Walking into the Open Arms of Nature

The modern human is an interesting creature. We tend toward elaborate ideas, intellectual discussions and complex solutions. We think the more sophisticated something is and the more it costs, the more value it must have.

Sometimes even when the answer to a simple problem is staring us right in the face we continue to search and think about where to find it, and we end up spending outrageous amounts of time or money in pursuing it. Of course, being a modern man, I am supremely guilty of this myself. My spiritual quest is a perfect example. After decades of searching through various parts of the world and spending untold amounts of money traveling and exploring diverse religions and philosophies, I finally discovered that the love and knowledge I was seeking had been right in front of me the entire time.

One of the most important lessons I have learned while walking the path of self-discovery is that the wisest teachers on the planet are not found in universities, holistic healing centers, monasteries or churches. They do not willingly participate in economic growth, nor are they trapped inside controlling facets of ego or human concerns. In fact, they aren't human at all. The wisest and most accessible teachers in the world can be found simply by looking directly into the visible face of the Spirit, into the timeless world of Nature.

The flowing matrix of life on this marvelous planet Earth contains an incalculably immense book of knowledge and insights that we tend to keep closed because of our modern pursuits and lifestyles. But this book can be easily opened, and the psychic numbness with which modern eco-psychologists have diagnosed us, can be chased away when we get out of our indoor environments and reclaim our sacred connection with the wild. The best course I have found for starting down this path is to humbly step into the world of Nature and re-learn how to walk. To learn to walk in a connected way with the natural forces and beings that comprise the natural world. To walk with attention and openness. To walk out of the modern world and back into the arms of our true provider and protector: Earth.

Walking in Nature is an endless school of mysteries, magic, and lessons to be learned with each step. The instructors in the school of walking are the forces of Nature: wind, water, sun, earth and fire, the energy of trees and animals, the wisdom contained in the cycles of life and death. By enrolling in this school we quickly learn that walking is the true form of movement that we have been given as members of the family of beings on Earth. Walking is an expression of our lives and a way to experience the sacred places on Earth and the spiritual mysteries of the wild. By walking in Nature we can look at our lives from a fresh perspective. While in communion with everything around us, we see clearly that we are but one voice in the grand chorus of Nature.

This knowledge of Nature as teacher is not new, it's just that modern people have forgotten this truth and need to re-learn it. My personal search of re-learning led me to the ancient tradition of the Huichol Indians of Mexico, whose core villages remain hidden and separate from the modern world. Their spiritual life is profoundly rich with Nature connecting rituals and ceremonies. However, what I learned the most from living with these indigenous people was not how to copy their traditions. What I learned was that because they have been able to preserve their ancient Earth-based traditions and life style, they have never forgotten how to walk with Nature. And from the very first moment of this realization I have tried to learn from Nature Herself how to walk in harmony and connection.

Sacred Walking for Beginners

There are countless insights and spiritual mysteries that can be experienced while walking focused on specific elements of the natural world. By combining the physical aspects of walking with the sacred elements of the natural world, it is possible to enter into heightened states of awareness, mental quietude and higher consciousness. This can be a catalyst for personal transformation, for healing wounds and for helping to develop reciprocity with all that surrounds us.

The specific techniques or practices for walking with Nature are as countless and varied as the elements of Nature themselves. What I usually do when sharing these practices with people is divide the practices into themes or groups in order to simplify the sharing process. Some of the themes include walking with attention, walking with others, walking in connection with the powers of Earth, and walking in connection with the energy of animals, trees, or specific places.

Count Three Walk

To illustrate, let's start with a walk of attention in Nature. The objective of a walk of attention is to place your whole attention on the special elements of the walk while you are outdoors in a natural setting. In this way you can escape the controlling side of your ego and your habitual ways of physical feeling and thus open doors to new ways of perceiving and sensing. For example, instead of walking looking straight ahead, add the special element of walking with your head tilted slightly down to look at the area right in front of your feet. Doing this will require attention because your natural tendency will be to look up to see where you are going. We tend to look up because we are usually in a rush and we don't want to bump into anything. By looking down you will at first naturally slow the speed of your walk, which will help you to relax and quiet your mind.

