These are some more practices to become more sensitively aware of the natural world, nature's spirits, presences, qualities, energies, and also beauty. All such practices require an extra intentional effort, beyond one's usual (“normal”) way of being. Making extra efforts and sustained practice, even if only for a few consciously sustained minutes, will gradually develop one's abilities, sensitivities, and a more in-tune way of being in nature.
Conscious breath (in and out) is an essential practice and developed ability, necessary in all the other practices given here. The main clue in this practice is to breathe and be conscious. There are many variations of 'breath practices', each with a certain technique, rhythm and count. But the Mother's Breath is the safest and easiest to practice.
It is easy, yet the difficulty is in having enough self-discipline and commitment to actually practice it and sustaining it over some time. For most people will find that any decided practice is difficult to sustain because of the many subconscious forces which veer one away from sustained practices. Thus, it is easy to keep breathing, since this can be carried on subconsciously, but it is difficult to consciously breathe for a sustained amount of time. This shows us how much our subconscious is really running the show, and how little power we have to maintain a continuity of consciousness.
The basic rhythm of the Mother's Breath is a balance between the in and out breath, and there can be a momentary pause between the in and out cycles. But as to how long one should breathe in or out is an open question. It would not be advised to be always looking at a stopwatch. One can make each in and out cycle the count of seven, which is advisable; yet how long is a count? So the essence of this breath practice is most simply in the balanced rhythm. And as well, there is an added component which is to feel a sense of being in harmony with the rhythm of the planet, the rhythm of our Mother Earth.
So here is an instruction. Breathe in (consciously), for as long as needed, and taking in whatever is needed. Then breathe out consciously, letting go of tensions and whatever is no longer needed, and do this in a relaxed and trusting manner, while taking as long as needed. Hold the intention to maintain sustained cycles of relaxed, balanced, and conscious breathing. Or another way of describing this is – be aware of one's breathing and maintain a continuity of this awareness, while consciously encouraging the breath to be in its most relaxed and balanced rhythm, while also being sensitive of or in tune with the Earth's natural rhythm. The rhythm soon becomes balanced in a natural way. The final aim is to be in the balanced rhythm of Mother Earth, or what can be called the Mother's Breath.
One good advice about this is to not try too hard. One comes into this Breath in a relaxed way, like relaxing into the rhythm that is natural to us and natural in our relationship with our Mother Earth. It's like being relaxed in the womb of our mother. If one tries too hard and the practice becomes a struggle, then we cannot arrive in this natural rhythmic Breath. The feeling is more like floating along with the current, not fighting upstream against the current.
However, in order to come into the Breath, one usually needs to put in some extra effort or 'work' into the practice, which is to remain conscious through the cycles of breath, without spacing out or being distracted by extraneous thoughts or stimulus from the world around. Also, take deep breaths consciously and with an intention for the breath to be balanced and in harmony. Another key is to enjoy the breathing; for there is joy in this conscious breathing and rhythm.
The goal is a well-balanced rhythm of deep, flowing, conscious breath, with the in and out cycles about the same duration. But a useful approach to this is to first make a sustained effort to simply be conscious of one's breath, as it is. In other words, just maintain a sustained awareness of the breath, as it happens to be. Then, due to this conscious-awareness of our breath, our breath will consequentially adjust and naturally come into balance. Consciousness is the key to shifting an unconsciousness pattern of breath, as developed from growing up, to a truly natural rhythm of breath that is possible for anyone.
The Mother continually offers her harmonious rhythm of breath to everyone, which also includes love and enjoyment, and which heals any unhealthy unconscious rhythms of breath as brought about by societal anxieties and personality reactions. When we heal our breath, we heal our self. The first key to this is being conscious of the breath; the second key is opening to the balanced rhythm and love from our Mother.
Very important is to be physically and energetically grounded, as well as being conscious in the here and now. Don't just think that this is your usual state; because it probably isn't. And even if it is, one can be ever more grounded, present and in the moment. To increase our groundedness will require some degree of intention and inner effort. Conscious breath is an important key in all of this, because breath can be used to ground our energy into the Earth, and breath is also used to remain conscious in the flow of the present moment and in awareness of the world around.
