Nature Mysticism: A Postmodern and Age-old Wisdom of the Heart

August 19th, 2020

By Santoshan (Stephen Wollaston)

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Many early Celtic Christians drew heavily on the Gospel of John for their inspiration and identified with the disciple Jesus loved, who is described in John as laying close to Jesus’s chest and therefore could have heard and possibly felt Jesus’s own beating heart. Early Celtic Christians often sought to re-enact this passage of the Bible by seeking to find God’s physical presence in the natural world and the wonders of Nature. Their art, prayers, teachings, poems and writings are full of deep mystical insights into the activities of Nature. For the 14th and 15th century English mystic Julian of Norwich, God was seen in everything – the human body and the body of creation – and she insisted, as the early Celtic tradition had done, that both Nature and grace were one.

Similarly for many Hindu yogis, God and (Nature) are one and the same. The Srimad Bhagavata Purana (11.2.41) states that, “Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they all are organs of God’s body; remembering this, a devotee respects all species”. We can see that when we penetrate the deeper dimensions of Christianity and Yoga, we discover elements of Nature mysticism embedded within them – we find holy wells and mountains, sacred trees and rivers, and elemental forces of earth, air, fire and water woven into the tapestry of their practices and insights. The ancient forests of India, Ranchor Prime tells us in his book Vedic Ecology, also share direct links to India’s spiritual past, as many of India’s great teachers would have lived and imparted their wisdom within them.

In fact, any experience of deep contact with Nature often helps in the healing process in times of stress and suffering, and leads us to discover wider and more holistic perspectives of existence that inevitably enrich us in profound and life enhancing ways. Doctors now recognise that simply walking in Nature is one of the best exercises for physical health and mental well-being. As a Londoner I often feel the need to be quiet and spend time in places of great beauty such as Kew Gardens and Epping Forest, which are on the outskirts of London, when the pressures of life make my heart feel heavy. Deep within the majority of children and adults there is a natural sense of awe and wonder experienced when they look up at the multitude of stars that can be seen at night or contemplate the rich beauty of Earth and its colossal array of plants, flowers, trees, insects, animals and birds.

At weekends and on holidays our love of Nature often impels us to escape our brick and concrete buildings to find time to rediscover this natural element of spirituality – to be rejuvenated and spontaneously healed whilst being amongst the dazzling colours and aromatic smells of diverse plants and the amazing wildlife of the countryside, or by contemplating breath-taking rolling hills, majestic mountain ranges, dappled textures of sunlight penetrating lush forests, or the crashing and rolling waves of a roaring sea. Music and song, which is important in many people’s lives and has the power to heal and unite people, is an awesome product of Nature. For many of Earth’s magnificent creatures of the sky, land, oceans and rivers have been singing to and musically improvising with each other for millions of years – long before us humans arrived in the evolutionary history of our magnificent evolving and living planet.

Yet because of mass urbanisation and consumerist pressures and through seeing the world full of resources to plunder and exploit, humankind often does not realise that much of what is loved about the natural world will not be around for long unless a dramatic U-turns is made. Interestingly, all spiritual and mystical traditions are about waking up, becoming more aware of life, seeing how all things are interrelated, how skilful and unskilful actions have consequences, and through this understanding to become more responsible for our impact on Earth life. Both Christian and Yogic spirituality teach about embracing our humanity, working with and transforming our destructive tendencies in order to uncover profound wisdom that overflows into the actions of our daily lives, and how this leads to becoming naturally and spontaneously active forces for good. This includes being an activist in whatever spiritual and compassionate way we can.

Prophets of our age such as Thomas Berry emphasised the importance of ‘the great work’ that lies ahead. But great changes will only happen when people band together and get fully behind ideas. The seemingly impossible can be achieved when we have the vision and driving force of prophets such as Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. It is a difference between falling apart into hopelessness or finding empowerment through uniting and working together. Berry termed the new era of spirituality needed for our times ‘the Ecozoic era’: an era where humans live in mutually enhancing relationships with Earth and the Earth community – which is different to old ideas of stewardship – as it puts us humans on a more equal footing with the rest of Nature, instead of seeing humans as the peak of Creation.

