Recently I was talking to some friends in England who are thinking of visiting Western Australia. They are interested in visiting Exmouth/Ningaloo Reef and we were talking about the vast distances between places in Australia. My friends are familiar with English landscapes where they can easily walk from village to village and find a pub, B & B and ancient Norman church. How many times have I heard people say (and used to say myself): “In Australia there is a lot of nothing much.” Is this true or is it simply a reflection of what we value? Clearly there is an abundance between Perth and Exmouth, if we include more than the human. There are animals, plants, changing landscapes, amazing colours and forms.
Some time ago I decided to try and pay more attention to the natural world. This ongoing project includes trying to learn the six Noongar seasons, connecting more with the environment and relating to myself as simply one part of the natural world. It isn’t easy. It requires intention, awareness and patience to re-train the mind. We tend to see ourselves as separate, autonomous beings, distinct from, and superior to, the natural world. This intentional re-orienting of my frame of reference is motivated by a desire for greater connection with the earth, its inhabitants and its processes. It is hard to value that which we don’t really know. And it is important for the health of the environment that humans start valuing that from which we have become estranged – planet earth and our co-tenants. I am scared for the future of the planet when we don’t care for it and treat it as expendable.
Mindfulness is a useful capacity to help in this re-calibration. When we are outside, the things that are noisiest, brightest, biggest, tend to capture our attention. The rushing traffic, buildings and construction noises easily engage the senses and drown out the sound of the willy-wag tail, the movement of the branches in the wind and feeling of the sun on one’s shoulders. Pausing and re-orienting one’s attention through the senses to the natural environment reminds us that the human landscape is superimposed on the natural landscape. Time and again our attention will be caught up internally in our thoughts or externally in the hubbub of human activity. We can pause again and feel the breeze, hear the caroling of the magpie and see the colour of flowers that bloom in djilba (Noongar season approx. Aug-Sept). To sustain the earth requires us to relate to it as if it mattered. We can start one small moment of connection at a time.
Dr Kathryn Choules is a certified instructor of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction from the University of Massachusetts and a Senior Teacher of Meditation (Meditation Association of Australia). She has been offering mindfulness programs, workshops, training and retreats in Western Australia since 2013. With many years’ experience in government, academia and the community sector, both in Australia and overseas, she understands the challenges and benefits of finding calm amidst the storm of modern living and the modern workplace.