I grew up on a river with huge trees and a largely wild unkempt riverbank. I instinctively knew from a very early age that being outside in the natural world helped me think clearly and regulate my moods. I wouldn't have called it that when I was a kid. But, I knew that it always made me feel better. I could be peacefully alone with my feelings and usually after some stomping, rumbling and crying, my attention would be distracted by something else, a rustle in a tree, a long legged heron on the shore, a ladybug landing on my forearm. It would be this new attention to my environment which seemed to magically change my mood. I didn't know it then but I was utilizing mindfulness. By focusing on a detail around me, I was slowing down my mind and starting to let go of the distressed thinking or the hurt feelings which led me to seek refuge. I was gaining perspective. The distressed, self-focused thoughts and feelings eventually led to calmer thoughts, "I am safe, I feel peaceful, It's not that bad, the river is beautiful."
Children are naturally mindful, aware of the moment to moment details adults throw away as unnecessary. As we become adolescents and adults, we tell ourselves we don't have time to stare at a blowing leaf or watch a beetle crawl across the ground, it's not important, we have a phone call to make, a class to attend, a destination to get to. But, paradoxically the more we slow down the more effective we can be with our time and the greater focus we have. We don't have to be zen masters or live next to a river to begin a simple practice of moving our attention from our internal chatter to the external world around us. Be curious about the colors, textures, sensations all around you, breathe deeply, allow yourself a mental rest from your own monologue and observe how quickly your perspective starts to shift.