Nurturing our Connection to the Natural World University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum by Richard Hurd

Nurturing our Connection to the Natural World

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

I was an indoor kid, always preferring to play inside rather than out. I was the only one in my class who was relieved to have indoor recess. To me, the outdoors was uncomfortable and unpredictable. It was too far from snacks and TV. It took effort.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I first discovered joy in nature. When I graduated from college, I was directionless and depressed. I found myself living on a mattress on the floor of a small, virtually empty room in a slightly rundown group house (affectionately referred to as the “Appalachian Shack” by family and friends).

After gaining nearly 25 pounds in just a couple of months, I began to walk, jog, or ride my bike though an arboretum in Madison, Wisconsin, almost every day. In the dead of winter, surrounded by grey skies and skeletons of trees, I began a journey of reconnecting to myself and the world around me.

Day after day, the trees, the sky, the grasses, and the streams were there for me. Their roots were deep and their presence steadfast, but each time I returned to small changes as the ground slowly thawed and signs of life tentatively returned to the branches. Thoughts of my impending doom seemed less potent when cast against the vast sky. The squirrels seemed relatively unperturbed by my uncertain future and precarious social status.

The arboretum was my refuge. It was there, before I had ever developed a formal meditation practice, that I first had the expansive sensation of no-self.  My daily sojourns amongst the trees gave me my first glimpse at the notion that my nature was not separate from the nature around me. I began to recognize that I have everything I need to be happy in the present. Ever since then, I have continued to return to the forest to rediscover my center in between the grounding roots and soaring tree tops.

While I continue to yearn for the refuge of the natural world, it can be hard to access at times. The siren song of my electronic devices feels ever harder to resist. There always seem to be pressing tasks inside that keep me far from earth and lead me forget our interconnection. I also wonder if my actions are ones that support and protect the health of the natural world, or do they threaten it?

As we approach Earth Day, I would like to explore our relationship with the earth and the natural world. You are invited to join us this Thursday, and consider these questions:

What is your experience of connecting with natural world?

Does anything get in the way?

What makes it easier for you cultivate a relationship with nature?

What is our responsibly to protect the earth and the natural world?

I hope you will be able to join us.

A poem by Mary Oliver and a Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh are below.

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

Morning Poem
from Mary Oliver’s Dream Work 

Every morning

the world

is created.

Under the orange
sticks of the sun

the heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches —

and the ponds appear

like black cloth

on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.

If it is your nature

to be happy

you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination

alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit

carries within it

the thorn

that is heavier than lead —

if it’s all you can do

to keep on trudging —
there is still

somewhere deep within you

a beast shouting that the earth

is exactly what it wanted —
each pond with its blazing lilies

is a prayer heard and answered


every morning,
whether or not

you have ever dared to be happy,

whether or not

you have ever dared to pray.


Beloved Mother Of All Beings
from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to the Earth 

Dear Mother Earth,

I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I am a part of you. It is from you that I have been born, and you who are always present, offering me everything I need for my nourishment and growth. My mother, my father, and all my ancestors are also your children. It is your fresh air that we breathe, your clear water that we drink, your nourishing food that we eat, and your medicinal herbs that heal us when we are sick.

You have all the qualities of a mother. You are nothing less than the Mother of all Beings. I call you by the human name Mother, and yet I know your mothering nature is more vast and ancient than humankind. We are just one young species of your many children. All the millions of other species who live–or have lived–on Earth are also your children. You are not a person, but I know you are not less than a person either. You are a Great Being, not in the form of a human, but in the form of a planet–a living, breathing being.

Each species has its own language, yet as our Mother you can understand us all. That is why you can hear me today. That is why I can open my heart to you and offer you my prayer.

Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the Sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself.

I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and wellbeing is my own health and wellbeing. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.

But sometimes I forget. Lost in the confusions and worries of daily life, I forget that my body is your body, and sometimes even forget that I have a body at all. Unaware of the presence of my body and the beautiful planet around me and within me, I am unable to cherish and celebrate the precious gift of life you have given me. Dear Mother, it is my deep wish to wake up to the miracle of life. I promise to train myself to be present for myself, my life and for you in every moment. I know that my true presence is the best gift I can offer you, the one I love.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 18, 2019