August 16, 2012

The Key to Opening the Doors Within.

The color of the mountain is Buddha’s body; the sound of running water is his great speech.

~ Zen Master Dogen

Nature is graceful, wild, and intricately layered—beyond the scope of imagination or conceptualization. It is powerful. It is everywhere, all the time, and it encompasses all things–including us.

Letting go of our daily bustling schedule and going into nature represents a form of surrender to the one organism from which we sprung. We relinquish the apparent foregrounds of our lives to go into a deeper place that has no plan—it just is. Appreciating the ordinary—the natural things—being open and present enough to enjoy them, deepens us and turns us toward reverence for the myriad aspects of this one experience.

There’s so much moving around us all the time without our consent or our manipulation. Life is flowing whether we want it to or not—whether we agree with it or not. The earth is a pulsating web that we can connect with. And we are connected. Oftentimes our feelings of loneliness or disconnection stem from our inability to be in touch with the world around us. We become cut off and stuck in a little subjective bubble our ego has created. Our problems, our desires, and our busy minds affect our way of seeing the world.

We no longer experience an ancient, universal connection to what we have come from, nature, but instead look to contemporary falsehoods.

This is a fundamental observation, and it’s an interesting one to examine. When we become obsessed with our own creation stories or transfixed by a gadget or machine, then something deep and vibrant is missing. When we come to nature and we’re willing to let go of who we think we are as well as the small things we attach ourselves to, nature gives us the opportunity to see right through and step into vastness. It could be a wonderful and yet simple move to reconnect with the fundamental flow that gives us life.

The natural world offers us refuge from the unrelenting ego while allowing us to see what manifests on its own without the small mind. The cycle of life, birth and death, flood and drought, continue without any thoughts or internal transgressions. We often believe that we control what’s happening all the time. We think that to lose control is a bad thing. Sit down, let go, and see how nature takes care of things perfectly, without the toils of the small mind. Also, see your place, your essential equality with all things in the face of this reality.

Nature does not judge you as rich, poor, black, white, brown, important or unimportant.

It welcomes you as you are and if you can get in touch with this, you might learn to embody the natural attitude of total acceptance. The “thusness” of nature—its ability to be free from thought or logic—allows it to flow perfectly into balance. We could learn something from this.

Over the years I’ve experienced some of my deepest moments observing, interacting and sitting with nature. Hooting owls, journeying butterflies, curious dolphins and even an excited, howling pack of wolves, have made their way into my life and shifted something within my mind. And then there’s the scenery, beautiful sunsets that are never quite the same, and the countless gleaming stars at night, too, breaking down the walls of an attitude or emotion that had confined me to smallness. These sights as well as the sound of crashing waves or the cackling of a fire are primordial experiences that go beyond thinking, speaking or even chanting. Even a passing robin or the pattering of rain on dry gravel reveals its own kind of depth that is beyond anything I could ever make, think, or do, and this is an intriguing thing to notice.

A monk once asked an old Chinese Zen master how he should enter into the Way. The master replied and asked the monk if he could hear the faint sound of a rushing stream nearby, and the monk said that he could. The master told the monk, “Enter there!”

Nature can provide us with the keys necessary to open the doors within. A mountain bluebird, a delicate flower, a soaring hawk or the sound of the wind moving among the redwood trees can slam into us and crack into our ego walls. A fog bank clears, revealing a perfect sky or an illuminated mountainside and suddenly, we become free.

We are removed from our small mind, our ego, and we’re able to step through the doorway. Everything becomes clear, the seemingly huge wave-like issues disappear, and we settle into the present moment. There is nothing to fear, nothing to hide from. The earth is here and we are part of the earth, wrapped in the midst of infinity. These are just glimpses, small experiences, but they have the power to unlock the doors of the mind. 

The temple is there. There is only one question. The question is—can we see it?

The natural world is like a koan: an ancient Zen saying, phrase, or short dialogue used by masters to pry open the minds of neophyte disciples. The power of the koan lies in its ability to work on the individual, not the other way around. A koan is used to deconstruct, to bring our created worlds crashing down, and to add insult to injury (for the ego), to burn them away into nothingness. Once the disciple is opened, and flayed out, the koan settles, and the disciple discerns its true meaning.

Nature can become our physical koan. It has the power to connect us to something far beyond the confines of our small minds, and the ability to take down our created mental walls, to let us walk without defense—to be centered and rooted. Everything we need can be found within the forests, among the mountains, under the crags and in the oceans.

Find the profound lessons nature offers.

Sit underneath a tree. Stand by a rushing stream. Watch an egret move among the reeds. Listen and tap into something that is beyond anything we could ever consume or dream up. We can learn so much from these things. To appreciate nature is such a simple and basic thing. Yet, many of us think that we do not have the capability to sit and truly witness this miracle that is around us all the time. We are too preoccupied with fantasy scenarios of the mind to be able to sit and enjoy our Eden. How can we be true to ourselves if we cannot sit and be with life?

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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