"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home." - Gary Snyder.
There is a reason why most of the ancient monks and truth-seekers chose to live in the mountains or deep in the forest. The peace and stillness of woods is conducive for one's spiritual growth and the world of nature, since ancient times, has been considered to be the greatest teacher, capable of flashing the truth in an instant.
So, being with nature was thought to be an essential practice on the path of self-exploration and discovery. However, spending time near nature, as we usually do, is not same as what I call as 'being with nature' and there's vast difference between the two.
Mostly, when we are near nature, we are in kind of a hurry and we tend to look at the objects of nature through a distance, through the screen of the conditioned mind i.e. the mind burdened with memory and experiences. Such mind is not really open and receptive to the world of nature or processes of life, because the continuous stream of thoughts that we have in our heads all the time acts like a subtle and yet strong veil that never really let us go closer to the nature and be with it.
For example, What happens when you come across a plantlet?
As soon as you see it, the mind starts narrating it to you. You label, think, interpret and, most often, make a mental story out of it. You don't know how to simply observe and be with it, with what is.. So, the mind runs. It might say- Wow, this plant is so small and cute. Look at those tiny hairs covering the whole plant. Its leaves looks like small hearts; and the related memories of the past may also bubble up inside you.
But, have you wondered how this narration helps you know the plantlet and be with it?
With a simple glance, you instantly take in the tremendous details of whatever you're looking at. If you saw the above plantlets, you effortlessly noticed their colour, thin stems, leaves, droplets and other details.
So, isn't the direct experience of plantlet enough for understanding what it is? What is the need of thinking in being with the mystery of the nature?
Is it not necessary, if we would understand anything, that the mind should be silent ?
Surely, true understanding happens only when the mind is very quiet. A busy mind can not really grasp and understand anything of higher order, be it love, joy or nature.
But, compulsive thinking has become normal part of our lives and because of that, It is also quite possible that you might have not completely seen the plantlet yet despite of being face to face with it, because you were so lost in your head, in some imaginary thoughts that you actually forgot the plantlet or where you were.
It often happens with us. Our body and mind are not trained to be at the same place. We were trained to be fast, efficient, successful in life, but never to be in rhythm and at peace with life as it is, as rest of the existence is.
Naturally, such mind loses the capacity to be in the still state of pure-knowing and is always on the go. That's why buddhists called it the monkey mind, always jumping from here to there and never staying at one place. It keeps running in the background all the time no matter there is need or not. We can't properly eat without it, we can't even love without it, we can't sleep without it and in fact, there's no part of our lives where it leaves us alone.
"So few people are really aware of their thoughts. Their minds run all over the place without their permission, and they go along for the ride unknowingly and without making a choice." - Thomas M. Sterner.
The nature of mind is to wander in order to seek understanding and safety. It resists to experience life here and now, which feels like unknown to it; and is afraid of the vast emptiness it discovers when there's no movement of thought. Its survival lies in the imagination, the imagination which is about the past that has already gone and the future that has not arrived yet. It can't be here and now for long, in the present moment, where actually the plantlet is, where all the world of nature is and where you are, at your deepest core.
That is why, for most of the people, spending time in nature is just a temporary affair. They are able to enjoy their so called nature-trips as long as their mind is active in some way or other. But, when the mind slows down a bit and there is nothing much to do or think about, they start feeling uncomfortable with the silence of forest and, resultantly, feel the strong urge to get back to their normal routine.
I don't mean that the human mind isn't necessary and efficient. Its achievements are impressive and undeniable. We have excelled in almost every field we could. More recently, the science and technology have led to the radical changes in the way we live and have enabled us to do and create things that would have been regarded as miraculous even a few decades ago.
Yet, human mind's dysfunction is visible in the way it dominates our lives, in its compulsive and useless functioning, which, if you notice properly, significantly contributes to the human stress and suffering.
Have you ever observed and listened to 'the mental dialogue' going on inside your head all the time ? If you do it for a few days, you'll come to see how irrelevant and repetitive those everyday thoughts are and how they never let you live peacefully by keeping you distracted from the present moment, the only place where life is. You'll come to see that your mind has almost a fixed pattern of thoughts to follow throughout the day, which is precisely what controls your life.
"The human mind, in its desire to know, understand, and control, mistakes its opinions and viewpoints for the truth. It says: this is how it is. - Eckhart Tolle.
These thoughts have no impact on anything or anybody, except you. They are simply making you feel better or worse in your mind. If you spend your whole time imagining how things should have happened or how they should take course in the future, it's just a waste of time. Your fearful thoughts are not gonna change anything. Moreover, you also miss the whole point of life, which is to accept, experience and learn from what the school of life has planned for each of us.
We can't be more intelligent than life itself, the life that has created you, me and everything we see. Or, are we?
If you witness your thoughts enough, you'll eventually realise that It's not the life that is often a problem, but the mind which labels, judges and complains of what life brings in our lives; and, that It's not actually you who use the faculty of thinking by choice, rather, most often, it's the mind that uses you.
And, if you try to stop the running mind, you know, you can't do that either for long. In fact, the more you try to silence it, the more wild it gets. Remember those sleepless nights when you tried hard to silence the running mind so that you could sleep, but you actually failed?
What's wrong with us? After all, mind is just one of the instruments of human beings, just like legs and other body parts are. The legs work when we need them to walk and goes to rest, when there's no need. Why can't we exercise the same freedom over mind?
I remember reading somewhere that the mind which was supposed to be a beautiful servant has become a dangerous master and we, as human beings, have lost our freedom by being under its grip. Recently, the psychologists have also come to find out that 99 % percent of our thoughts are repetitive and of no use; and the mind, out of fear of uncertainty of life, has become conditioned to think obsessively.
