Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 3: Relax and Retreat > Chapter 6: Nature Appreciation
Dangers of solitude
The beauty we see in a single flower points to a MIND capable of thinking such beauty. In the end Nature and Art point to God.
The most spectacular of all full moons in the western hemisphere and the one which lingers longest is the harvest moon which ends the summer and precedes the autumn. This provides a special chance for meditations.
Even if we take the Buddhistic view that all is transient, all is subject to change, and all is doomed to decay, we need not deny that the beauty and the pleasure to be found in physical life, however momentarily, still have their value. Is a field of flowers utterly worthless? Is the loveliness of a sunset to be utterly rejected?
Nature produces new or nobler feelings in the more sensitive wanderers into her domain. The sunset's peace, the dawn's promise of hope, and the pleasure of beauty's presence are always worthwhile and should fill us with gratitude.
His true father or mother is Nature.
Even the huge anthropoid apes--so near to man--have been observed to bow their heads solemnly and respectfully before the brightness of the rising moon.
It is a mysterious fact that high aspirations and good resolutions born between Christmas and Easter will be more successful during the subsequent twelve months than those born later in the year.
He will accomplish this disciplinary work best if he retires to the quietude and contemplation of Nature, to a country seclusion where he can be least distracted and most uplifted. Here is the temple where aspiration for the Higher Self can find its best outlet; here is the monastery where discipline of the lower self can be easiest undertaken.
The wisdom of the Overself is the wisdom of Nature. When the new spring leaves arrive birds build their nests the better to hide them.
It is an error to confuse the inert simplicity and animal naturalness of the peasant with the dynamic simplicity and spiritual naturalness of the sophisticated philosopher.
The beauty in a bird's song, the peace in a sage's face, the intelligence in Nature's actions, these offer hints and clues, as well as topics for meditation, to truth-seeking, ideal-aspiring men.
Let him stand at some busy corner, musing quietly and philosophically upon the unquiet metropolitan scene of great crowds of people swarming in and out of the subways, like rabbits swarming in and out of their burrows. Then let him stand on some mountain top and look down upon a scene of tranquil beauty. As he stands in wonder before the panorama of Nature, where spring bluebells dot the grey-green valleys while buttercups and cowslips grow profusely in the wide meadows, something of its serenity may touch his heart. Lulled by this sweet landscape, he will feel pleased at the thought that there is so much distance between him and the world.
To look steadily at Nature's own artwork for a while--be it mountain, valley, or moving waves--with growing deep feeling until the self is forgotten, is also a yoga practice.
There is a limiting effect upon the mind in the rooms of houses that have no view, in the narrow street of an old town, if a man has to live there. Great ideas do not lodge comfortably in bodies whose outlook is shut-in, restricted. But by the seashore the mind expands with the spaciousness and openness.
The strong emotional impression of beauty which a Nature-painted scene can evoke will--if he stays with it and does not too quickly hurry off to other thoughts--take him away from self-consciousness, its narrow confines and severely limited interests. He forgets them, and in the forgetting is released for the time from his ego.
When a man is in deep trouble, for which no human voice can bring consolation, it is then the turn of Nature. In the quiet woods, the winding riverside, the view from a mountain, he may gather some crumbs, at least, of that which he cannot find elsewhere.
There is not only a poetic or aesthetic value in appreciating the beauty of a mountain stream, the companionship of a group of trees. There is also a still higher value which is findable only if a man looks upward and away from his little personal affairs.
Contact with Nature will, with sensitivity and appreciation, develop into communion with Nature--a purifying experience.
It is true that God dwells in no particular Nature-made place, no special kind of man-made buildings, being everywhere yet nowhere. But it is also true that in certain places and buildings one can retire more deeply into one's own heart, and thus feel more closely God's ever-presence there.
In Nature's solitary places, in its forests, mountains, and grasslands, it is easier to cultivate the philosopher's trinity of goodness, truth, and beauty than in the crowded quarters of towns.
We need quiet places where the earth is left in its natural state and where men can seek in leisure and freedom to recover their independence of thought and to restore awareness of their inner selves--so hard to gain and so easy to lose in the modern world.
