Do you want to experience yourself? Well, then, experience nature
Earth laughs in flowers (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I was lying alone under a tree in a lush forest. A moss-covered stone served as my pillow. Above me, dark green leaves were slowly painted crimson by the setting sun. The warbling of birds and fragrance of blossoms mingled. My outstretched hands stroked the cool, soft grass. I felt at peace. My mind was no longer filled with endless chatter. It was as still as a nearby pond. After all, how many thoughts does it take to smell a rose, hear a frog, see a spider web, taste a berry, or feel a furry caterpillar crawling on a finger? None, for these moments are meant to be experienced, not thought about. I enjoyed the silence, for silence is the voice of God. Mother Teresa also spoke about quietude, for she said, “God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Environmentalists are right in striving to protect nature, for it is our home. When we destroy it, we are destroying part of ourselves. We are instinctively attracted to nature. Perhaps written somewhere in our genes is an ancient memory of the time we first crawled out of the sea. Today, a clear night sky still strikes us with awe. Could it be because we realize the universe is our womb, the source of our being? We are made of stardust. The building blocks of our body, molecules, were created in the furnaces known as stars.
Nature, then, offers us the chance to reflect on our being. It gives us an opportunity to experience the interconnectedness of all things. It provides us with a possibility of getting acquainted with our true nature. It reacquaints us with youthful enchantment and adventure. It is a wellspring of inspiration and consolation.
The courageous Anne Frank (1929-1945) describes just how comforting nature can be: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
Nature is a kind teacher. Through the birds, she taught us how to sing and compose music. Through the swaying reeds and fluttering butterflies she taught us how to dance. The majesty of her landscapes and creatures taught us art. The beauty and vastness of the universe taught us wonder. Through a crack of thunder and a flash of day in a stormy night, nature taught us about fire. Squalls taught us how to be brave and blizzards how to cope. She teaches us that the world is not about rewards or punishments, but of consequences, that what we sow, we reap.
Nature is also the laboratory where we may encounter what American psychologist, Abraham H. Maslow (1908 – 1970) called a “Peak Experience.” A Peak Experience is a flash of insight similar in one regard to the ecstasy experienced by Archimedes 2,200 years ago when he stepped into his bath and shouted, “Eureka!” (“I have found it!”) After ceaselessly trying to understand how to measure the volume of an object, the answer appeared to him as he stepped into the bath. The volume could be determined by the amount of water it displaces!
The similarity between a Peak Experience and Archimedes’ encounter is that both are ecstatic insights. There is a difference between the two, however. The “Eureka” experience occurs after a desperate search, while a Peak Experience occurs spontaneously. It happens when one is not thinking about nature, but merely experiencing it. It arrives as a new insight that clears some of the cobwebs that normally obscure our perception of reality.
For example, a blossom floating in the breeze may catch your attention, and suddenly the two of you merge. For a split second, you become the blossom, and experience what it is like to be blown about by the wind. This new experience is thrilling. Life takes on a new meaning to you as you realize we steer our ship by the choices we make (free will) while being blown about by the wind. Life, then, is like a backgammon game; it is a mixture of chance and planning. Later, you may experience a higher level of insight. For instance, instead of becoming a blossom blown about by the wind, you may become BOTH the blossom and the wind at the same time. At such a moment, you are beginning to glimpse “unity consciousness,” or the realization that ALL is ONE.
What is the difference between peak Experiences and Spiritual Enlightenment? In both cases, once the experience occurs, it is never forgotten. But a Peak Experience is a flash of insight that quickly ends. It is a taste of better things to come. A spiritually enlightened individual is fully awake, the cobwebs are permanently removed, and the ecstasy of life never fades. Also, enlightened individuals are capable of experiencing at the highest level. When they experience unity or cosmic consciousness, they do not hear the warbling of the birds, see the spider webs, feel the grass, smell the fragrance of blossoms, or taste the berries. You see, they experience without their senses; they experience pure BEING. They experience ultimate reality directly. It is themselves that they experience. Since we are not our thoughts, feelings, or the input of our senses, all that has to be discarded before we can discover our true self. Once enlightened, however, we live in two worlds at the same time: the world of BEING (awareness) and the world of everyday activity.
If what I’ve written seems too complicated, let me simplify. Do you want to experience yourself? Well, then, experience nature, for we are one and the same! Why don’t you head out this weekend, for nature is eager to meet you. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”