Nature is a wonderful thing. Individuals and governments are committed to showing more respect for the environment rather than carelessly destroying it. Concern about the sustainability of the planet and its protection is a contemporary attitude that is becoming quite common. I feel it reflects a spiritual sensitivity to the goodness of the unspoilt natural world.
Nature is familiar and easily described, yet somehow it can evoke something less obvious and difficult to express in words; something mysterious and on a different level. Who hasn’t at one time or another not felt inspired by the beauty of a mountain vista, a seascape or a rainbow full of startling colour? Who has not felt at peace contemplating cattle quietly grazing, being cheered by the sound of birdsong heard in the morning, or being enraptured by the scent of the pinewood in summer? Has nature anything more specific to teach you?
“Nature often holds up a mirror so we can see more clearly the ongoing processes of growth, renewal and transformation in ourlives.” (Mary Ann Brussat)
In general animals are well known for the way they protect and nurture their offspring, their practical good sense in the way they adapt to their habitat, and their ability to live in the moment. All spiritual qualities. But can we learn any specific lessons from different species? Has the fox or the snake something particular to teach us? Or is this just being anthropomorphic and attributing to animals human characteristics like in Aesop’s fables?
I would suggest to learn from nature requires an objective attitude of mind — a willingness to look deeply into what is really there as opposed to taking on board the stereotypes learned from childhood.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” (Albert Einstein)
Nature of eagles
These birds soar high in the sky on widespread powerful wings and see with sharp sightedness what is far below. I can see a picture of the human mind here. Isn’t an eagle’s perception one of a higher quality than the ordinary way of seeing things? Like uplifted thinking that searches out what is difficult to see when you are immersed in the mundane world of daily concerns. According to this viewpoint your mind is capable of soaring high to see life from a higher perspective.
Nature of lambs
Here we find gentle playful trusting creatures, who reveal a joy of contentment and peacefulness. Such innocence is unselfconscious and unsullied by any thought of anything harmful or bad. Is this not a picture of the innocence of the Divine source of all that is good deeply present within your soul?
Negative characteristics of nature
The more you know about animals, the more you also notice their negative sides. Eagles are far seeing so that they can feed — predators which swoop down and carry off lambs. According to one theory this mixture of negative and positive is an additional pointer to the spiritual. It’s author, Emanuel Swedenborg, in his notion of ‘correspondences’, maintains that the natural world is both positive and negative because it is a reflection of human inner character, human beings having both good and bad elements to their conduct. For him, the positive is the higher reality of the divine perspective: on the other hand the negative is the lower perspective of egoism inverting and corrupting what is from the divine. Thus where some animals show a negative characteristic, this also alerts us to the spiritual factor again — but this time in terms of its opposite.
Nature of pigs
Pigs are highly social animals. Properly kept they are a clean and attractive and can be quite intelligent. A pig will forage all the time, endlessly searching for something more to consume. For me this conjures up a picture of consumerism. People who allow themselves to become fixated on getting more and more things — money, clothes, gizmos, food, the latest fashion accessory etc. Pigs also have a reputation for gluttony and dirtiness. It is these latter qualities which provide the symbol of inner greed – the love of self that takes what it can get for itself searching out everything it can want.
Nature of donkeys
Donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but this has been attributed to a much stronger sense of “self preservation” than exhibited by horses. It is considerably more difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it perceives to be dangerous for whatever reason. However, once a person has earned their confidence they can be willing and companionable partners and very dependable in work.
Cannot the donkey be seen as corresponding to a human natural way of thinking which can be argumentative and which would rather trust its own senses? I would suggest the donkey teaches us that such an attitude is capable of becoming trusting and obedient to a higher truth. Such an obedient understanding to deeper principles in people could carry us to a better way of living.
“The more humility we develop, the more signs of the Divine we can see around us and within us and the closer we grow to the deep joy and happiness to be experienced deep within our soul.” (from Soul Symbols by Helen Newton & Becky Jarratt)
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Only when we get a ‘proper winter’ do we realise how harsh life can be and the news reporters delight in searching out the rural, remote and particularly exposed places where people have no choice but to get on with it and break the ice in animal drinking troughs or walk miles to fetch necessary items.