This continuity of thoughts makes us identify with the projections of mind and thus, we forget our own, true nature, with which all of us are born.
It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separation, the illusion that there is you and there is totally separate 'other', that there is you and the totally separate world of nature.
You then forget the essential fact that underneath all the physical and separate forms, you are one with all that is.
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." - Albert Einstein
On the other hand, being with the nature is totally a different phenomenon. For that, you must be relaxed and aware of the present moment while coming across the nature. When you're conscious of the present moment, you're free of thinking. The moment your conscious level sinks below a certain level, the thoughts rushes in and takes you over.
"Remember then : There is only one time that is important— Now! It is the most important time because It is the only time when you've power." - Leo Tolstoy.
So, it is essential on our part to be the silent and conscious observer of not only what lies outside us, but also of what goes inside.
When you're aware and quiet, the mind finds its natural balance; and, you enter into the flow of love with life and you flow from one moment to the next, just like a child, spontaneously.
Then, when you look at the plantlet or any other object of the nature, without imposing a word on it, without use of thinking...
...a natural sense of wonder and awe arises within you and you're able to see its real essence which is beyond all words and definitions.
This is what the artists sense and succeed in conveying in their art. The brilliance of their art lies not in what is visible to the ordinary mind, but in what is far beyond its limits.
"The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence." - Jiddu Krishnamurti.
When you don't cover up the nature with the language, there's a sense of aliveness and depth in the way you perceive everything.
Things gain their freshness and one can sense the divine essence, the one indwelling power in every creature and object of the nature.
Then, even simple rocks or more easily a fragile leaf, flower or the glowing sunset can show you the way back to God, the source of all that is.
Living in tune with the existence, like this; and experience each moment of life consciously and non-judgementally is the essence of spirituality. As one's awareness of the present moment gradually grows, attachment with the mind (the tendency to forget yourself and get lost in the thoughts) drops away and nothing remains except the permanent sense of oneness with the existence.
It's not that the mind doesn't work anymore in this state. It even becomes more intelligent and alert. But, it works when one needs it and doesn't exist when not needed.
To achieve such state is true freedom and full potential of the human seed. This, in fact, is the sole purpose of all meditation discourses and techniques— To give you the glimpses that you're not the mind, but beyond it.. that you are not the thinker, but the background awareness or consciousness in which all the perception appear and disappear.
When you realise your true nature, you come back to home. This is what people call as self-realization or awakening from the mind or maya (illusion), as the eastern philosophy puts it.
"The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with the nature." - Joseph Campbell.
However, the process, despite of being simple, may not be easy for you, specially in the beginning. Because, it has become our deep-rooted conditioning now to live unconsciously, unaware of the present moment. So, here are a few things that I've learned along the journey and found to be very helpful-
Be with the breath-
To be conscious of your breath is one of the simplest and most effective ways to put the running mind on check. When you observe the natural rhythm of your breath and remain with it, you become aware of the mind’s tendency to jump from one thing to another and you remain aware of the present moment, where the breath always is.
So, you can make it a practice to be silently attentive to your breath and whatever is happening around you simultaneously, whenever you're with the nature (Or, you can even do it as long as and whenever you want. A few conscious breaths in the middle of daily affairs can work like a magical therapy). And, If thoughts arise during the process, don't try to stop them by effort. Rather, watch and observe them as the mechanism of mind and come back to the natural breathing. When you consciously watch the thoughts and emotions, they disappear and only the still space in which they appear i.e the consciousness remains.
If you remain with the breath, even for a few minutes, a gentle silence will start to descend upon you and you'll be able to get in touch with your innermost core, that is always one with the nature.
Look for what amazes you-
All of us are born sensitive to the world of nature, but as we grow up, this natural sense of sensitivity gets diminished due to the dust of memory and experiences and we are not able to connect with nature as freshly as we used to do in our childhood.
One way of regenerating that capacity to be sensitive is— to search and find something that is out of box and new for your eyes. There are infinite number of things, patterns, shapes and color-combinations to look for.
When you come across something that your mind didn't expect or couldn't imagine, It works like the way the great art impacts the viewer.
The mind stops in a flick of second and your attention fixes at the miracle. In that state of awe, nothing remains except the silent observation and appreciation of the miraculous.
Explore your senses-
Exploring and developing the senses enhances our ability to directly experience the world without knowledge or concepts. So, practice to explore and develop your senses when you're outside in the nature.
Look out for different shapes, textures and colours in the nature, touch plants, explore the smell of different parts in the forest or silently listen to the sound of rushing water or mildly rustling leaves. You can do it in any way you like. I guess, It's simplest, fun and most intimate way you can utilise the body to bring yourself closer to the nature.
Contemplate upon the stillness of nature-
Unlike us, the world of nature is always rooted in the present moment, surrounded with the stillness that can only be felt by a silent observer.
When you observe and contemplate upon that stillness, the running mind gets still too and you can easily feel the inner-stillness that is always present in the background of the thought activity. You are, then, able to see through the facade of forms and discover the formless, that is the very basis of life.
Due to its effectiveness, this method of meditation became so popular that later it came to be adopted as one of the central teachings of Zen.
When it comes to being with nature, being in hurry is an obstacle and this is something most of us would struggle with. Patience, which is a characteristic of no mind or call it heart, helps you take your attention to the present moment, to the deeper world of the nature. On the other hand, hurry, which is a characteristic of mind, makes your attention divided and lost.
So, perhaps there's no other quality for the seeker as important as patience. Patience means capacity to wait infinitely. If the mind wants to know the truth quickly, It will never succeed. The greater the patience, the sooner the happening.
"Only those who know what silence is can approach the ultimate truth. Nobody has brought anybody else to the truth, and nobody can bring himself to the ultimate truth unless he knows what silence is." - Osho, The book of secrets.
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