Nature inside, nature outside
Mindfulness is not just something we practise for an hour.
It’s a way of being.
And being is our nature. We are human beings.
What does it mean, this ‘being’?
Maybe take a moment for yourself. Tune into your own being, perhaps closing your eyes, or gazing downwards. Drop any idea of doing or trying. Just be.
Rest there for a few moments and notice how that feels.
How is it, to be?
You didn’t just stop, right? You were resting, but aware. Aware of what what happening outside you, or inside you.
Practising this kind of awareness is simple but magical.
Listening deeply like this, everyday things become gifts.
The dew glistening on the tip of a curving leaf. The gentle rushing of the ocean waves. The smell of jasmine, after the rain. The feel of the soft, shredded trunk of the paperbark tree.
With my attention in my body, I notice my steady breathing and how my feet feel on the earth.
Resting like this feels calm, connected and caring. No need to add or do anything. There is a timeless quality to being.
Thoughts and feelings arise, like clouds, forming shapes, then shifting; changing.
This way of being feels alive. Sensing the nature inside us and outside us, that is dancing, ebbing and changing all of the time.
If ‘being’ is so natural, so intrinsic to being human, why do we have to practise it at all?
Actually, we don’t.
If we can simply be, with whatever arises, we don’t need any instructions.
But we often get so busy, so caught up in the demands of daily life that we forget how to be —though we knew how to do this as children.
Listening deeply is one way we remind ourselves of how to be, present and at peace. Some people might call it meditation, but it feels more natural than that.
This restful way of being is what we enjoy about our hobbies or holidays.
Isn’t it a welcome relief to abandon the to-do list? To take a break from go-go-go? Natural mindfulness offers us a way to cultivate pausing, letting go and just being.
Listening deeply invites us to use our senses, to feel alive, to notice the world around us. To enjoy nature, and to acknowledge what we feel and think.
This is something that we already deeply, intrinsically know how to do, as humans. This kind of mindfulness training provides a path, with practical exercises to remind us how to be.
Listening deeply is also an act of love. Imagine listening deeply to a good friend. How would you do that?
With attention, and care, right?
When we really listen, without a hidden agenda, we hold a space of caring presence, in which another can feel known and understood.
This cultivates love and compassion… again, very natural skills for human beings.
We can learn to listen to our own nature with the same care and patience we’d give to a good friend.
And because listening leads to understanding, this is also a path to clarity and wisdom.
By simply being, with attentiveness, we allow learning to arise naturally, from within.
We gather data from what we see and hear, from what we think and feel. The more information we gather, the more patterns we notice.
“Ah wow, that bird is flitting around, dancing for a much more dull-coloured bird, who is still and maybe watching?” From previous data, I know that it’s often the male bird who dances in courtship for the female.
From waiting, watching, listening deeply, I’m learning something about the nature of birds.
“Ah wow, when I see the sun set, I love the rich colours. I feel relaxed and contented and connect easily with an inner sense of presence and peace.”
I’m learning something here about my own nature. About my own patterns and habits. About what benefits me.
Listening deeply, letting these patterns and understanding emerge, benefits our lives, our work, our relationships, our communities and our earth.
And listening deeply to ourselves, in the same way we would to a good friend, helps us feel confident, centred and calm.
Then we can be really present to others, and more able to notice and care for their needs.
Imagine a whole family, a whole community committed to attending to each other like this? When our environment is caring, we feel safe, connected, happy. We feel in tune with nature, and alive.
In this way, the art of listening deeply serves the awareness, compassion and wisdom that are fundamental to wellbeing, to healthy relationships and to a society that is awake, kind, harmonious and very much in love with life, and the earth.
What will I learn?
As we journey together, we’ll cover:
—how to listen and connect with nature
—what to look for in the nature outside
—what to look for in the nature inside
—body awareness, breath awareness, using the senses
—exploring thoughts, feelings and emotions
—exploring our relationship to experience
—allowing wisdom to arise naturally from what we study
—listening deeply to the heart, and with the heart
—cultivating gratitude and appreciation of nature
—how to listen to suffering and pain with compassion
—how to live in reciprocity; giving and receiving
—exploring universal laws like impermanence and cause and effect
—listening deeply in relationship with others
—living in balance with nature and causing no harm
—taking the wilderness with us into life and work
—self as an ecosystem, as part of nature
—listening to our deeper nature, the inner teacher
—naturally awakening, with a wild and pure heart
What does it mean, listening deeply?
