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What is it that everyone can relate to when we talk about the forest? Why do people relax, smile, breathe deeper when I ask them if they like to spend time there? Why do most people share a sense of the beauty and the mystery of wild places? Spending time immersed in Nature and then contemplating the significance of my experiences continues to transform my life. This enquiry dissolves the very ground on which I thought I stood and it is ongoing and alive and ever evolving. These notes are a few of my thoughts and it has been hard to stop writing as the enquiry continues to evolve and my understanding deepens as I write and contemplate day by day, hour by hour.
I find a liberating, exquisitely disarming purity in being close to wild nature. Where nature is less disturbed the purity can be more easily recognised even if one is not used to it or has even never looked before. Nature with all its imperfections and injustices appears perfect and just IS. The broken branch reveals it’s own intact beauty and there is no malice in the preying of the bird on the bug. Everything simply is as it is, wild and free.
In the forest I don’t need to do or be anything in particular. I let my thoughts run and bring my attention gently to what is around me. I don’t try and commune with the forest but I open and my attention widens. I breathe and smile. As I drop ideas, beliefs, worries, expectations I drop into the bark, the beetle, the forest floor. I do not need to be in the forest, I can be in the grimiest of cities. I can see a root breaking through the pavement and breathe the same smile. I can lift my face to the sky and I am the sky. I see a leaf, I really see the leaf and time disappears, my separate sense of self disappears, there is only a deep peace and abiding joy. I am simply with whatever is around me. This is the realisation of not being separate from nature and this is why we relax in the forest; on some level we experience the most profound truth we can experience, that of Unity rather than separation.
But what do I mean by Nature? Over my life I have defined Nature in different ways, as I have done the same with Love. My love for animals and plants was the fabric of my existence from as young as I remember. My first experience of pure care was from the forest. As a child I would seek comfort by spending time in the woodland and climbing the tallest trees. There I would sit for hours and feel safe and happy. From the trees I felt a not-caring which I experienced as love, a pure experience of nature just being as it IS and allowing me to be the same - not needing me or wanting me to be any different and paradoxically the greatest care arising from that. Being close to the trees and animals I felt unconditional love and freedom and I loved them back and as I grew older I fiercely determined to defend them.
Over time I came to understand Nature as the complex web of life that supports the animals and trees and I loved this too and hated human beings who I perceived to be separate from Nature - a reasonable deduction given the evidence of our collective destructive actions that I witnessed. Later, still, I came to see humans as a part of nature. We are mammals, animals and we depend on the sun, plants and other animals for our survival. We are part of that complex ecological web whether we act like it or not.
However, human beings are not living harmoniously in the forest like the other animals. We are not separate from nature but we are something more. Can there be a broader definition; a Nature that isn’t just pure and green, that isn’t only subject to the laws of natural selection but to the fears and desires of a different order of intelligence? I would look around and see plastics, quarries, metals forged out the earth, tunnels and planes. They appear destructive and synthetic, but aren’t all of these things of the earth, Gaia, and isn’t Gaia natural? I started to see these awesome human creations in a different light. My horizon of what Nature could be broadened and fell away.
As my contemplations grew, my reference point was widening off the planet. Surely Nature is everything in the manifest realm. Stars, quarks, angels, black holes. All things and beings seen and unseen. Matter and anti-matter. Everything organic in the universes and synthetic on our own planet. We, you and I, have the consciousness to acknowledge this and perhaps the mystical insight to realise we are this.
So if all that exists in form can be called Nature, why is my experience so different in a forest rather than on a motorway? Why do I feel, healthier, happier, freer in the mountains? The forest and mountains, rivers and gardens, trees and animals we could call green nature to differentiate it from Nature – all that exists. At the most gross level green nature is ALIVE and reminds me that I am too, that life is real, here and now, raw and brutal and magnificent and true! This is no small thing, we are ALIVE, physically in bodies, it is good to be in touch with this simple and beautiful fact!
And deeper? What is the sweet mystery that seems to allow green nature to point to our true Nature? For me it is the purity I detect in green nature because it is innocent, direct. As I discovered as a child it places no demands on anything or anyone it simply IS. It is living, wild and free, unburdened by self-consciousness. When we let our guard down it reflects back our own purity and freedom and draws us to simply be and act simply. Imposing nothing green nature encourages me to stop imposing ideas and limitations on myself, on others and reality. To drop my own self-consciousness. To rest in a place of awe and act naturally with care and creativity. Not separating itself from anything not recoiling or grasping green nature allows me to relax and be myself.
Which brings us back to the forest.
If I immerse myself in the forest I can realise, if only for a moment, the truth that I am not separate from nature, I am not even merely connected to nature but I AM nature itself. If I am Nature then I am the eyes, hands and heart of Nature and in my experience this realisation unleashes the most profound love and care for the planet, for people, for everything. One simply cannot be touched by the depth and magnitude of the living forest, or for that matter a blade of grass, and not be moved to care for Life. Care is our nature.
This is the next most important environmental realisation we, as a species, can have. Our most recent collective realisation has been that we are part of an inter-connected web and need rivers and beetles - green nature - to survive, and this when embraced is a crucial step and one that a lot more of the earth’s population need to embrace to stop the destruction of the planet’s habitats. However, ‘inter-connected’ still in some way implies ‘separate from’. If we recognise that we are already one with it all, which by definition must mean we ARE ALL OF IT, a far more complete care can arise.
This is where we must start. We must find this absolute conviction of Unity in our own experience. This is how we will ‘save the world’. This is how we will heal the planet’s wounds and innovate to live sustainably and abundantly on and as Gaia. Because to the same extent we live as separate from Nature we live divided within ourselves and from each other. Living with that division means we live from the position that something is wrong, something is missing and we are always looking to fill that gap, we are always living with a problem and we are always looking for someone else to blame or change. Even if we are doing positive, creative work in the world we will be doing it from a position of fear or lack. We will create more divisions in ourselves and in our culture and it is those divisions – them and us, human and nature – that have created the environmental and social problems we face today.
If however we are already ONE with all that IS then at the most fundamental level we are already whole and therefore we don’t need anything. So although we still have the same problems to face and the same work to do we can do it from a place of existential ease. This is not to deny that awful things are happening in the world and so much needs to change NOW, but we can do it with the knowledge that we are the eyes, hearts and hands of Nature itself and therefore we have the creative power of the universe within us, at our fingertips when we let go of our fixed ideas and limitations and do what needs to be done.
I think this is why we relax, breathe and smile in the forest. The forest reminds us of this deepest, timeless and most joyful truth that at the deepest level everything is perfect at the same time as it needs to change. In my own experience I know if I surrender to what the forest, the river, the land shows me I surrender to a deeper part of myself from where intuition arises. If I allow this to inform and direct my life I create from my true nature. This is what I understand as intuition; a deepest instruction from Nature itself, from my Self. This must be what it means to be natural, to be ourselves.
So next time you are near green nature – as you walk in the park, or tend to your garden or watch a spider wrapping up a fly, allow yourself to just be as nature just is. Allow what you see, feel and sense to reflect back to you your deepest essence. Don’t search for a feeling, don’t create an experience, don’t have any expectations just be yourself - pure and wild and free.