Sitting quietly in nature, opening awareness to the depths, the spaces, the distances, the silences that are there stretching away in all directions – this immediately becomes a meditation.
With meditation, ordinary human rationality is suddenly helpless: It’s out of its depth. This is why many people avoid it. With nature, here is something tangible, direct, real, right in front of the senses. And yet it is not completely of the senses; there is more there – intangible, indirect, and just as real; something we had nothing to do with creating or displaying. This scene in front of us, all around us – it just happened, it has come to the surface, materialized out of the formless depths of time, and now it just IS. Sitting. There. There is a certain presence there, a powerful quality of being. It is the living experience of otherness – non-human existence, non-human being.
This is an experience the Western US is world-famous for – The Wild West; wild nature; wilderness. In its Old English origin, the word ‘wild’ means ‘self-willed’ and ‘wilderness’ means literally ‘self-willed land,’ suggesting that although we’re related it’s a different self than a human one, a different mind, a different Being. This is ‘America’s best idea’ – preserving Earth’s ‘other selves,’ and in the bargain preserving what the great American poet Walt Whitman called ‘nature’s primal sanity’ in national parks and wilderness areas.
Primal sanity is Nature as a touchstone. It’s there behind and under everything, like a bedrock within the landscape or a barely audible ground tone. Deep original Nature sends roots down the corridors of Time out of mind in direct touch with the Source of all living beings, the invisible formless presence behind and within everything.
Meanwhile… back in day-to-day living most of us live highly cocooned lives, caught up in our minds, passing a stunning 90- 95% of our time in-doors, in cars, on screens, en-tranced by the siren call of human things. Aloof, as if becoming aliens on our home planet, we grow into a long-distance relationship with nature, while the earth, the sun, the stars and the universe conduct themselves magnificently around us.
People – our ancestors – evolved in the outdoors: Of the approximately 10,000 human generations since our purported emergence as a species about 2.5 million years ago, about 96% have been without any semblance of an artificial environment. With the last three generations especially has come indoor living and a sedentary lifestyle. Maybe this is why we find deeper, more satisfying feelings of peace, health, and, for those who have ‘eyes to see,’ security and belonging in the self-willed outdoors than we do in the artificial indoors. Getting back outdoors is a perennial health trend to awaken the mind and the senses back up to a larger present reality which includes the non-human selves, what some tribal peoples called the rock people, the plant people and the animal people.
Now, we want back – to smell the trees and dirt as well as the fresh air; to listen and f-e-e-l everything, the atmosphere on our skin, to hear running water and feel rocks underfoot: our vital life force reconnecting with nature’s vital life force.
Going into nature is not just about disconnecting from all the technology and noise of mind-made modern life but is also about reconnecting to something so much bigger than ourselves. By contrast in ordinary life our senses are so often dulled, dutifully drowning in the mind and its socialized thought-forms.
When we bring attention to nature we don’t just think about it, but take it into our awareness and our being. True seeing goes beyond thoughts and words to a shared space of presence, a unifying field of awareness. In this field the energetic qualities of what is seen are conveyed from the outside world into the inner awareness of the person. Thus the stillness or simple integrity of a tree or a rock is communicated as ‘stillness’ or ‘integrity’ to the person beholding it.
We share many qualities of being with everything that exists, and we all co-exist together in the great web of life. A flowering plant shares its existence with the clouds that brought the rain and the soil it will turn into after it dies. It is an interdependent existence. We inter-are, together, sharing molecules and energy. This is the reality meditation in nature begins to open us up to, the doorway of the wild.