Discovering Yourself and Finding Flow in Nature
Discovering Yourself and Finding Flow in Nature is about exploring the space that nature creates to stimulate creativity, access flow, and refresh our whole mind, body, and spirit. In our eternal search for who we are we often get bogged down with the latest and greatest program, pill, or new and improved miracle morning routine. One of the most tried and true ways is simply discovering yourself and finding flow in nature.
“We don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilization.” - The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams.
Our Connection With Nature
For myself, I believe that the appreciation of nature is a big part of me being able to lead a High Flow Lifestyle. Nature provides both the incubation period needed for my ideas to form and creativity to take place, as well as provide an active recovery for my body to refresh and recoup energy, which prevents burnout.
My family and I felt this overwhelming need to be closer to nature on a regular basis. Well, maybe it was more me than our kids Miana and Hawk, but I knew they’d love being able to play outside in the 4 seasons. Our restaurants are all in the city so getting some separation and a breath of fresh air was much needed. So we went all in and got a home nestled deep in the woods, there is a large creek, small waterfalls, deer and other wild animals. It took awhile to get internet, like 8 months, but with all the conveniences of modern life we have found a great balance of digital and analog.
From flow science I’ve learned that we have created a rich environment for stimulating flow by being surrounded by nature.
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Creating a Rich Environment
Just by being in nature we can set off many of the external flow state triggers that come from a Rich Environment, namely: novelty, complexity, and unpredictability as well as deep embodiment
When we are walking along a path or through the woods, even if it’s a path you’ve walked many times, the scene is always new and novel. As with nature, nothing is static and it is always changing, providing a fresh scene and environment to take in each time.
Thinking about how this nature came to be and how we are interconnected to it is a very complex thing to contemplate. There may be no definite answers out there but the complexity of the universe is definitely a large enough inquiry to allow yourself to get lost in wonder. Even looking at the various ecosystems out there you’ll see how complexly layered everything is, and realize we are only physically seeing a small part of the mysteries.
With every step along a path the only thing up ahead is unpredictability. Even if you are enjoying an ocean scene or swimming in the water, a dolphin may pop up from time-to-time or fish might swim right through your feet. You never get bored of how unpredictable nature can be. There is a reason they call them outdoor adventurists, because when you are outdoors it really is always an exploratory adventure.
4) Deep Embodiment
Although not part of the same environmental triggers, I believe that if provided a rich environment the flow trigger of Deep Embodiment can flourish. Deep embodiment refers to full body awareness and attention to all of your senses as well. When I’m walking in the forest I like to sort of do a role call one by one of my senses, and then go through head to toe and think about how that body part is feeling, is there tension, pain etc.
This time in nature can also be considered as part of the incubation process. Creativity occurs when 2 unrelated ideas are brought together to form something new. In nature this can happen when we are in a state of allowing ourselves to be lost in the moment or daydreaming. All of the environmental stimulation that occurs in nature or seeing a beautiful scene is sort of like a sensory overload. When you are in a state of deep appreciation you mind can be working behind the scenes, connecting the dots, so to speak.
The Japanese Concept of Self-discovery in Nature (Kachou Fuugetsu & Shinrin-Yoku)
We aren’t the only society to recognize the benefits of spending time in nature and how it may be a path to self-discovery. Kachou Fuugetsu is a concept that I began to explore after having done a few pilgrimages when I lived in Japan (88 Temple Shikoku Pilgrimage, Kumano Kodo...). When I was a doctoral student at Osaka University I was researching identity formation and finding flow within cultural traditions and groups, but I realized the concept of self-discovery in nature is something everyone in the world can benefit from.
So, what is Kachou Fuugetsu? Kachou Fuugetsu is a Japanese concept that means to discover yourself when experiencing nature. Literally, Kachou Fuugetsu means: “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon.”
This ancient Japanese philosophy and proverb stems from Fuushi Kaden in the 1400’s. It is considered to be one of the major concepts in Japanese aesthetics and thoughts on beauty and art. Similar relating concepts are Wabi-Sabi (the beauty of imperfection), Shizen (nature and naturalness), Mono-no-aware (an empathy towards things), Kintsugi (the art of repairing broken pottery with gold) etc.
What the Japanese kanji characters are referring to are seeing the beauty surrounding you in each season, and understanding that those things (and you) are beautiful in different ways at different times of the year. “Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon” means that the Wind that we feel in spring is different than the wind in autumn, and the bright bold Moon we see in winter is no less beautiful than the harvest moon in mid-autumn. Basically, we can find ourselves and our happiness in nature if we are open to listening to it.
