Listening to Nature

How to Deepen Your Awareness of Nature
by Joseph Bharat Cornell


At the end of one of my nature awareness workshops, the group and I sat beside a trail, quietly enjoying the stillness of the surrounding forest. We had just finished doing several nature exercises that sharpened our senses and uplifted our awareness. The calling birds, the wind streaming through the trees, and the play of light and shadows on the forest floor were especially vivid that day.

The stretch of trail where we had paused is one of the most beautiful and popular parts of the park. As other hikers walked by, our group was struck by the contrast between our experience and that of most other people. Long before we saw them, we heard them discussing topics such as work, friends, and current events. We realized how easy it is to pass through a wild place so engrossed in private concerns and conversations that one notices little of the surrounding landscape.

I once demonstrated this phenomenon to a group of twenty-five educators in Canberra, Australia. I asked each one to focus on a beautiful tree as long as he was able to, and to raise his hand when his attention wandered from the tree to other thoughts. After six seconds every hand was raised. The educators were amazed to see how restless their minds were.

To understand and appreciate the world around us, we need to be attentive. The beauty and vibrancy of the natural world are ever present, but the pace and distractions of modern living interfere with our perception.

A friend of mine was once standing on a hotel balcony in Mexico, enjoying the city lights spread out before him. Suddenly a power failure plunged the city into darkness. As the lights of the city were darkened, the brilliance of the stars came alive. The glow of the city had overpowered the stars’ subtler light. Similarly, the rush of modern life often overpowers our awareness of nature’s glory.

Unfortunately, the human mind is restless. Psychologists have said that people generate about three hundred self-talk thoughts a minute. Two Harvard researchers, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, in 2010 discovered that 47 percent of the time adults think about something other than what they’re doing.* With one’s mind wandering constantly from the present moment, how can he expect to feel a deep rapport with people or with nature?

To help the reader better focus his or her mind, I’ve shared nature awareness principles as well as compelling stories, quotations, and exercises. These act as gentle disciplines to direct and engage our attention on the natural world. The stunning photographs by John Hendrickson capture the spirit of the book and uplift the reader.

This new edition of Listening to Nature has been extensively rewritten and includes many new quotations and complementary text, comprising altogether thirty-one days. The book reflects the more than forty years I’ve spent creating exercises and guiding others on nature awareness excursions around the globe.

May you always feel the joy of nature.
Joseph Bharat Cornell
Nevada City, California
November 27, 2013

See Also: Sample Chapter  

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