Updated: Apr 7, 2020
I would like to preface this post by saying that in sharing my version of spirituality, I am in no way claiming to have found the “best” or “right” way to experience spirituality -- I believe that spirituality is deeply personal, and that every spiritual belief system should be respected (as long as it does not promote harm to others, of course). I know that spirituality and religion can be a very sensitive subject, and I certainly do not want to offend anyone who holds differing beliefs than me, I only want to share my experience as a way to connect with others who may find some parallels with their own experiences or beliefs, or to potentially inspire you to experience nature in a deeper, more purposeful way, regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
My Childhood Experience with Religion/Spirituality
I didn’t grow up in a super religious family or community, but when I was a kid, I did go to church on a somewhat regular basis. The church I attended with my family was quaint and charming, with a friendly, charismatic minister, and a lovely congregation (which included my grandma, who I had a wonderful, loving relationship with).
From a young age, I felt very conflicted about attending church as I noticed a stark contrast between the kind, smiling faces I was surrounded by, and the dark, scary messages I was interpreting from the sermons. I felt as though we were always preaching, chanting, and singing about how inherently “bad” we were -- that humans, by nature, are full of sin, and that we need to spend our lives repenting. At the time I had no idea what the word “repent” actually meant (I just looked up the definition because I honestly still don’t really know, but according to Google Dictionary it means “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin”), but I understood that if I wanted to avoid being tortured in hell, I needed to feel really bad for being so bad. Even in Sunday school, where things were more colourful and craft-filled, I was still receiving the same message -- if you feel bad enough for being “bad”, after death, you might get lucky enough to get into heaven, but if not, you would end up in a place more terrifying than your worst nightmares. (That was the message I took away from church as a child -- whether or not that was actually what was being said, is hard to say, as I am relying on childhood memories, which are not always the most reliable source.) Needless to say, church scared and confused me.
I’d like to stress again that I genuinely do not intend to offend anyone. I know this is not everyone’s experience with church, and I know that church can be a very positive place -- I have had many positive experiences in churches since becoming and adult, so this is in NO WAY bashing church. I think having a community of like-minded people who all love and support each other is an absolutely beautiful thing. I’m also not trying to make anyone feel bad for me -- no one was trying to scare or confuse me, this was just how I felt. I am just being completely honest about my experience, because it lead me to where I am today.
As I got older, I began to rebel -- I would protest every Saturday evening and Sunday morning, begging my parents to let me stay home. I started to dread Sundays because of all the negative feelings that would come up before, during, and after church. I just couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my personal beliefs with what I was being told in church, so eventually, in my late teens and early adult years, I completely rejected religion and spirituality altogether. So I spent a few years as a self-proclaimed Atheist (completely rejecting the idea that there is any divine existence), and a few as a self-proclaimed Agnostic (accepting that it’s simply impossible to know whether anything divine exists), and then flip-flopped between the two for a few more years, before reaching my late twenties when I began to crave a deeper sense of purpose.
I can’t pinpoint an exact time when I really started tapping into my spirituality, but the biggest growth happened when I left my job in the social justice field to go back and work on the farm while I began working on my Social Work degree by distance. I was going through a period of feeling totally lost and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life -- I had left the social justice job because I was burnt out. My soul felt crushed, I had compassion fatigue from hearing so many heartbreaking stories, I just wanted to hide -- to remove myself from society, because I felt like I had nothing left to give. I ended up making the decision to step away from the Social Work degree, because at the time, the thought of going back into the social justice world felt impossible with my mental health where it was.
I began spending a majority of my time at my family farm, and I felt like, little by little, my soul was being healed by nature. The more time I spent sitting in nature, observing my surroundings, the more faith I began to have in the universe, and the more peace I was finding within myself. Once I stopped moving through my days with my head down, blinders on, only focusing on my next task -- once I starting actually paying attention to the natural world around me, I realized that nature was trying to teach me lessons.
Four Lessons in Spirituality I Learned from Observing Nature
1. Nature is Cyclical
One of the most basic, yet profound things I learned from observing nature, and from listening to others who had already found spirituality in nature, was that everything in nature is cyclical. As humans, we tend to think of time as linear, as moving in one direction -- forward, always pushing forward. But nature follows cycles. The earth rotates one time to cycle us through one day/night; the moon orbits around the earth once every 27/28 days; the earth orbits around the sun which cycles us through the seasons, and takes us through a yearly cycle. There is growth and decay, and growth again. Even our bodies follow cycles -- the sleep/wake cycle, the menstrual cycle, the digestive cycle. I found this to be a beautiful lesson -- that we can see our personal journey as cyclical as well, and that we aren’t going to be accomplishing and achieving and producing all the time. Sometimes we will be in a period of rest and recovery. Sometimes things will move quickly and effortlessly, and sometimes things will move slowly and feel like they take more effort. Both are important parts of life, and I’ve learned to let go and allow myself to embrace all the different phases of the cycles in my life.
