nature

The one thing that will always slow your mind

All summer I’ve been reading Barry Lopez’s book, “Arctic Dreams” — it’s very, very long and I still have a ways to go — and the other night, I read this line which I’m very grateful for:

Watching animals always slows you down.

As someone who is always looking to slow down on multiple levels, I was really struck by by the suggestion that there’s something out there that will “always” slow me down, at least according to Lopez. In my own experience this has been quite true, even though I’d never thought about it this way.

I was up at our family’s cabin the night I read this line, and the next day, I noticed that indeed, every time I saw wild animals — butterflies, bees, moths, hawks, salamanders, toads, rabbits, deer, many different songbirds, crows, and even a bear in the distance — my interior mental world suddenly downshifted into something slower and more focused.

I wasn’t actively bird-watching or tracking or anything like that, just sitting on the porch or driving or walking along. I realized that the animals I saw were actually changing my interior world by disrupting the mental noise and rushing thoughts with a sudden dawning of slow and quiet focus.

It was such a blessing to notice this, to receive this gift of deeper awareness from Lopez and from the animals around me. I think it’s interesting and lovely that just “watching” them can do this.

It was lovely, too, to note that this has been happening all my life, soothing, healing, calming me beneath my conscious awareness. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I am so drawn to wild places and the natural world.

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Spend mindful time in nature to relax and reduce stress

The natural world is a powerful stress reliever and mood booster. It puts things in perspective and can right wrongs, calm anger and soothe frayed nerves. Spend a little time each day with nature, aware of the different feelings and sensations of the breath in your body, as well as all your other senses, and you can give yourself a little of this natural healing – for free. Just nip out into the garden, find a pretty local park or open space or, if you have time, head off to the coast or the moors. If you can’t get outside for any reason – maybe it’s horrible weather or you haven’t got much time – then you could sit quietly and look out of the window, or you could spend time looking at an indoor plant and really notice all the colours and textures. Wherever you are, your aim is simply to take in the natural surroundings as mindfully as you can.

Start by spending a few minutes absorbing the scene. What can you see, hear and smell? Does the air have a taste? How do the earth, grass and tree bark feel? Are they rough, smooth, soft or slippery? Close your eyes and focus on the sounds. Soak up the different ones. Can you hear the wind? Or perhaps cars in the distance? Can you hear insects, birdsong or the scampering of small animals? Notice the rise and fall of each individual sound. Mentally flick between them.

Now sit down. Can you feel the weight of your body settling onto the seat, park bench or whatever you’re sitting on? Can you give your weight up to gravity, so that you feel a sense of rest? Can you feel the movement of the breath in your whole body – the front, the back and the sides? Can you feel how the breath is always changing, just as the sounds do? Can you let any sensations of discomfort in the body also come and go as the moments pass? See if you can have a more fluid experience of both your body and the world around you.

Now stand and take a short walk. Feel the sensations underfoot and notice the movement of your muscles and joints. Feel the gentle swaying of your limbs. Experiment with walking at different speeds and notice how this feels. Let your breath flow as naturally as you can while you move.

As you do this exercise, notice the relationship between direct sensory awareness and thinking: when you’re immersed in savoring your senses, do you find you think less? And if you ‘come to’ at some stage and notice you’ve been lost in thinking – say, rehearsing an argument or worrying about something – can you see how your direct sensory experience faded into the background while you were lost in thought?

If you’re interested in Vidyamala’s “Mindfulness for Women” online course, which starts Jan 1, 2018, you can read more or enroll here.

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“Meditation in the Wild: Buddhism’s Origin in the Heart of Nature,” Charles S. Fisher Ph.D.

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meditation in the wild book cover

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Charles Fisher has poured decades of Buddhist practice, love of nature and scholarship into this work. He leads us on a journey down the centuries and through the jungles and mountain caves of Asia, following the trail of Buddhist practitioners who have lived and meditated in the wild. The quest takes us from the Buddha himself, discovering enlightenment while sitting at the foot of a tree, right through to the modern day. He homes in particularly on the Buddha’s early disciples, the forest hermits of China and Japan, and the Thai Forest tradition. He does not claim to be making a complete survey of the Buddhist world – Korean and Tibetan Buddhism are covered only briefly in an appendix. Milarepa, that most devoted and joyous of wilderness meditators, is overlooked completely. Nonetheless, for the urban Buddhist (and we are all, by the standards of this book, urban!), the result is revealing, inspiring and daunting.

