I have often said the being outside in nature is a form of spiritual practice for me. In fact, I will quite regularly choose to hike on a Sunday morning rather than attend a church. What is it about nature that speaks so profoundly to me? I could not say with certainty. I might say that I feel God in the wind blowing through the top of the trees, or that I felt the pulse of the entire world within the trunk of an old tree and get the urge to hug the tree and feel all of that beautiful life. I might also say that in the actual rhythm of walking, I experience meditative prayer on a very deep level. I no longer see anything extraneous, only my feet walking one foot in front of the other. It is unbelievably calming. Finally, I might also say that just by being outside, I feel a freedom that the actions of daily life do not allow for. Space creates a sense of freedom that no amount of constricted living can erase.
I might say all of these things, but it really boils down to the feeling that I get when I am hiking. No words can do it justice, nor would I try to assign words to the experience. The mystic Hildegard of Bingen said it best with, “I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon, and stars …. I awaken everything to life.” It is an awakening on every level. A freeing of the mind to see what is, rather than what the mind believes to be true. Some assign the label of Nature Mysticism to this practice, or the seeking of spiritual awakening via nature. I hesitate to label anything. I am a party to no specific philosophy, religion or practice and as such place the same restrictions on my investigation of mysticism. I can only know and understand what communing with nature does for me. It is healing of both mind and body and nourishing for the soul. That is enough reason for me to view the time spent walking outside as sacred and I protect it as such.
As I get older, I have developed a curious dislike of constriction. I completely understand how the elderly are often trying to take off their clothes much to the chagrin of their caretakers. As soon as I arrive home from work, I am tying up my hair, taking off my shoes and bra and throwing on some loose and comfortable clothing. It is my favorite part of the day! The constriction of our busy lives can be suffocating, leaving a constant tightness of both body and spirit. We are not meant to sit in tiny offices for hours on end. Our bodies need to move to experience their full potential, feel the wind in our hair and breathe fresh air.
This is not only a metaphorical suggestion, but a matter of life or death for me. I must move every single day or face the consequences of muscle tightness and fatigue. Multiple Sclerosis is a challenging disease. The body needs movement but often fights against it, not that much different from a spiritual journey. We stubbornly live with our set ideas, fighting against what we intuitively know to be the correct path. I like to think of myself as the tops of the trees blowing in the wind, steadfast and strong yet supple and gentle. If I can live as beautifully and connected to nature as a tree, then I have done good work.