The land is calling us back. She needs us to return to her and to ourselves—our truest, wild and wisest selves. I can feel her healing heartsong, thrumming in the centre of my chest.
After almost two years of traversing and contemplating the mossy forest, ancient rocky shoreline and snow-peaked mountains surrounding the Ashram, I feel that the earth has collected me back to her, and I have arrived home, once again, in her arms.
The vibrant wilderness here in the mountains of the Kootenays ignites something deep within. It corresponds with the wild part of myself — a part that has been waiting a long time for my attention. A radiant precious gem, a fragrant bed of flowers, in my heart’s centre.
Listening to the Land
There’s an instinctual way of interacting with and navigating the wild terrain that requires an embodied presence – a sharpening of the senses. And in turn, attending and attuning to nature has a purifying effect on the senses and internal landscape. Allowing my awareness to rest on the beauty of the wilderness around me, filling myself with the majesty of the natural world, has a transformational effect.
In her book, Hidden Language Hatha Yoga, Swami Radha poses the following question for reflection: “Do I allow majestic thoughts to come in—beautiful thoughts as pure as a swan?” When in nature, such thoughts are available in every moment.
Stilling the mind by opening to and filling with the wild beauty all around, there is an upwelling of joy and gratitude. Also deep respect and appreciation for the selfless service of the bees and butterflies, trees and medicinal plants—the pollinators and oxygenators who support us and make our lives possible.
Recognizing the privilege of being in this extraordinary place, the ability to see the intricate artistry of the swallowtails’ wings, and to hear the elk bugling outside my window at night—I appreciate an ability of body and mind that allows me to circumnavigate this land and perceive all of its magnificence. This could sustain a gratitude practice for a lifetime.
Taking time to sink into the natural beauty that always surrounds, turns everyday moments and moments of every day, into sacred moments. I believe that choosing to return to these small beauties, and to consciously shift out of ‘fight or flight,’ again and again, is what the world needs from us right now. Tending to our nervous systems, taking deep care of ourselves, enables us to stay open and available to be of service in the world.
In my experience, nature can support us in doing that. Lovingly embracing a tree, resting on a bed of moss, watching for the first evening star and simply taking in fresh air, are all deeply grounding and centring practices. Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese thoughtfully reflects: “It’s not the huge thing that returns us to who we are, it’s the magic of the small. Sitting out alone on the land, I remember.”
In nature, I return to who I truly am, and in so doing, I can see more clearly all that I am not: the conditioned beliefs, habits of thought, personality aspects, unquestioned stories, cultural narratives, intergenerational programming and reactive tendencies operating within me.
Surrounded by the tall trees, I enter into conversation with the part of myself that’s underneath all of that, the higher self at the heart. I believe that the world needs us to be operating from that place: of centredness, open-heartedness, and alignment with the Most High—our highest selves. Expanding our circle of care to encompass every being, human and non-human, on the planet as well as the planet herself.
Tuning into the Cosmic Rhythm
In yoga, we return home to our body and learn to listen to its deep wisdom. We learn to follow the breath into the body and regulate our breathing as a tool for connecting with ourselves and the present moment. In her body-garden relaxation exercise, Swami Radha states: “There is a rhythm of day and night. There is the incoming and the outgoing tide of the ocean. There is the rhythm of the seasons. Through the rhythm of your own breath, you have now tuned in to the cosmic rhythm.”
The word yoga means “union” or “to yoke” in Sanskrit. The union is traditionally thought of as that of the breath and body and mind, the various disparate forces within ourselves, the soul with the oversoul, the individual, small ‘s’ self with the higher, universal, capital ‘S’ Self. In his book The Secret Teachings of Plants, Stephen Harrod Buhner writes, “Attending to sensory communications from the world dissolves the boundary between self and the world, it is a crucial act in reconnecting ourselves with the life of Earth. Sensory perception (of nature) is the natural and right blending of inner and outer.”
In nature, the union of inner and outer, subject and object, becomes more tangible. Breathing in, we recognize that the air entering our bodies has been conveyed to us by the plants and trees. The oxygen is drawn in from the outer world and becomes a part of our inner world, the life force sustaining our bodies. Our exhalations are dispersed back into the environment, where they are filtered and returned to us again by the plant kingdom. The same interconnection exists between the water we drink and the food we eat. We “inter-are” — a term from the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh — with the natural world around us at all times.
Coming Home to Ourselves
In his translation of the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, Thich Nhat Hanh says that by focusing on our breath and body, we can observe that there is no division between that which we perceive and ourselves. “Breathing and body are one. Breathing and mind are one. Mind and body are one. Mind is not an entity that exists independently, outside of our breathing and our body. The boundary between subject and the object of observation does not actually exist. The mind is one with the object it is observing.”
The awareness that there is no such thing as separation, that we are not distinct from the world, is perhaps the ultimate union. We are at home in the universe, an inextricable and invaluable part of the whole. All of us matter to the cosmos.
The currents of stillness and love that emerge from presence in nature, are not ‘out there.’ I have just met myself and connected with who I really am, underneath the perceptual filters that convey other stories. By contrast and by beginning to recognize the tendency of the mind to create obstacles to the true self underneath, we can begin to take radical personal responsibility for our perceptions and projections, actions, words and all that we create in our lives. We can choose instead to respond to old habits by directing our energy in wiser ways. To do that, we just need to get quiet enough to listen to the guidance coming from our truest, wisest and wildest self.
I have struggled throughout my lifetime to try to understand and make meaning of all the names and forms in which the Divine is represented. I recently remembered to stick with what I know: the birds and animals, butterflies and bumble bees, untamed forests, sunlight in dew drops, blossom perfumed air, warm breezes, gratitude, breath, deep relaxation. Her forms are many. Her name is Wild.
Action from Alignment
Having the incredible privilege of connecting with this ancient healing land, it’s impossible to forget and imperative to acknowledge that I am on unceded territory. Canada exists because others were first displaced and dispossessed of their land, resources and human rights.
How to stand and face this injustice head-on, not to turn away or avert my gaze, to respond in a meaningful way, is a question I continue to try to answer. What is the right action to take in the face of ongoing injustice? How do I support the predominantly Indigenous land defenders and water protectors currently putting their lives on the frontlines of protecting our water, land, communities and climate—all that is sacred—at great personal expense and sacrifice?
I am learning that the answer is going to be different, moment to moment, and that the process of uncovering and reconnecting with my wild and deeply wise self will enable me to meet the needs of the moment. Keeping my heart open and learning to listen to the guidance coming forward, is the place that I need to take action from.
Healing with the Land
Some closing words from poet and healer Maria Sabina: “Heal yourself with the light of the sun and the rays of moon. With the sound of the river and the waterfall. With the swaying of the sea and the fluttering of birds. Heal yourself with the kisses that the wind gives you and the hugs of the rain. Heal yourself with beautiful love and always remember, you are the medicine.”
Tracy arrived at the Ashram in January 2022 for the life-changing, transformative Yoga Development Course and is still here. See her iNaturalist page with images taken of the Divine wild around the Ashram.
All other photo credits: Francesca Cogorno