"When you're in a natural sanctuary, try to be stationary for five minutes or longer. Be still and know, as in the familiar Bible verse, 'Be still, and know that I am God.' Know that this — wherever you are — is hallowed ground. Know that you are blessed to be there. Know that whatever else is going on in the world — whatever horror, whatever suffering, whatever dismal portents — you have this sacred moment in this sacred space. And you can carry home some of its beneficent gifts like priceless souvenirs.
"Once you're settled in, shift your attention from the whole to the part. Focus on one object. 'The ideal of man is to see God in everything,' Swami Vivekananda once said. 'But if you cannot see Him in everything, see Him in one thing, in that thing which you like best, and then see Him in another. So on you can go.'
"A tree would be a great choice. Trees are not only beautiful, awesomely complex, and givers of shade and fruit, but studies suggest that their very presence — even in winter, when the branches are bare, and even on a city street — can have a beneficial effect on measures such as anxiety, fatigue, depression, hostility, blood pressure, stress hormones, and fear. One study suggests that trees may even lower the crime rate in the surrounding area.
"Look at the tree. Examine its parts. Watch the branches sway and the leaves dance to the music of the wind. Spy on the birds taking a breather on the branches, and the squirrels and insects ascending and descending the trunk. If your mind wants to engage, contemplate the intricate anatomy of the tree and its interdependence with everything around it. Reflect on the orderly miracle of leaves dying and being reborn.
"Go ahead, hug the tree. No one is watching . . . and if they are, tell them they don't know what they're missing. Thank the tree for comforting you with its presence and for vacuuming up the carbon dioxide. And hey, if you really feel grateful, why not channel that feeling into a contribution to the greater good? Plant a tree. Not only will it help mitigate climate change, but one day someone might sit before the tree you plant and find refuge from the crazy world.
"If the whole tree seems too big and complex to focus on, narrow your gaze to one of its parts — a branch, a leaf, the bark, the roots gripping the earth. Or choose another object — a bush, a flower, a stem, a stone, or a handful of dirt. Whatever you focus on, do it in the spirit of this passage from the great Russian novelist Feodor Dostoyevsky: 'Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love."