Humans beings are custom-designed for nature awareness.
Before there were computers, smart phones and televisions, most of our time was spent outside in the fresh air, tuning in with birds, plants, trees, and all the stories of nature.
Our lives were entirely consumed by looking at… listening to… and talking about things in nature.
This deep level of knowledge & understanding about edible plants or how to move quietly in the forest and get closer to wildlife, was developed out of a need for survival.
But beyond the surface appearance of a basic need to find food, shelter & navigate without getting lost… using our sensory awareness in nature also brought significant benefits to our health, happiness and intelligence as people.
In most cases there was a healthy respect and appreciation for the complex and mysterious ways that nature helps us thrive as a species.
It’s these benefits that led humans to revere and appreciate nature as the bringer of long-term health, happiness and wisdom.
Just check out some of these nature awareness quotes by famous people.
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
– John Lubbock
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even
– E.O. Wilson
“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
– Albert Einstein
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
– John Muir
There’s a reason why history’s greatest philosophers, scientists and leaders tend to have close relationships with nature!
Yet today things are quite different.
Most people today have barely any awareness of the natural world at all.
Our senses have become dull, and our days have become filled with thinking about work, computers, or how to pay for college.
The result is that rather than patterning our awareness around natural skills like how find food, or interpreting the behavior of animals, instead we’ve become preoccupied with technology, video games, and how to fit into a global society.
All our awareness develops around unnatural things, while ignoring everything else.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities, they simply don’t stimulate the human brain in the same way that nature does.
That is why so many people around the world are now coming back to the wilderness and intentionally rebuilding practices of nature awareness into their daily life.
It’s easy to do and has dramatic effects on human consciousness.
I’d love to share it with you!
So today, we’ll start with the basics, and then get more advanced…
A Journey Of Self Discovery Through Nature
Nature awareness is truly an inner and outer journey.
By this I mean that there’s a distinct beginning, middle and end (which is actually just another beginning).
The person who emerges from a journey towards deep embodiment of nature awareness routines is not the same person who started out.
Unfortunately, most people who aspire to go on this journey only ever go part way and never quite see the full benefits manifest.
This is partially due to a lack of mentors who still remember the way, and also that most people simply don’t realize there’s more to discover outside than what they currently know.
It only becomes apparent after some time of consciously developing your awareness outside, that nature is actually helping you to access more of your brain by literally changing the way you perceive the world through your 5 senses.
This is why early experiences with nature awareness will take on a different form or flavor compared to later stages.
As you become more advanced, nature itself seems to change and transform around you as new experiences and observations show up in your awareness.
These shifting perceptual abilities are a sign of growth.
In order to grow our perceptual abilities we need to wake-up our 5 senses and apply that awareness towards the most stimulating environment on the planet… nature!
Awakening To Nature: A Sensory Initiation
Perception happens through the 5 senses.
Yet most people only ever use a tiny fraction of their true sensory capabilities.
The result is a state of mind that’s almost like being half asleep.
Just because you’re technically awake, it doesn’t mean you’re truly embracing life with all your engines fired up!
If you’ve never experienced a suddenly open state of peak awareness, then you’re in for a real treat.
The very first time I went outside with conscious awareness on nature, it was a magical experience that seemed to interconnect the sensory, mental, emotional & spiritual levels.
- I could actually feel my senses opening in a dramatically new way.
- Colors suddenly looked sharper and more vibrant.
- I was hearing all kinds of birds and sounds of wind blowing through the trees for the first time.
- I felt emotionally open & completely clear-headed, like I could see my life from a higher level and knew exactly what direction to go, and how to solve problems with ease.
- I suddenly realized that I had spent the first part of my life being completely absorbed inside my own thinking, without ever opening my eyes to the beauty and opportunity surrounding me.
This is very often the first stage of the nature awareness journey.
There’s some kind of initiatory moment… a close encounter with nature that opens your eyes to experience a much bigger world.
Suddenly you’re seeing that nature has real life benefits for you.
The initiatory moment can be a bit different for each person, but there are also universal trends and patterns that are easily observed.
For me, it really helped me realize that life has deeper meaning beyond the surface appearance.
I suddenly realized that I could make a conscious choice to pay attention and tune in with life.
When I started using my awareness more consciously, everything in my life improved.
- My relationships became deeper & more meaningful.
- I discovered an inner sense of my own truth and how to communicate that truth with authenticity, even when it went against the grain of what other people were saying.
- I realized that I could take an active role in improving my life.
It’s this opportunity to live life with powerful meaning and focus that makes me grateful I discovered a rich philosophy of nature awareness in my teenage years.
But this is still just the beginning!
The next stage in the process is where things get a bit tricky.
