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6 Ways to Deepen Your Spiritual Relationship to Nature
Photo credit: Shutterstock
If so, you’ve probably had a wide range of experiences. If you’re like me, on some days, you go for a walk or run and you’re barely aware of the world around you. Your mind runs along its usual channels and before you know it, you’re back at the car.
But on other days, something extraordinary happens. You’re walking along and all of a sudden you notice a tree—really notice it—and it’s a revelation. A deep peace emanates from it and settles into you. Or, you’re sitting in a secluded spot and you realize: I’m no different from that rock, that tree, that herd of deer. Everything feels right in the world. Then you become aware of the presence of Nature as a whole. You feel that Nature is not just a collection of trees and rocks and animals, but is a presence unto herself, and you’re part of it. Call it God, Earth Mother or by another name, but you felt it.
I’ve come to think of these moments of clarity, connection and peace as accidental encounters with Nature (with a capital “N”). You weren’t necessarily seeking a profound experience, but it happened.
Most of us never go further than this. We know we love nature, we know we feel great in nature,and we spend time in nature. But we don’t know how to connect with Nature in an intentional way. And so, because our culture exerts tremendous pressure to prioritize the appearance of things rather than the spirit of things, we revert to exercising or socializing, using nature as a sort of a grand gym or café that happens to make us feel especially good. No one encourages us to dive deeper. In mainstream Western culture, there are no models for doing so.
But there is so much more! These accidental encounters with Nature are just the beginning. They’re the doorway in. They’re an invitation to discover your own true nature and to live your life with Nature.
I know, because after a few of these accidental encounters, I accepted the invitation. It was a time in my life when I was in tremendous pain. My relationship had just ended, and it felt like I had a gaping hole in the middle of my chest that could not be filled; I felt like a ghost hovering around the edges of my own life. Eventually, I realized that this hole could never be filled by another person. Like a flower turning toward the sun, I felt my way toward Nature.
What I discovered is that it is possible to shift from an accidental spiritual relationship to Nature to an intentional one. I began to spend time in Nature and consciously connect with it. Nature became my spiritual path. The hole in my chest—which had always been there but had become unbearable with the heartbreak—filled in. I learned that I am never truly alone, and that, despite life’s fickle ups and downs, it’s possible to live with a steady baseline of deep joy.
So, if you have felt a connection to Nature and want to deepen it, allow yourself to turn toward that light! Allow your creativity to come forward and guide you. The rewards are immeasurable.
If you’d like some suggestions on how to start, read on.
1. Make a commitment to connect with Nature
Our lives our busy, and our minds are even busier. Even if you already spend time in Nature, your mind’s chatter can take over. If you don’t set a clear intention to connect, you give away your power to build the relationship.
To illustrate, imagine you’re on a first date, and you get so lost in your own thoughts that you don’t hear a word your date says. Then, at the end of the date, you say: “I don’t want to schedule dates, I just want to see if they happen organically!” She or he would be running for the door.
It’s the same with Nature. You need to listen and communicate, and if you were raised in the Western world, that probably doesn’t come naturally. So the first step to developing your spiritual relationship with Nature is commiting to doing so.
2. Create time alone in Nature
When we’re with other people, we tend to talk to each other. Silences are experienced as uncomfortable. We’re also concerned about what people think of us, so we edit ourselves to ensure we’re behaving according to social convention. And women and girls in particular are taught to focus on what other people are feeling and to take care of them, at the expense of being aware of our own authentic experience.
All of these social patterns make it difficult to connect with Nature. That’s why I’ve found that communicating with Nature works best in solitude, unless you’re supported by a teacher or facilitator.
It’s not as hard as you might think to create solitary experiences in nature. You don’t have to go so far away from others that you’ll be scared of animals or violent people. If you’re on a popular trail, find a place where you can take a few steps off and be hidden by a rise in the land or a stand of trees. Bring a whistle if you’re still concerned.
If you’re spending the day hiking with a friend, ask to spend an hour by yourself. You might be surprised to find that your companion appreciates this as much as you do.
You can even spend time in your garden or a park.
3. Find a good place
This doesn’t need to be a complicated process, and you don’t need the “perfect” place because all of nature is perfect. I tend to walk on the trail until I see an area or a feature that I’m drawn to, and then head for it.
4. Sit down
Can you have spiritual experiences while walking or running or climbing? Of course. But I’ve found it’s easier to connect spiritually while my mind and my body are quiet and focused. There’s something about the rhythm of walking and running that encourages my usual thoughts to accompany me.
You can help ensure you have a good experience with a little preparation. If it’s wet or cold, bring something to sit on. The cheapest and lightest option is a garbage bag, but if it is really cold, insulation will help. Crazy Creek chairs work well on snowy ground, and they’re easy to hook onto a daypack.
You’ll also want to dress for sitting rather than exercising. The longer you sit, the more your body temperature drops, so you’ll be grateful for the extra layers.
5. Relax & Observe
Take in your surroundings. Notice little details and the larger lay of the land. See, hear, smell, and feel, and allow yourself to enjoy it.
Then, try asking yourself: “What am I drawn to?” Is it a mountain? A creek? A flower? A tree? Allow your eyes to rest there, and focus your mind on it.
This is where it gets exciting. It’s also where your mind may rebel.
If you were raised in Western culture, chances are you’ve been taught that, while humans may have souls or spirits, many (or all) other animals do not. Certainly trees, rocks, flowers, and lakes do not! And certainly we can’t communicate with these animals or natural elements.
But you’ve already felt a spiritual connection to Nature, and the rational, scientific worldview of the West can’t explain this. You decide: is your yearning enough to throw off this conditioning, even just for a moment, to try something new?
If it is, try it. Try talking to the natural object that drew your attention. Questions are a great place to start. You might ask it about it’s own experience (“what’s it like to be a tree?”) or, you could ask if it has any insight into a problem you’re struggling with.
Sometimes, words just appear in your mind, and they sure don’t sound like ones that you’d come up with on your own. Sometimes, a quiet awareness or idea arises, and then you can try to articulate it with words to help you remember it better. Sometimes, you notice that your attention is drawn to a particular feature of the tree. Notice this feature, be with this feature, and you might comprehend a metaphor that sheds light on your question.
For example, let’s say you share a frustration with a tree: your colleagues or supervisor at work won’t allow you to pursue your ideas. Then, you notice that your tree looks like it was initially growing in one direction, but something got in the way and now it’s growing—and thriving—in another. It’s as if the tree is saying, “Grow where you can! Send your energy to where you will be nurtured!” A sense of peace envelops you as you lay down a fruitless struggle. Then a new creative space emerges as a more helpful question dawns on you: “Where can I grow?”
It can be hard to ‘hear’ nature in this way, but it gets easier with practice. The rewards are worth it.
When I communicate with individual elements in nature in this way, such as a tree or a flower or a mountain, I am then more easily able to sense, communicate with, and belong to Nature as a whole.
You’ll be amazed at how much wonder and joy this brings!
Kris Abrams is a nature-based psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner with Cedar Tree Healing Arts. You can follow her work on Facebook here.
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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
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Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
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Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
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