“To what does the soul turn that has no therapists to visit? It takes its troubles to the trees, to the riverbank, to an animal companion, on an aimless walk through the city streets, a long watch of the night sky. Just stare out the window or boil water for a cup of tea. We breathe, expand, and let go, and something comes in from somewhere.” 1
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Nature, to many of us, is a backdrop. We notice trees as we drive through them on ribbons of asphalt as unyielding as our perception. Crossing a bridge we may have time to glance quickly and see water flowing, or a dried up streambed. Some of us walk, for exercise or pleasure or out of necessity. What do we see then, what do we feel in the midst of our planet home? Are we a fearful stranger, anxious about the unknown “wilderness” just beyond our self-imposed separation? Or, hopefully, even in that tremble, do we sense an invitation: “Welcome home.”
Some call it The Green Nation, the community of trees and plants that surround us and nourish us, whether we acknowledge them or not. We live with them and they live in us, along with their microbial cousins. What we call parasites are colleagues, dancing in collaborative generosity. They need each other and we need them… so, how do they need us? What’s the reciprocal transaction? At this point, I’m sure nature rejoices with every hint of a possible different relationship with humans. She speaks:
Do you think it possible to dissect a human being,
render it down into its constituent parts,
feed them into a machine which measures such things
and determine from that
its ability to paint or create great music?
Then why do you think that once you have done this with my body
you know anything about me? 2
We dissect to study and understand, ignoring the meaning that can only be known from wholeness, a wholeness that includes us. Indigenous peoples experienced spirituality through nature. Theirs was not a distant God, disconnected from life forms, a transcendent force of some kind senior to the environment of home. The Great Spirit lived in all things. Every river had a voice, every tree a song, and every human a place in the fabric of life.
Perhaps we can reframe the traditional spiritual awakening to include a remembrance of this wholeness we have forsaken, traded for the baubles of civilization. “Welcome home,” she says, our Mother, the one Mother all forms of life on this planet share. Imagine that… perhaps then we are like the Prodigal Son in the Bible, and perhaps we would be greeted that way in our return.
Nature doesn’t hold grudges; that’s a human habit. Imagine a houseplant spurning water because you’d neglected it. “Forget it, I needed water last week. If you’re going to be like that with me, well, I have no interest in receiving anything from you.” Silly? Of course, yet there’s a thought process many of us can recognize in memory. Of course, we’re well trained to be polite so we’ll keep that to ourselves, hiding the words while we shrink back, withholding love to “get even.”
Deception is a central part of our human programming and so we suspect everything. Nothing is as it seems to be on the surface so what can we discover by digging underneath? We call it exploring and sometimes it is; but most often it’s disruptive, immediately fragmenting a unity with meaning that eludes us completely. Example, clear cutting a forest in order to plant a cash crop. What was taken, what value already lived in that wooded glen, heartlessly ripped away in order to… make money!?!
“Scientists are incapable even of knowing that they are in no position to understand the soul of a flower in the meadow. In the belief they are exploring the root of life, geneticists extract and synthesize the genes present in the cells of living things. But nature’s soul does not lie hidden within DNA.” 3
There is another way, a standing invitation to accept. As James Hillman poetically put it in our opening quote, “We breathe, expand, and let go, and something comes in from somewhere.”
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1. James Hillman, from The Soul’s Code
2. Stephen Harrod Buhner, from The Lost Language of Plants, page 226
3. Masanobu Fukuoka, from The Road Back to Nature