The Beating of Nature’s Heart

“This is one of the still, hushed, ripe days

when we fancy we might hear the beating of Nature’s heart.”

John Muir

My toddler grandson sometimes pauses in the middle of play, looks up at me with eyes wide, eyebrows raised, and a hand cupped over one ear. That’s his way of saying, “Did you hear that?” Maybe it’s a chipmunk. A bird. The neighbor’s dog. A jet overhead. Someone in the neighborhood hammering. Or mowing. Yes, I heard. Isn’t it amazing?

The world is new for children. They notice. They pause to inspect – twigs, leaves, pebbles, spider webs, puddles. As a child, I was fascinated by the way water flowed onto the concrete driveway when our lawn was watered. I followed the leading edge of the stream as it slowly rolled down the driveway toward the street, leaving a soaked trail behind it. I watched ants and land snails and worms. I tasted honeysuckle and listened to mockingbirds, stroked the bellies of horned toads and smelled new-mown grass. I’m sure you have noticing memories of your own. Children absorb the world around them, whatever that world contains. And then we grow up and have responsibilities and time pressures, and we can go for days without paying much attention to the natural world.

Now leap with me to something that may seem totally unrelated. But stick with me – eventually it will relate. An article in a recent Washington Post reported, “Research shows that the more you lie, the easier it gets, and the more likely you are to do it again.” Actually, I had thought that was common knowledge. But now we have the strength of science to back it up. Tell lies enough, and it becomes a habit. The trail we’ve drawn in the dirt becomes a rut, the rut becomes a trench, and eventually the trench becomes a canyon with walls too high to easily climb out.

So here’s where my brain took that thought: I wondered if the converse is true. In other words, is it true that the more we tell the truth, the easier it gets, and the more likely we are to tell the truth again? I can foresee some situations in which telling the truth would never be easy, but if it’s our habit, it should be easier to go there, even when truth-telling is difficult.

But my brain didn’t stay there for long. It danced off to apply that same principle to the world of sounds, sights, flavors, scents, and textures around us: The more we notice the sensory world around us, the easier it gets, and the more likely we are to notice it again. We’ve begun a practice, and the more we practice, the more it becomes natural to us to notice the present moment the way we did in childhood.

Jump back for a second to the article on lying. It quoted Dan Aniely, behavioral psychologist at Duke University, who said, “The dangerous thing about lying is people don’t understand how the act changes us.” The act changes us. Now take that thought out of the realm of lying and place it in the realm of noticing. The act changes us. Noticing changes us.

John Muir spent more time in nature than most of us ever will. Here’s what he said.

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

There’s a sense of wonder, a joy, a gratitude that can only be accessed by returning to the childlike practice of experiencing the moment with as many senses as possible. There’s a peace that can only be found by noticing. If you’re in the habit, it doesn’t take long, just a pause really. A breath or two to take in the moment, to be inspired, to be enriched.

Really, I’ve been writing about this in most of my blog posts, but going forward I’ll be doing it with intention, asking you to join me in paying attention to one specific thing each week as we practice the art of noticing. This week, it’s leaves. In today’s society, we should all be doing good to try and protect nature and our planet. Nature is a beautiful thing, and we need to look after it.

So here are some ideas if you need them: As you go through your week, pause now and then and notice leaves – on flowers, trees, bushes, vines, grass, weeds, or even in the form of lettuce, spinach, celery, carrot tops. Look for leaves outdoors, indoors, or in the floral department at the store. Notice the different shapes and shades of leaves and the pattern of their veins. Notice them at a distance in treetops silhouetted against the sky or close up in a basil plant or a fern. Feel their textures, notice scents and the sound they make in the wind, and even their flavor if they’re edible. Pay attention to what attracts you and fills you with wonder or joy or gratitude or peace. You could even create a bouquet made entirely of your favorite leaves.

This is not meant to add to your busy schedule but to encourage you to be aware of one bit of nature that can give you a moment’s pause, a brief recognition of a gift that we often pass by and overlook, a gift that’s meant to enrich our souls and buoy our spirits.

Let’s notice beauty, turn our awareness toward grace. Toward gratitude and hope and peace. Let’s listen for the beating of nature’s heart.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,

places to play in and pray in,

where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”

John Muir


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Text and photos of bluebird and leaves © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy