The Art of Seeing: the key to connecting with wild nature and the antidote to city life
How many times have I heard the same complaints about city living from my friends:
´Oh I just feel so disconnected from nature´
´I really ought to get out of the city more´
´I just miss the greenery so much!´
It´s true that with more and more people living an urban life, the natural world becomes something that seems ever more distant for so many of us. It involves getting trains, buses, and sometimes hours of journeying. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, it´s not easy to fit these outings to our hectic work and social schedules. So I think we can be forgiven for thinking ´urgh, I can´t just can´t be bothered!´.
The city seems to pull us in and not let us out of her grasp.
Urban Green Spaces
But at least we have the parks and other green spaces in the city (if you are lucky). These can offer respite for the tired city dweller. However, these parks are nothing but a human interpretation of nature. At least here in Madrid, everything is perfectly looked after and manicured within an inch of its life! And the original country bumpkin that I am, this sometimes really gets my goat.
No matter how well maintained and beautiful the park (and in Madrid, there are some really beautiful ones), I feel like there is simply no substitute for connecting with wild nature.
There is just something so much more organic and soothing about wild nature- the balance, the mixture of life and death, the bio-diversity- that you just can´t get in a manicured park.
The Park – A Reflection of Who we are
A manicured park is just another example of man´s control and domination over the Earth- the weeds cannot be there, the plants have to be in perfect lines, the grass has to be short and perfectly cut. In the same way that we cannot accept anything but the manicured female form, we also cannot accept anything else but manicured nature.
Perhaps it is also a reflection of the Western values of intellect, rationality, logic. Within these parameters, there is not much room for the organic Earth and its wildness. Better the organised rows of flowers than the natural flow and rhythm of wild nature that is difficult to understand and follow.
Plus, being in wild nature means that you come face to face with the thing that we fear most- our own demise. In nature, you cannot escape it. It is there at every turn, reminding you of the inevitable. The dead are there lying amongst the undergrowth whilst new life is bursting forth. Life and death in perfect harmony.
Our world reflects back to us who we are, so with that in mind we can take a look at society and see what it is that we really value. Maybe the manicured perfection that we see in the media is a parallel to how we manicure the natural world. Maybe it is a symptom of an unnatural society full of people thinking, behaving and living in an unnatural way- we domesticate ourselves and the world around us.
So what is the solution for us city dwellers? Resign ourselves to the shiny false version of nature that our cities offer us and accept that we are doomed to never know the mysteries of the natural world or make the effort at all costs to get out of the city every weekend?
A New Way of Seeing
Yesterday I was inspired.
I took my bike out down by the river and went in search of the perfect place to do my yoga practice. I imagined a quiet spot, close to the tinkling of the river, away from the family crowd and surrounded by natural beauty.
However, I got sidetracked from my mission by some beautiful blossom trees and so without being able to resist, I stopped to admire them.
Then I continued with my quest, eyeing up a few little spaces along the way but I decided that I would be too much on show. Then as I carried on down the path, I spotted something yellow out of the corner of my eye.
I stopped to investigate. And there on the side of the path were some bright yellow wildflowers, throwing out their light for all to see but ignored by all of the people who passed by. Feeling sorry for them as they were really putting on such a show, I showed my appreciation by taking a few photos of them and giving them a few words of encouragement.
Then, as I admired them, more details started to be revealed to me. In amongst the grass, there were some tiny purple buds, one just about to begin its main performance. So easy to miss but so beautiful! I applauded them and they allowed me to take their photograph.
Next, just as I was beginning to feel a bit self-conscious (people were walking past and looking over curiously wondering what could be so interesting about a bunch of weeds), another star comes out into the limelight…
Can you spot it?
There he was, Señor Snail, enjoying a bit of late morning sun and enjoying the show.
Now the original quest for the perfect spot to do a bit of yoga was well and truly put on the back burner. Nature was revealing itself to me and the show was too good to miss!
As I pondered where to go next, I noticed that the flowers continued around the corner…
And so following my intuition and curiosity I slowly made my way to the edge of the wall to see what was around the corner.