First try this. Use breath to be grounded by consciously breathing-out a line of energy deep into the earth, sort of like using the breath as a tool to anchor oneself into the earth. Then, in balance, consciously breathe-in the vital goodness of earth, bringing in the good earth energies, like a stream of energy connectively coming up from the earth into us. By this means, we can be connectively grounded with the earth below. It is hard to definitely say how long to consciously do this, or how many conscious breaths is required. Pick an esoterically important number, such as 3, 7, 11, or 18, or make 4 breaths - each dedicated to one of the four directions. Each person can find what works for them. Or simply don't be concerned about how many breaths; just feel what is right and trust your own intuition.
Part of any true grounding practice requires a conscious physical sensing of one's body. Most people don't realize that they do not ordinarily sense their own body and are rarely grounded in their own body. But to be truly grounded with the physical earth, one also needs to be grounded in one's own physical body. This requires having a conscious physical sensation of one's body, which can be achieved and enhanced through conscious breathing.
On the in-breath sense the physical and etheric (subtle) energies rise up from the earth into one's belly region (or hara centre). Bring sensation up through the feet to fill the lower part of the body with physical sensation. Then sense this energy filling the upper part of the body as well. Feel/sense this energy as health enhancing and strengthening. Next, on the out-breath sense this energy moving downward through the whole body and through the feet to be grounded into the earth.
Each cycle of in and out breath combined with physical sensation will not be easy to perfectly do at first; but each time one practices a whole cycle of conscious grounding breath, this will gradually become a learned practice. Essential in this practice is to actually sense energy in and through the body, and to notice physical sensation through the body. If the practice turns into a mental visualization, or if one is just 'thinking the practice', then this is not real grounding.
The Grounding practice can also work simultaneous with a Present Moment practice, which is to be consciously present in this moment and in the outward space we are in. One important component of both practices is conscious sensing of one's physical body. This is an essential part of any grounding practice, but it is also a definite way to become conscious in the present moment, especially when combined with conscious breath.
Most beginners dismiss the Present Moment practice too easily, because they assume that they are already conscious in the present moment. The present moment practice is to be especially aware of the present moment, right here and right now. This is a conscious, self-intending practice, and one will discover that it requires continuous consciousness and will in order to sustain this. In addition, there is a tremendous increase in power that is gained from this practice.
Use conscious breath to help remain in this flow of the moment and to sense the world all around. In this practice will be an increased intensity of experience in the immediate sensory and dynamic moment. Sometimes there is a sense of time stopping, since the practice has an effect of stopping one's ongoing self-dialogue of thought. The goal is to maintain a continuity of outward present consciousness, while also remaining relaxed and comfortably harmonious in the breath.
However, one way to launch right into the immediate present moment is to temporarily hold the breath for some moments while being extra aware of the outward environment and the subtle energies flowing through the moment. Holding the breath is not something to do often, nor for too long, but it can be a tool to use occasionally.
Another tool is to occasionally remember to STOP. Train oneself to ever so often Stop – stop the usual flow of inertia and subconscious habit. Stop the usual pattern of flowing time, of what you are thinking and feeling; then Awaken in this moment – which is to see anew what is. Stop! And see this moment with fresh awareness and fresh insight. In essence, this is the key to being more conscious in life and in bringing more consciousness into what we are doing.
If we can occasionally Stop our usual ongoing train of thinking, and instead just Listen in the moment, then it is possible to enter into the deep essence of silence in each moment. As with the present moment practice one can use the stop technique, which is to stop the breath for just a moment, in order to help stop one's ongoing thinking for a moment and just Listen in that moment. This does not need to be a long stop; it can be very short, for its purpose is to produce a sudden conscious stop 'of the usual' – in order to experience the present moment without thinking about it.
In essence, one is stopping to Listen, and in this listening it is possible to hear the Silence within the moment, or the silence within nature. This does not require the space or nature around one to be actually without any sounds; for one can hear the Silence underneath sounds. And this does not require that one necessarily stop the body moving; because one could be walking or rhythmically moving the body, while nonetheless being still and listening in one's mind.