Listening deeply is a phrase used the world over, in many, many cultures, to mean a way of connecting with ourselves, with others and with nature.
I’d love to share a few of the definitions of listening deeply that guide me.
But most importantly is what listening deeply comes to mean for YOU.
Listening deeply has taught me about nature, to notice which way the wind is blowing and whether that brings cool or warm air. Listening deeply has taught me to hold my tongue and see beneath the words of my friend to their real struggle, underneath. Listening deeply has taught me to wait, to wait, to wait, to see what patterns emerge. Listening deeply has taught me to pause and deeply attune to the longing in my heart.
However we define listening, attuning, it’s going in one of two directions: listening to the nature outside, or the nature inside.
The nature INSIDE, you might ask?
We are familiar with the living world outside; when we say nature, we think of trees, forests, oceans, deserts, mountains, jungles… yes, that is nature.
As our adventures in awareness unfold, we explore the natural world INSIDE us too… the unseen swirl of thoughts, emotions, sensations…
And doing so, we discover that WE ARE NATURE.
So there’s a few different ways we can take this.
At a simple level, when I say listening deeply, I mean tuning in, with our senses. Tuning in to the life that is flowing, the experiences that arise outside us, and inside us.
At first, listening deeply allows us to connect with nature, meaning deeply hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting and smelling. When we feel and sense, we slow down too nature’s pace. In doing so, we calm the mind and body and truly connect to ourselves and to world around us.
Becoming present in nature, dropping busy-ness and doing and simply BEING, we discover a huge wellspring of calm and contentment. A sense of belonging and joy.
Listening deeply also means awareness of our inner life.
As we spend time connecting with nature, we also tune in to the thoughts and feelings inside. So Ah! we notice when we look at trees, calm and joy arise… or when we have a couple hours off and rush to the beach, we notice ah, lying on the sand, some physical tension, some stress or worry are still lingering, and we notice that if we don’t add to the stories, they soon melt away, into the sand.
In this way, listening deeply leads us to learning, the path of insight.
Ashin Tejaniya, the meditation teacher from Burma proposes that when we practise being aware of whatever is going on, we learn.
By listening deeply, waiting for understanding to emerge, we arouse intuitive guidance on what to do and what not to do — meaning what action to take or not to take in life.
From “Dingo Makes Us Human”…
“Yarralin people know that it is time to hunt for crocodile eggs when the black much flies start biting. These annoying flies carry a message: ‘The march flies are telling you the eggs are ready.’ This sort of knowledge is accurate. If we know that crocodiles lay their eggs towards the end of the dry season, the calendar can tell us that they will probably start sometime in September or October. March flies tell us exactly.”
“Dadirri”, deep listening, is the life’s work of Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr, from the Nauiyu Daly River area, and senior Australian Of The Year 2021. She says:
“What I want to talk about is another special quality of my people. I believe it is the most important. It is our most unique gift. It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our fellow Australians. In our language this quality is called dadirri. It is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.”
“Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call “contemplation”.
“When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. There is no need of words. A big part of dadirri is listening.”
“The contemplative way of dadirri spreads over our whole life. It renews us and brings us peace. It makes us feel whole again…”
“In our Aboriginal way, we learnt to listen from our earliest days. We could not live good and useful lives unless we listened. This was the normal way for us to learn – not by asking questions. We learnt by watching and listening, waiting and then acting. Our people have passed on this way of listening for over 40,000 years…”
The traditional people of the land know this well. Many indigenous people have a deep respect for nature, for taking care of it, and for keeping the relationship between man and nature in balance. If the land suffers, the tribe suffers. The tribe feel that pain. Not just in terms of physical wellbeing, but emotional and mentally, they feel the pain of the land too.
