31. ENTERING THE MIND OF NATURE
Let's sit down here, all of us, on the open prairie, where we can't see a highway or a fence. Let's have no blanket to sit on, but feel the ground with our bodies, the earth, the yielding shrubs. Let's have the grass for a mattress, experiencing its sharpness and its softness. Let us become like stones, plants, and trees. Let us be animals, think and feel like animals.... A good way to start thinking about nature, talk about it. Rather talk to it, talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the winds as to our relatives.
--John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions
In many indigenous cultures, like those of Native Americans, nature is seen as fully alive. Human awareness is but one of the many forms of intelligence that animate the landscape. The far-sightedness of the eagle; the serenity of a stone; the creativity of the spider spinning a universe in her web--if we but listen, we can hear and learn from all these other beings. The tribal shaman is an expert at this. He or she channels these natural powers to heal illness and keep the community in balance.
Through this game try to tap into this healing power. First, focus your attention on something in nature. This could be any animal, plant, or an aspect of the landscape like a lake, cloud, or rock. Choose carefully. Let your intuition guide you.
Next, grow sensitive to the subtleties of this being. For example, if working with a tree, you might run your hands along its rough bark, listen to its leaves rustling in the breeze, and admire the intricate pattern of its branches. Act as if this were the first time you've ever encountered this being.
Now, go one step further. Regard this being not just as an object, however fascinating, but as a subject with its own awareness. Put yourself into its place. What does it feel like to be this tree (or cloud, or duck, or river)? To have a root system digging into the moist earth while your arms thrust upwards toward the heavens? Does tree-time feel the same as human-time, or is it slower and cyclical? Explore this other consciousness from within.
Then ask yourself what it has to teach you. Imagine this being as your soul-guide, bearing messages of healing and balance. Are you meant to slow down like the patient tree? To put down stronger roots? To sway more flexibly with the winds of change so that you don't grow brittle and break? Listen to your teacher. Draw on its powers. Enter the mind of nature.
If you play this game for awhile, you might choose a new being to work with each day. In this way you can meet a host of friends--animal, vegetable, and mineral--each of which speaks to a different side of yourself.
You might, however, choose to stick mainly with one. A Native American tribe or shaman is often associated with a particular totem-animal. Perhaps you can discover your own totem, or at least one for this time in your life.
* Use your body. While this game is called "entering the mind of nature," don't forget to bring your body along. If you're working with a flower, feel your petals (hair or fingers) opening to the sun. If you're trying to commune with Fido, get down on all fours. The world looks very different when seen from a dog's eye view.
* Use art. A way to track and enhance your experience is to record it artistically. Say you're communing with the bird who nests outside your door. Try writing about bird-mind (perhaps in the first-person tense) through evocative prose or poetry. Or, if more your medium, try capturing the spirit in a watercolor, dance, or musical improvisation. (Don't worry about whether your artwork is "good enough." The focus here is on deepening awareness.)
* Use reminders, and the thing itself. In addition to your art, you can use other reminders to keep your natural being present. For example, if you've chosen to work with "the beach," you might keep a sea stone or a favorite beach photo on your desk. When stressed, play a tape of soothing ocean sounds. Of course, nothing beats the thing itself. Return to that beach (or tree, or whatever you've chosen) when in need of spiritual renewal.