2. Nature is Present
We humans tend to live in the past or in the future. We dwell on what we’ve done “wrong”, or what we wish we would have done differently. We plan out our future in an effort to control the outcome, and constantly think about what is going to happen next. When you observe nature, you realize that nature exists in the now -- there is no planning, only existing. When animals are hungry, they eat; when they’re tired, they rest; when the weather turns bad, they seek shelter; when they are being chased, they run. Now I know that humans do need to plan certain things, realistically we need to plan a lot of our lives because that is just the way the world works -- our world runs on dates and schedules and deadlines. But when you observe creatures living in the present moment, you can sense the inner peace that comes from this -- it actually brings me inner peace just watching animals doing their thing. We know that living in the past often makes us feel sad and depressed, we know that living in the future often makes us feel anxious and unsure, and we know that “mindfulness” is becoming a wildly popular wellness practice because it promotes living in the present moment which does wonderful things for our mental health. One of my absolute favourite ways of practicing mindfulness is to just observe nature -- just take a few moments out of my day to watch the hawks soaring over the fields, or the ducks floating around in our dugout, or the bees bumbling from dandelion to dandelion, or even just the grass and trees swaying in the wind. I highly recommend trying this out if you don’t already! It has become a type of meditation for me -- I really struggle with the traditional sit-down-close-your-eyes-and-think-about-nothing type of meditation, so this has been super helpful practice for me in experiencing a similar effect as traditional meditation (although I do hope to get better at practicing traditional meditation as well, this has just felt like a good place to start).
3. Nature is Patient
Not many things happen FAST in nature -- there is a lot of waiting, a lot of time where it seems like nothing is happening at all because it is happening so slowly. Growth is slowwww. Trees take many years to reach maturity, ants build their homes by moving one grain of dirt at a time, animals that lay eggs sit on them for weeks, just waiting. Even predatory animals have to have patience -- sure, the actual catch/kill is quick, but hunting is 95% about waiting, watching, moving slowly and silently. Practicing patience has been so helpful for me, as I find the general busyness of society to be very anxiety-provoking. Something I’ve started doing is practicing patience when I’m driving. If I start to feel like I need to rush for some reason, I tell myself that it is not worth giving up my inner peace just to get somewhere a little bit faster, or a few minutes earlier. I will get there when I get there, and until then, I will remain calm and in a peaceful state. I used to rush everywhere I went because a) I wasn’t great at time management, and b) I wanted people to know that I went as fast as I could to get to them, but it didn’t feel good. I would arrive at my destination all frazzled (and sweaty… anyone who knows me, knows how sweaty I get as soon as my heart rate increases AT ALL), and I would bring that anxious (sweaty) energy into the space when I got there. This is not the impact I want to have on the people around me. I want to bring positive, calm, soothing energy into the spaces I enter as often as I possibly can (although there is a good chance I will still be a little sweaty). Another great time to practice patience is when waiting in line. I find that if I can emit a calm, patient energy when I am waiting in line somewhere, I can have a positive effect on not only myself, but the individual working the till/desk, and sometimes even the other people in line. This is an amazing feeling! Because nobody likes waiting in line, but it doesn’t have to be painful. We have to wait in line a whole lot, so why not make it a tiny bit more enjoyable?
4. Nature has Purpose
Everything in nature has a purpose (except maybe woodticks… like seriously, why). Humans like to organize everything into hierarchies, placing certain people/things above others, to give them more importance and therefore higher value. And we try to do this with nature, but nature does not do this to itself. Every single thing in nature depends on something else for its survival, and everything has equal value. Humans tend to place higher value on big, strong, powerful predators like eagles, bears, and wolves, but these animals depend on smaller, “weaker” animals like rodents, fish, and deer for their survival, who depend on bugs, and plants for their survival. In nature, everything has value (again, if anyone can tell me the value of woodticks, that would be great, because I don’t feel like nature makes mistakes, but WHAT ARE THEY EVEN FOR?), everything has a purpose, and nothing compares itself to anything else -- there is no judgement, only beautiful existence. For me, this has taught me to accept myself exactly as I am. I don’t really fit into the mold of an ideal citizen/employee/member of society, because I’m very emotional and sensitive, I’m often passive, and I don’t put in effort unless I know why -- I always want to know why. My strengths are not always valued in our productivity-driven society. I tend to want to move slowly, connect on a deeper level, nurture, find meaning and purpose. I really struggle to keep up with the fast, constant pace we live in, and it is something I have always beat myself up over
-- believing that I’m not competitive enough, I’m not productive enough, I’m not assertive enough… it all boiled down to feeling “not enough”. But you know what? Everything and everyone has a purpose. You -- exactly who you are at a soul level, before anyone told you who and what you are supposed to be -- you are here on purpose, you have a purpose, you are enough, and you are perfect exactly as you are. Forget about the hierarchy. It only has meaning if you allow it to. Once you start embracing the parts of you that make you you, you will find purpose.
Okay, I honestly feel like I could write an entire book about all of the lessons I’ve learned from nature, but I feel as though these four lessons are the ones I’d like to share for now, and if you guys really enjoy them, then I will write another post with more about spirituality and nature!
I would absolutely love to hear your feedback on this post! Do you have a spiritual practice? Does it involve nature? Do you practice a specific religion and find that nature enhances your beliefs? Did this post inspire you to spend more time observing nature?
Thanks for taking the time to read this -- please let me know your thoughts!
Take care, and be kind to yourselves, Root and Sprouters!