Nature

Thoughts floating by...

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I’m out walking and I stop. In doing so I silence the sound of the heather and dead bracken being crushed by my feet, an almost soothing, familiar sound as I walked. I stop near a lake and watch the movement of the clouds reflected in the water. I think about how it is getting dark and that I should get back to the car.

I’ve stopped and I’m thinking...no...it’s not me that’s thinking...my mind is chattering to itself. I listen and notice this chatter: ‘Beautiful scenery’, ‘The colours are lovely’, ‘What’s the time?’, ‘I must remember to call at the supermarket on the way home’, ‘What time do they shut?’ ‘I should’ve brought my coat, it’s very cold’.

Gradually my jostling thoughts fall silent. I become aware of my own breathing and heartbeat. My attention is held by a cloud reflected in the water. I simply see it. I also see all the other clouds. I have no desire to move. I just stand there. Every now and then a new thought crosses my mind. I hear it in the same way as I see the clouds. Presence and distance. One thought whispers “Your thoughts are like the clouds, there are a lot of them, let them pass you by and float away, that’s fine. This moment is perfect. You don’t need or expect anything more than what you are experiencing here and now.”
 
Then my thoughts fall silent.
 
A glimpse of eternity.

Staying calm and open to the world

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I'm sitting watching the world go by. I see it change second by second as the mist moves along the valley. I hear sounds in the distance...a car...a magpie...the wind in the trees. I’m reminded that mindfulness is not relaxation (where we need silence, or quiet at least), but meditation (where we are trying to cultivate a calm relationship with the world).

In the meditative state of mind one is simply aware of being conscious at the very moment, or, to be more precise: one experiences oneself as this very moment of consciousness.

There are many definitions of consciousness and the simplest is simply ‘being aware’. 

So, as I sit here my mind flits from one silliness to the next, the same as the bird in the tree next to me flits from branch to branch. It can do nothing else. The main thing is not to feel stable on any one of them. Our minds need transitory certainties, just as birds need branches. 

I am aware that I (the real ‘me’) sit behind the voices in my head, silently listening. 

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, ‘Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.’ This serene encounter with reality cannot be had to order. We must consciously use our breath to calm ourselves and patiently examine our experience of the moment, with gentleness and determination, even if that experience is painful, complicated and confused. We just keep on breathing and looking into ourselves. We accept that which we do not clearly understand or control, but we keep on feeling and observing. In this way we learn to look more clearly outwards, at this world that is also painful, complicated and confused. We learn to think better, more accurately and clearly. If we were all to test these fleeting thoughts we have against interdependence, emptiness and impermanence, we would suffer less, and cause others less suffering too.

And so I stay calm and open to the world.


We are nature

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“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”  Albert Einstein.

In a world that is becoming increasingly noisy and fast-moving, with technological advances promoting virtual worlds, fast food and sedentary lifestyles, I believe that a new breed of human is developing and countering this way of life. They are part of a movement that invites us to reclaim our place in the universe and remind us that we are organic rational beings who influence, and are profoundly influenced by, the natural world. They recognise our essential quality as a part of nature and that any separation we have from nature is no less than a separation from ourselves, leading to a sense of disconnection and feelings of loss and loneliness. 

For all our sophistication we are nature, we are still wild, and I believe that the recovery of that vitality will itself set us right in the world.

The interdependence of everything reminds us that nothing on earth has absolute existence as a fixed, isolated entity. I don’t exist as an autonomous subject, independent of my environment. I owe my life and its continuation to an infinite number of other people, along with many other natural phenomena including plants, the sun, other animals, the universe. The acts and judgements I call mine and which seem to me to stem from my own will, are in reality determined by many other factors. There is a dance between dependence and interdependence as my impulses and initiatives, in turn, influence the world around me. Unless I can understand and recognise all these relationships of interdependence, and embrace them, I will be unable to see things clearly and will regularly fall into the traps of ego, pride and suffering. Accepting them will teach me humility in relation to my own undertakings and beliefs.

 
Many aspects of modern life have distanced us from the natural cycles within and around us. Technology has reduced the amount we have to do to adjust to, for example, the seasons. Our lives have become more consistent over the course of the year with food that used to be seasonal now available all year round, central heating and heated cars meaning we barely have to brave the elements, and online communities making us feel that we no longer need face-to-face human contact or time in nature. While this might seem to make life easier in the short-term, in the long-term it can cause problems with both our mental and physical health.
 
Rediscovering our ‘natural self’ and recognising our dependence and interdependence on the world around us can nourish our mind, body and spirit, and Nature can be our wise teacher on this journey.

A brand new day

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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius.

I love the early mornings when things are very still. I stand outside my door and look out across the fields, over the house roofs and treetops, at the glorious colours in the sky. Behind all the worries we have, the things (and people) we complain about, and the disapproval we have in our minds, the sun is always coming up in the morning, it always moves across the sky and goes down in the evening. The birds are always there collecting their food and flying overhead. The grass is always being blown by the wind, or it is still. Even now, in wintertime, flowers are blooming in my garden. There is so much abundance all around us. As I breathe in the early morning air I appreciate being alive. Some people overnight will have taken their last breath. They will not have realised at the time that it was their last, but their lives will have silently ebbed away. We are so fortunate to have another day here on our beautiful planet. 

