What is it that draws us to nature? What purpose is there in staring up into the skies? What is it that we are seeking amongst those endless shadows of a deep, dark wood? Is it solitude? Is it ourselves? Is it some higher purpose? We all feel this inclination, but rarely do we articulate our reasons for doing so.
My own answers to such questions were originally formulated around a romantic disposition, from which I would unreservedly throw myself into the heart of nature awaiting an intense feeling of ecstasy, like those expressed by Shelley in his Ode to the West Wind: ‘Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/ Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!…and yet my expectations were never met, which is usually the case when we set our expectations so high. Despite this, I constantly found myself at the foot of great mountains and endless seas with nothing other than my own frustrations to keep me company.
Then moving, often painfully away from my romantic inclinations I started to alter how I looked towards nature, for I could never diminish that sense of yearning for the natural world. I no longer found myself clinging to the waters edge but rather I would try to meet it with a sense of calm and acceptance, and from repeatedly doing this process I would find myself becoming closer and closer to those feelings and connections I so desired, although these were not as intense as I first presumed they would. I started to achieve this, like many before, by shutting down the relentless questioning and endless chatter of the mind and becoming more present to what that moment, what nature can offer. Although I felt I was more able to access those connections I desired I then found those moments when I wasn’t engaged in such a way all the more frustrating. It is like being given the key but the door is always shut, which made me realise the limits of our humanity to engage in such a process, for no matter how hard we try we are still tussling with the sufferings and anxieties our existence brings. But how is nature apart of this process?
I would argue that nature makes such a process more likely for we are no longer blinded by another’s existence and we are left alone to contemplate and engage with the mystery of our own and our own insignificance amongst the vast nothingness. For it is through nature that we have the opportunity to feel something greater than ourselves, a statement I commit to with no lightheartedness. For this need to feel something bigger, greater, more powerful than ourselves is intrinsically necessary for our own existence, for it allows us to forget, if only for a while, the disappointments and pains we feel everyday. It is not a distraction but a vehicle from which we can ponder our own existence and the existence of others, which is so vital in keeping our own malignant egos at bay, for the more aware we are of our own suffering the more we will feel it. Therefore, it is important that we recognise the practical need for nature amongst an increasingly urbanised and technological society through language that doesn’t diminish it, such as a ‘spiritual’ connection, but also doesn’t dismiss its infinite mystery and wonder.