Those who seek inspiration and revelation withdraw into solitude and Nature, for there they may best achieve their purpose. Jesus departed into the desert, Buddha into the forest, Zoroaster, Muhammed, and Moses into the mountains.
If the tranquillity of a grove of trees or a grassy meadow, with all its sweetness and healing virtue, percolates into him, why let it go after a few moments? Why not stay with it, leave it to itself, and keep still for a while? Only look at it more closely.
Alone with Nature, in places like the lakes and forests of America's Adirondack Mountains, India's Himalayas, Switzerland's less-frequented valleys, it is still possible to find remoteness and feel external peace on this crowded planet.
Nature is my guru.
In those long, leisured silences while taking in the beauty of Nature, feeling its unstirred peace and unhurried whisper, seek to open up all the sensitivity of your heart to its Presence as a living, friendly, conscious thing.
Thoughtful seekers among the ancients and Orientals found fitter temples in Nature, in open desert spaces with the sky overhead and the sand underneath, than in elaborate structures resounding to the chants of professional men who had exhausted their divine mandate.
The mountains stand up all around me but the lakes give enough wide space to avoid producing any feelings of being hemmed in by them. They help my meditations, rest my eyes, keep a measure of tranquillity around me. At the threshold of life I was fascinated by Switzerland: at the end of travels, I come home.
A convoy of swans comes sailing gracefully toward the Lake Leman shore when they see me arrive with bread for them. But they get only a half of the bag's contents for I must move on later to the eighteenth-century building where a tribe of pigeons dwell on the pediment and eaves.
How valuable are those moments when a man finds time "to stand and stare" at some bit of Nature's floral beauty or arboreal colour, or to listen in the right way to music. Much beauty that he did not notice before will now be discovered and severe tensions will vanish.
Those who strongly feel the call of rural areas and hilly dales, shady woods and lakeside shores may be drawn not only by beauty, tranquillity, colour and freshness but also, in a percentage of cases by the mystical presence with which Nature invests such places.
That time is not wasted which a man spends amid the silence of a great forest to ponder on his duty and reflect on his destiny.
To come to rest on the summit of a hill, content, alone with Nature and space, is a time to turn thought to God.
The sensitive man can freshen his trust in the ultimate goodness of things from a glowing sunset, can renew his inward peace with a forest walk. Nature lovingly speaks to him, all wordless though she be.
It is a soothing experience to sit in the grass high on the top of a cliff, to look out at the vast spread of sea, and then to let the mind empty itself of accumulated problems. As the minutes pass, equanimity is restored and repose laps one about.
What he learns in a wordless way from such contacts with Nature will not be less precious than what he learns in uttered sentences or written paragraphs from human teachers.
The admiration of Nature is a step toward the understanding of Nature's secret, but it is still only a step.
In the beauty of a rose and the loveliness of a sunset the man of aesthetic feeling or poetic temperament may unconsciously find a reminder of the grander beauty of the Overself.
To the sensitive person, an unspoiled scenery of lakeland or woodland, sea or mountain, brings with its silent contemplation a nostalgic longing for return to his true spiritual home.
Those who are responsive to Nature, and more especially to the beautiful colours released at the sun's rise and fall, to the silences of woods and forests, or to the ocean's vast spaciousness, may use such contacts for attempts to get spiritual glimpses.
If he is sensitive to refined feelings within and Nature's beauty without and if he conjoins both to mystical ideas, he may come into such experiences as Jean Jacques Rousseau once described in his Promenades of a Solitary Dreamer.
There is one quality which re-enters man when the spring season re-enters the yearly cycle. It is hope.
It is a common experience that in shady woodland walks there is an effluence of peace in the atmosphere. We need not wonder that in such and kindred places it is easier to find the quietness within. It is true that men have found their way to the Overself in almost every kind of environment, but there was more help and less conflict when they were alone with primeval Nature.
What a striking sight is that of Sirius gleaming in a tropic sky on a calm mild night!
As the axis of the earth heaves itself over, we reach the end of one season and the beginning of another. The calendar points which mark this change mark also the movement of an inner cycle. Each equinox is a time when man may profitably try not only to change and cleanse himself but also to put himself in harmony with Nature, God. It is a time for extra effort in prayer, meditation, and purification. Physically, it is a time for a twenty-four hour fast or semi-fast.
