We often speak about going off into nature as if we are somehow separate from it. But aren’t we, by necessity, part of nature? Contemporary human has lost touch with its place in the natural world. If we are separate, then the rest of the world is just material resources to be exploited.
David Hinton in Hunger Mountain reminds us of a time when humans destroyed the world around them:
“Wildlife was was virtually extinguished by unrestrained hunting; the forests were completely cleared for lumber and farmland, allowing topsoil to wash away and fill streams and rivers with silt, which in turn decimated fish populations; and what topsoil remained on farms was depleted by unsustainable farming practices.”
It’s hard to talk about this subject without buying into the duality that holds us in opposition to the natural world. We talk about going into and out of nature but nature is all and everywhere, just varying to the degree that it has been touched by human hands. It is still possible to find your true self in the concrete expanses of a city, as this quote from the film, My Dinner With Andre reminds us.
Why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to perceive one moment of reality? Is Mount Everest more real than New York? Isn’t New York real? I think, if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! Isn’t there just as much reality to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?
Nevertheless, being in landscapes with relatively less fingerprints, does provide a window to our true selves that may not be so readily accessed elsewhere. It’s just easier but by no means guaranteed. We can still be preoccupied. To find our true selves in nature, we need to do three things:
- Know that it is possible
- Want to access it
- Have the capacity
I take my dogs on a brief hike each day. On this route we have the pleasure of seeing two of Vermont’s highest peaks–Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump (the closer and more spectacular view of Camel’s Hump is pictured above).
We are fortunate to have this exposure to the natural world each day. Yet, my mind can still be very noisy. Obviously, I know that quieter is possible; I also have to want to make the shift towards quiet, if I don’t go their automatically. To accomplish this, I have to have the ability to extricate myself from whatever stories are compelling me to turn my gaze to the horizon with its purple mountains.
This is why we practice because we can know and even have a strong desire and still not be able to pull it off because the counter forces are just too strong. Practice can help us to make it happen when we have the opportunities.
To get some practice and to learn some methods for accessing your true self, join me and Jaimal Yogis for a weekend workshop at Kripalu. There is still time to register here >>
What is the true self and how do we access it? These are questions that we will explore in the upcoming workshop: Finding Your True Self through Mindfulness and Nature at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
On the weekend of June 10, Saltwater Buddha author Jaimal Yogis and I will facilitate a retreat workshop where you will have a chance to taste what this true self is and learn methods for bringing it more centrally into your life.
Here are some details on the program:
Awaken to your luminous life in this moment. Mindfulness and meditation practice can provide refuge, sanctuary, and deep inner peace. Reclaim unity and oneness in a program that offers
- Basic mindfulness skills using formal and informal meditation practices
- Nondual states of awareness that can be accessed through contemplation and writing
- Ways to develop and apply a love of solitude to the hectic demands of life
- A working knowledge of the Buddha’s psychology of awakening.
This life-changing weekend engages you through mindful self-exploration, humor, poetry, heartfelt discussion, and a creative method for leaving your painful and limiting stories behind. It also includes time at Kripalu’s lakefront to explore the transformative power of water.
I am also pleased to announce that my first book–Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness is being re-released under the title 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness: from Wild Chickens to Petty Tyrants. It has the same metaphors that many people have grown to love and trust in their daily mindfulness practice in a new book design (astute obersvers will notice that it is very similar to Mindfulness A to Z. Here is an excerpt from the preface that I wrote for the new edition:
Since the initial publication of 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness in 2009, I’ve come to appreciate further the Buddha’s mastery with metaphors. Indeed, Buddhist scholar Damien Keown said, “The Buddha’s skill in teaching the Dharma, demonstrated in his ability to adapt his message to the context in which it was delivered. Parables, metaphors, and similes formed an important part of his teaching rep- ertoire, skillfully tailored to suit the level of his audi- ence.” The Pali Canon, which is the written record of the Buddha’s teachings, contains over 1000 met- aphorical references addressing over 500 different concepts.
You can pre-order your copy here (official release date is June 14, 2016).
What is the self beyond language concept, and story? Can we find an identity in the unfolding awareness of the moment?
When we let go of stories and release ourselves into the flow of the moment, we start to realize the world that we live within is much bigger than we realized. It’s not only big—it’s vast.
The ocean reminds us of that; the sky reminds us of that. The mountains tell us what is possible. The vastness of the nature is not only a metaphor. Our blood is salty like the sea; our bodies mostly water. Our atoms are the stuff of the universe—bits of the Big Bang inside each one of us.
The vast also exists within our brains. If we spread out all the branches of each one of our neurons, the length is a staggering 50 million miles. That’s over halfway to the sun. This vastness is impossible to see, yet whenever we turn our gaze within with mindfulness, we are getting a glimpse of this stupendous connectivity.
There are also vast spaces within each atom that comprises our bodies and all other material of the world and the universe. What seems solid—even that hardest steel—is hauntingly hollow. If we somehow removed all the space from all the atoms in the universe, we’d have something about the size of a bowling ball leftover.
Despite these magnificent examples of vastness, we tend to live in our stories—the who, what, when, where, and why of identify. We miss the vast in our relentless pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, discomfort, and inconvenience.
Stories are compelling, addicting, and habitual. Perhaps, too, we ignore the Vast because it can be dangerous. Larger than our story. Larger than our small self and doesn’t care about that small self.
The vast reminds us of our vulnerability, precariousness, and aloneness. Just imagine being shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. On the ocean, we are always on the edge of being or not being amidst the forces of the tide, waves, and depth (not to mention the creatures that dwell in the sea). In other words, impermanence is made plain by the Vast.
We can also take a surfboard into the vastness of the ocean and learn to ride its vicissitudes, making friends with that very impermanence as Jaimal Yogis has done and lovingly reported to us in his books Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea and The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love.
Sati is the Pali language term that has been translated as mindfulness. It literally means “to remember” or to “recollect” oneself. From this perspective of remembering, mindfulness is the antidote to forgetting the Vast. It puts us in touch with the vast that is our bodies breathing in and through time.
Je me souviens is the motto of Quebec. I remember myself. Perhaps this can be the motto for reclaiming our place in the Vast—our small place in the great context that is existence. With mindfulness, this is possible.
I am excited and honored to be teaching a workshop with my dharma brother Jaimal Yogis where will be exploring issues related to the Vast in a workshop: Finding Your True Self Through Mindfulness and Nature at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts (June 10-12). Wherever we make contact with our true self, it is sure to be in the open expanses of the Vast. Join us then and there for that workshop.