The cycle of the agricultural year dominated life for everyone even in industrialised countries until very recent periods of history. Our central heating rather than total reliance on open fires keeps us removed from worries about how much wood or coal is in store – instead we just switch on the gas or electricity to provide heat as we wish.
Yet we know that winter is only a season, a phase of the year and it will pass after a while. The whole point of a cycle is that we know it will change and move on; we know we can rely on it changing again and again even if it takes far longer than we would like to move from one stage to another.
Just as there is the cycle of the seasons, so there is a cycle in personal life. It is always moving and adapting; our patience may be tried and tested at some times, our desires gratified and easily fulfilled in other situations. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, other times we know that things have happened in direct and proportionate response to the effort we have put into a situation.
But we can feel ‘sunny’ or ‘cold’ on the inside too – our disposition, our patience or our temper is something we have a better degree of control over than the weather.
Even when we feel like being miserable we have the capacity to smile, to appear a little more cheerful to other people than we may really be feeling. There are those times when we make an effort and feel rewarded through it – not because the situation miraculously changes but because we have helped our own feelings to change, we move on or begin to get out of the self-pitying state that can be so tempting to wallow in.
Trying to keep positive, optimistic and cheerful all the time is hard work; but there is a lot to be said for seeing harder times as cycles, as seasons or phases which need to be got through. Those people living hard rural lives are shown on TV reports as getting through, getting by – whatever phrase is used it isn’t about pity but about coping and making sure things keep going until the milder weather arrives. This year is already bringing us many things to cope with or enjoy, hopefully we can find more of the good and less of the negative aspects of whatever situations we experience.
Based on material by Christine Bank
The closer we look at the structure of even ‘simple’ plants the more we can begin to see of the way each petal or leaf is formed in a particular shape, has colours, layers and textures which suit it perfectly. Florists work with this variety to create their arrangements; a garden designer applies their knowledge on a different scale but with an understanding of how the complete effect will look.
Christ spoke about the lily and highlighted the splendid intricacies we overlook so frequently, but his message reaches deeper and he reminded people that they can trust God to know their needs and provide for them, rather than worrying themselves unnecessarily.
The ‘green shoots of recovery’ may be the sort of phrase that crops up on the news bulletins but that idea of things having to start small and vulnerable before maturing and getting properly established is a sound principle. It applies to our spiritual growth, our journey towards better states as the ‘good’ habits we desire and work towards become more and more settled in our life and routine.
The idea of our life as a place where things grow and flourish (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’) is something we tend to find manageable as an idea. Have you ever considered the detail of each little part, of how beautiful and intricate aspects of our heavenly life really can be?
We can see and respond to the kindness and thoughtfulness of someone else – the beauty of that little green shoot in their life has enhanced our day too. Maybe we have been helped by something as fleeting as a smile or a kind word, perhaps the gift of someone’s time and attention has been a benefit to our situation today?
These apparently small and everyday generosities have more of an impact than we often realise. Perhaps it does us good to take time and really think about the things we are growing in the fertile ground that is our own life. The simplest of heavenly things bring a growing hint of the inner development of angelic beauty and disposition which can’t be bought. Likewise, no amount of money or fine clothes can disguise a life without some loveliness at its heart.
The Bible continually refers to the natural world in ways that can lead us into more spiritual considerations; everyday concepts around growth of crops can easily link us to more profound levels of thought as we understand the implications of the ‘good’ wheat and the ‘bad’ weeds and thorns which spoil the crop for example.
Consider the lilies, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these..………..Luke 12:27
Seeing the spiritual lilies in bloom, the little but exquisitely beautiful results of what is grounded in love, really make a difference to life and enhances the world for us all.
Based on material by Christine Bank
Nature, art and spirituality can reduce disease. It has been long established that a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and physical exercise bolster the body’s defences against physical and mental illness. However, research is now showing the benefits of certain other activities.
Psychologists at University of California, Berkeley have been studying a direct influence on health and life expectancy of the sense of wonder when experiencing the beauty of nature, art and spirituality. A walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – have a triggered such positive emotions boosting our immune system.