The book builds on Fisher’s earlier work, ‘Dismantling Discontent: Buddha’s Way Through Darwin’s World’, in which he argues that the Buddha’s teachings can be seen as an antidote to the existential discontent brought about by the change from a hunter-gathering to an agricultural society. You don’t need to have read this, but its thesis is never very far away in the sequel.

The book is no paean to the delights and prettiness of nature. Fisher has spent time in the wild and pulls no punches about the demands of such a life. For sure, recluses down the ages have waxed eloquent about forests, streams and mountains. But such superficial delights are not enough to sustain them. The book attends much more to the wilderness as an escape from civilization, and nature as teacher.

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He begins with a description of the forest in the life of the Buddha, which is both vivid and scholarly. While the Buddha, after his enlightenment, spends most of his time in towns or on the edge of them, he still spoke of the ideal meditation as a solitary pursuit undertaken in forests, at the roots of trees or in empty huts. The first lesson of nature is in solitude and freedom from distraction. As Ajaan Mun put it, it was not through mingling and socializing or indulgence in mirth and gaiety that Buddhahood was attained, but rather in quiet and deserted places, free from confusions and trouble.

More than this, nature reinforces our understanding of Buddhist teachings… “listening each morning to the waxing and waning of bird calls, meeting changes in the weather with little protection, knowing hunger and biting insects.” It is one thing to contemplate change and suffering in the comfort of a meditation hall, quite another to live it in the wild. Discomfort and vulnerability bring an earthiness and bright alertness to one’s practice. In nature, there is no avoiding the Buddha’s teachings.

Not only is there discomfort, but danger too. Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be, cultivated his fearless heart in the depths of the forest night. More recently, the early Forest Tradition of Thailand took this on quite avidly as a practice. Fear of tigers and snakes was used as a spur to concentration. Survival of malaria was seen as a sign of the strength of one’s practice. There were monks who didn’t pass the test.

And if discomfort or fear doesn’t divert you from your practice, then nature as teacher has one more challenge. In the author’s own experience, life in nature can be “uneventful, even achingly boring.” Even Ryokan, the great Zen poet, counts the days before the snows clear and allow him to leave his hut – “how many more days must I abide before springtide?” But by sitting with the boredom, a deeper silence awaits him…

Often the moon and I sit together all night,
And more than once I have lost myself among the wild flowers,
Forgetting to return home.

Fisher cuts through any hint of sentimentality with regard to nature. Centuries of revered Chinese and Japanese teachers, recluses and wandering poets are subjected to Fisher’s razorlike acuity. There are those whose writings show genuine signs of having practiced in the wild; and there are the ‘aesthete-recluses’, one step removed from the wild and for whom nature is merely metaphor. Ryokan passes the test. Dogen fares less well, for using nature more as symbol than reality. The great poet Basho is even accused of Disney-izing in his description of a shivering monkey who seems to be in want of a raincoat.

The founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kukai, who spent ten years in his youth as a wandering monk, also comes under the spotlight. He was drawn to the inhospitable heights of Mount Koya and spent years building a temple there for the ‘practice of meditation and benefit of the nation.’ He wrote eloquently of his love of meditating in nature. But, for Fisher, he was tainted by association with civilization, his temple-building being supported by the imperial household, and dividing his time between Koya and civic duties in Kyoto.

Kukai falls foul of Fisher’s sometimes over-rigid dichotomy between wilderness and civilization. His
engagement with worldly affairs is treated as mere compromise, disqualifying him from the author’s roll of honor of the true wilderness practitioners. Yet it would be much more in keeping with Kukai’s own tantric Buddhism to see his political engagement as part of his practice rather than a distraction. He was willing to go beyond his own preferences for mountain life out of a desire to make the Dharma widely available. This was no compromise between wilderness and civilization, but rather a transcendence of it.

After all, the Buddha himself, for all he praised meditation in the forest, spent almost all of his later life in and around human settlement. He allowed patrons to build sheltered settlements for his monk followers. He concerned himself with society’s welfare, and for him this outweighed the ideal of dwelling in the forest. His teachings may have been born in the forest, but were meant for the welfare of the many.

