“The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality, until our realization eventually ricochets back to include ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue we call prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must practice.”
– Richard Rohr
I think there’s something magical, mystical, and mythical about nature. When we tune our senses out “there” to plants, animals, water, stars, clouds, moon, and sun, we end up also becoming more in tune with our own true and loving selves, while additionally receiving the gift of connecting “upward” with God and the nature of reality. Do you know what I’m saying? Have you had experiences like that in creation? You know those times and moments when we are fully present and aware of the beauty around us in the great outdoors. It seems to me in those instances we learn and experience more of our calmest and truest self, the interconnection and relationship between all things, and the loving Source behind it all.
It seems to me being IN nature is connecting, calming, and centering. Really and truly it’s a form of prayer, specifically contemplation, or contemplative prayer. Whether or not you believe in the Divine, I truly think this practice will be a blessing. As I understand it, contemplation is looking at, gazing upon, being aware of, or experiencing the nature of ultimate reality/God. I don’t know about you, but when I think about “prayer”, it brings to mind me talking, me requesting, me praising, me sending my love out, and so on. Prayer, as typically thought of, then, is yours or my “half” of the conversation with the Divine, the Universe, and/or the Connection between us all (depending on how you view things).
Contemplation, though, is about being, it’s a mode of receiving, it’s a stance of seeing, being seen, connecting on a deep level, and experiencing. One of the principle places we practice contemplative prayer is in nature. When we take time to be present in nature we encounter the beauty and interconnectedness of all things. We root ourselves in the metaphorical ground beneath all reality. We drink from the well of peace and harmony that flows through the universe. Whether we’re theists (God believers), agnostics, or atheists, when we allow ourselves to be present to the wonder and awe of nature, we expand beyond ourselves and connect to animals, plants, other people, and ultimately to that which creates, relates, links, and holds us all together. In contemplation, we tune into the peace and calm that comes from realizing how interconnected and interrelated we all are. Finally, we shed our cares and worries, thereby centering ourselves; wherein we realize our true selves, which I think are love.
Some of my most profound moments and times in life have been in nature. Part of what’s so amazing about these experiences is they’re too powerful for words, so hopefully some of what I’m saying here makes sense and lands with you. 🙂 Last month I had one of these when I got to go on nighttime, candlelit walk through a local reserve to mark and celebrate the Winter Solstice.
The night before the solstice, a couple hundred’ish of us gathered to take a guided silent walk with lanterns through fields and forests, and around creeks and ponds, with darkness hanging heavy all around us. As we casually strolled through the reserve, at times my mind wandered, for periods the stresses of life flooded my thoughts, and sometimes random thoughts entered my mind, but in the times when I was able to be present by really seeing the scenery, hearing the sounds, and feeling the atmosphere, something really cool happened.
(I didn’t get any pictures from our experience, but this is from their website)
In those moments, however brief they were some of what I felt, contemplated, received, and experienced can be summed up by these words/statements:
– Beauty is everywhere and takes many different forms
– Silence isn’t silent
– Darkness sheds a different and awe inspiring light on things
– We’re all connected. It seems to me I can feel the “threads” between people, trees, creatures, and more.
– It’s all connected
– The air is thick with the threads that link us all
– Is Love what I feel all around in this magical quiet and darkness?
– There’s something sacred about life
– There’s something sacred about the night
– There’s something sacred about silence
– There’s something sacred about nature
– Peace is all around us and within us
– While life is sometimes crazy and there’s insanity in some of what’s going on in the world, out here in nature I feel a deeper goodness, beauty, harmony, and peace all around me and within me.
– Beauty abounds
– There’s something fundamentally good to nature, reality, you, and I
Early this week I decided this was going to be today’s blog. I mention that because just today Father Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation contained this highly applicable nugget (I LOVE how things often work like that):
“The way to any universal idea is to proceed through a concrete encounter. The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always; the here is the way to everywhere; the material is the way to the spiritual; the visible is the way to the invisible. When we see contemplatively, we know that we live in a fully sacramental universe, where everything is an epiphany.
While philosophers tend toward universals and poets love particulars, mystics and contemplative practice teach us how to encompass both.”
What he’s getting at here is contemplation changes our hearts and minds. Contemplative prayer shapes our view of reality. More specifically, when we contemplatively see, gaze upon, and bear witness to the goodness in THIS specific moment (a sunrise, a waterfall, a snow-capped mountain, a starry night, the reflection of light and sky off the water, etc.), we realize that same goodness pervades ALL reality, we recognize the beauty comes from the Source of us all, and it dawns on us that same love is in us and is the essence of our being.
I grew up Christian, reading the Bible and going to church. As a (sometimes) thoughtful youth, I wondered: Why are only SOME of us lucky enough to have the inspired word of God (i.e. the Bible), while others are NOT? Now, though, I see things different. The first Bible, the oldest inspired text, the original Holy Scripture is nature. Creation, God’s longest lasting and most widespread word, is available to ALL of us ALL of the time. It reveals the nature, goodness, and beauty of ultimate reality to us.
More than once, Jesus talks about the importance of having eyes that see, and ears that hear. Those words are particularly applicable when it comes to contemplation (by the way, while I’m focusing on nature as a space/place we do this, it’s not the only way to practice this). It’s not like every time we go into or by nature we are filled with wonder, experience awe, have an aha moment, are wowed by beauty, are filled with peace, or experience transcendence. We have to be truly present and have eyes that really see and ears that fully hear.
The natural question, then, is: How do we enter into contemplative prayer? While I think we’re all uniquely amazing, which means the details of how will vary from person to person, there are some general, broadly applicable principles I’ll share. Breath is both key and a gateway in: Sigh out thoughts, tension, and worries. Feel your breath. Deepen your breath. When we breathe mindfully, our minds quiet and senses heighten. Use a mantra to quiet the monkey mind, so you can put aside the past and future to be here and now: Simply repeat something like, “be here” on the inhale plus “and now” on the exhale, or “pay” on the inhale and “attention” on the exhale. Intend to see, feel, hear, and smell: Intentions are powerful. When we decide to really look at things, hear people, feel the ground beneath our feet, smell the air, and so on, chances are we will. Choose grace and celebration: Declare ANY instant of peace, moment of transcendence, notice of beauty, feeling of harmony, touch of love, and so on to be a wild success worth celebrating and savoring.
While I reflected on a Winter Solstice walk with a big group of people, I find that same experience is readily available to you and I individually or collectively everyday. It can be as simple as noticing a sunrise as we walk or drive somewhere, witnessing the beautiful interplay of clouds, light, and sky while getting the mail, or feeling the rain on our skin while going into a store. Contemplative prayer can last one second or one hour and still have amazing affects on us. Tuning our senses outward toward nature has an almost magical affect of tuning us up to the Glorious Goodness we come from, the Love that holds and connects us all together, and into the beauty that’s within us all. What’s your experience of contemplation, especially when it comes to experiencing the wonder and awe of nature?
Grace and peace,