In the place where I grew up, there was a long row of poplar trees bordering the edge of the recreation ground, with a field of ripening wheat behind it and the pit head beyond.
This was where I had my first conscious experience of a connection to nature which felt deeply spiritual. I was about 6 years old and had gone to the edge of the rec to pick up a ball. There I was, on my own, when a sudden gust of warm summer wind rippled through the poplars making them rustle and shimmer with life. The gust went on to move through the wheat, like a great invisible hand sweeping across the yellow-green tops, going right through to the pit head where it raised a cloud of dust.
The sound of everyone else playing on the rec behind suddenly felt very far away and in that moment I knew in every cell of my body that this was some great angel or spirit of the land bringing a message just for me that I too was part of this life, just as the trees, the wheat, the pit and the sky were. It was a message that God was out here as well as in the church and in the hospital. At that age, my childhood was still about surviving painful operations and although I looked like a sturdy child, my attachment to life was weak.
Since then, my connection to the wonder and energy of life has been through walking in nature. For more than 40 years, I have had a daily spiritual practice of walking out at quite a fast pace until I can feel the gift of the life force circulating in my body. Where ever I have lived, there have been places on my daily walk where I have slowed down and given prayers of gratitude for living in that peaceful place, for having a job that brings me a steady income, and for having the health to keep going. Staying connected to the green and wide open spaces has been a fundamental part of my survival and recovery.
So you can imagine that travelling to towns and cities, staying in budget hotels, which has been a feature of my job for the past decade, has challenged me at the deepest levels. This is when I have relied on my sitting practice, my daily time of soaking in connection through meditation and contemplative prayer.
When away from home for work, along with my sitting practice, I make sure I get a short walk each day to consciously connect to the earth through the stones of the buildings, even the tiny stones in the tarmac in the roads and the pavements and through any trees in the vicinity. For the past 5 years, the organisation I’ve worked for has offices in London right next to the Thames, so there has also been the blessing of the ancient spirit of this sacred river with which to connect.
This combination of daily spiritual practices – walking in conscious connection to nature and soaking in connection in meditation – remain the sustaining foundation for my service to others, for my spiritual development and for my connection to both life and to my life purpose.
How do you connect to the wonder and energy of life?
Developing your own daily spiritual practice is one of the modules in the Diploma in Practical Spirituality and Wellness which we will explore in an immersive learning experience at Hawkwood College.
Poplar Trees image: Mick Garrett