We are nearing the end of a thaw. The past three days have been warm, and we have had rain. There is little snow left on the ground, and what snow remains tends to be in the woods. This is a process that repeats throughout the winter, a series of mid-winter springs.
I having been watching my personal emotional ups and downs associated with the Holidays. One moment I feel connected to family, the next I am lost in old loneliness. Now I am aware of the abundance of life; now the world is empty. Our awareness, like the natural world of which we are each, and all, a part, is always in flux. The mind changes; innumerable voices speak, often offering conflicting points of view. Are these processes of the self any different from the constant jostling of warm and cold air masses that creates the changing seasons, even within seasons?
This question seems dear to both shamans and Buddhists. Both would probably answer “yes” to that question, yet each might take away from the discussion a different meaning. Perhaps the Buddhist would be reminded of the emptiness of phenomena, and the urgency of transcendence. I imagine the shaman would dwell on her imbeddedness in Nature, and find comfort and meaning as part of a larger whole. Both might look beyond surface appearances to the rich, luminous ground from which all the beauty and violence of the living world arises, and know that self also arises from that ground.
Like the Zen Buddhist monk who builds a hut deep in the forest, the shaman turns to Nature to find a mirror for self. Looking deeply into the processes of the natural world we begin to see the immensity of self. We may catch glimpses of the universality inherent in our wounds, and find ourselves walking in the footsteps of the mythic ones. We may even begin to see, however fleetingly, the perfection underlying this very moment, and in so doing, glimpse ourselves as radiant beings.
Eliot Porter said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” Shamanic cultures have long known the healing power of wilderness. As wilderness becomes less accessible, we may forget the healing that arises from contact with the natural world. Yet, the natural world is everywhere, even in the most densely populated city. It is as close as a park, garden, or shaman’s rattle. We can reconnect and find healing.