Here is a narrative of practice. Enter into real silence, with quieted mind and emotion, while listening in this silence. Listen within the silence. And feel within this space of quite silence. Allow yourself to dip into this silence and abide here, relaxed and comfortable here in this silence, which is to feel the spirit presence of this place. Notice the quality of being that this place is bringing you into. Then be grateful for being here.
Just quiet sitting, in inner silence, is a great practice. If sitting by a creek or some kind of flowing water, just listen to the water, and do nothing else. Just this simple listening, but with all of the mind, and not being distracted by extraneous thoughts or plans about what to do next, etc. Our mental patterns are so used to continuous thinking, or analyzing, or worrying, or planning; that just sitting with no thought at all, with just a silent and listening mind, is not so easy at first. Our mental habits of continuous thinking will, in their habit, have a tendency to keep arising and they will lead us away from this simple practice, unless our intention is strong and we make efforts to bring our mind back into a quiet settled space.
Nature helps us in this, if we let Her. We can let go of unnecessary thinking and also let go of any unsettled or troubled emotions, by simply allowing all of this to drop into the compost of Mother Earth. As was explained more in another section, the Earth can receive our unnecessary thought-energies and any emotional energies that can now be surrendered or let go of, so give up all of your unneeded or troubled emotional energies to the earth below, which has the power to transform these energies, sort of like composting.
Ultimately though, we have to be relaxed enough, in our mind and body, in order to completely let go of everything and just fall into the Silence. We can fall into the silence in our own self. It is wonderful to know that there is a silence inside oneself, and that we can settle into this. But also, we can enter into the silence of nature. This is not so much about a physical silence, though that is certainly sweet, but we are speaking here about a silence underneath the physical sounds of nature, a silence within nature. This is the silence of peace. And this is essentially related to the peace and silence which we can experience within our self. Most essentially, it is possible to experience a complete oneness of peaceful silence in oneself and in the nature we are in.
This is a useful and helpful practice at anytime in a day, especially when one wants to be more sensitive and present to the outer environment. Having external awareness is also a basis of meditations-in-nature – meaning to be awake and perceptive to the external natural world, rather than inwardly withdrawn as in most practices labeled as meditation. Inward meditation practices have their own important purposes, but outward nature meditation practices also have important purposes. They help us become more present in and to the actual place we are. They help us be aware of and connected to the special energies and qualities of a place in nature. And they help us realize our spiritual-soul relationship and reflection with the natural world.
Our awareness can be either internal or external, though often it is a mixture of both. Internal awareness is when awareness and experience is dominantly internal, meaning that one is pretty much immersed in thought or emotion, or in a predominately subjective experience. External awareness is when awareness and experience is dominantly external, meaning that one is more aware of the things, people, and places of the external world. Experience is then more objective.
As already mentioned, we can also be in a mixture of both internal and external awareness, but a problem with this is that our internal thoughts and feelings too often get mixed into our external awareness, which then can lead us into a confused experience of the external world. In other words, instead of having a pure, immediate, objective, and intensely present experience of the world around us, whether this be of nature or other persons, our internal-subjective thoughts and feelings become interspersed and muddled with our objective outer world experience.
The practice of external awareness is to counteract our usual tendency to be in our internal awareness, focusing predominately on our subjective thoughts and feelings, or the tendency to be in a confused mixture of internal and external experience, rather than being in a pure external awareness and having a more pure experience of the outer world as it is.
There is nothing inherently wrong with internal awareness. In fact, most eastern meditative practices involve a shutting off of external experience and focusing instead on internal experience, which is basically a practice of internal awareness. There are times when internal awareness is either necessary or at least helpful. But there are other times when external awareness would be better to practice, and without any muddled mixture from internal awareness. External awareness is especially useful to practice when we wish to be more fully sensitive to and present in the natural world. It is also useful when dealing with other people.
The first thing one might notice when beginning this practice of external awareness is how difficult it is to keep our awareness of mind just on the external world in front of us, without thoughts or emotions entering into our experience. Thoughts are especially difficult to disappear from a pure external awareness experience. Thoughts distract us from a possibly pure experience of the external world, or else they mix into our external experience in such a way that the external world gets distorted by thought labeling or judgments.