Stage 2: Practice Makes Perfect
Those first moments of awakening to nature are very compelling and impactful, but then you still need to practice and hone your skills in order for these opportunities to fully manifest in everyday life.
It’s very easy to get inspired and excited about developing all the rich benefits of nature awareness.
But to actually develop the consistent routines required for long-term results is another story entirely.
Because the journey involves a whole new way of using your eyes and sensory systems, the process involves completely retraining your senses and using your brain differently from what normally happens in our technological society.
This process is surprisingly simple and easy because humans are biologically designed to be deeply tuned with nature.
But you do need to be consistent and practice regularly so the changes can permanently integrate into your nervous system.
Then you’re in for a real treat!
Get ready for some exciting changes in your life as your emotions, beliefs, values & worldview will undergo a radical transformation into a much more holistic and tuned in state of awareness.
If you actually complete the process all the way through, these skills have a way of getting inside you and changing the path you take in life.
My own nature awareness journey has had a huge effect on my life path, and in ways I never imagined.
When I first started going to my sit spot and practicing skills like bird language, I was just doing it because I wanted to experience the full potential of my brain.
I never imagined I would be creating this online business and mentoring people all over the world in how to adopt these skills for themselves.
When I look back on my experiences, there are so many laughs and crazy moments wandering around in the dark that I never could have predicted going in.
Not to mention the horrible leaky shelters that kept me up all night listening to owls instead of sleeping.
The one thing I am clear on is that our world needs some serious nature awareness right now.
Not just because of the current problems we face in the environment like oil spills, soil loss, & desertification… but also because of what we’ve lost by cutting ourselves off from the earth.
It’s no secret that nature has incredible effects on the human brain.
So if you want to inject some fun and adventure into your life, while actually improving your biological capacity for happiness & success… it’s really quite simple.
Go on your own journey!
What Is Nature Awareness?
Nature awareness is simply the process of being out in the natural world with conscious focus and attention.
The key thing to realize is this…
Most people only ever use superficial states of awareness when they go outside (and we can even generalize this to all of life).
Superficial awareness means being in nature, but not really being aware of nature itself.
This shows up in lots of different ways:
- It’s the jogger who runs in the forest but doesn’t hear the alarm calls of birds and squirrels at an owl hiding in a nearby cedar tree.
- It’s the botany professor who can easily identify any plant, but needs a guide anytime they enter the forest to avoid getting lost.
- It’s the camper who talks in a loud booming voice and scares away all the animals.
These are examples of being in nature physically, but being completely unaware that anything meaningful or useful is happening in your surroundings.
Most people view nature as an environment for recreation, or as a resource for the economy.
Yet the more you pay attention and learn to recognize patterns in the plants, trees, behavior of wild animals, even the influence of seasons & weather… the deeper your experience becomes.
Nature is not just an intellectual experience.
It will actually impact you on an emotional and psychological level.
You simply need to open your senses and drop into the moment as you explore birds, plants, forest patterns, ecology, animal tracks, and anything else that gets you excited about tuning in.
This focus & attention on nature itself is a surprisingly rare experience in the modern world.
It’s this state of being in full consciousness of plants, birds, trees and in the moment that we are seeking to generate when we practice nature awareness.
What Are The Effects Of Practicing Nature Awareness?
Tuning in with the natural world has real effects on the human mind.
But in order to really feel the deepest impact of immersion in nature, the experience needs to have certain qualities.
This is how you can recognize if you’re having a genuine nature awareness experience.
On a sensory level…
Small sounds will stand out to you like loud broadcasts. You will be able to hear subtle nature sounds even in city landscapes where most people only hear cars and horns.
Awareness of colors, sensations, feelings & emotions will be heightened.
This sensitivity will also transfer over to your interactions with other people, making you more empathetic and conscious of non-verbal communication.
On an intellectual level…
Your mind will become much quieter than usual. Not necessarily silent, but quiet enough to feel an open spaciousness in your mind that evokes creative insight and letting go of mental loops. I believe this is one of the reason why nature awareness is so helpful for people who struggle with attention deficits.
Your memories of nature will become very sharp. You will remember great detail about your experiences that you can then piece together with other knowledge to make predictions and distill key insights.
On an emotional level…
A sense of peacefulness and inner joy will emerge from letting go of stress.
It’s very common to feel a deep sense of belonging in nature. Rather than feeling like an imposter who is separate from the plants & animals, you begin to feel connected. This can also rekindle old memories of childhood, which can be very healing.
On an experiential level…
You’ll see more animals, and be capable of getting physically closer to wildlife without provoking fight or flight responses.
You will become much more capable of sizing up the landscapes very quickly and predict things about the forest.
You will be empowered to become an active participant in nature by respectfully harvesting and using wild foods, or taking cues from the bird alarms about nearby hawks, cats & owls, or taking cues from the forest itself to decide where you choose to explore.
