I’ve long been a disciple of yoga. So three years ago, when during my annual birthday Tarot card reading, the reader proclaimed that “working with nature was to be my soul work now” – I was skeptical. But it turns out the cards were right. Because while I haven’t left yoga behind, it has led me to a new path, one in which the “body divine” is a body awake and in active communion with nature.
Arriving to this place took years. Because as yoga brought me ever deeper into my body, I began to discover a deeper place within myself. One that was vast but comforting, sometimes light, sometimes dark, but always peaceful and steadying. 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 outdoors.
For example, during dog walks and hikes in local woodlands and hills, I became increasingly conscious of how my body “felt”. In particular, I began to be aware of a bubbly sweet sensation that would rise up from my tummy into my chest. This tingly suffused feeling I realized — was happiness!
I began to cultivate this ‘good energy’ like prana or qi, breathing 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. From my limbs, skin, bones, heart and cells, I could feel how the ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ was also flowing through me. Learning to “see” with the eyes of my body, reawakened my senses —and I realized 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 single creature.
How had I ever become so disconnected from this essential nature of reality -ananda or divine bliss – in the first place? Well for a start, little in yoga (or society) supports our relationship to nature. We practice indoors on mats that shield us from the earth, live in artificial technological environments and eat industrially manufactured foods. Cut off from the rhythms of the seasons, the phases of the moon, tides, changing foliage and weather, is it any wonder we’ve come to see nature as separate from us, existing outside our house walls and city streets?
And when our current scientific materialist paradigm (which divides spirit from matter) tells us that the cosmos, earth, trees, waters and animals, are nothing more mechanistic processes empty of soul, nature is rendered a “resource” to be used as we see fit. And as the desecration of old growth forests, the appropriation of indigenous lands and national parks for industry, the pollution of our oceans, the chemical poisoning of our fields, the death of bees and extinction of species, continues unabated, it is clear we have forgotten a vital 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? And so I’ve come to be believe in an important tenet of “deep ecology”—the idea it will take more than environmental laws to achieve true sustainability. We need to re-establish our personal and spiritual connection with the earth.
And so my new path is the age-old practice of bhakti, an offering of my love, devotion and protection, to the divine embodied in nature – and all of us. My work with wild foods, plants, herbalism and wildcrafting seeks to reconnect us directly with our great mother, the earth, because it is her body that is source of all life and sustenance.
And it’s why, when it comes to yoga, I’ve been developing a new plant and earth based practice that seeks to bring us into “healing harmony” with numinous cycles of growth, rest, and regeneration that govern all life on this planet. Because in this painful time of ecological crisis, when I see all I love desecrated, this yoga of ananda or divine bliss – gives me the faith and spiritual backbone I need to stand strong.
In my last Tarot 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 she told me to get back to the woods and continue doing whatever I was doing there – and I’m listening.