Thoughts about the world are often labels put on to the things by our automatic mind; we see something and then our mind names it or labels it. Try to avoid this, because it is low level mental chatter. Even worse than labeling is judging, or even evaluating. There is a place and time for evaluation. And then there are places and times for not evaluating and not judging. Learn to know the difference. And learn to control your mind enough that you can suspend labeling and evaluation for at least awhile, in order to have a more pure experience of the natural world in front of you, or a more pure and nonjudgmental experience of the person in front of you.
Yet of course, the most common problem involving uncontrolled thought is, well, uncontrolled thought. That is, when thoughts come into our experience and simply take over, leading us on their peculiar adventure. This is called the thought train, and the thought train can take us on many little adventures of mind, or of worry, or of daydream fantasy, or of future plans, etc, all of which lead us away from having a sustained and pure experience of the natural external world. So hopefully, one can see how thoughts can often distract from or even destroy the possibility of a truly remarkable experience of the natural world. We do not always need to be thinking. Sometimes, at least, just let it all go.
The practice of external awareness is quite simple, and no instructions are really necessary if the above discourse is well read and understood. Basically, all of the mind and senses are placed on and in the external world, or upon particular parts of the world, or things or people. Awareness, attention, and interest are focused on just what is around, on the landscape or on things in it. The external world becomes the main and sole object of interest; not our self. And as part of this, we let go of our usual internal awareness upon our own self - upon our thoughts or emotions. We leave behind our own self stuff, and instead focus completely outside of our self. We do this with Emptiness, Sensitivity, and Love.
Our internal self needs to become empty, or at least approach emptiness. The more empty we are in thought, the more pure and intense our external experience will be. And we will then understand the external world better, or the natural world, or others. Emptiness of thought, is key to having a real and profound experience of what or who is around.
Thought may well be useful and needed in certain kinds of understanding; like we may want to scientifically know about the natural world, or we may want to psychologically figure out our friends or relations. Yet, this same useful capacity of thought can become preconception and prejudgment -- both destroyers of pure external experience, and also of real discovery.
The next essential attitude to have, in this practice of external awareness, is sensitivity. Our wish and our intention is to be fully sensitive to the external world. This could be the natural world we are in, or it could be the person in front of us. Our aim is to be fully present with this natural world, or with what/who is here. We are now empty in thought, but also we need to be fully sensitive. This is to allow what is here to touch us. It is to truly feel the landscape, or the trees, or the person, or whatever is present to us. So we are sensitive in feeling, as well as sensitive in perception.
Thirdly is the attitude of relationship. Our mind has entered into emptiness, so that there is nothing in the way of pure perception or pure external awareness. Yet our sensitivity to the nature around us is very alive. So thirdly, we enter into relationship with this part of nature that is present in our experience. This sense of relationship creates an interconnection between our own inner being and this part of nature external to us. Conscious relationship connects our internal with the external.
There are different possible levels of relationship. We will differentiate them into three. The first is basic relationship. Although basic, this is a positive step forward from the ordinary experience of non-relationship. So to acquire a conscious relationship with the natural world, or any part of it, is quite a big step forward from our usual disconnection from natural areas or things.
The next level of relationship can be called love. To have love in a relationship adds in an extra quality of both caring and deep appreciation. Caring and appreciation are very important qualities of love, in any relationship. We can add in and experience this love in the practice of external awareness, or in any nature meditation practice.
The final possible apex of relationship is union. This is an experience of oneness or unity with the nature or person of the relationship. Experience becomes at one with the flow of water, or the trees, or the landscape, or whatever or whoever is here. This is love gone absolutely surrendered.
Similar to the practice of external awareness is the practice of receptive space. This is another valuable practice. It is to do with how we see and know the natural world around us. Instead of seeing out into the surrounding space or area, now let what is out there come to you. Let the forms, the energies, and the spirit presence come to you. In other words, be in a receptive mode. Let seeing be a receptive activity. In this way, we are receptively accepting what nature is sharing.
