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Here are five simple but profound lessons, or truths, we can all learn from the natural world.
Reinvention and resiliency are part of life.
When we tap into the regenerative power of our environment, we are able to trust that everything will work out in the end. By consciously renewing our spiritual connection with the earth, we can see that change is normal, and rebirth is not only possible, it’s necessary to life. The cycles of life that occur with the seasons offer constant reminders that to be alive is to be in constant movement, balance and flexibility in an environment that is always sending new challenges our way.
Nature offers relief and energizes us.
Think about the feeling you get when walking through a dark forest, standing knee-deep in the ocean waves, or lying on the grass on the first warm day of spring. It’s not complicated: nature makes you feel calm and happy. Just as nature feeds our body, it can also sustain our soul. When you feel tired, depressed, hopeless, self-doubting, or stressed out, go outside and walk around. Feel the sun on your skin. Breathe in the fresh air. Imagine the strength of the earth rising up through your feet and supporting you. The natural world gives and gives if you’re open to receiving.
Everything is alive and has a spirit.
The shamans believe that everything in nature has a spirit — trees, flowers, mountains, lakes, rivers and of course, animals. If we accept this as truth, it changes how we feel about ourselves in relationship to our world. Huichol shamanism, like the shamanism of many indigenous cultures, is based on cooperation, on seeing oneself as a collaborator with all life. Contrast that outlook to that of Western sports and Western culture, which is based on competition and on seeing oneself as a rival against others. It’s comforting to find our place in the world and feel at home in it.
The natural world unifies body and soul.
The Huichols maintain that by simply walking on the earth we can heal our body, and that through thinking good thoughts — connecting to the sunrise, the sunset, other humans, and the environment around us — we naturally heal our soul. They believe that our higher self, our soul, is connected to all life — it’s not just an abstract concept. Good health happens through a union of two important aspects all human beings have — the body and soul.
Healthy beings need both strength and flexibility.
In nature there is a fine balance between strength and flexibility. Trees grow tall as they strengthen themselves with the energy of the sun, earth, water and air. They also bend in the wind without breaking. Our good health also depends on this idea. Being merely strong — working hard, building muscle, pushing and achieving — makes you vulnerable. Your ability to sway in the wind — to respond to life’s challenges, changes, joys and stresses — without breaking requires resiliency of both body and soul.
McConaughey’s emotional speech made headlines across the Internet today, being described by different media outlets as both the best and worst speech of the night. New York Magazine wrote, “dude got emotional, he got religious, he got downright philosophical.”
But religion aside, it’s tough to deny the power of gratitude when an extensive body of research supports its health and well-being benefits. Taking a moment to be thankful for the good things in life can help you manage stress, sleep better, and maintain a healthy heart and immune system. Researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley have even commissioned a three-year project, Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, to dig deeper into the health benefits behind the art of appreciation.
The Dilation of What Seems Ordinary
Just now, it happened again. My defenses were down, my memory machine asleep, my dream machine tired, and so the mystery — which is always beaming in all directions — made it through. And the moment of clarity it releases is always like a return from amnesia. So this is what it means to be a person, how could I forget: To be alive, to look out from these small canyons called eyes, to receive light from the sun off the water and feel it shimmer on the common water that fills my heart. To listen to the silence waiting under our stories, long enough that all the vanished words said over time simmer up in a scent that, for a second, makes me feel journeys that are not mine. Till I surface before you with a stumbled sense of happiness. Not because I’m any closer to what I want, or even know what I want. But because in the flood of all that is living, I am electrified — the way a muscle dreams under the skin of lifting whatever needs to be lifted.
A Question to Walk With: What does it mean to you, to be a person? Ask this question of someone you’d like to know better.
For more poetry for the soul, click here.
For more by Mark Nepo, click here.
