Paths Through Nature
I walk upon the Earth with the intention of developing, maintaining and worshiping my deep and sacred connection with nature and ancestral wisdom. Nature to me is a representation of the Divine force from which all life stems. Earth-based or nature-focused spirituality is a path which comes from pagan belief and traditions. It is a spiritual practice which sees all life as sacred and nature as Divine. It wonders at the beauty of the universe and observes ancient rituals. Some of the most recognisable Pagan paths are Shamanism, Druidry, Wicca or an eclectic practice (Eclectic Paganism), which combines elements from more than one branch of Pagan spirituality.
If we think of God, the Universe, the Divine, Wholeness, nature, unconditional love, inner truth, transformation, soul, transpersonal peak experiences – these are all qualities, events and characteristics which could be applied to both nature-based spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Both seek to ignite a deep spiritual experience within us, stir up vibrations in every corner of our soul, so transformation and healing can occur through close contact with nature and finding the Divine within us. We are all born with the aim to seek truth, to connect with and live our soul’s purpose. We seek to return back to nature, back to Earth having had a life of awareness and joy found in the understanding of living a life as a whole through integrating and reclaiming every part of ourselves.
Spirituality and psychology have a clear link and particularly when one is dealing with potential, true essence and growing towards individuation both disciplines seem to me to meet on equal terms. As J. Rowan said ‘It seems clear to me now that what is at the other end (of psychological work) is spirituality. In other words, to reach the end of the bridge means facing and exploring the numinous, the holy, the divine.’ (The Transpersonal, p.3). The psychotherapeutic process is, therefore, a place where spirituality and psychology meet. The transpersonal perspective is preoccupied with striving towards the Divine within and so does nature-based spirituality.
Transpersonal psychotherapy uses the same tools and techniques in client work as a nature spirituality practitioner would do when connecting with Nature. Both work with making the unconscious conscious, creative imagination, art, altered states of consciousness, meditation, breathing, working with the elements and shadow work. It also includes working towards discovering and empowering your own unique talents, skills and potential, healing the inner child, learning about death and rebirth cycles, relationships, communication, spiritual connection with other deities, e.g. plants and animals, generally growing ‘beyond the ego’. All of these are important elements for both practices.
Spring is a new beginning, a new life coming forth, new seeds being planted and breaking through the soil towards the Sun. It is a powerful pull towards the light, yet a feeling of wanting to stay in the underworld of the unconscious is also present.
The Therapeutic Experience of Spring
As we approach March the energies around are very still and slow. In my experience it is like being in a sort of slow motion almost unable to see clearly yet there is a subtle stirring of anticipation. In Pagan tradition, the festival of Imbolc is celebrated in February, where the stirring of the Earth is first experienced and the Goddess of Fire Brigit is worshiped. Post-festival I find there is stillness and energetic feeling of emptiness.
Spring is a new beginning, a new life coming forth, new seeds being planted and breaking through the soil towards the Sun. It is a powerful pull towards the light, yet a feeling of wanting to stay in the underworld of the unconscious is also present. Coming out of winter hibernation is not an easy task, as with all the unconscious material being present. We are called to break through towards a new beginning, a new light and be born again. The process of birthing is a challenge, which we need to overcome; it is a necessary and a joyous part of natural cycles of nature, which correlates with a personal journey of a human being in the grand scheme of things. All transformation requires a drop into the roots and there is no more pressing transformation than spring.
As we prepare ourselves to ‘spring’ out of the deep soil of the Mother Earth, we contemplate new possibilities, yet our unconscious, dark shadow material is still ever present, something we sat with throughout winter and must now decide whether we integrate and move forward or remain unbirthed for longer. Do we resist or surrender? Spring doesn’t wait though – things in March start developing quickly and roots deep within the Earth and our unconscious are preparing for meeting warmth and transformation. In March we start with attending to our roots. The Earth is raw and unprepared, which needs cultivating and turning over for the new seeds to take a comfortable place in it. Just like in therapy we attend to what is underneath, what’s in the unconscious and through building a safe container and a strong relationship we slowly start rotivating that soil, attending to any blockages, changing the texture, looking closely at things before planting anything new. In transpersonal psychology the process of Alchemy begins with the stage of Nigredo, a dark and cold place of deep wounds and scars, emotional traumas and dark material of the soul. We look deep into our unconscious and so the process begins.
