In search of connection, purpose, and a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, more and more individuals are turning to nature. Let’s know more about the spirituality in nature.
Take a minute to learn about the origins of nature-based rituals and the indigenous peoples that came before you, though, before you shout the spiritualism’s praises and describe how it has improved your life.
Spirituality in nature
Perhaps this has happened to you: You’re hiking in a forest when beams of sunlight break through the trees, warming your skin. Suddenly, you realize that you are a living thing and a component of the environment around you. You must have got an idea about spirituality in nature.
Or you climb a mountain and are in awe of the view below and how nature repeatedly reveals itself to be a metaphor for life.
In order to change your perspective and notice transformation, you must overcome physical and mental challenges.
This is true whether it be with regard to the weather or the people you are in relationships with.
Alternately, you can sow seeds in your garden, care for the soil and watch them grow before picking the finished result in awe of the earth that provided for your dinner.
Nature is the ideal sacred location if you’re looking for spiritual connection without being bound by religious dogma. And you can find it everywhere, whether it’s in Muir Woods or your kitchen’s herb garden.
Here are a few things to think about regarding the origins of nature-based spiritualism and how you can practice it without appropriation and injury, before you leap into the river for a nature-based baptism or sit in quiet under a tree like Siddhartha.
Western Environmental Spirituality’s Origins
Explorers in the West discovered beautiful moments in remote wilderness during the 17th and 18th centuries.
They discussed it in writing, told tales, or created famous, dreamy paintings of locations like Yosemite Valley.
But the ethos of John Calvin, René Descartes, and other philosophers and religious figures who thought the natural world was full of sin (like the Garden of Eden) and apart from us—something to be controlled and conquered or watched from a distance—remains ingrained in their perceptions.
Then, in the early 19th century, writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who was profoundly influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism, popularized the notion of immersion and lived experience in nature as a means of connecting to something greater—something spiritual.
Thoreau and other transcendentalists were changing the Western view of nature and making spiritualism far more approachable. They were also artists, writers, abolitionists, and activists on journeys of self-exploration and self-transformation.
To communicate with God, the universe, or a divine presence, you were no longer required to visit a church.
The torch was carried up in the middle of the 20th century by beat poets like Gary Snyder, who emphasized our non-dual relationship with nature by referencing creation tales from diverse indigenous tribes (an effort he won the Pulitzer for).
The blending of religion, Eastern philosophy, and the natural world was interesting and fruitful, but there was also one very obvious and harmful omission: the acknowledgment and identification of the indigenous peoples and customs that existed before to colonization.
Cultural appropriation and Indigenous Lands
The fundamental roots of nature-based spiritualism in America—the ritualized activities and connections that native people had with the land—were not discussed by Thoreau, Snyder, or many other influential persons in the West.
Rarely, if ever, did the transcendentalists and beat poets realize that Walden, Yosemite, and practically every other location they referenced in their writings about nature were on unceded territory.
The people who lived on American soil before Thoreau and Snyder were fully integrated into a non-dual existence with the natural world, in contrast to the Buddhist and Hindu traditions that Thoreau and Snyder drew inspiration from.
According to Dr. Devin Zuber, associate professor of American Studies, Religion, and Literature at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, “as wonderful and inter-religious and transnational as it is for Eastern religious traditions to provide a lens onto the Sierra Nevada, it amplifies a problem.”
It demonstrates a failure to recognize the presence of the native population, which has existed here for thousands of years.
According to Zuber, when John Muir came upon Yosemite Valley, he thought he had unearthed a lost Eden. The valley was lush and green, covered in old oaks.
He was unaware of the tens of thousands of years of indigenous horticulture and forest gardening that had shaped that environment.
According to Zuber, although it appeared to Muir to be virgin wilderness, it was actually meticulously crafted by a religious system that interacted with nature.
Native American tribes like the Southern Sierra Miwok were forcibly pushed out of natural areas like Yosemite Valley by settlers in order to make way for pioneer towns and, in some cases, the American national park system.
Unlocking the Advantages of Nature-Based Spirituality and Decolonizing
According to Dr. Rita Sherma, founding director and associate professor of the Center for Dharma Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, practicing responsible nature-based spirituality begins with acknowledging the unceded territory and history of the land you’re on.
You can then start to understand the divine ancestral presence in nature and how it links us all.
If you don’t have access to natural settings, you can still respect indigenous cultures and deepen your spirituality by cultivating indoor plants or spending time in city parks.
Zuber continues, “Growing things in gardens can be rooted and honor individuals who have been on the land for ages.
“That feeling of receiving a gift, such as food or the beauty of a flower you helped grow, or recalling your connection to the people, animals, and plants around you, can serve as a conduit.
To have a revelation, you don’t need to march to Yosemite and treat it like a climate gym.
The crucial element in having a spiritual experience is the sense of community.
Theology of the land and wilderness spirituality can become beacons, leading us toward a sense of belonging to the stunning landscape of America and a sense of purpose that gives life meaning, according to Sherma, if we can move beyond individual ambitions to shared visions.
She thinks that our relationship with nature has the ability to alter us on the inside and out, giving us the optimism we need to make a difference in the world.
Learn More About Spiritual Greening
You may learn more about nature-based and environmental spiritualism by listening to Sherma on the Talk Healthy Today podcast [LINK] and by taking the four-part online course Greening Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union.
You will be guided through a thorough history of Eastern influences on American environmental spirituality, including its linkages to Buddhism and Hinduism and its interactions with indigenous traditions in this nation, by instructors Rita Sherma, PhD, and Devin Zuber, PhD.
This course examines the various ways that the natural world has been envisioned and experienced through embodied practices and creative acts throughout American history.
Particular attention is paid to Native American and Dharma traditions, the elemental potencies of wilderness (and wildness), and how the sanctification of natural spaces has come to resemble a type of civic religion.