Busy, complex lives in society at times can seem to kill the spark of life in us. Dealing with our boss at work or carting the kids to this or that event, we have no time for us. What about our spirit-where is it in all this hurry? Hopefully not dead, but certainly buried good and far down somewhere. Just to survive in a social circle or a career, we may always have to put off achieving awakening to who we really are in our very depths. At times, we can feel smothered, even obliterated.
There is an urgency then to recover what we once had, as kids, when we climbed, ran, danced, and played without thought of anything but the moment. Fortunately we have all around us, at any time, both the place and the spirit of that time we long to. It is time to rediscover how to move our bodies, rhythmically and magically, in the spirit of Nature.
In Nature, we can let go of the person we have to be at work and in society, merging in the rhythm of the land and the seasons. We can walk freely in the hills or on the beach, letting our bodies move with their natural rhythm they crave. Merging in the rhythm of the land and the seasons, say, on nature trails or in the mountains, we can feel in our bodies
The wonder of mountain upon stream-filled mountain.
With azure haze spilling out from the clouds.
In that wondrous beauty, far away from artifice and social care, we feel a vastness hugely bigger than ourself-than our job at home, than all our associations, appointments and obligations. 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 which we can find by penetrating our conditioning and habits.
Working the land can also help bring us into harmony with nature and 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 contact our original nature and partner with Nature to enliven the earth. Through such service to the earth, gardeners help to calm restless thoughts and attain glimpses of the Tao.
Nature embodies what the Buddhists call Emptiness, the meditative cleansing of the mind. Immersion in mountains, rivers, and forests that are far from civilized comforts symbolize that complete merging of our ego self back into the peace of nature. Perhaps we get some taste of the battle for the supreme experience of onenees with the divine waged by such nature lovers as St. Francis and of the Buddha, who resolved not to leave the wilderness until enlightenment came. All such great figures knew about the wilds of nature and about the floods of anxious, negative thoughts that boil over in the mind in a setting purified of all the feverish activity of humanity. The Buddha under the bodhi tree won pure freedom from the anxieties of the mind.
That is why we today have the rare chance to draw on the rich spiritual benefits such brave souls won. There is a way to gain some of their peace. Out in nature, we can contact and feel in our bodies a harmonious spirit. And in our own private space, we can practice passage meditation, which engages our highest faculties and connects our deepest being with the serene beauty of a calm lake or high mountain top. By concentrating deeply, say, on a nature passage in The Path of Direct Awakening, we gradually gain some of the peace won by those brave souls who broke free into the enlightened state. Their peace becomes ours, if we only want it and ask for it.
I suggest meditating on nature passages for a period of half and hour and submerging oneself in nature at least some part of every day. This brings our life closer to the spirit that flows through nature. Through life in nature, service to the earth, and meditation on the words of enlightened nature poets, we imprint upon ourselves the peace of a mountain lake, a far off stream, or a beautifully tilled field. This will help us to
- pull back from stress
- defeat worry
- reverse bad habits
- give up the compulsion to control
- elevate our self image
- contact the highest reality and harmonize our life with 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 www.directawakenings.com.