Every year I take a group of folks into the woods for a full week: no buildings, no cement, no phones, no TV, no malls, no fast food; just earth, stones, plants, trees, sky, clouds, weather, birds, animals, sweet nature sounds and days of alone time to be present to the vibrant life all around. It's always a life -changing experience for folks. They discover sometimes for the first time that they live in an intimate, highly responsive, very alive world. A world that frequently responds to the very thoughts in their head, relating and mirroring their inner state of being.
Most of us are numb to this alive world. We grow up in a culture that looks at the world as resources to be mined, managed, used to our advantage, not a family of life waiting to interact with us, mirroring our own inner state of being.
We don't slow down enough or become present enough to hear, receive and respond to this living family that is all around us. We don't relate to life around us as alive or intimately responsive. We don't listen to or extend our consciousness to sense and acknowledge its response to us; be it another animal (other than a pet), a tree, a flower, a place in nature, or even another person. We are so busy strategizing to actualize the desired outcome in our life and simultaneously wondering why we are so unhappy, unsatisfied, anxious and often overwhelmed.
The piece of land where I take folks for a nature retreat told me many years ago, 'you humans don't know anything about relationship. Bring people here and we will teach them.' It has kept its promise.
Several years ago in Earth Circle Spiritual Leadership Training that I hold, there was a beautiful woman who came from 'the county', as the rural northern part of Maine is sometimes referred to. She had grown up in nature, but she had no memory of ever being intimate and relational with nature or a part of it. Someone else in the training suggested that she spend an hour 'in the presence of a tree.' She acted on the suggestion.
By profession she is a very skilled therapist and was skilled in 'holding' compassionate space for others. She approached the tree with that compassionate presence. The response she felt in return was life-changing. Instead of holding the tree with compassion, she felt herself held with such a vast profound love the likes of which she had never felt before. It was a life-altering experience for her, as her own love was amplified and mirrored back to her.
Relationship is not something we have. It is what we live in or don't — the choice is ours. So it can work with trees. They are pretty benign after all, but what has that got to do with the so-called 'real world' and day-to-day life and downright difficult people?
Years ago, I shared with a client an excerpt from Power vs. Force, The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph. D. In it Hawkins describes how people with different levels of consciousness perceive the same thing. In the example the 'thing' is a 'bum' described like this, 'in a fashionable neighborhood in a big city stands an old man in tattered clothes, alone, leaning against the corner of an elegant brownstone." Hawkins describes the varying perceptions that people of different states of inner being would have of this old man. They vary greatly including from: 'dirty, disgusting'; 'a lazy welfare cheat'; 'tragic, friendless'; 'a social menace'; 'violent'; all he needs is a job, a place to live'; 'he is okay, interesting; 'can we cheer him up or be of help'; 'he probably has an interesting story': 'worthy of a government grant'; 'transcended social limits, gone free, joyful'; 'our own inner self in a temporary expression.' All these perceptions are of the same ‘thing’, in this case an old man in tattered clothes. Hawkins points out that the old man would respond differently to each of the people who have the different perception of him, mirror their perception back to them.
The client I shared this excerpt with reported back a rather profound experience of his own several days later. My client was not very happy in his job. He worked for a man and a woman partnership, in which they were both his bosses. He found them both 'difficult,' particularly the woman. On the day of his ‘experience,’ he happened to glance out the window into the park and saw to ‘two drunks’ on a park bench. His first response was outrage. There were women and children, families in the park. These drunks had no business being there drunk!
Then he remembered Hawkins’ example and simultaneously he felt the inner pain of his own upset. He began to think of what he might do to help minimize such social ills, perhaps volunteer at Preble Street, a local center that serviced the needy. He began to intentionally shift his own inner state of being, prompted by seeing 'the drunk bums.'
At that moment his female boss entered the room, hands on her hips, in a demanding voice she said, “At the meeting yesterday, why didn’t you support my partner? What were you thinking? What are we paying you for?”
My client said he felt his shoulders rise as tension engulfed his chest. Then once again, he thought of Hawkins' example and chose to make an inner shift. He took a deep breath to bring himself into his center, into his heart. Instead of his usual defensive attempts at strategies to control, effect, change or mitigate her reaction, he responded with gentle honesty. 'Yes, you're right. I didn't support him at the meeting. To tell the truth, my sense was that he didn't want my support. I am sorry."
His difficult boss shifted from towering over him, to almost collapsing into a chair. She took a breath herself and then thoughtfully mirrored back to him, with palpable sincerity, "Yes, I can see how that could be. You are probably right. Thanks for trying.' She quietly got up and left the room, with a warm and sympathetic smile.
Shortly following this experience, my client found another job, in which his abilities and skills were much more consistently appreciated, mirroring his gains in choosing the inner experience he truly wanted and experiencing life shift in its response.
Life gets increasingly easier, more rewarding and exciting as we acknowledge and relate to it as the living responsive mirror of ourselves and our own inner experience that it is. We wake up to the choice we have in each moment. Consciously or unconsciously we choose our own inner state of being to which life around us responds intimately and often amplifying it for us to see.
It's a great empowering gift to ourselves to realize that we are embedded in an intimately interrelated, alive world that is responding to us and mirroring our inner life in each moment.
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