The sky was a brilliant blue above me and white clouds moved over it like light cotton balls across the surface of a beautiful pond. All around me, countless yellow dandelions swayed with the gentle breeze and waves of grass undulated with the currents of the wind. I carefully selected a tree with cool shade beneath it, sat down, placed my hands in the Zen full moon mudra and focused my attention fully on the present moment.
When one meditates in nature, one never meditates alone. As I sat with a straight back, my hair moving gently with the breeze, I noticed that the dandelions and grass also kept an upright pose and set themselves in harmony with the wind. The tree against which my back rested similarly maintained its upright posture, indeed, far better than I could.
By my feet, a ladybug came to rest on a leaf and stayed with me throughout my meditation. I found it difficult to maintain a perfectly still posture; an itch here, a pain there, a straining back all tugged at my attention. But the ladybug was perfectly stationary. After it arrived, it stayed perfectly still throughout the whole of the meditation. It did not move so much as a single leg and remained calm. Even when I gently touched the leaf on which it sat, it was not disturbed; it held its focus and remained still. The ladybug is a far more advanced meditator than I am. It models the practice for me as a teacher and I strive to reach its level of stillness and relaxation into its environment.
As I sat beneath the tree, I meditated with my natural sangha, my community of fellow practitioners. I meditated with the ladybug and the dandelion, the towering trees and the vast blue sky, the industrious ants beside me and the squirrel in the tree above me. A cat came up to me and placed its paws on my leg. It meditated with me for a while before moving on elsewhere.
In the natural community of meditators, each being meditates according to its capacities, each centering itself in the present moment and its immediate environment. Some beings do stationary meditation, like the ladybug, the dandelion, the tree, and the stone. Others do walking meditation or action meditation, like the cat and the squirrel. Some beings are more adept at concentration than others; the ladybug remained focused in its stillness, but the cat got distracted and found itself drawn away from its seated meditation. The natural sangha is like the human sangha; in both, the practitioners vary in their abilities to concentrate and remain still, and in both, this variation is embraced. We, the community of animate and inanimate being, wherever we may be, practice together as best we can.
As I sat beneath the tree, I noticed myself relaxing into the space, harmonizing with the trees and the animals and the insects and stones, connecting with the rhythm of life in the surrounding environment. My breath harmonized itself with the wind, and my posture, with the tree. I was mindful of the processes of change, flux, and impermanence that operated within the body-mind and the environment alike. I felt compassion for my fellow beings, each struggling with its own particular suffering.
I felt at peace with the beings around me and expressed my openness to them through my presence and posture; the cat responded to this openness by coming to see me and staying with me for a while. I saw that I do not have my being in a void; everything in the universe inter-is together.
When we are open, the universe responds. When we are in harmony with nature, we do not blunder along like a car with two wheels; we flow, we tune into the melody of life. Each thing adds its own rhythm and melody to the song of life through its unique being and behaviour; it is up to each being to determine whether its contribution will be harmonic or dissonant, constructive or destructive.
Meditating with nature reminded me of both the interconnectedness of life and of nature’s profundity as a teacher. Nature’s lessons are always available, but nature does not force. If the student is willing to look and listen, then nature offers its lessons with abundant liberality. However, if the student is unmindful and uncaring, nature remains unaffected. Nature’s teaching is subtle; it does not push or insist. It hides its jewels in plain sight. We can meditate with the commonwealth of life in whatever space we find ourselves in and can learn much if we are open and willing to attentively inquire. The wisdom of nature is expressed not in words, but in being; it teaches through what it is, and we, by emulating its example, can learn to do the same.