Where does your body end and nature begin? Where does your breath end and air begin? Where is the line between the water in your body and the water in the ocean and the river? Who drew that line?
Spiritual cultures do not look at nature as an object. Instead, they sense that all things have a living spirit. When you take a walk to enjoy nature and stop to enjoy the majesty of a tree, and you look at that tree as an object—honestly, that is no better than a lecher ogling a woman. When I was a child, I was taught a Sanskrit verse to say upon awakening, before I put my foot on the ground, to express my humility in the face of Mother Earth.
When premodern cultures hunted, they would first ask permission of the spirit of the animal, saying, "Please, I need you." When someone builds a house in India, before digging into the ground to lay the foundation, that person worships the earth by performing a bhumi puja, a special ritual to ask for her forgiveness and permission to build the house. If you travel through India, outside a village you might see a tree with threads tied around it. Someone has prayed to the divinity in that tree and made a wish. When the wish is fulfilled, the supplicant will come and loosen the thread and bring a worship offering.
This pre-Christian idea that all things have a spirit was common to all of European civilization at one time—Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Druids all felt it. But something happened to take away that sense. Modern Western culture is dismissive of these beliefs as animistic, of spiritual societies as nature worshippers, as if they worship the river instead of the real God. But the worshippers sense and connect to the Divine in the river. The Divine in the tree. The Divine in the plant. The Divine in the mountain. They are one with the world around them. We hear a lot of talk about sustainable development as it applies to preserving nature. I don't believe in sustainable development. I believe in reverence—preserving things not just so that you can have them to cut down or otherwise use them a century from now, but for their own sake, because they are sacred, because you revere them.
When you go for a walk in the woods, stand against a tree and feel a common breath ascending and descending through the tree trunk and your body. To cut that tree down is to cut yourself down. When you can sense the unity of life forms thus, the life forms, like that of the tree, will speak to you. Yes, you are divine&mdashyou, and everything else around you. You can feel this if you can learn to sit by the internal river: the quiet waters of your breath. Let your mind flow along with the river, feeling the living spirit in all things. Through meditation, your spirit will begin to see itself, and then it will begin to recognize the universal spirit.
River of Breath
Let the flow of your breath connect you with yourself and all of life. Bring your attention only to the place you are sitting. Be aware only of the space that your body is occupying. Relax your forehead. Relax your forehead some more.
Now feel the flow, the flow and touch of the breath in your nostrils, breathing gently, slowly, smoothly. When you come to the end of your breath, make no stop; immediately begin to feel your next breath.
To the awareness of your breath, add one thought, such as your favorite name for God from your own spiritual tradition, or a sacred phrase from your own favorite spiritual text. If you do not believe in any of these, you may exhale, lengthening "one" with your exhalation, "two" with your inhalation, without ceasing.
Whichever word or name of God you have chosen, exhale and think that name. Without a break, inhale, thinking the same name. Feel your breath flow in your nostrils.
Observe how your breath, your mind, and the name are flowing together as a single stream.
Maintain the flow and gently open your eyes. Maintain the flow even with your eyes open. Resolve in your mind to calm your mind in this way, many, many times in the day.
Whatever you do with your mind repeatedly will become your mind's habit, and it will rediscover its own original calm nature.
Whenever you have two minutes or three, come back to yourself, to the true home of your consciousness.
Let the ripples subside and let the mind enjoy its own peace.
Swami Veda Bharati is an author, scholar, and teacher who learned Sanskrit and the Vedas from the earliest days of childhood, became a disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas, and now presides over two ashrams in Rishikesh, India. He travels the world teaching meditation in nine languages.