So I suggest a note of caution to the reader. Let’s be inspired by the wilderness tradition but not idealize it. Nor let us take the icon of the forest meditator as a literal standard by which to judge our practice or that of others. (Is it such a great idea anyway to send young Buddhists to their deaths in the jungle?) Human society is where Buddhism is most needed. We may live in towns and cities for a whole mix of motives – comfort and compassion both among them. But to really practice in the city is no soft option, no second-best Buddhism. We can be inspired by the wholeheartedness and vigor of forest meditators. But forests and mountains are not necessarily where we need to spend most of our time.

This book might move more of us to immerse ourselves more adventurously in the wild, at least from time to time, to brighten and vitalize our practice. I hope it does. More than that, I hope it inspires us all to bring a wilderness of the heart to our Buddhist practice, wherever it may lead us.

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Mindfulness: Week 5 – exploring difficulty

John Alex Murphy, The Province: This past week’s Mindfulness meditation introduced a new way of dealing with difficult thoughts that was radically different and initially quite disconcerting for me.

I should initially mention that this past long-weekend, my family and I went on our first 3-day backpacking trip together in Skagit Valley Provincial Park, a spectacular mountain wilderness area about 200 kilometers east of Vancouver. It’s a beautiful place to spend time in nature. As it turned out, it’s also an exquisite place to meditate.

I was excited to start another new week of my eight-week Mindfulness course. So at the end of our …

Read the original article »

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Coming home to the sacred

The word “sacred” has two kinds of meanings. First, it can refer to something related to religion or spirituality. Second, more broadly, it can refer to something that one cherishes, that is precious, to which one is respectfully, even reverently, dedicated, such as honesty with one’s life partner, old growth redwoods, human rights, the light in a child’s eyes, or longings for truth and justice and peace.

Both senses of the word touch me deeply. But many people relate to just one meaning, which is fine. You can apply what I’m saying here to either or both meanings.

I think each one of us – whether theist, agnostic, or atheist – needs access to whatever it is, in one’s heart of hearts, that feels most precious and most worthy of protection. Imagine a life in which nothing was sacred to you – or to anyone else. To me, such a life would be barren and gray.

Sure, some terrible actions have been taken in the name of avowedly sacred things. But terrible actions have been taken for all kinds of other reasons as well; the notion of the sacred is not a uniquely awful source of bad behavior. And just because some people act badly in the name of something does not alter whatever is good in that something.

Opening to what’s sacred to you contains an implicit stand that there really are things that stand apart in their significance to you. What may be most sacred is the possibility of the sacred!

If you’re like me, you don’t stay continually aware of what’s most dear to you. But when you come back to it – maybe there is a reminder, perhaps at the birth of a child, or at a wedding or a funeral, or walking deep in the woods – there’s a sense of coming home, of “yes,” of knowing that this really matters and deserves my honoring and protection and care.

How?

For an overview, notice how you feel about the idea of “sacred.” Are there mixed feelings about it? How has the rise of religious fundamentalism worldwide over the past several decades – or the culture wars in general – affected your attitudes toward “sacred”? In your own life, have you been told that certain things were sacred that you no longer believe in? Do you feel you have the right to name what is sacred to you even if it is not sacred to others? Taking a little time to sort this out for yourself, maybe also by talking with others, can clear the decks so that you can know what’s sacred for you.

In this clearing, there are many ways to identify what is sacred for someone. Maybe you already know. You could also find a place or time that is particularly peaceful or meaningful – perhaps on the edge of the sea, or curled up with tea in a favorite chair, or in a church or temple – and softly raise questions in your mind like these: What’s sacred? What inspires awe? A feeling of protection? Reverence? A sense of something holy?

Different answers come to different people. And they may be wordless. For many, what’s most sacred is transcendent, numinous, and beyond language.

Whatever it is that comes to you, explore what it’s like to open to it, to receive it, to give over to it. Make it concrete: what would a conversation be like, or what would your day be like, if you did it with a sense of something that’s sacred to you?

Without stress or pressure, see if there could be a deepening commitment to this something sacred. How do you feel about making sanctuary for it, in your attention and intentions, and in how you spend your time and other resources?

Then, when you do sustain a sense of the sacred, or involve it in some way in some action, sense the results and let them sink in to you.

However it shows up for you, the sacred can be a treasure, a warmth, a mystery, a light, and a profound refuge.

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How to appreciate and receive life’s gifts

Life gives to each one of us in so many ways.

For starters, there’s the bounty of the senses – including chocolate chip cookies, jasmine, sunsets, wind singing through pine trees, and just getting your back scratched.

What does life give you?