Now that you are walking slow and looking down, add another element to your attention by acknowledging or “counting” three things with each step. For example, while I step with my right foot I count a small stone, a leaf and a twig. With my left step I count a cricket, a tiny flower, a blade of grass. With my next step I see a feather, some bird droppings, and a rock. And so on. By walking and picking out three items on the ground in front of you with each step your attention is focused entirely on elements of the natural world to such a degree that everything else falls away.

This walk of attention called Count Three is very challenging in the beginning, especially when walking through difficult terrain. But if you can maintain your concentration for even just 15 minutes you will discover an amazing amount of details about the area of Nature in which you are walking. You will enter into a communion with Nature that will allow you a respite from the stress and strain of everyday life. And you will allow your mind to focus on elements of natural creation rather than items coming from the artificial world of modern humans. This is natural healing at its best!

Barefoot Walk

One of my favorite walks of attention is to walk barefoot in Nature. Taking off your shoes and placing your bare feet on the earth instantly changes your view of the world. Humans are the only beings that keep their feet insulated from the earth. The soles of the feet are wonderful sensory organs that we tend to keep wrapped up and suffocated, but when they are freed to the air and earth, the sun and water, they allow us to explore the world of walking in Nature in a new and fascinating way. Feeling the earth, moss, grass, leaves, water, rock, wood and myriad other surfaces and textures can open us to another world of sensations and vibrations. And that is only the physical side. Taking off your shoes to walk on Earth is also an expression of your desire to enter into a dialogue with your true Mother at the level of emotions, awareness, and perception. It expresses your desire to feel Her, to know Her, to shed the industrialized world if even for just a short while and walk the same as the rest of Her children. Doing this, especially for the first time, will often bring out strong emotions and it is common for people to cry or laugh or dance while walking in this way. By focusing on the feelings and sensations entering the soles of your bare feet while walking in Nature, you put yourself in direct spiritual connection with the living Earth and the Spirit that gives life to the world.

Imitating Nature

There are countless spiritual as well as practical aspects to walking in Nature. For example, walking with a stream can teach you fluidity and demonstrate in a tangible way how to deal with the obstacles and problems of your life in a manner that emulates the flowing properties of water, in contrast to the stop-and-go demonstration of a modern traffic jam. While walking in the presence of a certain animal or bird you can discover how these beings only take from Earth what they need to live and fulfill their niche in Nature's tapestry. You can connect with them and open your awareness to their part in the cycles of life and death and notice how they are living in a constant state of reciprocity with Earth. This one insight alone could help to transform purely consumptive lifestyles. Walking with attention and a quiet mind into the first rays of the rising sun can pierce your heart with light and fill your entire being with the life-giving energy that illuminates and bestows life onto the world. Living this type of experience can truly open you to new levels of consciousness, healing and joy.

When you experience and then realize that these few examples of walking in Nature are like grains of sand on the seashore of knowledge, it becomes easier to perceive how vast the wisdom and spiritual insights of Nature truly are. But remember, these treasures are found without complicating things with intellectual discussions or paying lots of money to be enlightened by another person. Living in connection with the Spirit of Earth and all Her beings is simply our sacred inheritance as members of the Earth community. All we need to do to collect this inheritance is open our hearts, re-learn what we have forgotten, and walk into the open arms of Mother Nature.

James Endredy is the author of the recently released bookEarthwalks for Body and Spirit: Exercises to Restore Our Sacred Bond with the Earth. James leads workshops throughout the United Sates, Mexico,and Canada and is actively involved in preserving the world's indigenous cultures and traditional sacred sites, such as those of the Huichol Indians of western Mexico. For more information, visit his web site www.JamesEndredy.com.