Many of us are familiar with temples as places of quiet, worship, and transcendence. These sacred spaces, found in all cultures and faiths throughout the world—more ancient than recorded history—are essential to the human experience for good reason. Even for those of us who grew up without a particular faith tradition or experience of attending temple or church know that the essence of the temple is stillness.
The temple invites us to cast off the busyness of our ego so that we can access a much deeper and quieter inner voice.
Mary Oliver speaks to this seemingly radical experience of stillness in her poem, Today:
“Today I’m flying low and I’m / not saying a word / I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. / The world goes on as it must, / the bees in the garden rumbling a little, / the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. / And so forth. / But I’m taking the day off. / Quiet as a feather. / I hardly move though really I’m traveling / a terrific distance. / Stillness. One of the doors / into the temple.”
Nature is a doorway into the temple of our own Self. By spending time in nature—whether it is a park, deep in the wilderness of the Rockies, or our own backyard and garden—we allow ourselves the opportunity for quiet reflection just as people have done in physical temples for thousands of years.
Observing plants and the movement of critters, listening to the tune of a birdsong or low hum of insects, paying attention to the colors of a sunset... evoke a sense of stillness in our body, heart and mind. In stillness we return to our Self.
Time in nature beckons a natural state of mindfulness and attention to subtlety. Without technology, other people, and the demands of keeping up with all that we are balancing, we discover how simple and natural it is to drop into a state of profound attention to our internal landscape. As the chatter and noise of the world hushes we become aware of the dialogue unfolding in our own mind.
Drawing upon mindfulness in nature is a powerful marriage of two deeply healing practices.
If you have never experienced nature as a temple for self-discovery, I highly encourage you to begin with a simple five-minute exercise of “seeing” or “hearing” in order to become more in tune with your surroundings. By bringing awareness to your breath, the sensation of the sun, the breeze on your skin, and the sound of birdsong, you you might notice how the mind wants to interpret, become critical and make judgments. Notice how it begins to categorize and criticize elements of the present moment. When you continue to bring your attention to the patterns, shapes, colors, sounds, and movements just as they are, notice your tendency to label things, removing you from the immediacy of the present.
As you do this practice over and over, you will find that you can become more comfortable resting in the present where you can fully receive the natural world around you. In this space, you will begin to discover a reality that was previously hidden and more of who you truly are.
As Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”