Sometimes, this practise of listening deeply is called mindfulness, or open awareness. This style of meditation is not meditation. It is not a doing but an un-doing. It helps us know what to drop, rather than “getting” anything. When we lose what is complicated and inessential, we restore our inherent naturalness, returning to a gentle yet wakeful way of being, practised by our ancestors.
And as well as cultivating calm, connection, and clarity, listening deeply is a pathway of compassion for ourself and others, guiding us to our heart-truth, the song of our soul.
Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks:
What is deep listening?
‘Sama’ is a greeting from the secret ones inside the heart, a letter.
The branches of your intelligence grow new leaves in the wind of this listening.
The body reaches a peace.
Rooster sound comes, reminding you of your love for dawn.
The reed flute and the singer’s lips,
The knack of how spirit breathes into us,
He comes as simple and ordinary as eating and drinking…
Listen, and feel the beauty of your separation, the unsayable absence.
Here’s a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it.
Give more of your life to this listening.
As brightness is to time, so you are to the one who talks to the deep ear in your chest.
I should sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears
When that one steps near and begins to speak.
The ‘deep spring’ in us has many messages.
We should “sell our tongues and buy a thousand ears” to hear them.
Listening deeply has taught me that when I feel lost, confused or needing soul nourishment, I need only turn to nature, to the ‘deep spring’ of wisdom that somehow emerges when we surrender our questions into the quiet.
My personal hunger to learn meditation began with these instructions, taken from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices…
“Pure awareness of nowness is the real teacher,
In openness and contentment, we find the teacher in our hearts.” (Dudjom Rinpoche)
In this style of practice, we rest in awareness, watching thoughts and emotions, sights, sounds and sensations come and go, without clinging to any of them.
Listening deeply is known also to the indigenous peoples of Northern Europe.
In Irish, ‘tenalach’ means “something like awareness, but about seven layers deeper,” and allows those attuned to the land to “hear the song of the mountains dancing on the surface of the lake,” as John O’ Donahue describes.
In the Norse traditions, “utiseta” or ‘sitting outside’ was a way of meditating outdoors. Norse myths and sagas have many stories of people sitting outside in groves, on mountaintops, by rivers or on burial mounds, to commune with nature and spirit.
So this practise of listening deeply is nothing new. It’s not restricted to one culture. It’s the intrinsic way any human being connects and learns.
You’ve probably experienced it many times yourself, without labelling it as anything special. Perhaps sitting on a balcony, enjoying the golden sunset and refreshing sips of cool cider, on a balmy summer’s evening, with a light breeze stroking your skin, your mind at ease and feeling completely content with the world.
This is the same thing. We’re just practising it, consciously.
What’s more, it’s simple, it’s free, it’s good for us and we all know how to do it. So if its so easy and essential, why teach it? Or practise anything?
Because the modern world has trained in us a culture of doing, and greed and attainment. Our habits of googling, instant clicks, getting knowledge, getting rich, getting what we want, go-go-go, get-get-get are deeply ingrained and they are killing us, killing our communities and killing the planet.
As ‘consumers’ we only consume. We crave more and more, and the craving is neverending. What about the kind of simple contentment we feel sat around a camp fire in a ‘yarning circle’ with a bunch of mates, in a beautiful location?
Listening deeply is one starting point, for helping us shift our view to one where we are sustainable individuals, in sustainable relationships, living in a sustainable way on a sustainable earth.
“Go out to the wilderness, my friend, and find a place. I call it a sacred place. A secret place, just yours. Just a little place for you — go and sit there. And learn to meditate. Take off your shoes so you can feel the energy of Mother Earth coming up from the ground. Lay the back of your hands down on the earth….. And breathe in. Very slowly. Very deeply. Breathe out very slowly and very deeply. Listen. To every sound. The rustle of the leaves, the little bird there. The little mountain stream. Taste the air. Smell the air. Soak all these things in, bring them into yourself down to your very gut. Just like blotting paper soaks up ink, you soak that up and bring it into you. Just look into the wilderness. Say, “Help me”. And you’ll get an answer.”
—Ingwe: Spirit of the Leopard, audio recording by M. Norman Powell
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