The Navajo teach their children that every time the sun comes up, it’s a brand-new sun. It’s born each morning, and each evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” 

Acknowledging how precious each day is, is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy and appreciation.

“The fastest way to bring more wonderful examples of abundance into your personal experience is to take constant notice of the wonderful things that are already there.” Esther Hicks.


When you walk through a wood, what do you see?

November

“The miracle is to walk on Earth.“ Thich Nhat Hanh

It's now, right now. In a little while it will be something else - the leaf barely hanging onto the branch will have fallen, the robin will have flown away, the sun will briefly flicker through the gold autumn leaves. It won't be better, or not as good, it will just be different. So now is the time to stop walking, to feel the cold damp air on our cheeks, to listen to all the muffled sounds and admire the extraordinary colours. We must stay here as long as we can, not waiting for anything in particular - in fact, it would be the opposite. Just stay here, doing our best to perceive the countless riches of the moment: the small movements of the nuthatch looking for food, the rays of sunlight briefly shining through the branches, the rustle of dry autumn leaves. Everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete.

“Now the mind looks neither forwards nor backwards. The present alone is our happiness.“ Goethe

Mindfulness enables us to simply be present in this ordinary moment in time.


Nature is not outside us. We are nature.

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“I think that we are like stars. something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying, we’re actually turning into a supernova. And when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before.” C. Joybell C.

Hydrogen is formed into helium, and helium is built into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, iron and sulphur - everything we're made of. When stars get to the end of their lives, they swell up and fall together again, throwing off their outer layers. If a star is heavy enough, it will explode in a supernova.

Our bodies are made of remnants of stars and massive explosions in the galaxies.  Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.

The residual stardust finds its way into plants, and from there into the nutrients that we need for everything we do—think, move, grow. And every few years the bulk of our bodies are newly created.

We tend to think of our bodies changing only slowly once we reach adulthood. In fact, we're changing all the time and constantly rebuilding ourselves. 

The skin, for example, is our largest organ. To keep alive, our cells have to divide and grow. We're aware of that because we see children grow. But cells also age and eventually die, and the skin is a great example of this. It's something that touches everything around us. It's also very exposed to damage and needs to constantly regenerate. It weighs around eight pounds and is composed of several layers. These layers age quickly, especially the outer layer, the dermis. The cells there are replaced roughly every month or two. That means we lose approximately 30,000 cells every minute throughout our lives, and our entire external surface layer is replaced about once a year.

Very little of our physical bodies lasts for more than a few years, something we might find hard to grasp each day as we look in the mirror. But we're not fixed at all. We're more like a pattern or a process. 

The spiral in a snail's shell is the same mathematically as the spiral in the Milky Way galaxy, and it's also the same mathematically as the spirals in our DNA. It's the same ratio that you'll find in very basic music that transcends cultures all over the world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Every tissue recreates itself, but they all do it at a different rate. We know through carbon dating that cells in the adult human body have an average age of seven to ten years. That's far less than the age of the average human, but there are remarkable differences in these ages. Some cells literally exist for a few days. Those are the ones that touch the surface. The skin is a great example, but also the surfaces of our lungs and the digestive tract. The muscle cells of the heart, an organ we consider to be very permanent, typically continue to function for more than a decade. But if you look at a person who's 50, about half of their heart cells will have been replaced.

Our bodies are never static. We're dynamic beings, and we have to be dynamic to remain alive. This is not just true for us humans. It's true for all living things.

Cells die and rebuild all the time. We're literally not what were a few years ago, and not just because of the way we think. Everything around us does this.

Nature is not outside us. We are nature.

Read more: Living with the stars: how the human body is connected to the life cycles of the Earth, the planets, and the stars. Karel Schrijver and Iris Schrijver.


Nothing is born, nothing dies

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Sometimes people ask you: "When is your birthday?" But you might ask yourself a more interesting question: "Before that day which is called my birthday, where was I?"

Ask a leaf: "What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"

If you ask the leaf, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the leaf being born. Before being born it was the meristem in the mother oak. Or it was the acorn that had fallen onto the soil. It was also the sun because the warmth from the sun helped the acorn grow. The rain is there too, helping to nourish the mother tree and help it thrive. The leaf does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later, the leaf will change into decaying organic material. If you look deeply into the ground you can see the leaf. The leaf is not lost; it is transformed into compost, and the compost is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the latte you drink. Today if you drink a latte, give yourself time to look at the latte and say: "Hello, leaf! I recognise you.”

Our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death. Only when we touch our true nature can we transcend the fear of non-being, the fear of annihilation.

Nothing is born, nothing dies.