Consider the kindness of friends and family, made more tangible during a holiday season, but of course continuing throughout the year.

Or the giving of the people whose hard work is bound up in a single cup of coffee. Or all those people in days past who figured out how to make a stone ax – or a fire, edible grain, loom, vaccine, or computer. Or wrote plays and novels, made art or music. Developed mathematics and science, paths of psychological growth, and profound spiritual practices. A few people whose names you know, and tens of thousands – millions, really – whom you will never know: each day their contributions feed, clothe, transport, entertain, inspire, and heal us.

Consider the giving of the natural world, the sound of rain, sweep of sky and stars, and majesty of mountains. How does nature feed you?

How about your DNA? The moment of your conception presented you with the build-out instructions for becoming a human being, the hard-won fruits of 3.5 billion years of evolution.

You don’t earn these things. You can’t. They are just given.

The best you can do is to receive them. That helps fill your own cup, which is good for both you and others. It keeps the circle of giving going; when someone deflects or resists one of your own gifts, how inclined are you to give again? It draws you into deep sense of connection with life.

And if nothing else, it’s simply polite!

How can we learn to be receptive to life’s bounty?

  • Start with something a friend has recently given to you, such as a smile, an encouraging word, or simply some attention. Then open to feeling given to. Notice any reluctance here, such as thoughts of unworthiness, or a background fear of dependence, or the idea that if you receive then you will owe the other person something. Try to open past that reluctance to accepting what’s offered, to taking it in – and enjoy the pleasures of this. Let it sink in that receiving generosity is good.
  • Next pick something from nature. For example, open to the giving folded into an ordinary apple, including the cleverness and persistence it took, across hundreds of generations, to gradually breed something delicious from its sour and bitter wild precursors. See if you can taste their work in its rich sweetness. Open even more broadly to the nurturing benevolence in the whole web of life.
  • Then try something unliving, perhaps something with no apparent value, like a bit of sand. Yet in that single grain are echoes of the Big Bang – the gift that there is something at all rather than nothing. Who knows what deeper, perhaps transcendental gifts underlie the blazing bubbling emergence of our universe?
  • Take a breath, and enjoy receiving trillions of atoms of oxygen – most of them the gifts of an exploding star.
  • Consider some of the intangibles flowing toward you from others, including good will, fondness, respect, and love. See if you can drink deeply from the stream coming from one person; as you recognize something positive being offered to you, try to experience it in a felt way in your body and emotions. Then see if you can do the same with other people. If you can, include your parents and other family members, friends, and key acquaintances.
  • Try to stretch yourself further. Recall a recent interaction that was a mixed bag for you, some good in it but also some bad. Focus on whatever was accurate or useful in what the other person communicated, and try to receive that as a valuable offering. Open your mind to the good that is implicit or down deep in the other person, even if you don’t like the way it has come out.
  • Keep listening, touching, tasting, smelling, and looking for other overflowing generosity coming your way.

So many gifts.

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Meditation on happiness

girl sitting on a doorstep, laughing with joy

Happiness – we all seek it and want to know the secret of it. Self-help books on happiness line the shelves of book shops and libraries and there are all kinds of theories about happiness.

Over the years what I thought about and desired as a means to gaining happiness have changed as I have… matured (I like the word matured better than aged). Here is my list, organized by decades.

From ages:

0-10 I wanted to be cared for, safe, nourished and nurtured to be happy (although I could not articulate all this at the time).

11-20 I wanted friendships, fun, freedom, popularity, a car and someone interesting and sexy to date.

21-30 I wanted a college education, to go to lots of parties, a satisfying career, a marriage partner, pregnancy and healthy children, and a nice house in a neighborhood with a good school system.

31-40 I wanted to further my career as a Social Worker and Educational Consultant, a happy marriage, and healthy, independent kids.

41-50 I wanted to understand what spirituality meant, to know the meaning of life, to go beyond my self and live in an altruistic manner.

51-60 I want freedom, health, prosperity, deep friendships and to simplify my life more and more.

