My History of Self-Meditation with Nature Walks
When I lived in the USA, I was undiagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, and C-PTSD. Leaving my mental health undiagnosed and untreated led to ordinary or day-to-day tasks, like going to work, extremely difficult. My life was impacted in various aspects including, lack of self-care, poor sleep patterns, poor ability to maintain healthy relationships, experiencing little pleasure or happiness, and dreading going to work or university. With all this chaotic energy, I began to take on a negative headspace and often wished I would die.
I ran on empty a lot of the time and only found myself pushing forward because of the overwhelming feelings of needing to be responsible and reliable for others. I was living for others rather than myself, which is a dangerous combination. This eventually led to needing constant outside validation for me to find purpose and meaning.
If it was not for my nightly walks during my breaks at work, looking at the stars and listening to music, I don’t think I would have had the will to push through my sadness, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. That is because these 1am walks let me experience joy and beauty whilst being surrounded by stars. I was also alone during these walks and did not have to worry about anyone else but myself. I was able to connect to nature and music, which brought me relief from the emotional pain and conflicts I experienced.
It was not until I moved to the UK that my mental health became a priority. Even though I pushed through barriers brought on by my undiagnosed mental health and was able to move to a different country, I was secretly suffering and found it difficult to do day-to-day tasks. I was no longer able to leave my student accommodations. I avoided any public places which led to missing lectures, avoiding friendships, or even doing walks that often brought me relief.
Getting Mental Health Support with CBT
I knew something had to change and wanted to change so badly. I was scared though, with the fear that even if I tried these feelings would never go away. Likewise, if these feelings did leave me, I would lose a sense of who I was. I combated the fear and began Cognitive Behavioral Therapy treatment. The first round of therapy focused on my social anxiety and offered coping skills that could help me get outside again. CBT also challenged me to expose myself to my fears of going outside in a healthy way, by holding myself accountable each week to my recovery. I still remember my first walk during this time, I listened to my music and walked to the beach. I was able to once again connect to nature and music, which was always a place of comfort and peace for me. With time, I was able to build up my courage and go outside to attend lectures, hang out with friends, and find a job, but each day was always a battle between myself and anxiety. Sometimes anxiety would win and I could not leave the house for the day.
Even though it has been about 5 years since my initial CBT treatment, I still struggle with getting outside and being in social spaces. I often need to use the coping strategies I have picked up along the way to help push me forward. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but it is important to not be hard on myself the days I can’t leave the house.
One technique to help remind myself that I am in a safe environment is to use my 5 senses. For example, if I go to a coffee shop, I can hear the chatter of the patrons or the music playing from the radio. I can feel the hot coffee cup and taste the coffee. I can smell the coffee brewing. I can see my surroundings and find a comfortable place to sit. This is a technique I go to often, as it helps ground my anxiety and help my brain process, I am safe and no longer in the past trauma that brought on my mental health disorders.
Self-Meditation and PhD Research
Going on these walks with my music and camera is something I have consistently done since the first round of CBT. It has become a way of me feeling through my emotions and finding a balance that alleviates my emotional pain. I decided to call them ‘Self-Meditation Walks’ because it is a form of meditation for me, where I use mindfulness to become mentally clear.
Though I practice various forms of meditation, all of which have inspired my PhD research, I want to focus on the self-meditation walks because this is the primary way I collect field recordings and photography for my soundscape design.
Constructing a Soundscape with Self-Meditation Walks
I began taking field recordings (on my phone) of my walks when I was inspired by the sound of rain during a walk in 2019. At that time, I found a nature reserve near my home and would often go a few times a week. I noticed that the rain hitting leaves or hitting the pond made a different sound. Once spring came, the rain sounds turned to birds chirping, and I had new sounds to experiment with.
I also found the environment to be inspiring and began taking my camera to document the changing seasons of that nature reserve. Sometimes I do not pack my professional camera and end up taking photos or videos from my phone. Typically, the photos I take on my phone are used for social media, like Instagram posts or TikToks.
Below is an example of a TikTok I’ve made from the self-meditation walks:
Click here to watch: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMLhqGQxQ/
My Current Practice
My current form of self-meditation walks still operates similarly to how it first began. I found a few more parks and nature reserves near my home and go for my walks. Since my anxiety levels my be unpredictable day-to-day, my walks are also unpredictable. Sometimes I am able to go a few times a week, sometimes I am not. On the days where I feel intense pressure and can’t fight my anxiety to leave the house, I explore my house and find sights or sounds that inspire me. For instance, we recently had a storm and I took field recordings of the wind from my phone. I think took photos from my window. I plan on making a soundscape from this experience and will share it in the future.
On the days where I am hesitant on leaving the house, I can push myself to go if I have something to look forward to doing. Oftentimes, I use coffee as my motivation. We have a variety of coffee shops near my house. Walking in public places, like high street, is still difficult for me, so I cope by listening to music along the way. This allows me to drown out surroundings I find scary, fear of judgement, fear of not being good enough, and focus on something that balances my mood.
Below are some photos shot from my mobile phone from a recent walk:
My soundscapes are generated by the walks I take alone with myself as a form of self-meditation. I plan on taking this observation and exploring research in topics like multi-sensory environments and meditation, or music, senses, and photography. I also would be interested in exploring other soundscape artists and whether they use meditative practices for their soundscape designs.
As far as auto-ethnography, I think it is worth exploring the tendencies I have and choices I take when developing a soundscape.
Follow my PhD Journey:
Visit my website: https://coreopulencemusic.com/