Why connection is better than drugs

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Imagine a dog in kennels waiting to be rehomed. We see the video on Facebook telling us how sad and depressed the dog is, and how it sits, staring, into the corner. The solution, they say, is company and a new home. We are shown how the dog’s mood has lifted when it finds a family, has company, and someone to take it on walks.
 
We are shown how company, connection, and attention have transformed the dog’s life.
 
Now imagine that same dog, sitting in the kennels, forlornly staring into the corner. Imagine the staff asking the vet to come and see the dog because they think he’s depressed. The vet says that the dog appears to have a chemical imbalance in the brain, prescribes some drugs for him, and sends him back into the same kennel, alone. The vet says he will assess him again in a month. The dog goes back to staring into the corner.
 
Most people would agree that this approach would be crazy. It’s obvious that it’s both the environment the dog is in and the lack of connection that are making the dog depressed. It doesn’t need drugs, it needs company, connection, and hope.
 
Yet isn’t that the way we treat people? The person who is depressed, living alone, or with people they don’t emotionally connect with, goes to the doctor to ask for help. The doctor decides that the patient has a chemical imbalance in the brain, gives him some tablets, and sends him back into the very environment that is making him ill. Obviously, the doctor can’t say “Here’s your new forever home” to his patient, but he could consider that maybe the patient needs an opportunity to connect with other people and to get outdoors. Even just once a week they could benefit from some wild art therapy, or even just a walk with people they can connect with.

Why a wandering possession-free life is a natural way of living for humans

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Sometimes life just gets too cluttered.

The past couple of weeks we’ve been exploring some new places. Travelling around has made me realise how much things weigh me down and how little I really need. It’s also made me realise how unnatural it is to coop ourselves up in a house with lots of possessions. I had too much stuff and I needed to cut down. 

Looking back at our ancestors, humans lived for tens of thousands of years as hunter gatherers and moved around all the time. Living a nomadic life meant that people had few, if any possessions. They just had what they needed and could carry, essential provisions such as water, vegetables, spears, bows and arrows. They didn’t need much else. The idea of owning things was alien to them and they shared when they could because it meant less to carry. They didn’t need to store things and no one owned any property.
 
They hunted when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, and when food was scarce they moved on elsewhere.
 
Hunter gatherers also had a deep regard for nature. To them woods, for example, were full of magic and provided warmth and shelter.
 
Then, about 10,000 years ago, agriculture brought stable food supplies and hunter gatherers began to settle and build permanent dwellings that eventually morphed into the complex communities we know today. Prior to this there were few, if any, permanent homes or villages. The Agricultural Revolution allowed them to settle but it was a demanding way of life, much as it is for many people today. The Agricultural Revolution paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and jobs that trapped people into living in close proximity.
 
In some ways having a permanent house and possessions can make us feel stable and secure - we know where we will sleep at night and where our next meal will come from. But it can also make us disconnected from our natural way of living - the way of life enjoyed by over 90% of our ancestors.
 
In a way the internet is allowing us to become nomads again. It gives us the opportunity to take our work with us and work from anywhere in the world. We can easily find places to stay in faraway communities where we can embrace local life and broaden our minds. It allows us to buy whatever we need from wherever we are.
 
Bloggers often share their experiences of travelling and living where they choose without the tie of a permanent home. The internet also helps us to spread the word about the benefits of minimalism and mindfulness. So, as advanced as the technology may seem today, is it actually taking us full circle and back to our roots and nomadic past?
 
We are stopping on a campsite for a few days and I’m sitting here in the doorway of my tent, feeling the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on my face, listening to the flow of the river, my dogs at my feet. And, as I type this on my iPad I think about how the internet gives us freedom, and how it can allow me to work from wherever I choose.
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The wisdom of touch

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla.
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Spider webs are finely-tuned instruments and the information sent along the silken strands is controlled by adjusting tension and stiffness, very much like when we tune a guitar or violin.

Spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies. Spiders will pluck the threads of their web, like a guitar string, and the resulting sound carries information about prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of a web. Spiders have poor eyesight so they rely on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information.

Things aren't much different for us humans. Our sense of touch is very similar to the way we hear.

The timing and frequency of vibrations produced in the skin when exploring surfaces play an important role in how humans use the sense of touch to gather information, drawing a strong analogy to the auditory system.

Imagine you get out of bed at night and feel the wall for the light switch. You slide your hand along the wall, maybe feel the doorframe and then the rougher wall surface. Eventually, you find the plastic feel of the switch. During this process, you build up a picture in your mind of the wall's surface and it enables you to make a better guess about where the switch is.

Using our hands like this enables us to use our sense of touch to gather information about the objects and surfaces around us.

Our skin is also highly sensitive to vibrations, and these vibrations produce corresponding oscillations in the nerves which carry information from the receptors to the brain. The precise timing and frequency of these neural responses convey specific messages about texture to the brain, much like the frequency of vibrations on the eardrum conveys information about sound.

"There is deep wisdom within our very flesh, if we can only come to our senses and feel it."  Elizabeth A. Behnke.

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