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Spirituality Essay:

Nature-Spirituality Nurturance    ( May 2007 )

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Mountain pass In our April 22 "The Nature Path" service, there wasn't enough time in the sermon to include some of the ideas - mindset shifts and specific techniques -- for opening deeper connections with Nature. I'm including them as this month's somewhat lengthened column for whatever help they may be in making Nature that much more spiritually meaningful for each of you.

I think the single most valuable thing we can do to get more from Nature is simply, consciously, wanting it. Watch what new activities and awarenesses start emerging in you after you decide you want more Nature in your life. Spending more time in it will probably come first. But a richer tapestry of experiences will likely begin unfolding as well.

My second essential suggestion for deepening the Nature connection is setting a mind frame that allows for "letting go" - or "surrendering" into the experience. Techniques of deep breathing (slow, full exhalation) - creating a meditative state - in which you shut down left-brained thinking patterns allows those powerful, mystical, "oneness" feelings to emerge.

And with those strategies, some specific activities and practical thoughts:

  1. Like Thoreau, consider keeping a Nature journal - observations, your feelings and impressions, and what that leads to and means in your life and future. Wax poetic....

  2. Alter your Nature time and space relationships. Walk more slowly (or rapidly); look at nature close-up (what would an ant notice: in the miniscule are more amazing wonders).

  3. Cross-pollinate Nature with all your senses: cultivate listening, smelling, touching, tasting sensations with what you're seeing.

  4. Garden. From seed to harvest, the slow progression and satisfaction of watching earth, sun, and your labor combine to create vegetable or flower abundance is sooo satisfying and spiritually meaningful.

  5. Bring Nature indoors. Living plants, cut flowers, tropical fish, etc. please the eye, soothe the soul, and reaffirm life connections.

  6. Learning the science underlying Nature (usually) deepens your connection. Beyond "such a beautiful mountain," an understanding of geology reveals that beautiful mountain to have been one billion year old lava, cooled and pressured into gneiss, upthrust through earth crust's fissures during tectonic shifts 65 million years ago. Learning names (of mushrooms, clouds, birds, etc.) also makes each more unique, distinctive, and yours. Note: too much left-brained knowledge can redirect and ruin those sweet right-brained aesthetic, spiritual connections. Decide what the right balance for you is.

  7. Notice color contrasts. Nature provides myriad hues of all the earth tones . . . how do they look next to each other . . . what does sunlight do? Looking more closely, subtleties of colors appear - and our responses deepen.

  8. Explore. Check out new areas you've never been to . . . wander . . . get off the trail when hiking. Risk a little - allow for the unexpected.

  9. Enjoy the pluses of "sweat equity." Working for it always enhances the experience. As you've probably noticed, the view from a mountain you've hiked is so much more wonderful than when you drove up it.

  10. Nature is both the soft and beautiful, but also raw, wild, and unpredictable (that in extreme forms opens vital "survival" challenges). Consider the benefits of connecting with its rugged side . . . push yourself out into the elements - the rain, the cold, the wind. You'll probably not only love that invigorating challenge and essence of Nature's wilder side, but you'll likely find yourself appreciating the soft inspirational side more acutely as well.

  11. Give back. As Thoreau noted, it is only man's ability to create a conscious connection with Nature that gives Nature its meaning. Our appreciation of what it gives to us creates a two- way street of spiritual connection and completion. Notice, feel, and consciously express that appreciation. And: give back directly in whatever ways you can . . . by physically helping to preserve and improve the environment, being politically active, and donating to wonderful Nature organizations (Sierra Club; Nature Conservancy, etc.) and to those committed to reducing overpopulation's impact (Planned Parenthood, NARAL, etc.).

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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