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Nature Mysticism

April 14, 2009

I’ve just returned from the beautiful U.S. Canyon country (some pictures below), which always rejuvenates and empowers me, so I wanted to do a post on nature. I decided to feature the lessons and spiritual gifts that mystics from various wisdom traditions have attributed to nature, including teachings on humility, divinity, beauty, balance, transience, cycles, power and more. I hope you enjoy, and please add your own favorite spots and experiences in the comments…

St. Francis of Assisi, Catholic patron saint of animals and ecology, is probably the most famous Christian mystic associated with nature. For him, nature offered profound lessons in humility. He was one of the first Christian writers to emphasize caring treatment of plants and animals as part of spiritual living, saying, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man.”

Here in the U.S., the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-1800s profoundly impacted American Protestantism’s approach to nature, and laid the groundwork for the environmental movement. Writers such as Henry David Thoreau (who had a strong influence on one my favorite nature poets Emily Dickinson) saw nature as a doorway to the divine, saying Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

In Taosim, nature is honored as an example of beauty and balance, offering us a glimpse of the radiance and wholeness within ourselves. Sun-Buer, one of the Taoist Immortal Sisters, frequently used images from nature in her spiritual poems, as in this one, entitled Autumn:

A springlike autumn’s balmy breeze reaches afar.
The sun shines on the house of a recluse
South of the river;
They encourage the December apricots
To burst into bloom:
A simplehearted person
Faces the simplehearted flowers.

In similar fashion, many Zen poems, particularly haiku, reflect on the transience of nature as it moves from season to season, or between different weather states, and the opportunity this offers us to recognize the impermanence of our own everyday thoughts and emotions. Consider this haiku by Matsou Basho:

Clouds appear
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Of course the transience of nature mostly runs in cycles, and honoring and celebrating cycles is a large theme in pagan and wiccan traditions. Many festivals and rituals are tied to the equinoxes and solstices, as well as lunar cycles. I  myself often use these cycles in timing my own teaching, retreats, or personal initiatives and projects. Here’s a list of pagan holy days within one tradition, as well as some info on how they were co-opted by Christianity as it evolved.

Ancient traditions, both Eastern and Western, and their modern descendants, also group natural elements by energetic and healing properties, and use them in both spiritual rituals and healing remedies to address vibrational issues. Although there are many such systems, in general:

Water cleanses and balances

Fire purifies and prepares

Air clears and initiates

Earth and rock grounds and centers

Trees hold a special place in so many traditions, both as symbols and as spiritual protectors and guides. The Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and modern Kabbalah organizes its knowledge (both estoeric and exoteric) around the Tree of Life. In one of my favorite occult books, The Sorcerer’s Crossing, the author lives in a tree for weeks to rebalance her energy after dramatic shamanic experiences threaten to throw off her entire energetic and perceptual system. And I believe it was Gangaji’s teacher Papaji that said trees are one of our best teachers of compassion. (Just sit under a tree for awhile when you are in pain of any type, and you will know what he meant.)

Also common to many spiritual traditions is the idea of sacred or power spots – which I view as chakras on the earth – where seekers can go to access another level of knowledge, or even other mystic worlds. Ramana Maharshi (Gangaji’s teacher’s teacher), perhaps the most revered Indian spiritual master of the modern age, spent his entire adult life at the mountain Arunachala, which he viewed as his spiritual home and particularly conducive to  his teachings. Tibetans consider Mt. Kailash to be a sacred mountain (along with many Hindus and Jains) and thousands travel every year to circle the base – many in full prostration. (Here’s a site dedicated to sacred and power spots around the world.)

Although many traditions speak of these power places, and often have strict guidelines for visiting and accessing them, I think some of the most interesting writing on this is in Carlos Castanada’s books (I’ve recently been re-reading A Fire from Within, but always suggest starting with Journey to Ixtlan.) His ‘teacher’ Don Juan, takes him to specific desert locations to give him certain occult lessons, noting that Carlos will only be able to let go of his everyday mode of perception, and shift into the states of awareness necessary to absorb these lessons, if they travel to locations compatible with them. These places are each like doorways, offering special access to different energies and planes of attention. (This is exactly how the Tantric traditions view chakras, which is different from how healing traditions view them.)

This is perhaps closest to my relationship with my own ‘spiritual home’, the U.S. desert southwest. I particularly love the Colorado Plateau, which includes the ‘Grand Staircase’ of the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Bryce Ampitheater. To me they are navel, heart and third eye chakras of the earth, respectively representing dimensions of power, compassion, and insight. Although pictures can never do places like this justice, here’s one of each (my husband took the last two just last week on our vacation):

Grand Canyon - vortex of power, each peak is named a 'temple' and revered by local Native American tribes

Grand Canyon - vortex of power, each peak is named a 'temple' and revered by local Native American tribes

Zion Canyon - vortex of compassion, fueled by the Virgin River, shown here with the first new greens of Spring

Zion Canyon - vortex of compassion, fueled by the Virgin River, shown here with the first new greens of Spring

Brcye - vortex of insight and access point to other worlds; the peaks here are called hoodoos and there are thousands - it is truly like another planet (the one I came from I think!)

