I’ve long been a disciple of yoga. But a few years ago a Tarot card reading told me what I’d come to suspect – that working with nature was my soul work now. Arriving to this place took years, because as yoga slowly returned me to my body, I began to discover another place within myself. One that was vast but comforting, sometimes dark, sometimes light, but always peaceful and steadying.
As I learned how to more easily ground in this inner space, I began to sense and feel things that could not be put into words, but held my attention, wanting to be named. This I noticed happened most often in nature. Walking outdoors amongst the woodlands and hills, my body would respond, breathing would slow and deepen, my spirits would lift, and a kind of bubbly sweet sensation would burble in my tummy and rise to my chest. This tingly suffused feeling I realized — was happiness!
I decided to cultivate this ‘good energy’ like prana or qi, and began to breathe mindfully fanning the flame. Then like Alice I would feel myself grow taller and lighter, my senses sharpening. I saw the tiny puddles of sun illuminating the incandescent ferns on the forest floor, the tumbling whirling activity of insects and bees, I could hear in sharp relief the songs of the birds, and the sounds of the wind as it rippled through leaves. And all this beauty filled me further, leading at moments to a kind of ecstasy.
Yoga’s gift was to bring me to this place. Learning to “see” with the eyes of my body, awakened my senses — I began to feel once again. And what I felt in nature was love, a deep reverence for the life that shone in every drop of dew, every blade of grass, and every creature. This was a revelatory experience. An epiphany of a spiritual truth that rung true to my bones. Because my body knew, without a shadow of doubt, I was in the presence of the sacred.
The holiness of nature was a vital spiritual truth for our ancestors – but Descartes’s division of spirit from matter spelled the final death knell of the old religions. The earth, trees, waters and animals were no longer living embodiments of the divine, but mechanistic processes empty of soul. And it is thus that nature became separate from us, existing outside our house walls and city streets, a resource to be used for the extraction of minerals, the building of houses and cities, capital and wealth.
Today we live in artificial environments shielded from the weather, the seasons, the cycles of the moon, the rise and fall of tides. Cut off from our bodies experience of nature, the desecration of old growth forests, the appropriation of indigenous lands and national parks for industry, the chemical poisoning of our fields and the genetic manipulation of foods, the death of bees and extinction of species, continues unabated. Clearly, we’ve forgotten another ancient truth – we are all one. Whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.
I’ve spent much time pondering why so many of us – me included – can go on with our days as usual when we know the forests are falling all around us. Because if we truly loved nature, with all our heart and soul – would this continue to happen? Reconnecting with nature is an important tenet of “deep ecology”—the idea it will take more than environmental laws to achieve true sustainability. Before ecological healing can occur, we need to re-establish our personal connection with the earth.
And so I see my new path. To awaken to the old ways and wisdom of nature, to practice and teach a yoga that reawakens us to the rhythms of the earth, to the divine embodied in nature – and all of us. This is the age-old practice of bhakti, an offering of love, devotion and protection, a promise to honour the spirit of the land.
I see my work with plants, herbalism and wildcrafting as a methodology for coming into conscious alignment with the numinous cycles of growth, death and regeneration that drive all life on this planet. The ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ flows through all of us. Awakening to this union with the essential nature of reality – ananda, or divine bliss – gives me the spiritual backbone I need to stand strong.
In my last card reading, my work with yoga was shown in a card filled with a large blazing fire and women dancing and leaping. This card I was told, was one of culmination, of joy and celebration. Then the reader drew another card showing a dark cave in a forest grove surrounded by wild animals. A large “shining skull” illuminated the scene. But she said, your true soul work lies somewhere deep in the mysteries of nature. And this time I’m listening.
3 Comments Add yours
Very well written 🙂
Thank you for expressing so eloquently your experience, which mirrors mine.
For me nature and yoga are inseparable, the wondor of becoming more embodied reawakened me also to the wondors surrounding me, is this what the union so often mentioned in yoga is all about?
I hope yoga can bring more people back to nature, to our connection to Mother Earth and our responsibility to nurture her as well as ourselves 🙏
If I might offer a thought or two:
Perhaps, Danielle, you are crossing over from yoga to life. Yoga largely begins as an inward journey in the breath and increases our internal awareness. This approach has benefits but we all know some who emphasize the internal so much there may be difficulty adapting to what is beyond themselves. Perhaps this was what Krishnamacharya’s teacher was trying to get at when upon K’s “graduation” (having spent 10 years with his master) the teacher refused payment. Instead he requested his student to find a woman and have babies with her. There is nothing like a wife and kids that can make a man pull his head out of his ass and really “smell the roses.” (I am sure it works the other way as well but I have no experience that would give me the right to speak of that which I know not.)
Even during my completely indoor teaching career I never lost an interest in the natural world. The orientation goes back to having been in most every state park in Washington before the age of 16, willingly driven there by parents in the old blue Buick wagon towing a 17 foot Dalton trailer. Many years later upon retirement I had to time to reacquaint myself with the natural world other than just during days off and vacations. I started fly fishing, recapturing a long lost hobby and becoming more focused as to my place in life. For some reason I preferred rivers and streams over standing water in lakes. When attending the Yoga as Transformation San Francisco exhibit in April of 2014, I read that the two most favored nature spots of yogis had historically been the top of mountains, hills and the confluence of rivers.
So I think perhaps being a person is about exploring and experiencing both the inner world from within and the inner world from without. I remember one day on the Upper Columbia near Northport hearing the rise and fall of the river and never quite being able to figure out where what I thought I was hearing was coming from. My guide, Steve Bird, said, “Do you hear that rising and falling sound? That is coming from the river. It is breathing.”
Steve’s never done an asana in his whole life. He leaned back, rolled a smoke and inhaled deeply. Just then a rainbow the length of a 30 inch salmon rolled over the surface and took a whack at my fly. I froze. My breath stopped.
I looked over at Steve and we both had that look in our eyes of having seen a trout of mythical proportions attempting to swallow my fly.
He offered me a smoke he had rolled.
I took it and breathed deeply.
Your life is your mat and your practice is life.