Christian Reifsteck, Standing Stones Healing Co.
Nature as an element of spirituality is ageless and global, and across all cultures and during all times, nature has been a focal point of spirituality. But in our modern society, we increasingly spend our time indoors in self-imposed cages without even opening a window. We too frequently lock ourselves away from enjoying the gifts of nature. Indeed, we ignore it, fear it, and disrespect it without fully acknowledging its necessity to our existence.
A home is a shelter from the elements, but often serves in our culture to shut us off from such spiritually stimulating things as wind, rain, grass, and sky. In our climate-controlled, electrically-driven, and electronically-laden spaces, we too often shut our doors, shut our windows, and shut ourselves off from nature, from the source of life, and therefore from ourselves.
Adding to the disconnection is that it can be a true challenge for the majority of the population, particularly those living in large cities without personal transportation, to escape to a place where you can’t see or even hear cars rushing by. But retreating into large natural spaces is not the only way we can access nature. Here are three tips for the urbanite for connecting with nature and connecting with your soul:
1. Recognize your connectedness to nature.
Reconnecting with nature begins with recognizing our connectedness to it, both physically and spiritually. We are never really separate from nature, since we are of and from the earth: nature is always within us. In her book How to Find God in Everything, Amoda Maa Jeevan writes, “From the stars in the sky to the soil beneath our feet and from the air that we breathe to the blood in our veins, we are all made up of the same stuff. [ . . . ] We are related to every animal, tree, plant, river and stone that has ever existed. Our spiritual roots are deeply embedded in the Earth.”
Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in: “we are related to every animal, tree, plant, river and stone that has ever existed.” What an absolute miracle! You have come from a big bang, and everything was nothing but a dot at the beginning. If we all have the same one source, then, even from a scientific standpoint, we truly are related to all things.
And whether we realize it or not, nature is an inseparable part of our existence and therefore a spiritual source. Indeed, how can our spiritual roots not be deeply embedded in the Earth when our very life depends upon natural processes? Being aware of our dependence on nature is vital to reconnecting with it. This can be a greater challenge for city-dwellers, who seem to have less nature surrounding them, but tip number two will help.
2. Embrace the nature that surrounds you.
Though we may live in urban or even suburban areas that don’t contain what we typically think of as “nature,” or stretches of natural space, nature surrounds us, and we can grow more aware of our inherent connection to it. So even if our natural encounters are limited, we can embrace the nature that surrounds us. As Joseph Cornell writes in Listening to Nature, “it isn’t where we are that’s important—rather, it’s how deeply we are able to see and experience, no matter where we are.”
If nature is all around us, then it doesn’t matter where we are, but rather whether or not we pay attention to it. By turning our awareness to nature, we will find it all around us. Pay attention to the smallest pieces of nature in your midst. Open a window to feel the breeze or hear bird song. Appreciate the tree across the street. Walk down to the city park or visit a botanical garden. You can even check out a cemetery. As creepy as it might sound, the chances are good that there will be grass and maybe even a tree or two.
Having an awareness of the nature that surrounds us, even in the smallest ways, and a deeper appreciation of our connection to nature can result in a deepening of our spirituality and greater spiritual awareness.
3. Cultivate nature.
Nature is everywhere, and where we cannot find it, we can cultivate it, from planting curbside wildflowers to a balcony garden to our own little houseplant. As Jim PathFinder Ewing says in Finding Sanctuary in Nature, “Although the stereotype of nature is a wilderness scene, wherever we might be, whether in a rural area or the most populated city, nature is all around, as well as within, us.” We may believe that nature is only found in vast landscapes of uninhabited space, but it’s also found “in backyards, vacant city lots, and even garden rooms or potted plants in homes or office interiors.”
You can begin to appreciate nature from the confines of your home by welcoming nature into your own space. Start with getting a plant, whether bought, borrowed, or pulled from the garbage. (Yes, I have done this.) Caring for houseplants allows us to bring nature into our homes. Something as simple as an herb on a windowsill gives us the opportunity to connect with, appreciate, and care for nature.
From there, you may be inspired to create a balcony garden or place planters in your parking lot or turn a small patch of dirt into a tiny garden. You may even be inspired to create a community garden in a lot full of weeds. As we know from weeds in sidewalk cracks, plants can grow in the smallest of spaces. Get inspired to harness this power of nature in creative ways.
No matter how you tap into nature in the city, a deeper connection to nature is a deeper connection to your soul. All religious traditions across the globe, from Ireland to Tibet to the American plains to the Amazon, have linked spirituality and nature. As spiritual author Thomas Moore says, “nature feeds the spiritual life as nothing else can.”
This feeding of the soul is best experienced in wide natural areas, where there are few cars, no electronic services, little human-generated noise, and the rhythms of the earth dominate. Such natural areas are not accessible to everyone, though, and even urbanites can take steps to reconnect with nature. The more we flex our awareness and appreciation muscles for nature, the more we’ll notice the nature that surrounds us on a daily basis, the more we’ll connect with it, and the more we’ll connect with ourselves.