Always in difficult times, it is our connection with the essential goodness and miracle of creation that can give us comfort and encouragement. We find this comfort in the natural world, from a grain of sand out to the total mystery of our cosmos.
Learn from the woods and fields
For many of us, nature is our major source of spiritual connection. St Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercians and the Knights Templar, said, ‘What I know of the divine science and Holy Scripture I learnt in the woods and fields.’
The beauty of dawn and the movement of air and water can touch the most cynical and harsh of people.
Return the gift
It is this fundamental empathy and rapport that is surely the authentic source and motivation for our green and ecological values, and for our instinct to nurture and protect the natural world. We receive the blessing and inspiration of our natural environment and it is only fair that we return this gift with our own respect and affection.
Spiritual practice and compassionate awareness extend beyond our human companions. In shamanic, pagan and tribal religions, it is basic courtesy to treat animals, plants, rocks, clouds, rivers and all living things as our friends and our relatives.
It is mindless and harsh of us, then, to receive nature’s blessing – and then abuse her, selfishly looking after the bits we like and disregarding the others. We might care for our own pets and plants, and then completely ignore the suffering of the animals that give us meat and leather. We might care for our own health and beauty, but give no awareness to the ecologically damaging agents we use for house cleaning.
Changing old habits
I always try to avoid haranguing, but I feel myself coming close to it when it comes to mindfulness and care of our environment and planet. I had a good friend who was an ecological activist and, every time she visited our home, she would assertively point out the household stuff that was unethical and polluting. I twitched as she fingered my bad habits.
My monkey-mind and patterns of consumerist addiction wanted to keep on using the same old stuff that I had used for years. But I needed to adjust and give awareness to the damage that I was actually doing, so I was grateful for her reminders and gradually turned my bad habits around.
Our inspiration to care for the natural world derives from our being part of it. Dale Carnegie, who was possibly the most successful self-help author of all time – he wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People [210351, £4.99] – suggested the most simple of strategies, which most of us do instinctively. ‘Close your eyes. You might try saying something like this: The sun is shining over- head. The sky is blue and sparkling. Nature is calm and in control of the world – and I, as nature’s child, am in tune with the Universe.’
Or, as my friend the Slovenian sculptor and author Marco Pogacnik once poetically said to me, ‘Look at how beautifully and perfectly the earth prepared herself for us!’
Exercise: Your family of nature and cosmos
Take a few minutes to pause and centre. Relax and allow yourself to sink down into your body.
Guide your attitude into one of having an open heart and kind mind.
Turn your focus down into your body and be aware of its wonder and life – its heat, the pulse and flow of your blood, the rise and fall of your breath, the way your lungs absorb oxygen.
Contemplate and enjoy the reality that you yourself are a miracle of creation.
Contemplate, too, that your body is made up of the same atomic matter, the same stardust, as constitutes everything else in nature and the cosmos.
You are made of the same stuff as the stars, the minerals, the plants and animals.
Just feel and be aware of your connection with all of this, with the whole of your family.
Carefully look at how you live your life – clothes, food, heating, energy, transport. Calmly assess the impact you have on your environment.
Aligned with your highest values and compassionately respecting all nature, make some careful and conscious decisions about your habits and lifestyle.*
This is very beautiful, isn’t it? We live in a beautiful natural world and, if we choose to, we can also live in a beautiful way. When we are touched by someone’s caring behaviour, we may say that she or he is a beautiful soul and this has nothing at all to do with superficial appearances or material success.
Doing good and being good also are not derived from some earnest attitude that is devoid of joy and good humour. As well as beauty, the natural world is filled with wildness and vitality. Sometimes therefore our acts of service may also be wild, courageous and even revolutionary, as we release what is trapped – emotions, animals, plants, people – into freedom.
But whether our service is done in a quiet or expansive way, we know that our spirituality needs to be grounded in real-life behaviour that lovingly supports and serves all those around us. The growth of our heart and consciousness is not a purely private experience, but has to spill over to benefit everything beyond us.
All my love.
*From The Power of Modern Spirituality by William Bloom