Our usual mode of perception is a reaching out. It is often like a grabbing this or that; I will see this or that. We look out and we perceptively grab what we choose to see. Also, in this selectively reaching out mode, we see the nature around us as separate pieces or things, which we then pick out to see. This is sort of like picking out particular picture images to put into our perceptual slide viewer. So this is a kind of pick out and choose mode.
Therefore, our usual way of seeing or noticing what is around us is a kind of selective reaching out; whereby we select what we want to see. Thus, our subconscious directs this selective attention in such a way that we tend to only see what we want to see or what we expect to see. Because our ego or habit mind is directing the show, so to speak, we tend to see nothing much that is really new, since we see either what we expect to see or what we want to see.
But in contrast, the mode of receptive space is an allowing of what is out-there to come intimately here. So instead of reaching out and selectively picking out, we receptively allow nature to come into our awareness in just the way that it is, receiving into our awareness all that is being shared, rather than selectively choosing and reaching out to perceptually grab.
Another helpful key in this is to allow oneself to be seen. Allow nature, and the spirits of nature, to see you, and allow yourself to be seen. This could be understood as a reverse recognition. Normal recognition can, of course, interplay with this reverse recognition. For instance, as we recognize the spirit presence, or consciousness, in an area, we can also allow ourselves to be recognized by the conscious spirit-presence abiding there and by any of the little spirits of nature.
Develop sensitivity by being sensitive to energies and presences. First try using open hands extended out, in order to receive and sense. But one can also sense or feel energies from anywhere in the body. Also try dowsing instruments – though these usually involve our energy-sensitive hands in some way.
First open your mind and heart. Listen with both. Make an extra-energy effort to be more conscious of the surrounding natural world. Breathe consciously to increase the energy and continuity of consciousness. Increase sensitivity by consciously opening your heart love to the natural world, and receive what the natural world is giving and sharing. The energies of nature can be recognized with spiritual vision, felt within an open receptive heart, and also sensed by one's whole body. Dowsing rods and pendulums are often used as sensing tools; however, our body itself is a great sensing instrument, especially our hands.
We discover our self in the world around us, through each other and through the various kingdoms and manifestations of nature. We find unity within our self through contemplation and communion with the natural creation around us. Nature is the living proof of interconnectiveness and unity-in-diversity. We can be conscious custodians of this unity and add to its diversity. Geomancy re-unites with nature. We need to re-unite ourselves constantly in the knowledge that we are not separate from our environment, and affirm the unity by serving the Whole and living in harmony with the Whole.
The Tao, the Truth and the Way, permeates nature and ourselves in an interconnected, inseparable Whole. The Tao is the Whole in action. Holiness is nothing more than Wholeness; and what could be more Holy than living Wholly, being Whole and participating as the Whole for the Whole? The world and I move together. The world moves me, as I move the world. We move together in one great pattern and field of Being. We reflect each other. We are never alone. The world is my reality and I help make up the reality of the world. I come out of the collective mind of this world and I help re-create it through my conscious understanding of myself and expression make of this.
I discover myself in the world, as the world reflects this discovery back to me. I find wonder and mystery in the ocean, the land and in the stars above, because I know inside that this is the mystery of where I come from and the mystery of who I am. The earth is a living being. In fact, it is my being. The earth is alive with intelligence and love, an intelligence and love that is greater than I can comprehend. I know that this is my real teacher and it is possible to assimilate more of this great intelligence and love within myself.
The possibility for assimilating this great mind-body-being within oneself is dependent upon ones willingness to study, to surrender in love and to intentionally serve this life and planet of which one is a part. Study is of course not just intellectual, but is a growing communion and communication with the planet. It is forming a harmonious, working relationship with the Whole. It is an evolving intimacy with nature and those around us.
We must become intimately involved with nature and our surroundings. This is the beginning of contemplation, and the beginning of real communication and relationship. We must bring our hearts into it, and surrender our being into the mystery with deep humility in the midst of such grandeur. We need to be quiet in ourself, in order to listen and hear. It is an intimate love affair with the creation, in the knowledge that it is truly our self that is known. We need to slow down toward a stillness inside, in order to really listen and see. We must be patient and wait upon the experience of love and communion to settle within.
