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  • Levi Ben-Shmuel

Who Do You Love?


Photo by Solundir


I love being in nature. I have been fortunate to have lived in parts of the world where I had easy access to spectacularly beautiful places. When I lived in Bay Area, Lake Tahoe, famous for its pristine clear water and cobalt blue color, was a few hours drive way. This beloved lake is in trouble. The lake’s woes are a stark reminder of our tragic disconnect from the natural world.


In a recent newsletter, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote about our centuries-old destructive relationship to the land. In it, he quoted Cherokee descendant Randy Woodley who spoke of the difference between how native people and Westerners view their relationship to nature:


The very land itself meant something quite different to the newcomer than it did to the host people. Something was missing. The difficulty, as the Natives saw it, was with the settlers themselves and their failure to tread lightly, with humility and respect, on the land. The settlers wanted to live on the land, but the host people lived with the land. Living on the land means objectifying the land and natural resources and being shortsighted concerning the future. Living with the land means respecting the natural balance.


To Indigenous peoples, the problems of a Western worldview are obvious. The way of life demonstrated by Western peoples leads to alienation from the Earth, from others, and from all of creation. This lifestyle creates a false bubble called “Western civilization,” which people in the West think will protect them from future calamity. This false hope is detached from all experience and reality.


How do we avoid the impending disaster brought on by a settler lifestyle of living on the land and against nature? The answer is simple: we learn to live with nature.


As I wrote in my last post, the wisdom traditions of Ayurveda and Taoism also see no separation from us and the natural world. Our health and well-being is inextricably tied together with it; as nature goes we go and as we go nature goes. From this point of view, when we destroy the natural world we are destroying ourselves.


It breaks my heart to think that beloved places, like Lake Tahoe, are in trouble. The shift we need to make to stop its degradation, and much more, is not radical. As with so much of life, the key factor is our state of consciousness.


One way to help make the shift is taking time in nature. In addition to taking in the beauty of the natural world with our eyes, Ayurveda recommends using all our senses to experience nature and consciously reconnect to the deep truth that we one and the same.


For me, some of my most transcendent moments have come in nature. A spectacular natural scene has the power to do what a dedicated meditation practice hopes to achieve; quieting the mind to such a degree that your consciousness shifts away from the concerns of your ego to the expansive quiet of your soul. In that shift, the separation we typically perceive between ourselves and the natural world can vanish.


While on a trip to India, Nepal, and Tibet, I trekked a few days in Nepal on the Annapurna Circuit. One afternoon, we stopped at a small village named Ghorepani. Towering over the village was Dhaulagiri I, the 7th highest mountain in the world at 26,795 feet. I stood on a road for hours in the freezing cold transfixed by the otherworldly site of that magnificent mountain. My normal consciousness was blown away. It felt like I was merging into the distant mountain. The experience was so deep and so satisfying it is hard to put into words.


You don’t have to travel across the planet to experience your deep connection to the natural world. It can be found anywhere whether in a house plant, gardening, a tree outside your window, rain drops, or with your pet.


When we open our hearts and minds to the wonders of nature, we embark on a journey of connection, healing, and renewal. When was the last time you consciously spent time with nature? The next time you do, give all your attention to it. See how deep you can go and where it will take you. I have a feeling you will not be disappointed.

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