Throughout these decades there have been some things that did not change from decade to decade, including:

  • health, love and happiness for myself, my family members, friends and all people
  • stimulating work that helps people
  • a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing home
  • good friends, a happy marriage and independent children
  • peace in the world
  • that everyone have food to eat

For the past ten years, my quest for happiness has focused on things that, at younger ages, I would not have thought important, including:

  • a spiritual practice and community
  • deep friendships based on caring, trust and mutual generosity
  • a life simplified by having less – fewer material things, a small living space
  • simple pleasures – watching otters and ducks on the pond by my cottage, watching the seasons change, spending time in natural settings, cooking for friends, phone calls and visits from my kids
  • peace, tranquility, compassion, and acceptance of myself, my children, my friends and acquaintances
  • acceptance for all that is
  • living mindfully, ethically and compassionately

I realize happiness comes from what I value most, what brings me pleasure, challenge, contentment and peace.

Whatever is on your list of things or values that bring you happiness, I hope you revel in them.

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10 ways to live a better life

A black man and woman, cooking

When we think of changing our lives for the better, we may think of a new job, a new home, a new relationship, or material wealth – more “things” that we think will improve our lives.

Recently I saw a bumper sticker that read “the best things in life are not things” – it made me smile and I started thinking about ways to live a better life without looking for or wanting more stuff.

Here is my list:

1. Simplify – rather than desiring more, find ways to live with less. Bring clothing to Good Will or a charity. Clear away clutter from countertops and tables. If you have not used something or worn something for a year – give it away.

2. Enjoy nature – nature soothes the psyche and lessens stress. If you are fortunate enough to live near nature, do not take it for granted. Rather than rushing to work in the morning, take a moment or two to enjoy the trees, ponds, streams, rivers and the sky. If you do not live near natural beauty, take a drive to a nearby lake or take a walk in the woods.

3. Enjoy the arts – whether you enjoy visual art, performance art or historical art – make it part of your life. Take time to visit museums, see a play, or go to a local gallery.

4. Cook at home – it can become a habit to eat fast food in transit to work or school and at restaurants for business lunches and dinners. Cooking at home is less expensive and often more healthy than food from restaurants.

5. Cook for friends – invite friends and family members to your home and prepare a meal together – it is such a lovely way to spend time with people you care for.

6. Bring mindfulness to work – in this culture of multi-tasking, we rush through our work without really enjoying what we do. Being mindful at work helps us to concentrate on one task at a time, and enjoy the sheer pleasure of being present to what we are doing.

7. Spend time with children. I was washing dishes with a four year old recently. It was fun to watch her enjoy running her hand under the water from the faucet and delighting in the bubbles from the dish washing liquid. Her laugh made me laugh, and we both had fun.

8. Focus on others rather than yourself. It is so easy to get caught up in our own needs. Find ways to help others – shovel snow from an elderly person’s walkway, bring a meal to a neighbor who is not feeling well or volunteer at the local SPCA.

9. Spend time with friends – make a conscious effort to remember this. Write notes in your calendar to call a friend and make time to do something together. Friendship is such a precious thing, so we should not take it for granted.

10. Do something creative – whether it is writing a poem or a short story, painting a picture or a room in your house, or taking a photograph.  Doing something creative is energizing and makes life better.

So there you have it, ten ways to live a better life – non of which are expensive – but which will make you happier and your life better.

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“The Rhythm of Family” by Amanda Blake Soule

The Rhythm of Family

First, if you’re my wife, please stop reading this review. If you’re not her, I’ll explain that statement later.

Now that’s out of the way, The Rhythm of Family is a year-long journey through the life of one family living in Maine. It follows the seasons, from January snows back to the turning of the year at the winter solstice. The Soules have four children who are, during the year described in the book, from nine to one years of age. The point of the book is to describe the intersection of family and nature.

The introduction to the book is called “Noticing,” and this sets the tone for what follows:

Wonderful things happen in our family when we choose to move slowly through our days. When we stop running and rushing about, we discover more time, energy, and space for the things most important in our lives. By slowing down, our connections with our children and as a family inherently become deeper, our creativity thrives, and we find meaningful ways to fill our time.

It’s astonishing how things have changed since I was a child. In every family I knew, dinner was an affair when the entire family got together around a table. There may have been bickering and moodiness and children refusing to eat what was in front of them — I don’t want to romanticize — but the family was together. Now in most families people eat separately, often not at the same time, never mind in the same room. And the most commonly eaten “meal” at dinnertime is a sandwich. Now human beings are flexible, and I don’t think these changes represent The End of Civilization As We Know It, but I don’t think they’re healthy. Families need to spend time together. We’re too busy.

The Rhythm of Family is the rhythm of a family living close to nature. It’s hard to get a sense of exactly where the Soules live, but they describe their home as “suburban,” so I think it’s safe to say they don’t live in the depths of the countryside — a privilege (if it is such), open to few. But they make good use of the nature that is around them. They get out of the house. They play together. They explore.

