This article was originally written for The Dragontree
A professor of mine once admonished me to stop reading books. “Throw them away!” this burly Iranian man growled. The thing is, I love books. I love the typefaces and bindings and the smell of the pages. I admire how they look on a shelf. When I pass my own collection of books, I nearly always feel a sense of eagerness. Books have shaped the way I think and feel, and they have undeniably altered the course of my life.
So, I bristled at his advice. But I pondered it nonetheless. What he was saying, really, was that I could never learn how to heal from a book, and more importantly, that I could never come to truly understand the human condition through books. He wanted me to be with people without thinking so much – instead, just feeling and listening. Foremost, though, he wanted me to go outside.
He was guiding my instruction in healing people, but he insisted that my primary teacher was going to be Nature. I capitalized that last word because I think it deserves to be capitalized. If you consider the other things we capitalize – brands, people and places, days of the week and the names of months, organizations, languages, and races – isn’t Nature worthy being in that list? It’s just, you know, everything.
This was the beginning of my experiencing Nature in a way I hadn’t before. Before then, I tended to go through periods in which the outside world was essentially just the space surrounding the human structures and activities that were the focus of my life. It was scenery, and I could feel rather removed from it.
But I started to approach the natural world with the reverence I imagined Native Americans or the Daoist sages of ancient China did. When we live closer to the land and more at the mercy and grace of the seasons, I think it’s easier to recognize that the world isn’t a human thing surrounded by a bit of Nature. No, it’s an unfathomable ALL with a tiny bit of human in it. It birthed us, it sustains us, and it’s the source of the greatest wisdom and deepest connection we can know.
This connection is regarded as an optional thing these days. Communing with nature is nice if you just ate some psychedelic mushrooms, but it’s a mere detour for those of us who look to the human realm for all our fulfillment. While I think people can survive without it, I have noticed that a lack of connection makes us unbalanced creatures.
Books aren’t really the impediment. It would be closer to say it’s our electronic devices, but even that’s not quite true. What we’re immersed in instead of the splendor of Nature is just a symptom of this disconnection. Honestly, and happily, we’re not really disconnected from Nature. We’re just oblivious to the connection. But down in our DNA, which is mostly the same DNA as every other living thing, we know what we’re part of, and we understand why it’s dubbed “Mother” in so many cultures.
So, let us humble ourselves before Nature’s majesty, and recognize the part of us that is nourished by her. I used to see a bumper sticker all over Portland that said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” and I thought, how sad that we should aspire to be outraged. Instead, I say, if you’re not fascinated, you’re not paying attention. Go be fascinated.
Dr. Peter Borten