We’ve all heard that nature is one of humanity’s greatest teachers — but we have to listen. Well, it seems my ears have been particularly receptive this past week with a number of lessons heard and emphasized. Because nature figures so prominently in my spiritual practice, this is both reaffirming and encouraging. It reaffirms what I’ve intuitively known for as long as I can remember, and it encourages me to hold steady as I move forward after my partner’s death in 2012.
Lesson One: Nature Makes Us Nicer
I walk frequently on the city’s watershed trails near my home. Often, I’m the only person around, and it’s easy to let my mind wander while I focus on the trees, birds, streams, etc. When I do come across another person, I’m always struck by how friendly we are to each other. Although I consider myself approachable, I never speak to strangers when I pass them on city streets, but in the woods, those barriers fall. On the trails, we all smile at each other and say hello (except for the joggers because they’re always in a hurry). Even the dogs are friendly — but calm, not in that oh-my-god-a-person-I-must-lick-you! way. On the local sidewalks, dogs strain against their leashes to greet me. But on the trails, dogs hardly notice me — even when they’re unleashed (in spite of city ordinances). The dogs see but don’t rush, don’t jump and keep right in line with their humans. I can’t quite explain it all, but I chalk up to a sense that this space belongs to everyone. Dogs don’t feel territorial or threatened, nor do the people. We’re all just happy to be outside enjoying nature, and it helps us let down our walls.
Lesson Two: Nobody’s Perfect
Take a walk in the woods and you’ll see all kinds of twisted, gnarled and strange looking plant life. Some trees grow in odd directions, some have scars over missing bark, others lean in uncomfortable angles, limbs are missing, trunks covered in woodpecker holes, lichen and moss. Remarkably, they all survive. They make use of the space they’re in and make it work for as long as possible. I wish I could be more like that. I’m always searching for the perfect work situation or life circumstances. THEN I’ll be happy, right? I worry about the sun spots on my face, my surgery scars and my loss of muscle tone. Although we humans are obsessed with perfection, nature isn’t. Some trees are fine specimens — others not so much. Some live long while others succumb to disease or wildlife. Truly, it’s a mirror of our own condition. None of us are alike and none of us are perfect, each with little “flaws” we wish we could erase. Maybe the trees simply don’t and can’t care about this — and I’d like to be more like that, because I think I could enjoy my life more.
Lesson Three: You’re Not in Control
Some days I want the world to stop. With all I’ve experienced over the last two years, it’s difficult to get out of bed. Days blur together as I go through the motions of eating, sleeping, shaving and all the other mundane stuff we must do. Another day comes and another and another, and it doesn’t seem to mean very much. If I could just hit “pause,” I think, and get myself together, then I’d be ready. But nature doesn’t work that way. I watched a little bird the other day search through some brush for food, and I thought about how it has to do this every single day. In comparison, my life is sweet! Does the bird wish it had a cupboard and refrigerator to store food? I don’t know, but it occurred to me that this is simply how things work. The Earth continues revolving around the sun and won’t stop, no matter what tragedies we experience in our small lives. Yes, we must eat a couple of times every day in order to live, and we must work to provide for ourselves. This realization doesn’t exactly make it easier when you’re depressed, but accepting that you’re not in control and understanding that this is the way things are — this has gone a long way in helping me relax and simply do what I must do. No resistance — it’s been a mantra of mine, and it’s worth emphasizing.
Lesson Four: Let Go
I transplanted two saplings recently, and it was delicate work to free their roots from the soil so they could be moved. As I did this, I unconsciously began talking to the first tree, encouraging it to let go, so it could move to its new home where the roots would have more room to grow and it could truly thrive and have a better chance at life. It had simply outgrown the raised bed in which it was originally planted. I tried to keep all the roots, but a few tiny ones snapped and my spade took out a larger root. I hope I didn’t do any permanent damage, but regardless, staying in that raised bed would mean their growth would be stunted and they would likely day before their time. “I know this might hurt and stress you out,” I said to the tree, “But this new spot will be much better for you.” And then it hit me I was talking about myself. I’m selling the home where my partner and I lived, and we put down deep roots. But I have to leave because it isn’t sustainable here. I can’t afford it, and I’ll forever be reminded of what I’ve lost. So, little by little, I’m letting go. Sure, it’s stressing me out and it’s gonna hurt, but I will heal and a new home will do me good.
What has nature taught you? Are you listening?