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Spirituality

Never Forget the Earth

Sandra Lynn Hutchison | Nov 8, 2013

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Sandra Lynn Hutchison | Nov 8, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 142.

“Never forget the earth,” my mother told me. Going through a particularly trying time, and attempting to distract myself, I had gone out into my garden to pull some weeds. I felt better afterwards, which didn’t surprise my mother. Even into her late 80’s, she continued to work, daily in the good weather, in her yard. After she lost my father, she would find solace in picking her Bing cherries, pruning her raspberry bushes, or cleaning up her flower beds.

She had grown up on a farm, and, like her own mother, she viewed the earth as a comforter and a friend, good for her body as well as her soul.

I learned early on to seek refuge in the natural world. As a child, I would walk alone in the woods at my grandmother’s farm, where I would lie down in a bed of leaves and sleep. As I drifted off, I would gaze at the pattern of interconnected branches and sky above me. My anxieties would evaporate. I felt connected to the elemental. The trees took me into their company. I felt the joy of pure physicality – my own body embraced by the body of the world.

In my search for God as a graduate student, I turned again to the natural world, making frequent, silent sojourns at retreat houses in remote and often hauntingly beautiful settings. On my daily walks, the natural world always served as my guide to a world of deeper reflection.

I remember one retreat I made in the November of the final year of my doctoral work, nearing the end of the allotted time for completing my Ph.D. The bulk of my thesis work still loomed before me. I would need to write about 300 pages in six months in order to cover the subject in depth. How would I produce that many pages? How would I bring them all together in a coherent whole?

One Friday night, in a state of desperation, I hopped on the train and headed for a retreat house in the suburban wilds, just outside the city. In my youthful hubris, I made the decision that I would stay there until God spoke to me, either telling me to quit the Ph.D. program or providing me with the inspiration necessary to complete the work.

On the first day, anxious thoughts rushed through my busy mind. On the second day, the thoughts began to clear, like a lifting fog. On the third day, I began to notice the world around me: the chatter of the nuthatches as they fortified their nests for winter, a flaming crimson leaf that still, in November, clung to its branch. Gradually, my mind filled with the sights and sounds of nature. I walked and I walked, and by the fourth day, I had begun to live entirely in the present moment.

Out walking on the fifth and final day of my retreat, a pea soup fog descended. Too late to turn back, I kept going. Where was “back” anyway? Fear began to set in. The woods stretched for miles. People had gotten lost there. And worse…. Scenes from a Sherlock Holmes’ style murder mystery unfolded in my mind.

foggy woodsWhich way should I go? Slowly I made my way but I had no idea where. Then, through the fog, I heard the chattering of nuthatches. I remembered their tree at the edge of the field. I walked towards the sound and began to feel a very slight rise in the earth beneath me, and I recognized the small hill I walked up each day.

As I continued to walk, the sights and sounds around me began to recede before an inner stillness, a calm that seemed unassailable. Nothing could disrupt my peace, my clarity. My mind had become a clean slate, ready to write on again, not by something outside me but by something within me.

Looking back, I realize now my first real experience of meditation happened at that moment. I had asked a question and in the clarity of meditation, I could hear the voice of my own spirit offering the answer. Which way do I go to get out of this fog? Should I continue the doctoral work or not? The answers: just keep walking, one step after another. Just keep writing, one page after another.

“Never forget the earth” – I often call to mind my mother’s words and remember what I learned on that retreat: I do not need to go anywhere to find God. In a very physical way, God exists all around me — in every atom of the physical creation. He isn’t just in the pattern: He is the pattern. Creator, Maker, Fashioner – God’s names touch the earth and He touches me.

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Comments

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  • bren goode
    Nov 10, 2013
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    Beautiful writing! You are very fortunate in having such a mother which open the doors for such experiences.
    There is a recent hypothesis (nature deficit disorder) that there is a link to behavior problems and not spending time outdoors.
  • Harriet Pasca-Ortgies
    Nov 9, 2013
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    This piece really resonates with me! Though I live in a suburban area, the backyard is like a nature preserve. Listening to birds, growing flowers and vegetables, watching the change of the seasons - they all speak if I listen carefully enough. I also have turned to nature during times of stress and loss and have found a certain peace and solace. This is a beautiful piece and I thank you!
  • Richard Hollinger
    Nov 9, 2013
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    If nature represents the will of God in this world, that explains why the natural world is universally seen as a place to connect with the transcendent. In the busy, day-to-day world in which we live, it is easy to forget that this refuge exists. Thank you for the reminder.
  • Shira Hollinger
    Nov 9, 2013
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    Wonderful piece!
  • Marjan Nirou Saniee
    Nov 9, 2013
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    Thank you for this beautiful piece and for reminding us that in our connection to Earth we also find Spirit
  • James Howden
    Nov 9, 2013
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    From her bio, I assume that Ms. Hutchison has lived in China, and so she'll know at first hand that despite its ancient culture, the subtle paintings of mountains and cherry blossoms, the importance of the countryside in feeding a nation of billions, China in large measure has forgotten the earth. At least, the mainly urban young people that I've know best over the last five years have an incredible remoteness from natural things. In my northeastern Chinese city, birds are rare, and of only two species that I've noticed. I hiked along stone paths with colleagues recently through a ...mountain park, *highly* man-made, but still there were trees and fresher skies and no cars. Also, though: It was a "silent fall" walk without birdsong, without any wildlife except for the first squirrel I've seen here in nearly five years. Students and staff don't bother closing screens because insects, even flies, are quite rare. Young people here are shockingly afraid of little moths, harmless spiders; one rainy day a frog found itself on a street near our home. Hundreds of students from the adjacent college were skirting the thing like it was radioactive, little squeals of dismay and fright emanating from many (female, but the guys weren't much different) mouths, turning to wondering alarm when I picked up the frog and put it into a little bushy area by the side of the road so it wouldn't get splattered.
    As a small-town Canadian who misses his garden, I loved reading this piece. It's good medicine, and a good reminder not only of how healing nature can and should be, but also of how privileged we are in North America to (even today, if we'll go looking even a little) be able to access fairly unblemished pages of the Book of creation. It's also a tribute to earth-minded and active citizens whose warnings back in the 60s and 70s were often (eventually) heeded, and who still remind us that the earth is our home, not only in some abstract global way but also down to the gritty and the nitty: Ms. Hutchison's feeling of being "connected to the elemental...[of] the joy of pure physicality – my own body embraced by the body of the world..."
    Read more...
    • Dr. Sandra Lynn Hutchison
      Nov 9, 2013
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      James, yes I lived in China in the late 1980s, when the door had only recently opened to the west. I visited(and climbed!) Buddhist mountains, bicycled into the countryside to visit peasant communes, and traveled to remote rural areas of Anhui Province. At one college where I lectured, no one had encountered a foreigner since before the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949! I was also eyewtiness to the Tiananmen protests. I wrote about all this in my book, Chinese Brushstrokes (Turnstone Press, 1996). Even though China was still, at that time, a very poor country and economic development ...was only beginning to take shape in the form of various joint ventures with foreigners, I could already see that it would not be long before the countryside would be devastated by industrial development and the air, which was already polluted by the coal used to heat homes and fuel stoves, would be saturated with toxins from other sources -- factories, cars -- and that soon China would have a crisis on its hands. China needs some enlightened policy makers. I hope, too, the Chinese educational system will develop programs to teach children how to be wise consumers, to respect the earth and its resources. Perhaps you will be a part of that effort? Sandra
      Read more...
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