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Getting Connected to Nature

Can you love a stone?

Recall that nature heals and that the ego often gets in the way of connecting to others, including to nature. This did not used to be so difficult.

It used to be easy to keep our ego in its place just by stepping out of doors at night, seeing the Milky Way spread out above . We could feel insignificant in the face of splendor but perhaps it gave us a regular chance to have a mini peak experience of feeling connected to the larger Whole.

As land development continues apace, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find in our own neighborhoods the places where our breath is taken away by nature’s splendor and we feel touched by a transpersonal experience.

Yet there are multiple ways to be transformed by nature. Here is an approach, told in a story that intends far more than that, a story I use with my students to help them learn to move out of their calculating mindset to one of wonder, gratitude, and connection.

Story: “Try to Love a Stone” (Rohr, 2016, pp 85-86.)

Once upon a time, a small Jewish boy went to his rabbi and said he didn’t know how to love God. “How can I love God when I’ve never seen him?” asked the boy.

“I think I understand how to love my mother, my father, my brother, my little sister, and even the people in our neighborhood, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to love God.”

The rabbi looked at the little boy and said, ‘Start with a stone. Try to love a stone. Try to be present to the most simple and basic thing in reality so you can see its goodness and beauty. Then let that goodness and beauty come into you. Let it speak to you. Start with a stone.”

The boy nodded with understanding.

“Then, when you can love a stone,” the rabbi continued, “try a flower. See if you can love a flower. See if you can be present to it and let its beauty come into you. See if you can let its life come into you and you can give yourself to it. You don’t have to pluck it, possess it, or destroy it. You can just love it over there in the garden.”

The boy nodded again.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong to pick flowers,” added the rabbi. “I’m just asking you to learn something from the flower without putting it in a vase.”

The boy smiled, which meant he understood---or maybe he didn’t. Just in case he didn’t, the rabbi chose the boy’s pet dog as the next object of loving and listening. The boy nodded and smiled when the rabbi talked about his dog; he even said, “Yes, Rabbi.”

“Then,” the rabbi went on, “try to love the sky and the mountains, the beauty of all creation. Try to be present to it in its many forms. Let it speak to you and let it come into you.”

The boy sensed the rabbi wanted to say some more, so he nodded again, as if he understood.

“Then,” the rabbi said, “try to love a woman. Try to be faithful to a woman and sacrifice yourself for her.

After you have loved a stone, a flower, your little dog, the mountain, the sky, and a woman, they you’ll be ready to love God.”

Notice how the advice taps into positive psychology’s emphasis on self-development. In effect, each step is a “guided meditation” (Peyton, 2017). Each promotes emotional presence and connection (Fredrickson, 2013).

On the other hand, notice that the approach does not emphasize cognition as in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT; e.g., Gillihan, 2018), where a person focuses on changing negative thought patterns. And, it is not psychodynamic in the sense of looking back at childhood to find the primal wound to revamp and heal with adult-self to child-self comforting (Finman & Gila, 1997).

Instead, it matches up better with age-old spiritual developmental practices of attending to what is happening the present moment, a right hemisphere directed experience. Unlike some interpretations of Buddhist detachment practice, it is not about pulling away from life and its events but about connecting to and relating to what is in your presence (Narvaez, 2014).

It is a deeply sensory- and emotion-building approach and matches up with Indigenous practices that underlie Indigenous science (Cajete, 2000). For example, Native American traditions involve always being aware and respectful of “all our relations,” with practices of welcoming and expressing appreciation for all members of the community, including other than humans. The first step is to recognize the relationships that one has, even with flowers and stones, and honor them (e.g., Nelson, 2008).

Such practices help us feel regenerated and most importantly, allow the well-being of the world to be more connected.

References

Cajete, G. (2000). Native science. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers.

Finman, J., & Gila, A. (1997). The primal wound: A transpersonal view of trauma, addiction and growth. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Fredrickson, B.L. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.

Gillihan, S.J. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy made simple: 10 strategies for managing anxiety, depression, anger, panic, and worry. Emeryville, CA: Althea Press

Nelson, Melissa K. Original instructions: Indigenous teachings for a sustainable future. Bear & Co., 2008.

Narvaez, D. (2014). Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture and wisdom. New York: Norton.

Peyton, S. (2017). Your resonant self: Guided meditations and exercises to engage your brain’s capacity for healing. New York: W.W. Norton.

Richard Rohr (2015). What the mystics know: Seven pathways to your deeper self. New York: Crossroads, pp 85-86.

Sockolov, M. (2018). Practicing mindfulness: 75 essential meditations to reduce stress, improve mental health, and find peace in the everyday. Emeryville, CA: Althea Press.

Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote's guide to connecting with nature, 2nd ed.. Santa Cruz, CA: Owlink Media.

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