“From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of things.”
–Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse
I quietly walked along the water’s edge. Small clumps of wildflowers beckoned me closer. A whole new world emerged – dozens of small bees frenetically traveled from blossom to blossom. Ants formed orderly lines in and out of their underground kingdoms. A fish swam hurriedly from the shore toward the safety of deeper waters. I bent down to touch the crunchy leaves and cool soil and I marveled at this interconnected world of nature. For a moment, I felt part of it.
We are all invited to witness and be part of nature’s bounty whenever we want. My experience occurred as part of my activities facilitating session 5 of my Mindfulness & Meditation class. It was a magical place and a magical experience as we first learned how to engage in a walking meditation and then combined it with techniques of “nature meditation.” Our group walked across the street from our class location to a park that surrounds a large pond teeming with geese, ducks, and birds. The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny and in the 70’s. When we shared our various experiences, I couldn’t help but notice how differently we all experienced mindful walking and interactions with nature. One participant focused on the sounds of the geese, while another reveled in the aromas and velvety feel of the rose blossoms. Still another shared her experience of slowing down and hearing sounds she had not noticed before.
While a nature meditation is, by its very “nature,” positive, we also experienced something that provoked a number of us to have negative reactions. One of the participants, (I’ll call her “Ann”) walked up to a tree during her meditation experience. Right away, she noticed that someone had carved a racist message and a swastika into the bark of the tree. During our sharing, she brought us all over to the tree to see the message. Our individual reactions varied from disbelief, to sadness, to anger. What I found most interesting was Anne’s reaction. She explained to us that as a former middle school teacher, she encountered many pre-adolescent boys who seemed fascinated with the swastika. She said that she never understood why this age group of boys shared this preoccupation, but she saw it over and over again. Her conclusion was that this tree was probably defaced by a young boy or group of boys. She was less concerned by who did it and why than she was about personally visiting the local Department of Parks and Recreation to see if someone could deal with the damage.
Ever since this experience, I find myself returning over and over again to Anne’s way of dealing with the message on the tree. While the rest of us expressed our negative feelings, Anne chose instead to focus her energy on a positive way of addressing it. When Anne told us about her observations of young boys’ fascination with the swastika, we were indignant and judgmental. Anne was not judgmental; rather, she was matter-of-fact. This former middle-school teacher taught us a powerful lesson in mindfulness. Much like how we use the RAIN formula in meditation, we can use the same approach to mindfully handle difficult emotions and thoughts in our everyday lives. Anne seemed to use the RAIN formula to handle the tree message:
R: Recognition. Anne recognized that what she saw written on the tree might possibly be connected to her experience as a middle-school teacher. Instead of reacting and dwelling on negative feelings and thoughts, she listened to what her heart told her she had to do.
A: Acceptance. Anne was willing to be present with the reality of “what is”, instead of a natural sense of aversion and wishing unpleasant thoughts would go away. While I don’t know exactly how Anne processed her thoughts, it seemed from the look on her face that she was in a place of “let it be;” enabling her to smooth out the edges of her negative experiences with similar experiences in her past as a teacher. This ability can help any of us to relax our defenses and open up to what comes next.
I: Investigation. Like Anne, we all desire to know the truth about our inner experience. “What is happening with me right now?” “What most needs attention?” “What does this feeling need most from me?” It is easy to judge ourselves and it will take time to allow gentleness with ourselves to open the door to freedom and healing. Anne showed that she has traveled this path in a powerful way.
N: Non-Identification. Freedom means that our identity isn’t defined by our limited set of emotions, thoughts or “stories.” Anne’s self-awareness allows her to live mindfully and fully aligned with her values. It seemed easy and natural to her as she resolved what she would do next.
On the Grasshopper and Cricket by John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.