Nature as a Door to Spirit

http://www.123rf.com/profile_refatMany articles on EdenKeeper elucidate principles found in a wide spectrum of spiritual philosophies supporting reverence and care for the natural environment. What may not be as clear is the role that the natural environment can play in awakening an individual to the all-pervasive presence of spirit. Relentless urban living affects the ability to connect with a larger reality and can reduce care for the environment to an abstraction or worse, an irrelevancy. Yet the power of nature to pull human consciousness toward an experience of unforced connection and spontaneous beatitude is equally relentless, and undoubtedly more benign.

The increasing urbanization of the western world creates highly energetic, aesthetically and intellectually stimulating environments, not to mention greater economic efficiencies and profitability for the mega-entities that employ most of the working-age population. The daily rhythms of a city center around getting from here to there as quickly as possible, navigating man-made terrain to participate in work that is mostly about accuracy, speed, and competition. Only a rare elite are able to fold personal creativity, no less calm introspection, into the activities that take up a huge proportion of their waking lives. Responding to and succeeding in such an environment requires a certain detachment from one’s own emotional and physical rhythms and strict control of the direction of thought.

One of the greatest strengths of human nature, as with all of nature, is the ability to adapt, to absorb a variety of experiences and influences into the overall warp and woof of the ongoing pattern of life. However, when imbalance — a constant exposure to disruptive forces — persists, dramatic counter-forces are created that must eventually manifest.

In human culture, when satisfaction of basic survival instincts requires denial of subtler psycho-physiological realities, sexual drive gains an over-the-top centrality. In the environment, chemical pollutants silence the mating calls of frogs, the Mississippi teems with invasive species, and man-influenced climate changes produce extreme, destructive weather. A distorted nature becomes an enemy to be fought, remedied, overcome.

Photo by Brian Purchia
Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming

Yet nature can be our greatest ally in the quest to find meaning and beauty. As a city-raised girl, though not a particularly religious one, I was taken by surprise when I took my first serious mountain hike. Clean air, the steady rhythm of the climb, the endorphins stimulated by physical effort, the unobstructed horizon: from these bubbled joy. With arms outstretched and eyes raised to the sky, without analysis or forethought came a deeply felt exclamation — “God is a great God!” From that moment of communion, with sky for wine and trees for bread, came my first incontrovertible awareness of spirit.

Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, and author of several best-selling books on psychology and spirituality, says this about such experiences:

“These experiences are sometimes referred to as ‘higher states of consciousness’ or ‘spiritual experiences’. However, in my book Waking From Sleep, I suggest that rather seeing them as transcendent or ‘higher’, we should see them as natural. I believe these experiences represent a way of seeing and relating to the world which was once normal to human beings, but which we have lost.”

Dr. Gretel Van Wieren, assistant professor of religious studies at Michigan State University comments, “Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways.” As discussed in the EdenKeeper article, Playing Outside Develops Spiritual Connection in Kids, children who spend significant time outdoors have a stronger sense of fulfillment and purpose than those who don’t. “These values are incredibly important to human development and well-being,” says Dr. Van Wieren.

While the mesmerizing influence of electronic devices grows for both children and adults, the all-encompassing surround of nature can become an equal if not more powerful lure to experience an unmediated state of being. If we exercise the wisdom to preserve and embrace it, no artificial “3-D” experience can rival the original “virtual” reality: the living spirit in nature.

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About the Author

I have a BA in Psychology from Wellesley College and have been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda for over 25 years, including 15 years of teaching Sunday School children the fundamentals of yoga meditation. I'm also a deeply committed student of Catholicism especially interested in the basic harmony between eastern and western spiritual principles, practices and experience. I live with my husband in rural Northern Arizona. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yogasync.tv and Noodle.org.