I’ve always been a city-dweller and nature-lover. Not a nature-lover as someone in sandals to be made fun of, but really receiving solace and power from natural spaces. Before my ‘official’ awakening, Nature was my main source of a greater reality. Today, I continue to have deep reverence for her and speak on her behalf on this blog, and in various avenues of activism.

This isn’t about granola. It’s about humanity’s symbiotic relationship with Nature. Nature was here first. Planet Earth is Nature. There was only earth to walk on before cobblestones and later concrete and asphalt. We accept that roads and tall buildings are our normal environment; that’s all we’ve known. But what’s under our feet?

When we’re in a parking lot, our thoughts aren’t about what was there before (a meadow, a stream). Our thoughts are about, “Is she leaving so I can park closer?” When we enter a structure of glass and steel we don’t think, “I wonder if there was a stand of trees here?” We think, “I hope the line isn’t long at the bank.”

We are disconnected from our home. Not the one with a mortgage, but the one that enlivens us and is one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever had the privilege to receive.

Reverence, love and gratitude for Nature has also been part of all the enduring teachings we have had access to throughout history.

In an attempt to get closer to Japanese culture and thinking so that my understanding and passing on of Reiki is enhanced and grounded, I started reading a delightful book:

Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth by Stuart D. B. Picken.

Shinto is Japan’s native spirituality, born of the earth. It was there before Buddhism and permeates Japanese society even today. It’s a nature-based teaching and practice that is accessible to everyone. I want to share the very clear lens on Nature that’s available through this natural tradition.

In Shinto, observation (kannagara) is the first step. Picken writes:

Look at nature, looking beyond either its beauty or the scars caused by human activity. Ponder anew the mystery of creation, growth, and sustenance, as well as nature’s capacity to to heal and renew. Wonder at the infinity of the cosmos. the myriad of stars and planets, and the unique position of the earth that permits the delicate balance for life to exist. Consciousness of the great flow of the cosmos is awareness of kannagara, the movement of the divine within us and around us. Observation with an open mind helps purify our vision.

There are specific meditations in Shinto which Picken presents as “litanies” that he has written specifically for his book. There’s such truth and inspiration in these passages, and unfortunately I can only quote a few, and excerpts at that.

“In Shinto rituals, earth is the most basic of the elements. Earth is celebrated in all its fairness and beauty and in its power to feed and support life through growth and development.”

Think of how earth was conceived of as a mother and revered for her fertility, her abundant gifts, and her ability to nurture and support life

Shinto took its clues from everything around, which before industrialization was all natural. If it was there in such beauty, power and self-existent, it had to be sacred. Therefore, Shinto is non-conceptual. It’s the spirituality of place. And one of the major elements of Japanese ‘places’ is all the great waterfalls of these islands. Waterfalls are used as misogi, purification.

“Let us think of the waterfall as a concentration of beauty, power, and energy united in endlessly renewing flow.”

The Litany of the River includes many truths: “Identity amid impermanence is what gives a rivers its name.”

“In the depth and width, the river reminds us of the difficult expanses of life that must be traversed.”

Trees are greatly honored. A shimenawa (thick twisted rope) is tied around trunk to show its sacredness.

Trees teach us about growth

They also stand for shelter

They are, like water, living organisms

Ponder the meaning of growth and development

Think of how we know nature through our senses, our eyes, our taste, our sense of smell and touch, our awareness and deep intuitions

Stones, wind and lightening, and fire also have litanies in Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth, the reading of which alone brings one closer to the natural environment that is still our home, despite pervasive and intrusive technology.

The final litany in the book is dedicated to mountains. From a Reiki perspective it’s revealing to learn that Tendai monks had a discipline called Sen-nichi-kai-ho-gyo: Running 1000 days around the peaks of Mt. Hiei “to extend and enrich the human capacities.”

Think of the idea of ascent for purification and enlightenment to a sacred place for communion with the divine

. . . Think of how it remains unchanged yet changes its mantle with the seasons

Think of it as the home of life, the source of the river, and the shelter from the winds

The way these litanies move you to a new appreciation of our lost connection with Nature is remarkable. The book’s core message is found in these two sections which are repeated in all the litanies:

Our senses have been dulled and dimmed, and we see earth not as the environment of our life, but as a tool to be used

Our senses are blind to its mystery and meaning

Our senses need purification that will enable us to see nature as our teacher and guide

And:

In opening ourselves to nature, in seeking its purification, and in hearing what it has to teach us, may we find enlightenment as we share in the fusion of ourselves with the universe that brings us back to the divine that is within the human

The final question for all of us, as Picken puts it so clearly is: “The worlds of the sociosphere and the biosphere seem very far apart. Can they meet?”

They must meet.

The Spirituality of Nature