The traditional themes of natural beauty in Japanese aesthetics are something that we can all experience. What we need to keep in mind is that we are all naturally beautiful or perfect as is, and this is something that being in nature can show you. For good or bad, everything in nature is perfect.
Practicing Self-Discovery in Nature
I understand that this may sound a little too “woo woo,” for lack of a better term. I am really only talking about being able to hit reset on your body and life and start to get a little clarity. Here are a few things I suggest to get started with Katchou Fuugetsu:
- Take a Walk
The simplest place to start is to just take a walk. Sometimes just sitting in nature can be too overwhelming for people at first, your mind is still running with all of the problems and questions that we have in daily life. Therefore, I suggest just going for a stroll.
A light hike is fine if the path is defined well enough to just be able to wander carefree and not have to concentrate on a map. You want to let your mind wander and get to a place where it calms down and you are no longer having a running conversation in your head. Your body’s pace should also slow down to nature’s pace and allow you to be more observant.
“As French academic Frederic Gros writes in A Philosophy of Walking, it’s simply “the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found.” Jefferson walked to clear his mind, while Thoreau and Nietzsche, like Aristotle, walked to think. “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” wrote Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols. And Rousseau wrote in Confessions, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.” - The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams.
- Turn Your Phone Off
When you are taking time to experience nature you have to eliminate the distractions. Not just on vibrate but all the way off for a while. Can go with other people but limit the conversations and just be in nature together.
- Find Some Flowing Water
If you can get near a flowing river of stream take some time to just sit nearby. Watch the water flow by and just allow yourself to zone out, by actually just observing the water flowing.
- Lie Down and Go Cloud Watching
Everyone has the experience of lying down on the grass and just watching the clouds go by. Seeing what shapes form and watching how the many layers of clouds unfold. You probably haven’t done this lately but there is no reason you shouldn’t. Allow yourself to just sink into the grass and watch the magic in the sky.
- Take a Seat – On a Boulder or Fallen Tree
Have a seat on a large boulder or a large fallen tree. Awaken your sense of touch and let your hands run over the rough or smooth rock or feel the bark on the tree. Your sense of touch is powerful and can bring back many memories. Let them come and go and focus on the different textures you feel and start to think about how you are literally touching nature and are a part of nature.
- Walk Barefoot
On the theme of touch, take your shoes off and experience nature beneath you. Most people forget what it’s like to feel the connection to nature through your feet. Walking in nature causes you to also pay attention to where you are walking and forces you to observe the natural surroundings.
Being mindful, aware of your surroundings and letting all of the judgments just flow by. Observe but don’t judge. Listen to all of the sounds that surround you from the wind blowing, to all of the leaves you step on. You are in nature, disturbing it, but also becoming a part of it.
A similar concept, and admittedly a much more popular term than Kachou Fuugetsu, is “Shin Rin Yoku”, or “Forest Bathing,” or “Forest Therapy.” This Japanese concept is centered on the belief of going into the forest and allowing Mother Nature to heal you. The Japanese government promoted the term in 1982, but it is based on ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices of absorbing nature with all 5 of your senses.
There is actual scientific research done on the healing benefits of Shin Rin Yoku and how it relaxes you and can help alleviate stress, high blood pressure, depression etc. With 75% of Japan being forest and mountains, even in modern times with most people living in cities, they understand the power and benefit of nature.
It’s in nature where you can discover yourself, or get back to your original self. I say “discover” because it was always there, we just tend to get distracted easily. As you allow yourself to experience the nature that is surrounding you, you will begin to naturally come to understand who you are as a person. What you like and dislike, and what makes you happy. One thing I have learned is that it is the little things that make you the happiest. It’s not a materialistic thing but something that makes you feel something.
This is the essence of Kachou Fugetsu, experiencing the different seasons and seeing the beauty in each. From that experience with nature you begin to see new things about yourself, you see that you are always changing and also never the same as before. Embrace who you are today. You will never have the same moment again or be the same person as who you are right now.
As unpredictable as nature is, so is the future. The past cannot be changed, but by focusing on the present we can create new paths for the future. Create the new you by being fully present and allowing yourself to enter the flow state on a regular basis.
Your identity isn’t static and there isn’t only one you. As you are always changing it’s important to make time for discovering yourself and finding flow in nature. If you’d like to learn about a few other ways to lead a high flow lifestyle check out my article on The Keys to Leading a High Flow Lifestyle.