Aging can be a frightening
experience for us all. This came home in a message I got recently from a reader,
who says frankly: "No matter how many miracle products I buy, I feel my body is
betraying me. It makes me want to give up. Just as I am beginning to figure
things out, I feel it is so unfair that life is slipping away from me."
These words touched me
deeply, for I, too, see what formerly were lines on my face now turning into
creases. But there is a miracle that does not come in any package which is all
around us, ready to give us ample nourishment far greater than that which is
slipping away. Whether we choose to work with it or relax amidst it, nature is
infinitely larger than ourselves and never grows old. Here are four ways we can
draw sustenance from nature that will help us feel a freedom from our body's
1. Give yourself time
to relax in nature. As you walk,
hike, or relax at the seashore, take the time to breathe deeply and take the
beauty of forests, mountains, and lakes into your heart. Such experiences give
us all a sense of being grounded in something stable and yet magical, as we
relax into nourishment and support from the greater universe.
Ideally, this will bring back some of the pure freedom
we felt as children.
The thing is
to let your guard completely down; absorb into yourself the full beauty of the
natural scene around you. You might lie down on your blanket in the park or
meadow and watch the clouds passing over the blue sky. As worries dissolve, you
will find in nature's grandeur a corresponding ardor in the beatings of your
heart. So even if the body is losing youth and energy, nature can resupply us
with endless abundance and life. "As my hair grows white," says the nature poet
Han Shan, "I just journey to my deepest desire."
Exercise in a natural setting:
In nature, we can let go of the person who frets about aches and wrinkles and
instead pulsate with the feeling of the land and the seasons. We can walk freely
in the hills or on the beach, letting our bodies move with the natural rhythm
they crave. Living in tune with the sun, stream, air, and trees, far away from
all our individual worry and care, we can feel in our bodies a vastness hugely
bigger than ourselves.
time, we no longer feel 45 or 60 or subject to any time at all. Like the small
human figure in a Chinese nature landscape, we are a tiny speck in the vast
world of forces much bigger than us. As we swing our arms in the bracing wind
and the rhythm of our breathing harmonizes with our footstep, we perceive in our
humble happiness an opening through which we can speak to our original self, the
face of brightness we knew innocently as a child. We can actually walk through
the gateway of nature back into that sweet innocence, which is a state and not a
Working the land:
Gardening can also help bring us into harmony with nature and back in tune with
our deepest self. In fact, the great horticulturist Alan Chadwick called
gardening true religion: the epitome and mother of all true culture, where by
devotion to working the soil, we once again see who we truly are.
all ages speak of only one thing, and that's the magical growth, falling away,
and rising up again of vines, vegetables, flowers and trees in natural cycles.
"I am an old man," a placard I saw today read, "But I am a young gardener!"
Working with the earth can calm restless thoughts and help us feel a presence in
ourselves that is not subject to age. The famous back-to-the-land gardener Scott
Nearing, in fact, lived and gardened till he was 97 and never felt old. So get
out your shovel and trowel-you will find nature right there, ready to finish
what you do and give back fruits far beyond the strength of your labors.
Recognize its spirituality:
Nature restores us. Wordsworth calls it "the anchor of my purest thoughts, the
nurse, the guide, and guardian of my heart and soul." Spend time both in
relaxing and in gardening, and you will see why Buddhist sages call nature
Emptiness, the meditative cleansing of the mind. All of us can feel that
purifying cleansing through Immersion in mountains, rivers, and forests, and our
very own garden.
Let us drown
anxious thoughts of aging in this bounty and find what is ours in abundance.
Just as such nature lovers as St. Francis and of the Buddha found peace and
enlightenment in the wilderness, we also can contact and feel in our bodies the
harmonious spirit of nature, all around us, ever generous, supportive, and
leading us back to sweetness and innocence. This peace is ours, if we only want
it and ask for it.
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal
is the author of
The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation.. He is also the
co-author of Eknath Easwaran's edition of The Dhammapada and the author
of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC
Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international
workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end
of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step
programs. Visit Stephen's work at