It’s interesting to me how much of our modern culture serves to control and separate us from nature. We spend so much time inside buildings we’ve constructed, walking on pavement we’ve poured and driving ourselves from place to place with our windows up. We’ve made it so that we aren’t really exposed to nature in our day-to-day lives; many aspects of nature, like the weather, pollen, insects and pests can be seen as inconveniences when they threaten to encroach on or disrupt the life patterns we’ve adopted. I think this is why it’s become so easy for us to forget that we’re a part of nature.
Isn’t it amazing to consider how long the earth was here before us, how long it has been going through cycles of rebirth, making mountains and canyons and producing rivers and forests, seeing families of plants and animals grow and migrate and shift? It’s incredible to me to think about the land my house stands on, how it existed for millions of years before anything was built here and how it will continue on long after my house is gone. There’s something about nature, never the same but always constant, timeless yet cyclical. It brings me great peace to think about what nature can show us about harmony, coexistence and natural arcs. Wildfires clear dead brush to make way for the new. Predators keep the ecosystem from producing more life than it can sustain. There is room in nature for death, risk and loss but it always leads once more into new life and fresh change.
As much as we can forget it from time to time, there’s something in nature that will always call to us. There’s a reason nothing is quite so beautiful to us as a forest full of trees, or a peaceful seaside teeming with life, or a landscape quieted by snow. It feels like coming home, in a way. Our first home. Every time I take a step off of the beaten path, stand in the grass in my bare feet, listen to the sounds of birds and insects buzzing around me or smell the gorgeous bouquet of the indigenous plants and trees, I can’t help but feel like a part of something bigger. A part of this greater ecosystem, connected to everything else in essence and action. A friend once told me that the earth is a giant magnet and that, because there is iron moving through our blood, so are we. How good does it feel to dig your toes into the dirt and align with the heartbeat that sustains all of us? So much about modern life is about conquering and resisting nature, limiting its ability to inconvenience us and keeping it in its place. What if we spent more time learning what it had to teach us about ourselves?
Shinto, the indigenous Japanese belief system, places an emphasis on revering parts of nature as sacred entities with spiritual power all their own. Shinto teaches that nature isn’t under our human control and therefore it deserves our respect and reverence. It pays homage to the fact that humans need nature to survive. Shinto shrines are set up as simple tributes to nature with minimal architecture, meant to bring attention to the beauty that’s already present. What if we took more time to recognize the ecosystem we’ve been born into, to honor the sacred that’s all around us? What if we were more able to see the life all around us for what it is, life, with its own value and sanctity and significance?
If you think about the earth’s long history, we’ve been part of the bigger picture far longer than we’ve tried to set ourselves apart from it. Nature shows us the necessity of balance and cooperation. It tells us that there are seasons for growth and seasons for rest. Nature gives us permission to do nothing more than exist, live and thrive. The next time you’re taking a walk outside or working on your garden, take a moment to reflect on the life that’s flowing all around you, connecting you to every living thing, supporting you as you move through the world. There’s a lot of peace and security there, I think.