Natural Soundscapes and Meditation

I love to take a walk in nature with the purpose of spending part of the time in observation of the natural world, and part of the time in meditation.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds to meditate in nature, though.  I thought this was something that should come naturally.  It took several attempts at practicing meditation in nature for me to feel I was becoming more successful at it.  It doesn’t always come easy and remains a practice, but I do feel more effective at it now.

Imagine this: you’re sitting in your favorite place in nature, surrounded by trees, with a small stream nearby. As you close your eyes, you hear birds sweetly singing and the gentle breeze rustling leaves. You focus on these soothing sounds, letting all other thoughts fade away. The natural acoustic environment wraps around you like a warm blanket, ushering your mind into a meditative state.  You have come to this place with the sole purpose of meditating in nature.

But here’s the issue: focusing during meditation is hard. Thoughts creep in, distracting us from the present moment. The mind wanders constantly, making it challenging to achieve the inner stillness that meditation offers. External noises vie for our attention, interrupting our attempts to quiet the mind, even if they are the noises that we’ve come to this place to be surrounded by.  Silencing both inner and outer disturbances for a production meditation session can feel like an impossible task.

To overcome this, consider using the sounds of nature as a pre-meditation tool. Rather than struggling to stop the mind’s chatter, purposefully listen to the outdoor sounds. Shift your awareness to the steady hum of insects, the trills of songbirds, or the rhythmic splash of the streams or ocean waves. Immerse yourself first in these healing soundscapes from Mother Nature’s symphony before attempting to meditate.  This helps you become accustomed to the sounds and makes them less of a distraction.

Outdoor meditations attune us to nature’s cadence and foster inner calm. The key is mindful listening – paying close attention to the sounds around you – before you start inner meditation. Start by noticing obvious noises like wind gusts or passing cars. Then expand your focus to subtle sounds usually ignored, like rustling leaves or your own breathing. Don’t judge these sounds as good or bad – simply let them occupy your mind, one note at a time as you become accustomed to them.

Honing our attention on natural soundscapes gives the restless mind a productive focal point. I am a person who has a difficult time focusing on one thing at a time.  But focusing in layers on external sounds helps to occupy part of my brain and prepare me for focusing inward. Research shows that ambient nature noises help release tension, lower blood pressure, and decrease anxiety. The non-jarring, ever-changing sounds keep the mind engaged enough to prevent wandering thoughts. And the lack of jarring noises, common in urban settings, creates a smooth aural space for tranquility. Nature noises are often used in ambient music that can put you into a meditative state.  But nature itself isn’t always as smoothly rhythmic as a nature playlist, so focusing on what surrounds you at the moment helps you to create your own nature soundtrack.

Susan Wright, an avid backpacker and meditation teacher, shares: “When I’m struggling with difficult emotions, I’ll find a spot outdoors, close my eyes, and let the sounds of nature soothe me. The steady rush of a stream calms my anger. Birdsong lifts my sadness. Cicada rhythm returns my breath and mind back into balance.”

Likewise, recent studies on “forest bathing” confirm nature’s restorative effects. Scientists have found that mindfully walking in natural habitats lowers stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure more than equivalent walks in urban areas. Other analysis shows that Nature’s tapestry of textured sounds improves mood and cognitive performance better than artificial noise. Clearly, authentic outdoor soundscapes heal the mind, body, and spirit.  These sounds are perfect for setting up a pre-meditative state.  After a few minutes, you are ready to start your regular meditation practice.

You can start by stepping outside to move meditation from an enclosed room to a natural open outdoor sanctuary. Stake out a place in your backyard, a nearby trail, beach, or park. Then sit, close your eyes, relax tense areas, and let your awareness shift fully to the ambient auditory landscape. 

If weather or mobility issues prevent outdoor access, you can choose to bring nature’s healing sounds inside with those ambient soundtracks. Play recordings of babbling brooks, summer crickets, rainy thunderstorms, and more. Close the windows to prevent unrelated noises from bleeding in. Then immerse yourself completely in the selected natural soundscape. Let it transport you away from worldly concerns into stillness.  I have found a world of ambient videos with natural sceneries on YouTube.  If I must be indoors I put one of these videos on my television screen and my session mimics what I might encounter outdoors.

By tuning into nature’s rhythms, we rediscover inner calm and our sacred connection with all living things. Natural soundscapes gently guide scattered minds into a unified presence. They help to dissolve distractions and turn them into more focused meditation. And they reveal the peace that permeates every inch of our world once we quiet our human noise and listen.  They are the perfect companion for and a wonderful way to set up meditation sessions.

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The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.

SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.
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