“You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
The main challenge of our time is learning how to live in harmony with Nature again. The most ancient forms of spirituality were the ones that connected us to the world around us. And still nature religion can be found all over the world, in a colourful variety of traditions. The basic idea, however, is one and the same: the earth is a living organism and we’re part of it. Everything is interconnected.
Whether we call her Mother Earth or Great Spirit: the sacred is present in our world. She’s in the wind, the rain, the trees, the mountains and the sea. She flows through all and everything. Therefore all life is sacred.
Much of our contemporary ecological crisis derives from the false assumption that we exist separately from our environment. Within the Western paradigm humans came to see themselves as being in competition with nature. We even granted ourselves the right to dominate the natural world. As a result, we lost the connection to the sacred in our everyday existence. Sadly we failed to notice that we’re actually destroying ourselves when we destroy our natural environment.
Currently more and more people are waking up and realising it’s time for a change. It’s time to turn back to our roots; the earth. Not to dismiss the progress of the past, but to integrate it with a more ecological consciousness. To come to a synthesis: a new balance between all forms of life on this living planet.
How to include nature in your spirituality?
Of course you could go for a shamanic initiation in a faraway jungle. Or delve into the pagan traditions of your homeland. But there are simpler ways to start living more in tune with nature. Here’s five basic ideas that everyone who wishes so can apply in their own lives.
1) Connect with the elements
Begin your day with a moment of reflection on the world around you. A traditional way to do this is to connect with the four elements that make up our existence: air, fire, water and earth. You could make it into a ritual (or make it part of every ritual). It’s also possible to represent the different elements on an altar in your home. But simply reflecting on them and saying thanks is already good for starters.
Just say thanks to the air: the wind that blows through our hair, that we breathe in deeply. The smells that enter our nostrils, for example when we burn incense.
Say thanks to the water that flows through us, that is the main component of our body. Water that we need daily, even more than food. The water that we swim in, and wash ourselves with. The water in the rivers and the ocean.
Say thanks to the fire. Fire connects people, it provides light and warmth. And fire transforms: the old burns away and makes space for the new.
Say thanks to the earth that carries us, that we step on, sit on, sleep on. The fertile soil that brings forth our food. From sandy beaches to rocky mountains, the earth is the foundation that we live on. She’s our mother.
In many nature traditions the elements are connected to the four directions (east, south, west and north) and their web of symbolic associations. Think for example of the medicine wheels of the native American Indians.
Studying these traditions will deepen your connection with the elements. You will learn what animals are associated to which directions, what plants and herbs go with it, but also the stages of life they represent. This will deepen your connection with the cyclical rhythms of nature.
2) Put your hands in the earth
Grow a garden. Putting your hands in the soil will bring you directly in touch with the earth. Observe the cycle of the seed becoming a plant that bears fruits and seeds, and dies away again in the autumn. No doubt it will make you wonder about the miracle of creation.
If you don’t have space, you can always put some herbs in your kitchen or start tending a house plant. Another idea would be to join a communal garden: a nice way to meet your neighbours and also a good way to learn the intricacies of gardening from each other.
3) Go out in nature
Go out for a stroll in the park, swim in natural waters, visit the mountains, the beach, the forest. The basic idea is that you interact with nature. While you are out, practice awareness and try to be mindful in the moment. Breath in and out.
Observe what is happening and how your senses are opening up. Suddenly you’ll find yourself marvelling about the wonders of nature: a double rainbow in the sky, a flight of birds passing by, an insect you never saw before.
4) Celebrate the natural rhythms
Become aware of the phases of the year and the cycles of the moon. The spring is for making new plans, clearing the dust from the winter and sowing seeds. The summer is for working long days in the fields or the garden, but also for celebration and travel: a time to gather and meet new people.
In autumn you harvest the fruits of summer and store them. You prepare for winter. Then it’s time to go inwards and sit by the fireplace. To reflect on the past year and take some rest. Similarly the phases of the moon have their own energy. At full moon there is more light and all of nature is more active. It’s time to work hard, to achieve things, but also to come together and celebrate. The energy is charged and buzzing with vibration.
With the waning of the moon, the energy slowly fades. It’s time to get rid of things you don’t need anymore. New moon is the time to travel inwards and work on internal processes. It’s time for rest and reflection. With the waxing moon the energy rises again. It’s the best time to make plans and start new projects.
When you tune in to these natural rhythms your life will start to flow more naturally. You will notice that you also have your own personal rhythm: phases of activity and passivity. For woman this is often related to their menstrual cycle.
5) Switch to a more eco-conscious lifestyle
When we realise all life on earth is connected, we understand that what I do to my environment, I essentially do to myself. The Lakota referred to this idea with the phrase ‘Mitakuye oyasin’, meaning ‘we are all related’. It implies that I’m actually poisoning myself when I put chemical soaps in the water or when I burn fossil fuels for my transportation.
When we understand this, it becomes obvious to switch to a more ecological lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Just begin with something that’s easy to incorporate in your life. Switch for instance to using only eco-friendly soap. Start separating waste. Become more conscious of any type of consumption: buy less, local or second hand.
Be mindful of your means of transportation. Become a vegetarian (or vegan) and start growing your own vegetables. You don’t have to change your whole life at once, it’s a gradual process. But we can take small (or big) steps every day!
A guided meditation to connect with Nature – Mother Earth – Gaia