When HuffPost Live gathered a panel of freelancers to discuss, the answer was a resounding yes. The group of writers and consultants acknowledged the challenges — the financial uncertainty and potential loneliness of not seeing colleagues every day — but ultimately, the sense of control over their schedules and ability to work from anywhere make it worthwhile.
Find out how freelancing can open up your career and invigorate your life in the full HuffPost Live conversation below.
But if there’s one thing that more than 20 years of mindfulness training has taught me, it’s this: Few challenges are more important than making that short and inestimably long trip from head to heart.
What brings me to this topic? America is in the throes of a “mindfulness revolution” (see Time magazine’s cover article and Wisdom 2.0). In every sector from business to politics, education, parenting and the military, people are using mindfulness techniques to become more self-aware.
This is good news. Across the nation, women and men are learning simple practices to handle the overwrought stresses of post-modernity with more grace and aplomb. Corporations are teaching executives how to increase focus and attention. Schools are teaching children to be more self-aware and self-regulating. And books offer sage counsel to help parents navigate modern child-raising without losing their marbles. In myriad ways, mindfulness is offering us critical and fabulous skills to slow down and reconnect.
But I also see a worrisome trend afoot. Increasingly, mindfulness is being equated with stress reduction or learning how to center under pressure to enhance performance. This is cause for alarm.
The intention of mindfulness is not to make us more “chill” with the insanities and inanities of our post-modern lives.
It is not designed to help us better tolerate the steam-rolling experience of 12-hour work days and three-hour commutes, short shrift meals and dwindling hours of sleep. It is not there to make us endlessly up our performance inside a crushing cascade of information overload. And it is certainly not designed to have us watch calmly as the earth’s weather patterns erupt into a contagion of calamity.
Mindfulness is not meant to make us better at living lives that drain our ingenuity, silence our compassion, or demoralize us into a state of collective catatonia.
The purpose of mindfulness is to wake us up. It’s designed to reconnect us with our intrinsic ingenuity and our indestructible, innate excellence. The Buddhist world that modern mindfulness practices emerged from is explicit about this: human beings are wired for excellence.
It maintains six ways — known in Buddhist Sanskrit as paramitas — that we are designed to be extraordinary.
1) We are wired to do the right thing, no matter how much the world tests us.
2) We are wired to tolerate what feels intolerable to become fearless in making the world a better place.
3) We are wired for stamina, the kind that has us stand by our vision, unflagging, even when no one believes in us.
4) We are wired to be decisive, acute and undeterred in pursuing what really matters.
5) We are wired to see ourselves and others with the wisdom of kindness and tolerance.
6) And, finally, we are wired to kindle greatness in others through our generosity of spirit.
I’ve taken some liberty in translating from the Sanskrit to make a point: Mindfulness is not about retreating into some bastion of heady, personal calm. Mindfulness is about courageously turning our hearts inside out so that we can actualize our deeply human ability to find solutions and stand in our universal goodness, no matter what the circumstances.
I’ve had the privilege to witness this kind of excellence up close with many of my teachers, mentors and friends, not least of all in the Tibetan communities where I lived and studied for over two decades as a scholar of Buddhism. My mentors there were from all walks of life — lay and monastic, men and women, high-level ecclesiasts and ordinary outback herders. Many of them were survivors of political torture.
And time and time again, they showed me a quality of human spirit that was indomitable in the face of cruelty and unflagging in its commitment to kindness. These were people whose culture of mindfulness had taught them early on the power of dropping from head to heart. I will save more details about that for another blog, but hope to leave you with this:
Practice mindfulness to be calmer. Hone your breathing meditation so you can be more resilient at work and more present with your kids. Do your noting practice so that you know yourself better. But more than anything, practice mindfulness to break your heart open to your extraordinary excellence and the excellence of everyone around you.
Maybe, just maybe, if we do this kind of work — thankless, heartbreaking, and upending though it may be — we can usher in the kind of collective ingenuity that our world calls for.
This blog was reprinted with permission from The Shriver Report.