As I peeked around, I was amazed to see another consort of wild dancing flower showgirls, each with its unique and beautiful outfit catching the light of the sun as they swayed together in the morning breeze.
How amazing they were! A variety of shapes and sizes, different species mixed in with others- so much life and vibrancy!
And to think that most people walked passed and didn’t have any idea of the show that they are missing! Instead, they walk on , looking for that ´perfect spot´ that surely will end up being the spot designed to be ´The Spot´ for everyone. Pre-determined at the time of park landscaping, everyone ends up sitting in the same places that others have decided should be the places to sit and enjoy.
Not that I´m against benches and viewpoints but who wants to be like cattle herded through? Maybe those park planners had no idea or appreciation of the best places to stop for a rest and be in nature.
And then there are those who set out with the mission of completing the circuit. They have an objective to fulfil and do not want to be distracted from achieving their goal.
Well, good for them and I wish them the best of luck but I wonder how nourished they feel by steaming through at full speed ahead…each to their own but I can´t help but feel like they missed out!
So, to return to my story, I sat for a while, people-watching amongst the flowers, enjoying their offerings and receiving their love.
And in return for my gratitude, nature showered me with yet more gifts– the birds sang all around me in the trees and the bushes. Then in the blink of an eye, a whole flock appeared above me. I could hear the swosh of their wings as they flew past.
Wow, I felt like I was in paradise. The sun was out and birds were singing, insects were out and about doing their thing. This was the dance of the Earth- one that is always available to us if we have eyes to see.
After a while, it was time to move on. And I still needed to do my practice.
There was a field just to my right that seemed like it could be a good place. Out of the way from the passers-by and flat enough not to fall on my face when I´m doing my asanas.
So there I sat amongst a sea of yet more bright yellow wild flowers and I did my yoga and meditation. And I really felt like I had discovered a secret oasis.
However, as beautiful as it was, this was a far from perfect spot. It had a big motorway bridge just a stone´s throw away, as well as as a city main road. The roar of the cars and lorries passing my made it far from idyllic.
But it was perfect because it was my perfect place for that moment, chosen by me. It was my discovery gifted to me by nature herself and not the park planner. And with so much beauty around me, how could I really complain about a bit of traffic noise?
I was drunk on natures gifts and the imperfection and ugliness of the encroaching city just seemed to give the whole thing more character and interest.
And it reminded me that you don´t need to be far away from the city to enjoy natures gifts.
It not necessary to be in the solitude of the mountain or on some undiscovered beach.
Her gifts are available right now, where ever in the world you find yourself. It is just a question of stopping, pausing, looking. Of simply allowing yourself to be. Of opening your heart and letting nature heal you. Of being humble enough to receive, firm in the knowledge that you deserve it.
Nature doesn´t care about your intellectual abilities, or how cool or successful you are. It couldn´t care less whether you vote for the left or right, whether you are for or against, whether you are right or wrong.
Being present in the moment is all it takes to be receptive to her.
No matter how bad you perceive yourself to be, or whatever you have done in life, she will never deny you what is rightfully yours.
The Art of Seeing
When you stop to really look at the trees stood erect on a still night; when you really stop to see the flowers dance; when you really stop to get to know the birds- you enter a sacred dimension of life.
All the rushing around and the chaos of the city falls away.
If you are looking for it; if you are receptive enough- stillness and joy quietly invade your soul.
So I propose a different way of connecting with wild nature that doesn´t involve a 2 hour train journey and a 12 euro return ticket. Nor does it require you to leave the routine of your day to day life.
Let´s remember to look up and connect with the migrating birds as they journey to warmer climes.
Let´s take the time to look at the trees, the flowers, even the so-called weeds as we walk down the street.
Let´s look out for the little ants before we place our foot down as we leave the house.
Let´s pay attention to the life we have around us right now and not only when we go to the countryside.
The More Beautiful World that we want to create starts from the one we have now. So let´s embrace it warts and all and give our attention to what we want more of- more birds, more insects, more flowers, more plants, more wild nature…more joy, more love, peace…
And just like the dancing consort of wildflowers- more celebration!
Let´s live in constant intoxication of the beauty of life.
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