Title: The Rhythm of Family
Author: Amanda Blake Soule
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-777-9
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Again, from the introduction:

The natural world can serve as both inspiration and reward on this journey. For it, too, is ever changing and constantly in motion .. there is an ever present awareness of both birth and death, and the constant passage of time … it is only by spending time in the natural world, by paying attention and noticing, that we see these important changes … this natural rhythm can act at the heartbeat of our lives.

The Rhythm of Family is a lyrical and poetic book. Amanda’s words are joined at times by those of her husband, Stephen. It often reads like a blog, and can at times be a bit too gushy for my taste. Amanda’s penchant for sentence fragments sometimes grates. Sometimes irritates. Sometimes annoys. (See what I mean?) Sometimes the writers are striving too hard for effect. It’s fine to say that the birds return in the spring, but phrases like “In the spring–oh, in those precious spring months–the birds return” made this reader wince. Something about birds seems to make Amanda’s brain turn to mush; at one point birds are described as “two-legged tiny creatures that fly.” Much of the writing, however, is excellent, and please note that the version I read was a pre-publication draft, and it’s possible that future editing will reduce some of this verbiage.

Despite the book’s occasional lapses into sentimentality, I enjoyed reading The Rhythm of Family very much. It’s a powerful reminder of the importance of nature, the preciousness of family, and the connection between the two. As well as lyrical pieces describing the family’s activities throughout the year, the book is illustrated with beautiful photographs. This is one book you won’t want to read on the Kindle. It’s a book to hold and appreciate as a visual object. The book also contains “Make and Do” sections that tell you everything from how to make a bird feeder to how to make potato soup, with some knitting instructions thrown in. I came away with a deeper sense of how we could have fun as a family, making things and using the things we’ve made to connect with nature. I don’t think I’ll be taking up knitting (to be honest, I skipped those parts) but there are some arts and crafts activities that I’d love to do with my kids.

Some harried families will no doubt be saying, at this point, “Yeah, it’s all right for them, but where do I find the time.” And there’s a certain degree of validity in that. What do the Soules do for work? I can’t tell you. After reading an entire year’s worth of description of their daily activities, I don’t recall any mention of anyone working, going to work, coming home from work, or any concern about finances. The word “money” doesn’t even appear in the book.

But don’t use that as an excuse. I think there are many families harried by a sense of time being short who, if they gave it some thought, could work out ways to spend more time together. The average adult American watches more than 28 hours of television each week. The average American child spends more time watching TV each year than he or she does in school. According to the TV Turnoff Network [2023 update: now defunct] the number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children is 38 ½. Before we start complaining about not having time to spend with our kids, let’s spend less time with American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

You may not live in or near the countryside. But even in a city there are parks. Even in a city there are wild birds, and you can put out a feeder for them and make an effort to learn more about them. There are leaves and seeds and pods and flower petals you can take home and use in arts projects.

It is, however, unfortunate that the Soules, in trying to convince us to spend more time with our families and with nature, give the impression that they live in a protected bubble of unreality, since that impression reinforces the notion that time spent with children exploring nature is an unattainable goal. It’s not, and the book itself will give you plenty of ideas for activities with your kids, especially if they’re younger. The Soules do admit to being imperfect (“sometimes we eat popcorn for dinner, sometimes there is fighting, and sometimes we as parents wonder just how it is that we’re going to get through a day”) but they don’t show you that. You never get to see their struggles. You never get to learn from their mistakes or to empathize with them as they doubt their parenting abilities. But they also remind us that

Letting ourselves believe … that someone else has it so much more together than we do … is just a distraction and takes us away from the real work that each of us is doing in our everyday lives.

I wish The Rhythm of Family had taken a more honest “warts and all” approach, rather than offering a portrait of a perfect family who tell you, as an aside, “Oh, we’re not perfect.” But we should take their advice, cease from making comparisons, and simply starting from where we are, consider step-by-step how we can spend more time with our kids, and more time exploring nature as a family.

The Rhythm of Family is a flawed book for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but it’s an immensely valuable book as well. I’m inspired by it, and found myself appreciating much more the simple moments I spend with my children. And I’m sure my wife will like the book even more than I did. Her birthday’s coming up soon, almost exactly a month after the book’s publication date, and I was thinking it would make a great present for her.

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