We must allow our hearts and minds to be vulnerable to the power of the beauty before us, open to the magnitude and sensuality of the experience, the raw sensory perception, until finally we are one with this living beingness, where by we have truly assimilated the quality of this communion and have come into recognition of the One Presence within together.
One needs to be free inside, free of thought, fantasy and desire, in order to freely move in stillness with nature. One needs to be free of the limited egocentricity, which can only think of itself and what it might get from something. One cannot discover the real world of nature, let alone commune with her, if one is thinking. We must lose ourselves in the contemplation, be willing to die within the greater Truth, in order to re-emerge and realize a greater beingness. A letting go of the mind is necessary, so that we may come to be still, in peace, blending our being with the beauty in front of us.
We are re-uniting ourselves, coming home and being at home with. We allow ourselves to come into the rhythm and unique harmony of this beauty, until we are completely alone together, and the sounds and movements are lost in the silence and stillness of the moment, which is eternal, that is until we start thinking again. It is an experience of wholeness, unity and love.
Do not deny the use of the intellect or analysis. Perceiving the different aspects of a situation or natural phenomena is a necessary part of study. Yet communion with nature is even more vital to the meaning of being alive and a significant goal to reach. Observation is an art, which requires practice to develop into real contemplation, and hence real knowing.
In our conditioned way of observing there is a distance between us and the observed. We need this way of observing in most of our living experience; otherwise you may get run over or run into walls. But this is not the only way to observe life, and we have the potential to learn or re-learn a different way of observing which can be done at will. True understanding eliminates distance and separation. It is possible to eliminate the space between us and the observed, to be fully within the observed or allow the observed to be fully within us. This is how we can assimilate certain impressions within our psyche and develop our being.
The way to do this is to reverse space, allowing the impression to enter our mind and heart, then recognizing and assimilating the experience within. Enfold the observed within your being. The impression acquires meaning inside, when we can understand it with love and reverence. Understand it within. Love. Perceive and know with the heart. Make your mind an extension of your heart. The heart is the one who knows. The knowing of unity is in the mind, but the actual experience of unity is in the heart.
One observes by giving attention to the observed. It is both active and receptive, at once. It is not just looking around, seeing what we already “know” is there with a pre-conditioned mind, that can only really see its own concepts of an object. We must be empty of concepts to see what is really in front of us. We need to allow the raw, naked perception to enter our seeing. We need to allow the impression as it truly is to enter. This requires an alert receptivity.
We actively give attention, while receiving at the same time. We reverse space, as it were, allowing the impression to come to us, to communicate with us. We allow our self to be seen and spoken to. This is the beginning of recognition, and the life observed in this way awakens in the recognition that it is recognized as truly being alive. The life comes alive for us, because there is real receptivity to it as being alive.
We are there for it. Our hearts and minds are open to it, and this life rejoices in this recognition. It will then sing its heart song, communicate its understanding, and reveal its beauty to us....all because we are open to the love which awaits our recognition and loving receptivity. The inherent love within all life awaits the time when it is received with love, thus releasing the pain of loneliness through the expression of its being. Therefore, we do a great healing by consciously recognizing and receiving the life around us.
Through our love of nature, we can fully experience love as our essence. The creative environment of nature becomes our Teacher to help us to realize our self, by way of contemplation and communion with the beauty of our surroundings. The world is seen to be various expressions of the one great Beingness, the Source, the Creator. Each impression and contemplative experience is a quality or aspect of the One Being and our self. The One divides into the many unique expressions of Itself, and we recognize these unique qualities as hidden aspects of our self. We communicate with nature in the knowledge of this divine relationship and our common related unity.
We open our senses fully and
acquire a subtle feeling and knowingness of the beingness and
relationships around us. Our mind and heart become quiet, yet
involved with the focus of contemplation. We allow the feelings and
impressions of our study to come alive within us and be the
reflection of our being. Eventually in our contemplation, there is no
separation between ourselves and what we observe or sense. We feel
the surrounding beauty within and as one with our self. We take in
the beauty and intelligence of all that is here for us, becoming
complete with it, and feeling what was previously 'out there' to be
within, alive, and meaningful. This is a conscious communion, an
assimilation of our common body, our common divinity with the natural