Bryce - vortex of insight and access point to other worlds; the peaks here are called hoodoos and there are thousands - it is truly like another planet

And of course as the saying goes ‘God is in the small things’ too, so here is one of the first desert cactus blooms of this season in the Zion area. These flowers always feel like a miracle, as they are never certain to come in this harsh climate:

Cactus Flower

Cactus Flower

What are your favorite spots in nature? How does time in nature rejuvenate or enlighten you? Who are your favorite nature mystics or quotes about nature? I’d love to hear…

And if you liked this post, you may also like its counterpart Poetry, Art, Music and the Mystic Experience.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2009 9:28 pm

    Our relationship with time used to be the rhythms of natures cycles. Now it is chopped up by movement of numbers. Most of us love time in nature because we start to slow down again, when we do we can connect through our bodies with the world we live on and to the consciousness that permeates it.
    When we slow down in this way we feel part of, instead of separate from. Going deeper we can know that in truth nothing separates us.

  2. April 15, 2009 10:18 am

    I know it’s a bit of a cliche to say it, but the Grand Canyon is truly awe-inspiring. Breath-taking. Unfortunately, I haven’t visited it – only flown over it, but even that inspired awe in me. It made me feel small in a deeply-humbled-and-my-species-is-but-a-blip-in-time-in-the-world’s-history, kind of way.

    It’s those places in nature that inspire humility and so often accompany a sense of the sacred, (or whatever other word feels appropriate) that can also remind us of how small our concerns and ego-driven realities are.

    I suppose I reveal my biases here when I say that some of my fave nature mystics tend to lean on the Romantic Literature side of things – William Blake and his famous quote regarding the Sublime: “To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour”. I also dig Emily Bronte as far as nature mysticism goes.

    Fave spots in nature have to include standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean near my former home in NZ, out in the wild countryside, with an 8,000 foot mountain behind me. The sheer force of elemental energy from all sides is astounding and so peaceful.

  3. Laura permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:47 am

    Thank You Beautiful..

  4. April 15, 2009 2:27 pm

    That was a great post! It had everything I love to find in a good stumble: insightful thoughts, beautiful pictures, great quotes, in addition to being well written. The Cactus flower was gorgeous

    Thanks for sharing…

    Jonathan

  5. April 15, 2009 5:29 pm

    This was beautiful in every way! I especially loved the Haiku because it totally surprised me. It made me realize we usually consider the clouds a nuissance, when we are trying to notice the moon; but the clouds THEMSELVES are worthy of our attention! I feel like I should apologize to the clouds tonight. :-)

    My favorite spots have always been near water maybe because I’m a Water Ox and constantly seek a balanced existence. I like knowing I’m at the boundary between two worlds: life on land, and life in water. I am in awe of the power of water, sometimes through force, sometimes gentle persistence. The Grand Canyon has incredible examples of both.

  6. April 15, 2009 6:12 pm

    Thanks for this post. Personally, I love watching the way dogs play without any self-consciousness at all. When they run up to me and sniff my groin — how much more uninhibited can you get? But seriously, they’re an example of the freedom that I often find myself wanting.

  7. April 15, 2009 7:06 pm

    This is a truly beautiful post! For me, I’m most at home spiritually at the beach. I love the quiet power and majesty of the ocean, and the waves crashing against the shore is music to my soul.

  8. mommymystic permalink*
    April 16, 2009 2:47 am

    Docwitch – great Blake quote, and I agree regarding the humility thing…feeling small in the face of a mountain or ocean really puts things in perspective sometimes…I would LOVE to go to New Zealand someday, like many people I fell in love with it through Lord of the Rings!

    Jonathan – I’m glad you liked, I always enjoy your posts.

    Lisis – I agree about the Basho poem, and as much as I talked about the desert in this post, for peace and balance the ocean or a lake or pond is always my love…

    Jay – I agree, and I’m fortunate that my home is near the ocean, nothing better than the sound of waves….

  9. April 16, 2009 1:17 pm

    Wordsworth was an amazing discovery to me in college – it was the first time I became fully aware of the sort of reveries I’d experienced as a child.

    I believe that one aspect of nature’s fascination is that it calls out for us to recapture her simplicity but at the new level of human consciousness.

  10. April 16, 2009 3:27 pm

    I have always felt that nature is my access to Spirit. One of my favorite places is to walk in the woods. Any woods, the thicker the better! When I am there, it is as if the trees talk to me. I think that is why I loved Taisha’s book too! (Maybe I should try and interview her too!) Anyways, thanks so much for this great article. You can send your posts to me anytime!

  11. jumbleberryjam permalink
    April 16, 2009 4:34 pm

    Mary Oliver is one of my favorite nature mystics. Uluru (Ayres Rock) and Florence Falls (Northern Territory) in Australia, the ruins of Fiesole (outside Florence, Italy) and the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest (USA), Tasmania & the SE coast of Western Australia are some of the places that have touched me most. Thanks for a lovely post to remind me of them.

