The Balm of Simple Mindfulness

Amy Funk, PhD, RN-BC, teaches mental health and community health nursing. She is an avid outdoorswoman who enjoys hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, and geocaching. She developed her hobby website,, to create a revolution in aging. This revolution focuses on a deep, spiritual approach to authentic aging, incorporating time in the natural world, rebuffing the focus on shallow, physical appearance and empowering a genuine, deep respect for our aging selves. Mindfulness and nature are key concepts in this approach. She presents and writes on these themes to empower others to thrive in an ageist society. She invites interested readers to sign up for her free quarterly newsletter. In this contribution to the KineSophy Mindfulness Series, she describes how she practices simple mindfulness by paying close attention to nature.

For many, the term “mindfulness” has a connotation of something difficult to achieve, esoteric and unattainable. A common belief about mindfulness practice is that the practitioner must spend lots of time and be well-disciplined. Granted, an intense, disciplined, daily traditional practice has many benefits. However, our modern world is just too fast, too distracting and too shallow for many to approach this level of mindfulness.

Instead of abandoning the whole idea, I learned to bring it down to simple mindfulness practices.

I would plead with the Universe to give me some insight as I rushed from place to place. If the Universe answered, I was unaware as I was already putting out the next fire.

Over time, I learned a valuable lesson. Instead of abandoning the whole idea of mindfulness, I learned to bring it down to simple practices. These simple mindfulness practices keep me out of the tornado of activity that can lead me spiritually and emotionally astray.

One day, I was driving to see my Dad, who was dying of cancer. My young son began throwing a tantrum in the back seat. His tantrum was the icing on the cake of a very stressful and mixed up day. You know, where you feel like you are trying to run through a vat of molasses? I pulled over along the road to safely deal with the tantrum. The word “overwhelmed” does not do justice to my state of mind.

I wanted to do a short meditation because I knew it would help so much. I just wasn’t anywhere close to being able to do that. Seemingly instinctively, I started thinking basic sentences to draw my awareness to the moment. It sounds silly now, but I basically started repeating factual sentences in my mind. “My name is Amy Funk and I am sitting along the road on Route 116 in Illinois. The date is July 29, 2009. The temperature is warm and breezy and sunny.” I found this remarkably calming. So, I continued, as I looked around me. “The ditches are covered in beautiful prairie plants that are just showing the touches of autumn. The color of the sky is blue with wisps of white clouds.” I continued on, surveying my surroundings. I watched my son in the back seat and described what I saw in detail. The level of calm that came over me was shocking, but not so much as my new view of my little son. Before this moment, I had been overwhelmed and angry at a ridiculous tantrum. After becoming more mindful of him in the moment, I was more emotionally aware that his Grandpa was dying. I saw that we were both in the same state emotionally about the situation.

I have used this technique a lot since that day: methodically describing in intimate detail where I am in the moment. If I am stressed about a certain person who has annoyed me, I will add something like, “Is (insert name) here in your present moment?”, then I go on to focus on those people who are in my present moment. It helps me realize when I am wasting precious moments of my life on irritations that are not clearly present.

Amy Funk, author of The Balm of Simple Mindfulness, crossing a bridge on the McKenzie trail
Amy crossing a bridge on the McKenzie trail in Oregon

Because I love nature so much, I occasionally go for a hike or out into my backyard and force myself to describe in detail what I see. The magic of these admittedly routine descriptive moments is when I find something interesting that takes me to a new level of mindfulness. One day, I realized a large carpenter ant was attacking an anthill of a smaller species. I watched this epic battle in amazement as the smaller ant army drove the large carpenter ant away from their nest. Another time, I realized my sunflowers had bloomed (I was too busy to notice), and watched the bees, the butterflies, and ants dotting the gorgeous blooms in the sunshine. After getting lost in these moments, I feel my muscles relax, my heart rate slow down, my emotions level out, and I feel one with the earth again. The angst of death and loss seem to lessen in the flow of the rhythm of the Universe.

In my talks on aging, I encourage people to go back to their childhood and think about what they really loved to do. As we age, we are taught not to waste time and to be productive. Remember when you would hunt for minnows in a creek, swing with your best friend, do cartwheels, or make mud bowls with no real purpose or goal? That is simple mindfulness and that is what I capture when I walk into a natural setting, force myself to describe every detail I see and get lost in the magic of nature.

Read the other articles in the KineSophy Mindfulness Series.