The Ash tree is the sacred tree of March, it is ancient in its wisdom and a symbol of a human life. We start at the roots in our unconscious, slowly going up and finishing with branches stretching towards light. A tree image is powerful on any journey of transformation and sacred to my own practice of earth spirituality. Trees hold the truth and speak of great possibilities and the importance of attending to roots properly if one is to enjoy green lushness of the top. The sacred Ash tree is a perfect representation of how one travels from a place of dark unconscious wounding towards a promise and hope of transformation. Both principles so very present in nature spirituality and the psychology of transformation.
‘The World Ash is the centre pole of the universe. It is the story of spring. It is the journey of human life. It is the cycle of the year that begins in descent and arises through empowerment into freedom. Perhaps most potent of all, it is a magical recipe for the transformation of all struggle into glory.’ (Siddons Heginworth, I. p.82)
Every year nature presents us with opportunities to be reborn. At Spring Equinox the process culminates and begins to develop our qualities by coming into our relationships and balancing our being. We come to a mature stage at Summer Solstice, reaping our rewards through collecting what we have sown during August and September before going within for deeper reflection and contemplation at the end of the year at Samhain and towards Winter Solstice ready to be born again in March. It is a circular motion of things beginning and ending. Nature based spirituality is wise in its lessons of birth, growth, learning and death, which draws parallels with transpersonal ideas of making the unconscious conscious, developing awareness and reaching your full potential connecting to the true qualities of the soul.
Each year presents us with an opportunity to work through wounds and deeply repressed issues from early life. Nature presents theatre, if you like, where you can play out your stories of loss, harsh wounding and finding joy again. It is the perfect vessel for going beyond the ego, to allow transpersonal experiences come into your life and through creative imagination, symbology and the elements we can achieve healing.
Nature is not without darkness or pain, and for me, practicing Earth-based spirituality includes both The God and the Goddess, as Above, so is Below. It is both darkness and light, life and death. I find nature the most powerful healer but also a profound trigger for suppressed emotional material. If you carry wounds within your psyche, nature will mirror it back to you and if you are brave enough to withstand it, you will acquire the ultimate courage to transform. It is the perfect mirror of our inner experience in the outer physical world. Like transpersonal psychology, nature seeks unity and once you embrace its powers, as a whole and do not allow yourself to escape you will be immersed into the murky water of your unconscious, which then becomes a safe place to begin healing. Nature is that safe container, as referred to in the therapy setting, where you can release and breakdown before rising and transforming. That vessel that holds it all – tears, joys, wounds, questions presents itself in messages in leaves, rain drops, tree bark, grass, flowers, etc. It is like the belly of Gaia, the source of life and the source of death. In nature spirituality Gaia, forests, rivers, lakes and mountains are our safe container and therapy room. It is simple yet so profound and if only we stop and stand still for a minute we might experience something life-changing. The transpersonal perspective talks about making whole, about the deep potential of the soul. In nature when one finds oneself inseparable from all that is around, one finds a meaning and re-discovers treasures which have been suppressed or hidden for a long time.
A Personal Story – Conversations With Trees
I will share a story with you called ‘Conversations with the trees’. It describes how I felt abandoned by the very things I felt so much connection with and shows how nature can trigger supressed emotions. Nature acts as a trigger in order to provide us with learning and subsequent healing. Triggers make us aware of own resistance to healing and our desire to remain in pain: of material which we had banished into the shadow. Just like in a therapeutic journey one can also become aware of resistance to opening up the wounds when in nature.
