Mary O’Malley – Nature has been a big support for me on this journey back to an intimate, alive connection with life. One of my favorite backpacking adventures was to a ridge at the 8000-foot level of Mount Rainier. After setting up my campsite and cooking my dinner, I would then settle in to watch the Earth turn away from the sun (usually called the sunset) and after a few hours of sleep I would wake up before dawn to watch the Earth turn back into the sun. Such joy!
In the few times I made it to this sacred place, I received untold treasures for nature is always calling to us, reminding us that we are part of a highly intelligent, stunningly creative and awesomely beautiful thing called life. And yet most of us live inside of buildings most of the time and, when we go outside, we find ourselves in the doing mode whether were trying to complete a 10-mile run or a 5-mile hike, get rid of all the weeds in the garden or walk fast enough to increase our heart rate. Rarely do we just stop, settle in, and let nature speak to us.
When was the last time you gave yourself the gift of nature, where you just relaxed into life for even a few minutes? It doesn’t have to be the mountains. It could be a local park, a supposedly barren backyard or even a parking strip. Nature is always there!
Are you willing to give yourself the gift of going outside, settling in and opening to life? Of course, at the beginning, your mind may be afraid of settling into being because it is used to being anywhere but here. So, choose a focus like listening, for your attention needs a safe place to ground. When this first started happening for me, I was sitting in the woods by a lake and water was gently lapping against the shore. But as I brought my attention here, my mind got afraid because it had been a long, long time since it had been fully here for life. So, I just kept on coming back to the sound of the water and slowly my mind let go and I was again here for life.
As you gift yourself with slowing down you will discover there’s so much you can see that you usually miss when you live in the fast pace of your daily life. But it is not only what you can see. It is what you can receive. Science is very clear on the profound effects nature can have on you. It lowers your blood pressure; your heart rate slows down and even your stress hormones lower. Overall, it elevates your entire experience.
But that is just the beginning.
Nature will show you that you are not a separate human being, all alone in the world. The next time you breathe in, know you are breathing in the oxygen the plant kingdom is breathing out and when you breathe out, the plants are breathing in your carbon dioxide. Take a moment and let that in. Life is an interconnected web of being with absolutely everything dependent on everything else for its survival. The idea that everything has its own separate existence is deeply embedded in our collective mind. But it is just not true.
Nature will also show you that you are an essential and integral part of this tapestry called life. There has never been another being like you and there never will be. You are a completely unique expression of life. Whether you are looking at yourself or a planet, or the beauty of a flower, or the flight of an eagle, you begin to see that something really wonderful is going on and everything is a one-of-a-kind expression of it – every rock, every insect, every plant, every animal, every molecule, every human being.
If you settle in for a bit and quietly open to nature, you’ll also see that everything is constantly in flux. Nothing ever stays the same. This can open you to a startling but healing insight – everything is impermanent. Everything is constantly changing. If you allow it, this will take you another step into freedom with the realization that you too are constantly changing and one day you will no longer be here. The atoms that make you up will once again become a part of the clouds, the rain, and the Earth, which so beautifully hold and nourish you. If your mind is afraid of this, I invite you to let that fear go for just a moment and know that seeing the impermanence of everything, including you, opens you up to the preciousness of every moment and of everything.
Nature will also open you up to the astounding creativity at the heart of life. There are more stars than there are grains of sand on every beach of the Earth. Every beach of the Earth! And life took something as unsubstantial as stardust and created the DNA molecule. The rungs of this spiral molecule are made up of four bases and if you move them around a bit you get a slug. If you move them around a bit more, you get a rose. If you move them around again you get a human being! As a teacher once said, “We are cousins to the trees and near relations to the oceans.”
Have the courage to recognize that most of your life has been lived in forward motion and see if you are willing to give yourself the gift of just settling in. For a few minutes every day, be with nature even if it is just a houseplant in your living room. And if you’re outside and close to some soft earth, take off your shoes and go barefoot so you can touch the Earth and it can touch you.
The more you relax into the dynamic, fluid, intelligent and awesomely creative dance that is life, the more you will be able to bring the gifts of nature back into your daily world, nourishing you, your friends and loved ones and the Earth.
SF Source Mary O’Malley Apr 2021