Embodying Earth Energy

Embodying Earth Energy
by Shastri Donna Williams

“The human potential for intelligence and dignity is attuned to experiencing the brilliance of the bright blue sky, the freshness of green fields, and the beauty of trees and mountains,” CTR, Sacred Path of the Warrior.

I was teaching in Santiago Chile during March of 2017.  When I came back to Vermont, I reflected on how so many students had complained of the stress of living in the city. Often workers spend upwards of 10 hours a day at work and some 1.5 – 2 hours commuting. Shortly after my return, I came across a podcast/ interview with Florence Williams, the author of “the Nature Fix”. In this informative book, Ms. Williams discusses research into the healing power of nature both medically and psychologically.  A potent example: in South Korea, they have official healing forests, 34 are planned with their own interpretive nature guides.  Various maladies are hoped to be improved through time spent in these forests, (numerous biometrics are used to measure this)  from various autoimmune diseases, through cancer to high blood pressure, diabetes and other stress induced ailments.

Here in North America, psychologists are measuring the effects of natural environments on firefighters and others with PTSD, youths-at-risk, and other workers from high stress environments.  Some of the language used here is interesting.  Dr David Strayer, a professor at the University of Utah who studies Attention Restoration Theory, distinguishes 3 main networks in the brain, the executive network, the spatial, and the default network.  He posits that today’s brisk cultural and work environments rely heavily on the executive function, making decisions, creating lists of activities to complete, meeting deadlines, multi-tasking in general.  We rarely leave that realm and move into the default network which he describes as, our “free-ranging, day-dreaming, mind-wandering, flower child of the brain, thought to produce creativity, empathy and heights of insight.”

Strayer makes a case that the overuse of the executive function leads to exhaustion and stress. In various sections of Florence Williams’ book, nature is viewed as a smart pill that allows us to open up, to turn off the executive function and abide in this “default’ mode- a restorative reprieve.

Throughout my study of this book and others on the positive effects of the natural world, I was often reminded of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s writings about sacred world. In the chapter called “Discovering Magic” in Shambhala the Sacred Path of the Warrior, he writes: “if you are able to relax – to relax to a cloud by looking at it, relax to a drop of rain…You may see anything, a fly buzzing, you may see a snowflake, you may see ripples of water, but you can actually look at all of these things with simple and ordinary perception. You experience a vast realm of perceptions unfolding. There is unlimited sounds, sight, taste, feeling, and so on.  The realm of perception is limitless.”

Weaving together the restorative effects of nature with the above description of our perceptions, I’ve been developing a program working in nature with the senses and mindfulness practice. Here is an exercise that we can dip into during our workday to have a quick reprieve.

The restorative exercise:

Step away from your computer/ deskspace and go outside and stand in front of something green (or a potted plant inside, if going outdoors is untenable).   Feeling the ground under your feet, take several deep breaths, taking in the oxygen the plant/tree is providing and sharing your carbon dioxide with it. Focus on this exchange with a feeling of generosity and care for several minutes.

The next part is very simple, feel the gravity that is rooting us to the earth. While allowing our head to float up to the clouds, focus on the experience of gravity. Feel a weightiness in our arms at the elbows, our lower jaw, the backs of our knees.  Spend several minutes on this part.

Our body is sinking into the earth, relaxing and subtly connecting with the energy of our planet all the way down to its molten metallic core. (you could mentally envision some of the lava flows of the recent volcanic videos from Hawaii)  We are attached and letting go into this force. Imagine the pull of this core.  Our focus in on our body letting go.

After several minutes we can open our eyes and reorient ourselves.

To close this exercise, we come back up to our mutual respiration (the tree and us). Refreshed we have more carbon dioxide to share and can experience the aliveness of our body.

If possible, we can bow to our tree (ivy, potted plant).

I’ll be leading a program at Karme Choling,  July 6-8 on working with nature, our senses, and mindfulness meditation practice.  Embodying Earth Energy. https://www.karmecholing.org/program?id=6104.

Here is a photo from a workshop in October 2017, the sightless meal (on the stone table at the property of the late Vermont poet Galway Kinnell) -intimately experiencing the sense of taste.