In my walks for connection, my walks for escaping, walks into beauty and splendour, walks with my sons, the most challenging barrier has tended to not be physical but mental. Even when my intent is to become calm and connected, it often takes longer than I expect to quieten the monkey chatter, the absenting ruminations, the negative projections, the emotional baggage from my day-to-day living. I can be walking in the most peaceful of natural settings, the most diverse and aesthetically rich surrounds yet I am saddled with burdens, mentally elsewhere, in another time and reality to the one I have become physically immersed. In not being fully present, in being lost to my mental ambulations or to the aesthetics of the natural surrounds, I have not been able to release the functional or restricted sense of self with its chatter or vacuousness. This distracted state of mind is common to us all, as the following quote from Henry David Thoreau 150 years ago indicates:
“Of course it is no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit….But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses” Walking (1862)
So I wish to reflect a little on the challenge and importance of surrender in becoming present, in the art and process of transformation, in encountering ‘other’ with honesty and clarity. The bumper sticker overview of my NatureConnect Program is Release-Re-engage-Re-connect. This is the process of experiencing, or attempting to experience depth connectedness, an ecological consciousness in which perception, awareness and consciousness has shifted and deepened into an intimate, relational state of Being. Often, for myself and participants, the most challenging stage is the Release stage. Establishing a steady, observant mental platform of mindful attention upon which to ‘innocently’ encounter the landscape and its life is the purpose of the various activities undertaken during the Release stage – mindfulness (focused and dispersed), yoga asanas, Qi gong and perceptual activities.
Mindfulness is at its essence about surrender, the non-judgmental observation and releasing of thoughts, feelings, emotions until there is just a meta-awareness state, a psychological state of a less personal awareness observing the outer awareness. Its not that there will be no thoughts or feelings or emotions, its just that they can be observed without attachment. Within this altered state of consciousness, you experience total surrender to the moment and enter a state of flow where time and ‘normal’ sense of self and contexts outside of the spacious present are not part of your inner, inclusive awareness. Surrender within the realms of an eco-consciousness is to be open to the possibilities and sacredness of each moment, each being of nature, tree, moss, rock, insect. To be in this open, sacred moment is to come into loving relationship with your wholeness. In this surrender is the portal of depth connection and its healing effects.
We walk with the intent of observing the inner mindscape, and releasing each thought, each rumination with each observant and felt step along the journey. Walking within this ambulant process of surrender is to allow potentially transformative experiences to unfold in their own time, in the timeless presence of ones flowing state. This process is a ritual between the outward focused self and the inner, wiser self in which the outer self surrenders to the spacious, loving inner self. It requires a willingness on both sides (even bravery from the ego self) to let in and let go into the profound and stilling experience of being. It is within this fully present, loving conscious state that we bathe in the sacredness of our interbeing and the ‘nature’ (the Divine) that we are, that sustains and nourishes us.
In his book, The Book of Hours, Rainer Maria Rilke states that in our longing for the Divine we must learn to surrender the sense of separateness of our personal lives. If we are to escape the dreaming state of our separated being, we need to extricate ourselves away from our assumed separateness and awaken to our greater being: “Nothing personal is to remain. We empty ourselves, we surrender, we unfold – until our gestures are found swaying in the treetops and our smile is resurrected among the children who play underneath these trees”. In the surrender is to see our true interconnected being within our lives and the lives of ‘others’ – the swaying trees and the innocent joy of playing children. The release, the surrender is much more than just letting go of our external-based thoughts and emotions and ruminations and suchlike. Mindfulness is the first and fundamental process for this level of surrender. But it is moving into and through the inner spaciousness that allows us to let go of the mask of our external identity and transition or “unfold” into the true interconnected nature of our being.
In concluding, the process of release or surrender allows us, eventually, to awaken to the interconnectedness of our inner and outer worlds. It is within this emptying process of surrender that we can be filled by the experience and knowing of our inherent connectedness and oneness with life, with the seen and unseen realities of our existence. I have often felt when in this experience of immersive oneness of being awakened, fully revitalised and knowing of the subtle dimensions of my being and created reality. In this state, perhaps sitting on a rock overlooking a bubbling, fern lined creek or the vast, sandstone cliff lined valley, I can notice more and therefore connect to a degree I could not have imagined. Henry David Thoreau once reflected along a similar vein:
“If we are to grasp the reality of our life while we have it, we will need to wake up to our moments, otherwise whole days, even a whole life could slip by unnoticed” (Walden)