Berry felt that we had lost our links with Earth because we no longer share myths and stories our early ancestors had that helped them find close bonds with the natural world. Because of this, what is now seen as a New Earth/Universe Story (what scientist now know about the unfolding of the Universe from the Big Bang to the formation and diversity of life on Earth) was recognised by Berry and the evolutionary cosmologist Brian Swimme to be needed for humankind to reconnect with its roots and age-old quests for discovering meaning to life. On the whole, contemporary western societies have lost something essential by no longer possessing shared beliefs and teachings and not realising that they can aid us in awakening to significant relationships with Earth. The very first flaring forth of Creation was seen by early rabbis as the first revelation of God in the universe. Before any God of scripture or God of humans, there has been a God of Nature. For God has been working in and through Nature for longer than any human-centred spiritual or religious tradition. When we have nothing to bring us together or to help us find a deep sense of belonging, we often clog-up our lives with material products we do not need and immerse ourselves in pursuits that lead us away from an authentic spirituality that can in fact profoundly enrich us.

If we consider how various people, cultures and communities have different beliefs and things they value, such as money, power or being compassionate to all beings, we see how these will influence individuals, groups and nations differently. For this reason, it is important to look at our values and other influences in our societies and communities. Any harm deliberately brought against another will hurt us in return because we ourselves have brought selfishness and violence instead of benevolent qualities into the world in we ourselves live. Apostle Paul’s writings remind us about an awareness of ‘the mind of Christ’, which is about awakening to the same inclusive, loving and caring consciousness as Jesus. Jesus’s wisdom invariably focused on a life centred in the immanent presence of the divine and freedom from impractical rules and customs that restrict displays of generosity, hospitality, kindness and peace-making actions.

If we follow on from the paths of wisdom that have gone before and embrace wide visions of spirituality in order to untangle ourselves from unhealthy patterns of grasping for things we do not need or from rejecting wholesome ways of living because they force us to reassess how we view the rights of other people and species, we will arrive at a more centred, nourishing and spiritual place. In the midst of such awakenings we tap into the power of authentic being and instead of obscuring who we truly are, face and work through denied levels and difficult stages and find ways of opening to purer qualities of heart that embrace the welfare of others – though in fact there are no others as we are all part of one family. Allowing all things and existence to enter into and touch our individual lives deeply, inspires us into wholesome activities and actions such as giving our time and help freely and unconditionally when external life calls for our assistance.

Numerous spiritual traditions are about being awake to this potential, and the abilities and possibilities that are available to us in every moment, which can lead us to being spontaneously creative and to participate skilfully in life as it unfolds. This active form of spirituality is intrinsically bound-up with wholeness and compassion. It is bound-up with that which can naturally flow from us as a result of wholesome interconnections with all. It awakens us in to the Dance of Divine Creation in the quest for cosmic harmony, through which we are led to a deeper sense of what is truly sacred. The spiritual roots of this are found not only in Christian and Yogic mystical teachings, but with aspects of Sufi, Buddhist, Daoist, ancient Celtic, African Bush people’s, Australian Aboriginal, Native American, Hasidic Jewish and Neo-Pagan spirituality, and connects us with awesome birth of our Creative Universe.

About the author:

This article is based on the author’s book ‘Rivers of Green Wisdom: Exploring Christian and Yogic Earth Centred Spirituality’. Title number four in the low-cost GreenSpirit Book Series: https://www.greenspirit.org.uk/

Stephen is an ordained interfaith minister and was given the name Santoshan (contentment) by an English swami in the mid-90s. In his early 20s, he was the principal bass guitarist of one of London’s first punk rock bands, The Wasps. He has studied transpersonal psychology, typographic design, and holds a degree in religious studies and a postgraduate certificate in religious education from King’s College London. He has served as a trustee of the UK charity GreenSpirit (www.greenspirit.org.uk) for many years, is a member of GreenSpirit’s editorial and publications committee, and the designer of GreenSpirit magazine. He was also a long-time close friend of the late UK medium and former Benedictine monk Glyn Edwards, co-authored his first two books with him and edited anthologies of his wisdom.

In all, Stephen/Santoshan has authored, co-authored and edited over twelve books, including ‘The House of Wisdom: Yoga Spirituality of the East and West’; ‘Spirituality Unveiled: Awakening to Creative Life’; ‘Rivers of Green Wisdom: Exploring Christian and Yogic Earth Centred Spirituality’; ‘Realms of Wondrous Gifts: Psychic, Mediumistic and Miraculous Powers in the Great Mystical and Wisdom Traditions’; and the multi-authored ‘Pathways of Green Wisdom: Discovering Earth Centred Teachings in Spiritual and Religious Traditions’ (GreenSpirit). See his Facebook page for more details: www.facebook.com/stevewollastonsantoshan/


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