As I approached the woods, anxiety began filling up my energy field and my body became rigid and my throat constricted. I walked very much on guard. As I entered the woods through my usual route, my anxiety increased and I was aware of being very jumpy. Then I realised there was this huge contrast between what was happening inside of me and my surroundings, a battle between internal and external and how I could not come into my own because of outside conditioning, pressure, expectations, etc. That contrast became apparent, so I went to one of my trees to try and climb it, but it would not let me. I kept slipping and hurting myself. Bark would scrape my skin and branches push against my face getting in my eyes. The tree was saying – ‘Stay grounded, don’t run into your higher chakras, it is time you faced it fully. You have been working hard, yet, you are not there yet. Stay firmly on the ground.’ A strong urge to fight erupted in me, a stubborn child-like energy, which was determined to keep going. I managed the climb, but I immediately felt so dizzy up there that I had to come down. I looked back at the tree in anger and deep sadness came up within me. The tree looked back at me and it felt wounded to me, like it has been hurt. The perfect reflection of my emotional state.
I proceeded to my other tree and sat on its roots, yet that didn’t feel welcoming either. I felt deep sadness and even more anxiety and realised that inside of me there felt as if there was a ball of fire, wanting to come out, but it was being desperately supressed. My heart and throat chakras spilled into one another and became interlinked tightly. I often see these two chakras come up together in visualisations. In my heart there is a Fair Maiden archetype, who is very delicate and very still. It is unbelievably still, almost frozen and there is a ball of fire on the other side. A perfect reflection of unbalanced elements. So, with the sadness, tightness and heaviness in my heart I decided to keep on going deeper into the woods. I started to feel very hot and breathless, feeling all of that suppressed Fire. I came across a stunning guardian of a tree, which I hadn’t encountered before and the tree let me hug him. I asked him for something to take away and keep. Something to keep me grounded and centered. He gave me a big leaf and a bit of its bark. In that moment the tree felt very warm and understanding of my struggle. I breathed easier and my senses began calming down.
Through symbols like these encountered by me in nature lots of feelings came up. It highlighted a conflict happening in my heart and throat, which nature perfectly reflected back at me. What this says, just like in a therapeutic setting, is that until full attention is given to wounds and unbalanced, supressed emotions, further movement in the process is impaired. What we experience during March is the process of preparation for renewal through attending to our roots first in order to grow. This cycle in nature is one of many opportunities to learn from our wounding. Following the pagan celebrations of Imbolc and its Goddess of sacred fire and sacred well, Brigit, we seek to balance and unite the two most powerful elements of Fire and Water within us. Where there is Fire and Water, there is great potential.
By and large my own awakening process began while on a transpersonal psychotherapy course and nothing was coincidental in discovering my path in nature. I became drawn to it through engaging with creative imagination, working through imagery within my unconscious, learning and engaging with the Alchemical process, navigating dreams, learning meditation and breath work, as well as, traveling through levels of consciousness. Through practicing these techniques I arrived ‘home’ and realised that I AM nature, trees are my brothers and sisters and the energy of Gaia runs through my veins. I simply cannot exist without my sacred connection to the Earth.
A transpersonal experience is something you feel, yet you cannot explain or describe. These experiences are often waiting for us in forests, mountains, lakes and oceans, when the Sun falls and rises again and when we stand still and really hear that bird song as if it was for the first time. These experiences are about knowing, it goes beyond belief, it is a pure and sacred experience and discovering it transforms a being to another level of consciousness where things just make sense. And so today, in March we find ourselves between stages of darkness and light, healing and wounding and today we begin our process of trying to make sense of our emotional inner space and how it influences our experience on outside. We are preparing to grow towards the light, towards our new transpersonal experience.
Rowan, J. (1993). The Transpersonal. Psychotherapy and Counselling. Routledge, London
Siddons Heginworth, I. (2008). Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Life. Spirit’s Rest Books, Exeter