When we spend time in the wilderness, it can be tempting to focus our awareness on "doing" something: taking pictures; getting a certain amount of physical exercise; traveling from point A to point B; naming all the species of birds we encounter. While nature photography is a lovely craft, and we need to exercise for good health, and understanding what lives in our environment is a valid part of deepening our relationship with the land, these activities can separate us from a more intimate experience of the natural world. It is all too easy to forget to actually experience with all our senses that which we are busily capturing and identifying.
The natural world invites us out of our world of fixed concepts and into a closer proximity with reality—what Buddhist teachings call "nonconceptual awareness." Experiencing the natural world with nonconceptual awareness means that, rather than seeing a [small] black bird and thinking, "That's a starling, a nonnative bird introduced from England several centuries ago," we stop and see each particular bird's incandescent blue-black velvet feathers, piercing amber eyes, and delicate, wiry feet. Instead of encountering the world through a filter of ideas, memories, and labels, we connect deeply with the unfiltered and vital pulse of life in that moment.