“Believe one who knows: you will find something greater in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.” ~ Saint Bernard de Clairvaux
If you had read it any sooner, it just wouldn’t have had the same impact…it wouldn’t move you or speak to you in quite the same way.
Have you noticed how experiencing the natural world makes you feel more fully alive? In this book, Chard asks, “How do you feel after you’ve been face-to-face or skin-to-skin with the natural world?”
“Whether it was a meander through a park, basking in the summer sun, plunging into a crystal clear lake, getting soaked down by a cold rain, or hauling your rear and forty pounds of gear up some gut-busting trail, I’m betting you felt more alive.”
As I read these words, I felt something inside me cry out, “Yes, I did!”
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always had a love for nature. There hasn’t been a time in my life where I haven’t been captivated by the sway of a weeping willow, the quiet babble of a brook, or the twinkling of stars across a clear midnight sky.
But my recent venture deep into the Himalayan countryside has left me forever changed in ways I could never have imagined. I felt alive in a way I had never experienced before.
Days of bathing and swimming in cold streams, splashing my face with icy water, sprawling out on the soft grass to bask in the sun’s heat, learning to ignore the flies buzzing and ants crawling around me…
Practicing yoga on uneven terrain, digging my toes into the dirt to find greater balance, headstands with views of upside-down peaks in the distance…
Curling up in a warm sleeping bag and gazing up at the stars, and morning meditation on top of a mountain with a 360-degree view of massive snow-covered peaks…
But it was so much more than just the feeling of being truly alive. It was more than a sense of peace and serenity. A transformation was taking place…one that I am just now beginning to understand.
I know now that I was beginning to tap into nature’s ways.
As you will see in this book, “the ‘great outdoors’ is much more than experiencing good feelings, sensory delights, pleasing aesthetics and wild adventures. Nature’s Ways shows how a deeper connection to the earth can lead to an enriched spiritual and emotional path.”
Nature is truly powerful–“with it’s hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, supernovas, quasars, and black holes.” Nature’s Ways is not about conquering or harnessing this power–it’s about exploring and seeking to understand nature’s ways–so that perhaps they can once again become our ways.
According to Chard, nature offers us “doorways” into both the inner and spiritual realm. It’s likely that many of us have experienced an open doorway, but less likely that we’ve crossed that threshold.
Anytime you feel yourself captivated by something in nature, anytime you’ve felt your breath catch in your throat and your feet unable to move — perhaps when standing near a secluded waterfall in a desert canyon or when gazing up at the sun streaking through a patch of puffy clouds — this is a doorway, inviting you in for deeper exploration.
By actively participating in the natural world, we come to understand that reconnecting with nature is one of the best medicines for healing not only the body, but also the mind and spirit.
Fortunately, you don’t need to spend 30 days in the mountains to “experience the sacred in the natural world.”
For some, you may need not look further than your own backyard. For others, this might mean a trip to a local park, nature preserve, or national park.
Chard tells us, “while the place matters…the more important factor is one’s consciousness.” “Many people–perhaps most–walk through the woods…They do not walk in the woods.”
Essentially, it’s the intent that you bring to your interactions with nature that matter most — that you are truly awake, aware, and immersed in the experience. Only in this way will you discover the “sacred” in nature.
In other words, you aren’t likely to find one of these “doorways” while out for trail run, four-wheeling, snowboarding, or tubing down a river.
Finding a doorway
“As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door that does not look like a door opens.” ~ Stephen Graham
Occasionally, as described above, a door will unexpectedly present itself to us. But like a kettle waiting to boil, they may elude us when we seek them.
In Nature’s Ways, Chard outlines several different “ways” of nature that work best with us at different times, depending on what we are currently feeling or experiencing in our lives. For example, a writer suffering from writer’s block may want to explore the “way of the clouds.”
Other “ways” of nature Chard discusses include: place, trees, water, stones, wind, walking, sound, storms, night, and the wild, as well as the ways of being and transformation. In fact, there is a chapter with detailed descriptions and illustrative stories for each of these ways.
