop to look at plants or observe other living beings we share this planet with. More and more studies show how nature makes one happy, it reduces stress and anxiety, it brings you something real and tangible unlike screens we stare at. Nature connection is becoming one of the key tools to ensure positive mental health and physical well being. After all, isn't that one of the reasons why we go climbing as well? Many climbers say, being close to nature and using their bodies to climb relaxes them, makes them happy and our sense of feel and touch comes into play but there are more ways in which we can connect with our surroundings while climbing.
One time during CLAW, we found a tiny frog at our campsite, another time we saw a rock agama lizard, commonly seen when out climbing in India and another time I found a grass seed that turns 360 degrees when you put saliva on it. We could have passed by these wonderful creatures and gone about our day’s plans to climb but I took these moments to encourage a pause in activities and turned them into teaching moments. By pausing and actually giving attention to something else other than ourselves, it teaches us to be observant, to appreciate the little things in life, to care about something else and keep learning. So we spoke about the lizard, everyone learned how to hold a frog the correct way, gently while causing no harm, and everyone was in awe, saying “ooh” or “ oh wow” when we watched a grass seed perform magic in the wind.
So as we give more attention we learn that nature truly holds magical stories of amazing animals. The more we delve into these stories, the more interesting the entire landscape looks as a whole. An entire story can be revealed about the land, what’s happening on it, who lives in it, who moves around etc, which will make us respect the land and animals with a new and different perspective. I strongly believe in bringing more nature awareness into climbing, the climbing community and in teaching climbing because the main essence of climbing is to travel to stunning landscapes, get on rocks, climb them using our bodies, limbs and our minds. In fact, climbing is one way we personally and physically connect with nature. If we as climbers are unable to give more time and attention to these spaces, then what is the point of going there and not form a deep personal love for the plants and animals we share that space with? The quote above says, at the basic level, nature observation is what leads to enjoyment in the outdoors. Does that not include times when we have enjoyed a sunset while climbing like when we all did a nature meditation? the weather? the sky? The feel of the rocks themselves when we climb? So, in fact, the entirety of our enjoyment when being outdoors, stems from basic nature observation.
Whether it's through climbing or other activities, nature connection is the act of personally engaging with nature through sensory awareness, observation skills and having a personal connection or experience through it. So when the natural world presents an opportunity to observe an animal closely and talk about it with others, seize that moment, give that animal respect and time to get to know it a little better.
There are various ways to start our practice to move towards a more active lifestyle of consciously being connected to nature. One is a nature meditation or a deeper form of this, is a Sit Spot. A sit spot is when you go back to the same spot regularly and sit quietly observing for ten to fifteen minutes, for a few weeks or months. This allows you to gain a deeper understanding of that one spot, form a personal connection to that space and the beings that live there or come and go. How can you bring this into your climbing lifestyle? Well you probably often go to the same areas to climb right? So pick a spot and either before you start climbing or at the end, sit in this spot for five to ten minutes and notice the magical things you learn about that landscape. The next time you go climbing outdoors, I encourage you to start your journey afresh, open yourself to observation and expand your lifestyle to accommodate more of nature.
All images are by Praveen Jayakaran from CLAW 2019, Hampi.