On a spiritual level…
It’s very common for people to find a connection to spirit in the woods, though it’s not necessarily connected to any particular religion.
Most people report improved intuition & sensitivity to the pull of gut reactions/going with the flow.
It’s also common for a deeper sense of your purpose in life to bubble up to a conscious level. People in nature have more mental capacity to reevaluate their life choices, so it sometimes results in dramatic lifestyle changes as people let go of old habits and choose new directions to head.
As you can tell, this list goes far beyond what most people typically think of when the subject of nature comes up.
When I tell people in everyday life about my work as a nature mentor, almost nobody understands what I’m talking about.
To most people naturalist training is just for hippies, wilderness enthusiasts and biology professors, but for the average person trying to make their way in life, it doesn’t really matter.
Most people wonder why does it even matter?
- Why does it matter if I can’t identify plants, or remember what kind of tree that squirrel was climbing on?
- Who cares if I can navigate the forest without getting lost?
- What do these skills actually do for people living in a world of computers & fast-paced business & finance?
If you ever find yourself thinking this way… I would invite you to consider the possibility that nature actually holds so much more than you currently realize!
It might even be the key to unlocking your own personal success and happiness in life (whatever definition you have of success).
I’ve observed that practicing nature awareness techniques on a regular basis has a dramatic effect on human memory.
Connection to nature has been shown as a major contributing factor to the develop of empathy, emotional intelligence, risk assessment and leadership skills.
If it were possible to measure the brain activity of someone applying sensory awareness in nature, I’m convinced we would see their entire brain light up as different brain regions come online and start working together in new ways.
For me, it really all comes down to living my highest potential in life.
My own difficult experiences and personal challenges have taught me to have an attitude that life is not worth wasting.
It’s important to make the most of every day… To live with passion, purpose and vision.
More than anything, people who go really deep into a truly holistic experience of nature awareness end up learning how to live completely in the moment and make every moment count.
When you’re staring into the uncaged eyes of a 250 lb. female mountain lion traveling with 3 kittens mere feet in front of where you’re sitting in the backyard, it’s hard to let your mind drift off into worrying about what you’re going to have for supper.
Instead, your senses are fully alive and activated in a way you never imagined possible.
Your feeling state is one of pure rapt attention and focus.
ADD goes completely out the window, along with any feelings of depression or stress about work or family.
Then when you come back from your adventures outside, you return to the world with a renewed sense of joy and wonder.
Nature gives us excitement and mystery when we need stimulation.
It also gives us solitude and respite when life is a bit out of control.
For some people, it’s enough to give you that extra edge of creativity when you’re having a rough day.
For others, it can mean the difference between being functional and success, versus having seriously limiting challenges with focus, stress, & emotional control.
So How Does It Actually Work?
In order to really get all the best results of your nature awareness skills, you need to take an entirely different attitude towards the outdoors from what you’re probably used to.
Instead of blindly barreling through the bush, it’s all about using our 5 senses, our physical bodies, our short/long term memories and problem solving skills, and a little bit of human instinct.
Step 1 – Get Outside And Slow Down
The first thing you need to do is get outside and slow down.
Whenever I mentor people in nature, the first thing we work on is developing some personal routines that get you outside, and using your senses consciously in nature… ideally every day.
It’s not important to spend hours of time in the most amazing natural environment. Even just 20-30 minutes in the backyard with a few trees & birds will do wonders.
The most important thing is to let go of your agenda & expectations so there’s no destination and no time schedule.
Most people are extensively conditioned from a young age to move quickly and fill their brain up with a constant stream of thoughts.
But moving quickly is like an alarm siren to animals.
It causes lots of noise that scares away birds and tells any animal within hundreds of yards that you’re there.
It’s also impossible to be fully in your senses when your mind is busy.
Instead we want to focus on causing the least amount of disturbance as possible because this is when you’ll get to see all the amazing things that happen when a forest is quiet.
The best way to do this is simply by finding a place to sit down and be quiet while you focus on watching, listening, and overall tuning in.
If you get antsy or can’t sit down for long, a slow, gentle wander can also accomplish much of the same result.
But in order to qualify as a true nature awareness wander, I would say you should walk at least half the pace of your normal walk.
At times you should walk even slower… And stop frequently to look and listen.
Step 2 – Share & Record
A complete nature awareness routine doesn’t stop when you come back inside.
The next instruction to new students is after you get back home… you record your observations in a journal, or sometimes I’ll meet with people on the phone to have a live dialogue and catch their story.
It’s important to record your observations after you come back, rather than while you’re in the field because it forces you to use your memory and storytelling skills rather than just writing down what you’re currently looking at.
Real time observation in the present, and accurately remembering details from the past are two very different abilities in the brain.
It’s important to develop both.