  12. April 17, 2009 1:55 am

    Very interesting post – lots to think about. Being in nature is always a tonic for the spirit. For me right now, my power spot is the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch with its huge, wise trees. They have a presence – I feel it. Also, regarding power spots, I would say that Avebury Ring in Wiltshire, England, is one such place (more powerful than Stonehenge). I recommend a visit.

  13. April 17, 2009 2:36 am

    I like that nature presents lessons to us all. We only need to look. The issue is that we lead such busy lives that we are not consciously aware of these lessons.

    Your pictures are very beautiful. It would have been nice to be there. I missed a chance for a visit, when my husband-then-boyfriend was stationed in Arizona for two years. Perhaps one day, I may get another chance.

  14. mommymystic permalink*
    April 17, 2009 5:27 am

    Ray – sorry I missed your comment the first time around! Yes, it is amazing how we can relax into ‘natural time’ when out in nature, and let go of ‘clock time’. Then we can feel the rhythms of our own bodies better too…

    Paul – simplicity, thanks for using that word, I had not highlighted that in this post, but nature definitely shows us the beauty and power of simplicity.

    Amy – yes, I love woods too. And you should DEFINITELY interview Taisha if she’s available for that sort of thing, what a great interview subject!

    Jumbleberryjam (love that name, what’s the history?) and HealingStones – thanks for your suggestions, now I really want to travel more.

    Evelyn – we only need to look is pretty much always the case, huh? Whether in nature or no…

  15. April 17, 2009 5:35 am

    Hi Lisa – I could feel the nature energy just from reading this. A couple of energy spots that spring to mind are Uluru in central Australia – it and the other rocky areas nearby look similar to your canyon photos – which are so beautiful!

    Another is an energy spot in some hills near Melbourne where an artist called William Rickets has created a fantastic sanctuary with his carvings in it.

    Cheers – Robin

  16. thezeninyou permalink
    April 18, 2009 9:12 pm

    What a beautiful post! One of my favorite places on earth is Sedona. The energy is amazing there and I feel like I am not on earth! The rock formations are beyond comprehension. I also love being in the mountains. I feel like the air is so fresh and pure. I love to sit and hear the trees creek and whooshing of the wind. It’s very powerful.

  17. mommymystic permalink*
    April 18, 2009 9:33 pm

    Robin – more Australian spots! This post attracted a lot of Australian/NZ commenters and sites. Clearly there is some powerful and beatiful nature there…

    TheZeninYou – I have only been to Sedona once, and loved it. Although it is south of the Grand Canyon, I think it shares a lot of that same energy. And I love the mountains too – I was recently reading a Tibetan book that talked about the ‘higher vibration’ available in the mountains, and that that is why the monasteries are there.

  18. April 19, 2009 7:11 am

    Hey, I thought I commented on this…. probably just did it in my head! lol

    Anyway, thanks for a great post. It’s interesting to see the big religions brought togetehr like this, through nature.

    I’m really not into the idea of ‘sacred’ space at all. Basically I suppose because I see it all as ‘sacred’, although don’t use that term. But power spots, yes, ceratinly.

    It’s interesting that you mention the Grand Canyon because I have wanted to visit it for the longest time. I think as far back as when I was a teenager. It’s one of the two ‘must sees’ for me in America.

    In England, I found power spots to be a dime a dozen! It was too overwhelming for me. I figure that it’s because it’s such a small country but has tons of history. It’s all compressed. The area Cornwall and Devon is amazing. It has several powerful power spots, but mostly stemming from natural forces (rather than from historical occurences). So it’s powerful but not overwhelming.
    We lived in the centre of England and when I travelled to Cornwall (after about 10 years) I physically felt a sigh of reloef from my body.

    Anyway, not answering your question exactly but….

  19. mommymystic permalink*
    April 20, 2009 8:52 pm

    Mon, I thought you had commented too, so maybe I HEARD you in my head!! Anyway, I do think the Grand Canyon is a must-see/feel. As for England, I have only been to a small part of it, London and Oxford (I spent my junior year in college at Oxford on an exchange program) but I was amazed even there at the energy. But when you consider the amazing number of English writers, poets etc. that have written beautiful material inspired by nature, and then all the ‘myths’ that have come out of England re: fairies, hobbits, druids and the whole pagan/celtic traditions as well, I think it makes sense that there is something really powerful going on related to the land there. And your ‘sigh of relief’ feeling in Cornwall is interesting – I think we all have certain places we energetically resonate with (Bryce from this post is probably my most powerful one), so maybe Cornwall is one of yours.

    I think your comments on ‘sacred’ vs. ‘power’ spots is interesting, and what actually constitutes ‘sacred’. Lots of thoughts on this, too much for a comment, but maybe I will try and follow up this post at some point with more thoughts and questions on that…

  20. Anonymous permalink
    June 6, 2012 3:04 pm

    that was illuminating thanks for the post and the commentaries :)

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  1. Of Earth’s Portals and Gateways… « Mommy Mystic
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