The single best thing I did for my mental health this summer was not meditation. By no means am I saying that I stopped meditating. But at this point the practice for me is part of my routine. So, the best new thing I did this summer was to make the area outside of my home more hospitable. I got rid of some old stuff and in the new spaces deposited a tent with some rocking chairs and a covered swing.
This was a game changer for me because my backyard is in full sun. Before my upgrades, there was almost no shade. This made it difficult to enjoy being outside for any period of time. My new shady spots and comfy seats, however, have drastically changed things for me. Now, I can read, listen to a webinar, or even work outside. And you can bet that I have also enjoyed meditating outside, too.
Let’s face it. Being outside is magical. The sounds of nature can quickly calm and relax us. The outdoors can give us a break from our screens or offer a chance for movement. In fact, I have it on good authority that getting outside is part of what many lawyers require for an “ideal day.”
Last year, when I was preparing to write my first book I interviewed more than 30 lawyers to discuss their experience with stress. I thought these interviews would be hard but they were actually quiet inspirational. My favorite part was when I got to ask them what their ideal day looked like in order to provide some context around all the questions about stress. Nearly every answer included an outdoor activity, whether it was playing golf, taking a walk, or gardening.
These anecdotal reports are also consistent with myriad research studies that show the health benefits of getting outside. Studies have shown that being in nature can reduce stress, improve cognitive functioning, and increase happiness. What’s more, you don’t have to take a trek through the Grand Canyon to tap into the benefits. Instead, two hours–even if spread out over the course of a week–is enough to improve one’s perceived well-being.
While it may not be terribly surprising that pleasant activities outside can lift our spirits, I have experienced a similar boost from unpleasant outdoor activities. It has taken me a few years to get there, but I am now officially a fan of trimming my hedges. My house is surrounded by landscaping on all sides, including two literal walls of shrubs.
My husband and I are not handy people so we had outsourced this for many years. While social distancing during the pandemic, I got
ambitious bored and tried it myself. I would go out on a nice day and trim for about an hour or two and fill up a dumpster with clippings. I always came in tired and messy but seeing the impact of my work felt good.
And, can I be honest? Yard work can sometimes be cathartic. One day, I was in a terrible mood and very much in my head after getting an email from a colleague about a project. I stewed in that feeling for a while and then looked out the window. I saw how nice it was, recalled the trimming I had yet to do, and put my energy to good use. I came back inside in a much better mood to find that the email “crisis” was really no big deal.
I teach about meditation a lot. There is certainly power in looking inward and getting to know ourselves more deeply. Getting outside, however, lets us expand outward beyond our normal routines and environment. Humans need both introspection and expansion to live a happy life. We need healing and rest, just as much as we need space to grow and move.
The other day my mom, who has never meditated before, asked me how she could get started with mindfulness. I offered some resources and tips, but the first thing I told her to do was to leave her phone and go sit outside. My mom has a nice covered porch with a swing and it’s filled with the lush plants she lovingly tends. I told her to sit for a few minutes every day and to notice how it felt.
Whether you are totally new to mindfulness or are an experienced meditator, this is pretty good advice. To boost your mood, get some exercise, and expand your mind, get outside. You can run, or swing, or clean up your yard, or just sit still and listen to the crickets. Just get outside and notice how it feels. It may just be one of the best things you can do for your mental health.
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.
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