One of the best ways to measure someone’s growing awareness is through language and communication patterns.
After an afternoon outside, if you interview someone who lacks the basic competency of how to look at natural things like birds and plants, their memory will be extremely patchy.
A student might remember seeing the squirrel climbing up a tree, but they won’t have any knowledge of the birds that were singing.
Or they might remember hearing what other hikers said as they passed by, but they won’t have any memory of the specific trees and basic characteristics of forest they were walking in.
Very often, when I first start mentoring someone to learn about nature through skills like wildlife tracking & bird language, they will have almost no mental imagery of their nature experiences.
I pay attention to key markers in the behaviour and language of my students…
Starting out, there’s typically very little depth and sensory description to the stories they share about the natural world.
This is how I can track exactly where someone is at with their awareness.
It’s normal in the beginning for your observations to seem very surface level, but gradually the depth improves.
This is a sign of progress.
The stories become more detailed and they begin to take on greater personal meaning as mysteries are gradually solved, and new mysteries are found.
By telling your story to a journal, or a journey companion who is also practicing nature awareness with you, or a mentor, this completes a full circuit of learning.
Many people make the mistake of coming back from their adventures in nature, and never share the story.
But sharing the stories is really what makes it all work!
Storytelling is the part that most people do wrong, simply because they don’t practice.
This is a deep topic if you really want to know more about the complete storytelling process. It’s worth doing some good reflection on this important skill.
In this way we connect together both the external making-real-world-observations side of the learning journey, with the more internal reflection & processing that trains your awareness into a neat little package.
It reinforces your own understanding of nature, while helping you learn from the stories & questions of others.
You’ll find that almost by magic, upon journaling or sharing your nature stories, suddenly you’re seeing the experience with new eyes.
Perspectives that you hadn’t previously considered will now be opportunities.
And you’ll know exactly what to look for next time in order to understand more deeply.
Then you go back to step 1 and repeat!
This is a 2 step learning cycle that can be completed over and over again on any time scale you choose.
How Long Does It Take To Get Results?
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it’s actually really simple.
The process of tuning in with nature and talking about your observations will come very naturally to you if you just start doing it.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time outside. It really doesn’t take a huge commitment to start seeing results.
Studies have shown that as little as 10 minutes surrounded by trees & birds can have a dramatic effect on overall happiness & stress relief.
But consistency is important!
For the full effects of practicing nature awareness methods to manifest, it typically requires ongoing efforts and routines.
You can’t just go camping once a year and call that your nature awareness time. It won’t have the same effect.
The process is really a lot like working out your muscles, expect instead we’re working out our sensory awareness and our brain!
Some people might go to their sit spot every day for 30 minutes, followed by a short journaling session to record the main observations & insights.
Others might only go once per week, but stay for a good 1-2 hours.
When I work with people on the phone or Skype, we often use a hybrid approach, so they’re journaling, and then we also meet on the phone so I can help them get past blindspots.
In both cases, the length of time is much less important than the quality of your awareness, and that you take time to journal, or share the experience with a good listener/mentor.
If you skip either of those 2 steps, it either won’t work, or it will take you a very long time, or you simply won’t get the full effect.
At the same time, there’s a huge amount of flexiblity in terms of how you apply those two key steps… and anything is fair game!
There are literally hundreds of unique avenues you can take to develop your own nature awareness.
I always encourage my students to start with what your passionate about because passion based learning is more engaging and more likely to be maintained over a long period of time.
Some people will be drawn to plants & their edible/medicinal values.
Some people will be drawn to birds and what they communicate with their voices.
Other people are generalists who want to know a little of everything.
If you aren’t passionate about any particular area of nature, just start with whatever you’re most interested in.
How To Practice: 26 Nature Awareness Activities
Over the years I’ve written a lot of guides to help people on their own nature awareness journey.
Here are 26 ways to practice your nature awareness skills.
Bird Language Activities
- Learn bird calls vs bird songs
- Learn the 7 American Robin calls
- Find an owl with bird language
- Watch the crows & ravens
Animal Tracking Activities
- Learn to identify clear prints
- Hone your knowledge of landscape ecology
- Study animal behavior
- Go deer tracking
Plants & Wild Food Activities
- Study plant families and learn to identify the parsley family
- Practice your plant identification skills
- Make a dandelion salad
- Take the wild food challenge
- Plant a garden with perennial edibles
Survival & Wilderness Living Activities
- Master the essential skills of survival
- Practice aidless navigation techniques
- Learn to predict weather by looking at clouds
Nature Generalist Activities
- Go to your sit spot
- Practice Your Sensory Awareness Skills
- Start a nature journal
- Learn to make better observations
- Learn to walk silently in the woods
- Practice stalking live animals (respectfully)
- Practice Mindfulness techniques
Nature Mentoring Activities