Worried about the weather?
You may be thinking, “too bad it’s nearly winter.” True, in many places it’s no longer warm and sunny — but just because winter will soon be upon us doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to commune with nature.
Quite the contrary.
Chard suggests winter is actually one of the best times to experience nature, as it’s a time when terrain is easier to navigate–void of thick underbrush, running streams, bugs, and usually, other people!
Moreover, winter also offers a whole new set of challenges, which can be instrumental in facilitating transformation.
As a nature therapist and spiritual guide, Philip Chard also uses these ways, these interactions with nature, as a means to promote emotional healing. Essentially, he shows others how nature can become a path to better connect with ourselves, to understand ourselves, and to heal.
It is a process of engaging with the senses and releasing thoughts.
Rather than lying on a couch, Chard might bring his clients out into the woods to stroll by a creek or lay in an open field. “Open your senses…mute your thinking mind and just drink in your surroundings. Use your eyes, ears, nose, fingers…your senses,” he instructs.
Nature therapy isn’t just for the emotionally distressed or for those in need of healing. It’s for anyone who, through the busyness and chaos of the modern world, has lost touch with their truest self — the self that is intimately aware of our interconnectedness will all of nature, with everyone and everything around us.
The good news is, you don’t need to make a trip to Northern Wisconsin to engage in nature therapy. Chard has poured his years of knowledge, experience, and personal stories into his most recent book in order to share Nature’ Ways with anyone willing to put themselves out there — out in nature, that is.
Throughout Nature’s Ways, Chard employs the language of physics, cosmology, and evolutionary biology to explain in scientific terms what sages and ancient mystics have been claiming all along: that we (humans, plants, animals, rocks, stars) are all connected.
We are all parts of the same whole. Ripples of energy in the expanse of space and time. And as energy ourselves, it’s possible to reconnect with this universal energy.
“For 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world. Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.” ~ Janine M. Benyus
This is just one of several different perspectives Chard brings to the table. He challenges you to think of spirituality from a different angle–a more natural one.
In this regard, Chard describes himself as a nature mystic — “someone who has been spiritually sculpted by interactions with nature in ways that are enlightening, livening, and transcendent, not to mention just plain wondrous,” — and writes this book for aspiring nature mystics.
He describes the “modus operandi” of the nature mystic as “soulfulness”, which is basically “a sensory-based experience that alters one’s consciousness by diluting the ego and amplifying one’s sense of oneness with the Creation.”
Similar to mindfulness, Chard likens soulfulness to a sort of “extroverted meditation.”
Unlike traditional meditation, where the goal is to seek “inside” for our truest selves, “through nature, we go outside to find our inside.”
“The spiritual is ever-present and available within the material, and it is only our preoccupations with the hard-and-fast elements of life, our propensity for intellectual “aboutism” (thinking about something rather than being with something), or our inability to tune our consciousness to the unity of things that keeps it invisible.” ~ Philip Chard
One day, when he was a young boy, Philip Chard was laying on his back by a lake, staring up at the clouds. After a little while, his godfather joined him and asked, “What do you see?” The young Philip rattled off figures, animals, and objects floating through the sky.
“Someday,” his Godfather began, “someday, Phil, someone will tell you that those are just clouds…But, don’t you believe it.”
Now, decades later, Chard is grateful to say that he doesn’t believe it. When it comes to nature, it’s never “just” or “merely” anything.
“To the dull mind nature is leaden. To the illuminated mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
My Challenge to You
Despite the cold and amidst the chaos that often comes with the holiday season, give yourself one of the greatest gifts — make time for yourself. Create space and time to commune with nature, even if it’s a ten minute walk in the woods.
And if you’re interested in digging deeper, Nature’s Ways would make an excellent gift for yourself — or other aspiring nature mystics in your life.
“Go out, go out I beg of you, and taste the beauty of the wild. Behold the miracle of the earth with all the wonder of a child.” ~ Edna Jaques
Be wise. Live life!