How I used Mindfulness to find my empathy and be at one with Nature By Amber Petrova (Now in Nature)
“You’ve changed”, people from the past always say to me. And I always respond with, “Yeah, well, I had to.”
Those who know me in 2019 often describe me as a ‘happy little forest fairy’ (which I am more than ok with) but it must be known that life for me wasn’t always this way.
Since I was a child I was always fascinated with Nature and the outdoors. It was a love I held close to my heart but just didn’t experience enough of. True empathy, creativity and a need to explore the world both around me and within were always far behind in the shadows of everything I had ever done until I experienced the most difficult period of my life early last year. This truly was a dark time and, without going into all the dull details, was a time of degrading mental health, heartbreak and lacking sense of self.
I needed to peel back all of my rotten layers
During this dark time I felt completely dissociated from reality, invested in obsessions, consumed by selfish thinking and feeling like I just didn’t belong. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. Parts of my life came to an abrupt and painful end; one being a bodybuilding journey I had pursued for several years and considered a huge part of my shallow identity. Although I’d achieved a peak physical appearance I had sacrificed everything about who I was to achieve it as well as denying myself access to the life I really wanted to live; a life of empathy, freedom and connection. It was all just a mask that left me both hidden and blind and in the end I really had no idea why I was still wearing it.
So I made a decision to change. I needed that connection. I needed inner peace. I needed to peel back all of my rotten layers and look at them, learn from them and then forgive myself.
I broke up with the gym and started hiking often instead. I immediately felt the rush of new love. An interest in the outdoors was one of the things I still knew I possessed; that being in the forest looking up at the trees or at the incredible view from the top of a mountain would bring me a sense of awe. It really did exactly that, along with feelings of calm, belonging, reduced anxiety and improved mood. As I spent more and more time outdoors stepping on crunchy leaves and soaking up the colours of the forest, my connection to something very healthy began to bloom. At last!
Transitioning from ‘reactive’ to ‘responsive’
Soon after, my needs started to spread beyond the boundaries of weekend habits.
My next step was to enter into the practice of mindfulness and meditation. I had been aware of both practices in the past and had performed them occasionally but never remained patient enough to see the benefits or really understand what they could do for me.
Mindfulness in particular is extremely special to me now in that it shapes a new way of thinking and being (if practiced regularly). Through mindfulness we can train our heart to step in over our ego when it comes to emotional responses and decisions. Rather than reacting to situations emotionally or carelessly flying through life paying little attention, we can spend more time stopping to ‘check in’ on ourselves, accepting what is and having the compassion to let go of what does not serve us, particularly when it comes to negative thoughts, emotions and habits.
For example, a stressed and unorganised way of thinking would be allowing an emotionally painful situation to replay over and over in our mind, coupled with over-analysing and not allowing ourselves to truly face the emotion. The negative thoughts then either fester in the mind and run wild or are hidden away to jump out at us the next time a similar situation occurs. A mindful way of thinking would be to stop, view the emotions within us and admit that they exist. We would then observe them without judgement, accept them as they are and know that negative thoughts can have no power over our lives (unless we allow them to have that power). Once this is done the emotion or thought can then be released through even a simple breath. This allows us to be present, clear and focused. It really is a case of transitioning from ‘reactive’ to ‘responsive’ and from ‘disconnected’ to ‘feeling’.
I had more time to be selfless
So I began to practice mindfulness more and more in my day-to-day life and was amazed by the results. I paid more attention to myself, my environment, my loved ones and our conversations. It felt like I was finally waking up to myself and the world around me. It was at that point I realised my ego had been fearing change all along; it left me in a constant state of despair and although I knew what I could do to be a better person I was simply too scared to take the leap. I took to regularly practicing mindfulness meditation in the forest to engage my senses and totally submerge myself in the healing magic of Nature. As I took time to look at who I was within, accept what I saw and let the negativity go, so many aspects of my life began to heal.
With this path to healing then much clearer, I started to educate myself about things outside of my own little life bubble. I cared about Nature and our planet, so what problems were they facing, and why? Now that I had managed to check-in with my own issues and move past them, I had more time to be selfless and empathetic because it was no longer all about me!
It was time to understand the crimes against Nature
It was time to understand the crimes against Nature and what I could do to stop them. Our planet had captured a piece of my heart so it felt important for me to pay attention.
The first thing I learned about was how the largest contributing cause of deforestation, C02 emissions and overall destruction of the planet was animal agriculture. Straight away my ego was whispering, “Ignore it, someone else can change this”, yet my heart was screaming, “What are you doing? You’re paying for this!”. It didn’t sit comfortably with me. How could I have a connection or love for Nature when I was someone who actively harmed it through my own selfish lifestyle choices?
I then researched about issues of animal welfare; the mistreatment of animals for food and what really happens behind closed doors and fancy food marketing. Immediately I imagined myself in the positions of these animals - terrified and scared. Deep inside I had always known what was going on, but the new me was someone who wanted to live a life of empathy and openness. I needed to know every terrifying fact, face them dead in the eye and accept that they were really happening.
“Nature has everything I need”
A horrible gut feeling then sat in the pit of my stomach for a few days and I took it with me on my next adventure to the forest. It was on that day mindfulness and my connection to Nature truly fused together; I laid down in the grass and had a moment of clarity. I looked around at the beautiful trees and flowers surrounding me, the clear blue sky, the trickling water, the grazing animals and my bare feet covered in dirt, and literally said out loud, “Nature has everything I need”.
From then on, I quickly transitioned to a vegan diet, started volunteering at an animal shelter and developed more eco friendly habits which I still make efforts to improve. Finally I saw my empathy as a bright light guiding me through the world towards a symbiotic relationship with Nature and a total inner peace.
This incredible lifestyle change was so important to me as it aligned my beliefs with my actions and unveiled harmony within myself. I carried on showing my appreciation for Nature, surrendering to its beauty and reaping endless benefits and healing during mindfulness and meditation. It wasn’t before long I decided to study diplomas in both practices and to share my experience with the world. I then created my small business; Now in Nature.
Now in Nature introduces a unique fusion between our spiritual well-being and Nature connection. It hosts events to be enjoyed in various outdoor settings that offer both depth for the senses and an escape from the stress of urban living. Mindfulness and meditation join forces with the healing powers of Nature in its retreats, workshops and classes, bringing guests of all ages into the present moment with a clear mind. Each type of event is consciously designed to reignite that Nature connection embedded in all of us, as well as give teachings on managing stress, anxiety and finding inner peace. With an abundance of beautiful waterfalls, forests and mountains available to us in this part of the world, Now in Nature’s ‘classrooms’ are ready to enjoy whenever, wherever!
My small business has been around for a year now but the story leading up to its birth is most definitely one of pure self-discovery and surrender. All I hope now is that others can find the strength to turn their life around, be empathetic for Nature and to find joy in it’s simplicity. After all, Nature is our home, our medicine, our teacher, and above all it is here for us to love in this one life we get on Earth.
- By Amber Petrova