A Slow journey of discovery into inner and outer nature

Empty yourself of everything.

Let the mind rest at peace.

The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.

They grow and flourish and then return to the source.

Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Fast culture is rampant but the counter trend, the Slow Movement, is underway. The intent of The Slow Project is essentially to contribute to the movement restoring balance by helping implement principles and practices that counter the negative impacts of Fast culture. Part of the strategy to deliver on this goal involves helping people learn Slow practices and skills via immersive nature retreats. I recently headed over to the US to undertake training to allow me to be a guide with the Way of Nature.

The training was 16 days with Way of Nature founder, John P. Milton, followed by 28 days of solitude at a site on ridge heading up into the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The AllOne time allowed me to put into practice all the things we had been learning in the guide training. This type of learning is incredibly deep and embodied and it has taken me a while to feel up for trying to put it into words on a page. Lets see how I go.

To my mind, the Way of Nature process incorporates Slow principles and practices more than anything else I’ve ever come across hence why I’ve committed myself to this direction. Part of the opportunity I saw with the Slow trend is that people seem to be wanting to be more Slow, and trying a few things, but given that we don’t really get taught Slow ways in Western culture, there is a gap in terms of incorporating practical and effective Slow processes in our lives. I think the future can really be something to look forward to once the balance between Fast and Slow is restored.

Over the course of the 28 days I was blessed with rich experience in just what happens when we go deep with Slow. This could turn into more of an essay (or a whole lot of anecdotal ramblings!) than a blog article so I’ll share just a few reflections here on how the Way of Nature process embodies Slow principles.

Presence

If Fast leaves us hyper-distracted then the natural antidote is to practice living in the present so that we enter each moment more deeply. Not only does the Way of Nature include meditation and qi gong practices that help improve focus and refinement of the senses, but the power of solitude is one of the key ingredients. Being out in nature without other humans around allows us to drop the tensions and distractions that come from being a social animal. Plus, there is no other ‘activities’ to prevent us from being still. With nowhere to go, few tasks to complete, no books, no music, no internet etc and the monkey mind quickly running out of steam in producing thoughts genuinely worth the distraction, there is little else to do but be present. And in a beautiful spot in the wilderness that isn’t such a hard thing to embrace.

Relaxation

Not an unfamiliar term in the West but not something we do particular well either! We can be very good at not doing anything, but if our mind is still jumping around, unable to let go of the past and consumed by worries about the future then we still are beholden to tensions and experiencing stress. Being a passionate, driven type of person, I know relaxing is something that I struggle with even if I’m not stressed about anything in particular and still have time for fun and recreation; there’s just always so much to get stuck into! But, as I mentioned in the post on my journey to Slow, there is a price to pay for that.

Relaxation would seem to be more of a skill than we realise. Many of the Way of Nature practices have their roots in Taoism which is a lineage that contains much wisdom about relaxing. In the face of getting to know many hidden crevices of myself over the course of the 28 days, and the dark things that lurk in those crevices, one of my biggest learnings was about ‘letting go’ and just exactly what that means in practice (it’s funny how when you have deep learning experiences, phrases that you normally take for granted suddenly become more multi-dimensional in meaning). Buddhists would call it non-attachment, being open to what is emerging and letting go of the pull of mental attachments moment to moment.

Another reflection I had was about how the coping mechanism that we often use to deal with tensions is avoidance. I’m generalising here, but in general we do not get taught skills to deal with the tough stuff, at least not in a surrendering, relaxed kind of way (if we can’t deal with something efficiently in a predictable, step-like process then it freaks us out), so we push the hard things aside and try to distract ourselves. But of course ignoring something doesn’t help it to go away so all those tensions remain there, trying to suck us in. Not to diminish the hard things that we all go through, but it actually made me laugh when I reflected on just how easily the dark things and their associated tensions would dissolve with the right mix of open heart, open mind and open will.

Receptivity and openness

With presence and relaxation arises an uncontrived, natural openness to entering a different kind of relationship with inner and outer nature, one that is much more deeply connected in every sense of the word and loving. The ego diminishes which breaks down barriers to connecting with other beings, and our true selves for that matter. We can let go of the need to control and start to get a sense of what ‘going with the flow’ might actually mean. Attachments can cause us to be blind or resistant to subtleties or other aspects of what is happening right now; so with new openness we become highly receptive and start noticing in ways we may have never experienced before.

Added to that, the practices encourage expressions of gratitude. Gratitude to me is an extremely fascinating thing. Not only does it feature heavily in the research on happiness, but it also seems to increase the potential for connectedness.1)Zylstra, Matthew J., Andrew T. Knight, Karen J. Esler and Lesley L. L. Le Grange. 2014. Connection as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice. Springer Science Reviews, 23 September. doi: 10.1007/s40362-014-0021-3

This is purely my attempt at putting into words something that is sensed deeply, but gratitude seems to create an opening in yourself that invites the outer nature to connect with you. It seems to melt blockages within yourself that facilitates a palpable energy exchange and heightening. Now that may sound a little far-fetched to some, but all I can report is what my perception of my experiences and sometimes it felt like I had my finger in a socket!

In terms of providing a counter force to dominant Western culture, learning about receptivity and openness is a great place to start. With our strongly individualistic culture comes a belief that if we ‘just try hard enough’ good things will happen. While that might be appropriate for certain things, we also hang onto that so tight we forget about the wisdom in letting go so we can ‘let come.’2) The idea of letting come from Francisco Varela in an interview with Otto Scharmer available here http://www.iwp.jku.at/born/mpwfst/02/www.dialogonleadership.org/Varela.html

Of course I have many more stories from the 28 days and the Way of Nature guide training which will no doubt be making appearances in future posts. In the meantime, we will be exploring what can happen when we become more present, refined in our perceptions and open in the upcoming events.

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References   [ + ]

1. Zylstra, Matthew J., Andrew T. Knight, Karen J. Esler and Lesley L. L. Le Grange. 2014. Connection as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice. Springer Science Reviews, 23 September. doi: 10.1007/s40362-014-0021-3
2.  The idea of letting come from Francisco Varela in an interview with Otto Scharmer available here http://www.iwp.jku.at/born/mpwfst/02/www.dialogonleadership.org/Varela.html

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