The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees and forests
are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night,
always emanating a subtle precious sound, demonstrating
and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.
In every raindrop, pebble, earthworm, buttercup and dragonfly
is evident the continual unfolding of intricate substance as a
direct response to the beneficent influence of Heaven and Earth.
The more time we can spend in nature, the more
we can absorb these profound teachings on how to
effortlessly become the fullest expression of ourselves possible.
The energy field of a vast expanse of wilderness ~ from
the Old English for wild deer+ness ~ holds a powerful charge.
As Chief Luther Standing Bear said,
man's heart away from nature becomes hard.
To regularly immerse yourself somewhere uncultivated like a
wild coastline, forest or mountain range (even if, for practicality’s sake,
it can’t be very frequently) can let this hardness soften and relax.
Being in the wilderness in a deep and sustained way
within the context of the Native American tradition
of the Vision Quest is discussed in the next chapter.
But just as important for the city dwellers who, inevitably,
will form the majority of this book’s readers, nature’s divinity
also needs to be embraced within the context of daily life.
As I write this, under the eaves of a barn filled with
noisy fledgeling swallows, I have the good fortune
to live next to a wooded waterfall ~ but, having
been born and raised in London, I’ve also
experienced the challenges of staying
attuned to nature while living in the city.
This poem by Nigel Richmond expresses
the liberation of being open to receive the
wisdom of nature in unexpected places:
Song on a Mountain
If you sit very still in one place
people come to you.
Little people like beetles and ants.
Bigger people like birds and squirrels.
Still people like trees and sky
and the earth.
They only come when we allow them to.
I used to sit high on hills,
walk rocky paths made magic with scent
of pine and herbs under a hot sun,
finding high and lonely rocks to perch upon,
motionless and brown.
But it was in a mud valley
level with the flooding river
that I first heard
the song of the mountain clearly.
Of course it’s more of a challenge
to experience nature in a concrete jungle:
you won’t see a pristine vista of craggy peaks
and virgin forest out of your apartment window.
But, due to this very scarcity of natural beauty,
city folk can have a deeper appreciation of the great outdoors
when they do find it than country-dwellers, some of whom base their lives
around exploiting the local animal, vegetable or mineral kingdoms.
Many modern farming techniques are brutal and insensitive,
encouraging a feeling of superiority, difference and separation between
the farmer and the farmed. The rural population can be more likely to take their
surroundings for granted; to look at trees and see timber; to look at deer
and see venison; to look at marshland and see ploughed fields;
to look at a hidden-away spot and see a dumping ground.
beginning to re-member
The disconnect between humanity,
the earth and her other beings has been growing
for so many generations that we need practice in re-
membering the time when this magnificent, bountiful,
flowering Earth and we her children were one.
We knew, then, that she provided us with all
we needed to grow and flourish in abundance . . .
and also knew that in return, we needed to feed that which
gave us life; to offer something in return for this immense gift.
Every indigenous people evolved a way to feed
the Earth which was intimately entwined with the nature
of the land they made their homes upon and
the devas and spirits who lived there.
This could be a literal feeding ~
an offering of some of the Earth’s fruits back to her ~
or a feeding of the senses with ritual, song, music, dance,
and other less ephemeral gifts. These very means of thanksgiving
are in themselves potent paths to access the Divine.
When the spirits were honoured and re-membered,
people lived full, happy and harmonious lives,
plentifully provided for by the Earth.
If the great gift of life on this planet was taken
for granted, however, and people became thoughtless
and greedy, this natural harmony was dis-membered.
This is the time we find ourselves in now.
A time of such extreme dismemberment that our very Earth
is being torn apart, her sheltering skies and life-giving waters polluted
by people who have forgotten; who don’t believe in the invisible realms
but just in what they see and what they can get out of it.
For humanity to continue on its current path means
inevitable annihilation. Since this is not a choice anyone
would consciously make, it is the path of the un-conscious.
The other way open to us is that of evolving through expanding awareness.
As the Zhouyi puts it:
All that is visible must grow beyond itself,
extend into the realm of the invisible. Thereby it receives
its true consecration and clarity and takes firm root in the cosmic order.
It is not enough simply to stop dis-membering ourselves and our planet;
the scattered fragments need to be gathered together with love and unified once more.
Mistreating the Earth is not a possibility for a person who has re-membered themselves;
the inevitable outcome of becoming whole ~ holy ~ within is to realize
and re-create that holy wholeness externally, too.
Here are some everyday ways to become
aware of your inherent oneness with nature when
you live somewhere where it is more hidden.
For, however unnatural your living environment,
reminders of indigenous nature are all around if you’re
receptive to them: swallows returning for the summer, swooping
and soaring over grey rooftops; the power of a thunderstorm
and the freshness of early morning sunshine after rain;
pavements deep with fiery fallen leaves in the fall;
downy green shoots and silky blossoms
bursting forth with renewed life force
once more in the spring.
giving form to gratitude
To give something back in appreciation for life’s abundance,
and for the gift of existence itself, used to be an intrinsic part of life.
Most of us live in a culture where this isn’t ‘normal’ any longer, with
gift-giving reserved for other people, largely at birthdays and Christmas.
For this reason, making offerings is likely to feel unnatural at first,
and you may need to act ‘as if’ you believe in the power of
doing this at first until you begin to truly feel it.
The real value of any offering lies in the intent
and sincerity behind it, but to make a material offering
can help to set this into form, so that it doesn’t feel too unreal
and ephemeral. See chapter six for more depth and detail
on traditional offerings if you need some inspiration.
When gifting something to any aspect or energy
of nature ~ a river, the wind, a tree, the sun, a rock ~
you're honoring the spirit flowing though the matter,
the formlessness at the heart of the form.
Ultimately then, what you’re respecting
is the sanctity and oneness of all of life.
giving thanks to the lifeblood of your city
To serve the cause of water adequately...
We must get to know it in its true being. And how do we do this?
Why, by treating it in the very way exemplified by its own behavior;
that is, whenever we encounter it, we wash the tablet of our souls
clean of all other impressions in order to allow the being
of water to make its imprint on us.
We may think of ourselves as land dwellers, but on our blue-green planet
made up of seventy percent water, deep down we humans are water creatures.
In the womb over ninety percent of the fetus is made up of water as it swims
enfolded in its own private ocean, while an adult’s body, microcosmic
mirror of our earth, still comprises about sixty percent water:
as Novalis said, our bodies are molded rivers.
Without an unbroken supply of fresh water,
none of the great cities of the world could have been envisioned
and created; many have a river running through them, their lifeblood.
Spend time sitting in contemplation by your city’s life-blood and feel your
oneness with the inner essence of this watercourse, its life-giving water
journeying from the spring at its source, gathering wisdom
on the way to eventual union with the vast ocean.
Cities without rivers are often near a large body of water, or
have little-used canals, oases of wildflowers and waterbirds.
Though often littered with debris, edged with concrete
and disrespected, these waterways still give ample
opportunities for reflection and communion.
Do you live in a city?
Do you sometimes struggle to feel connected to the earth, to spirit?
Or have you evolved ways to keep this awareness strong?
Share your thoughts!
© shenpen chökyi 2013-2014