I’m going to indulge in a reflective (longer) post… drawing on personal insights I’ve been having over the past years relating to our relationship with nature within us and around us.
Let me begin with this: What if, just for now, everything was already OK just as it is?
What if instead of denying, controlling and pushing our lives away, we received our experience of each moment with curiosity? What if we were enough just as we are and didn’t need fixing or improving?
Perhaps life is unfolding just as it should be – with no effort required on our part? Perhaps we could invite it all in – a joy, an enthusiasm, a sadness, a restlessness within us as well as the sounds, sights, scents around us? If we stepped aside from our addiction to manipulating our experience and engaged authentically with life with greater humility? Then, what would we discover?
As described in Chapter One of Mindfulness and the Natural World, I first felt this magical sense that my experience of “aliveness” moment by moment was enough whilst in Huerquehue National Park in Chile. In the wilderness there, I felt relaxed, calm, connected to the awe-inspiring beauty surrounding me and it was clear to me that life was unfolding as it should. All I could do was join in the ‘natural dance’ of the forests by being there, present and an integral part of it. And that was more than enough.
I realised then that if we want to live happy, authentic lives, we need to tune out of our conditioned minds’ narratives and into our felt, direct experiences of nature. Nature gives rise to all life including our own – so if we want to learn about life, where else can we turn to except towards the natural world itself?
Have you ever noticed how our minds quieten in wild places – in the presence of trees, lakes, mountains and night skies? A sense of connectedness, peace, humility and surrender to “something greater than ourselves” can effortlessly emerge within us as we step back and become more receptive to life.
In our modern culture, it seems we’ve lost this receptivity – we rarely step back to simply learn from our experience, letting it be as it is. Instead we embody a culture of striving, trying, fixing, comparing, rationalising and achieving – a culture in direct contradiction with that sense of “aliveness is enough”.
We live in a society where instead it’s the mantra of “never enough” which rules. We’re led to believe that constant activity, business and exhaustion make us “better” people. If we don’t try harder, we’re lazy. If we’re not busy, we are less worthy, If we can’t solve a problem, we’ve failed. If we’re not full of energy and happiness, we need to cheer up. Even in meditation and mindfulness practice, we strive to be present, we strive to focus, we strive to let go. No wonder we’re exhausted… but what for? Where is it getting us?
Don’t get me wrong, effort and action are undeniably essential to fulfilling lives – but only if pursued wisely and creatively. So many of our efforts to fix, perfect and change are in vain because so much off our lives isn’t within our control. How much energy do we waste in vain worrying about the future, dwelling on the past, avoiding painful emotions, playing roles, trying to be people we aren’t?
Seeking to interfere with life’s natural unfolding, I believe that we create unnecessary suffering for ourselves and for the rest of nature. Moreover, in doing so we rob ourselves of the flow of our own aliveness by trying to fix and avoid our pains and hold onto our joys. What if instead, we allowed life to move more freely through us?
I’m gradually discovering in my own life that valuable, impactful effort comes from “somewhere else” within us – a place that doesn’t leave us depleted – a place of true aliveness that can be found within all of us – if we allow ourselves to listen.
Whatever these reflections mean to you, my invitation is for us to experiment with the idea that perhaps we’re perfectly OK just as we are, however we’re feeling and whatever is going on in our lives. Consider that perhaps there’s something greater to defer to – called NATURE (within ourselves and around us). I invite us to explore what happens when we move into a more receptive mode – meeting life with openness, humility, trust and curiosity.
Here’s a little exercise for us all to experiment with each day…
Releasing effort: being receptive to life
Intentionally let yourself ‘off the hook’ for 10-15 minutes. Allow yourself to do nothing and make no effort for this time.
Sit or lie somewhere comfortable – in whatever position feels good to you (outdoors if possible but anywhere you enjoy being will do!)
Notice how your body feels. Notice what thoughts are going through your mind. Notice your mood.
Remind yourself that whatever you notice is OK whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It’s already there in your experience. Welcome it in like a guest!
Now scan your body from head to toe, noticing any effort or tension and consciously releasing it as best you can.
Notice any effort you encounter in the mind (striving, explaining, judging, categorising, understanding) and release that as best you can. Let the narratives be and pass by you like clouds in the sky.
Open up to sounds, scents, sights around you. Let them come to you – again without effort to reach out to them.
See if you can allow the moment to take you, surrender to it, let it ‘have you’.
The natural world, the ground, the air, the trees are already supporting you without any effort on your part. Rest in this reality for a few moments. How does that feel?
Afterwards, take a moment to reflect:
- What’s going on without any effort on your part? What is there beyond effort?
- What sensations, emotions, thoughts arise during the exercise? How do you feel about them?
- How would you go about the rest of your day if you trusted what you encountered?
Meeting life humbly and receptively takes daily practice, courage and vulnerability. Why? Because it’s scary for our minds that have been conditioned naturally and culturally for security, comfort and control. Yet, there’s so much richness to discover and learn- if we’re willing to step out of our comfort zones and open up to our experience in this way. Authentic life is unpredictable, real and wild – a vibrant space full of the magic of aliveness.
What direction would our lives take if we lived more receptively – looking into nature with trust that life is unfolding as it should? What effect would a shift from “not enough” towards “enough” have on our lives and our relationship with the natural world?
As Albert Einstein said: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
I would love to hear your reactions below!