This is guest post by Joan Klostermann-Ketels of Being of Sound Spirit
One of the great challenges to being out in nature – for me anyway – is to get in synch with it. To do that I must first shake my incessant need to DO. In the back of my mind and the pit of my stomach is a gnawing sense that I might be using this time in a more productive way. I should be balancing my checkbook, working on a sales proposal, calling somebody about a meeting or fixing the roof. Of course nothing could be farther from the truth.
I think of Thoreau’s two years at Walden. He recounts time spent observing the movement of a shadow in the doorway over the course of a day. (I always wanted to do that, and since I first read it almost 40 years ago I still haven’t taken a single day to do it.) He was also driven to measure and record everything measurable and recordable about the pond itself and the surrounding landscape. It is our human nature to do, to create, to busy ourselves with ostensibly productive activities quite apart from chopping wood, carrying water and other requirements for basic survival. Still, he made time to wax poetically on the spiritual nature of the experience and the woods’ effect on human culture in the surrounding communities.
As I bounce back and forth between the requirements of participation in society and letting myself free-fall into the time-lengthened realm of the natural environment, I find the quickest way to make the transition is to laugh at myself. How foolish to struggle against the feeling I can’t get ‘inside nature’ fast enough! Indeed, what IS real time? Humility helps me set my internal clock, so to speak, to run closer to nature’s time.
The more I vanish into nature, the more natural it seems to want to be there compared to time spent in the everyday workaday world. Each time it’s harder to come back out. Rather, I don’t want to come out, because the world that previously seemed so real and all-important now seems pretentious, superficial and a tragic waste of time. Here’s a cautionary note, however, just in case you’re toying with the idea of going off the grid even part-time: Conferring with nature on a regular basis is a life-changing commitment. Your behavior will change. In the short term, friends and family might think you are becoming eccentric, or dropping out (like you did that summer in the ‘60s). They might worry about you, and cite your occasional unshaven face, cockleburs in your shirt or general dishevelment.
In the long term, they might come around a lot less or stop inviting you to dinner parties. Oh, well. You can always buy time by explaining that your new hobby is on the order of meditation; but in point of fact the entire experience expands into an entirely different dimension to the extent you are willing to accept the change. That is to say, we don’t make the rules out there; we don’t even pretend to make the rules. We simply exist alongside nature until alongside becomes within, and eventually within becomes the same as.
Every time I come back from a walking meditation I feel changed, a little more pleased with life. But not SO pleased with myself in that I forget how, or wish not, to communicate with people. I’ve made a choice, and while it’s reasonable that I might need to explain it, it is not necessary to convince anyone that I am smarter or better than anyone else. Aw, geez, again with the humility. Mindfulness in; mindfulness out.
So I’ll go out into the trees again today. I cannot NOT do it any more than I can put off breathing for a day. The essence of the attraction can be summed up by this remarkable passage from Loren Eiseley’s “The Hidden Teacher” :
“…The human body is a magical vessel, but its life is linked with an element it cannot produce. Only the green plant knows the secret of transforming the light that comes to us across the far reaches of space. There is no better illustration of the intricacy of man’s relationship with other living things.”