Autumn is the time for spiritual planting, winter for spiritual growth, summer for spiritual rest, spring for spiritual harvest. In short, the seasons of nature have a reverse effect on man spiritually to that which they have on him physically. The spring equinox falls annually on March 20/21, the autumn equinox on September 23, the winter solstice on December 22nd, and the summer solstice on June 21.
The awakening of dawn, when every little bird bursts into song or recites a threnody, should bring new hope to a man. But it can do so only if he lets it. And for this he must put his own person aside, open his mind, make passive his heart, and slow his breathing.
There is a mysteriousness in the atmosphere at dawn which is paralleled at no other time of the day. It is brief but intense.
Just as sunrise and sunset are especially auspicious moments for prayer and meditation, so there are special times of the year, special seasons when the aspirant has opportunities for easier communion and quicker advancement than he has at other times. These seasons were known to the ancient religions of America, of Europe, of Africa, and of Asia. Hence they are universal dates and universally kept in the annals of mysticism. It is because of this knowledge, although somewhat obscure, that the religious festivals and sacred seasons like Christmas and Easter have been made part of various religions, both pagan and modern. Jewish and Greek mystics, as well as those of Egypt and Rome, observed them. These mystically auspicious times were the new moon days following the opening of each of the seasonal equinoxes or solstices. That is, the first new moon after March 21st, June 21st, September 21st, and December 21st. At such times the disciple should make a special effort to purify himself, to fast, pray, worship, and meditate because it is easier then to achieve the result sought.
The mysterious sustenance we get from Nature when she smiles, the misery she kindles when she frowns, both point to the closeness of our relation to her.
From the hill on whose side I dwell, at the very edge of Montreux, my window looks across sloping vineyards. It has a long view. This means much when one has to live closed in a small apartment every day, every year, with fifty families in the same building. I like the freedom of solitude, the view through unobstructed space. To let the green scenery take my thoughts away into a pleasant harmony with Nature for a few minutes at least, is a daily need, not a luxury. To sit even longer and go far away in consciousness until an unworldly quiescence is reached, is my evening bread.
The Hindus carry this admiration for a mountain even farther than we Europeans and Americans do--they revere it. Gods live on or within it in non-physical bodies; yogis find it the proper place for their meditations; it is indeed holy territory.
If while lost in admiration of a beautiful land or seascape we are stricken into silence, we get a closer inner relationship with Nature than if we immediately make it into a conversation piece.
The gardener who waters his flowers and shrubs with loving patience receives love from them in return. It is not like the human kind, but is the exact correspondence to it on the plant level.
The flower's beauty is simply a pointer, reminding us to think, speak, and behave beautifully.
They call it artistic appreciation or poetic feeling, this leisurely taking-in of a rippling brook and its grassy banks, but it is really close, very close to a mystical moment.
Nature herself tries to bring about a correct attitude, but our ingrained habits thwart her and warp the instinct she plants in us.
The silent empty desert may bore one man utterly, but bring another man close to infinite peace.
It is at such wonderful times that we pass from admiring Nature's attractive beauty to adoring Nature's divine source.
Sit in reverence before the setting or rising sun.
Winter marks the opening of that period from just before Christmas and culminating with Easter when the inner forces of Nature make it possible for man to make quicker progress than during the rest of the year. It is a suitable period to intensify aspiration, increase study, and meditate more.
If he falls into a kind of loving admiration of the landscape stretched out before him, and stays in it as long as he can, dropping all other thoughts, it will be a meditation as holy as if done in a church.
The passage from wonder to worship may be short or long, depending on the kind of man he is; it may need just a few more reincarnations or quite a lot: but it is a logical one, for Nature is a body of God, in time and space.
The closer I come to Nature the farther I go from evil. I move towards her because I feel drawn by her beauty and healed by her peace, yet I find that virtue follows them not long after.
To the extent that human beings have disturbed the proper equilibrium of Nature, they have brought upon themselves not only the bodily penalties of polluted environment but also the inner consequences of mental disturbance and emotional disequilibrium.
The dispension of culture and the democratization of art inevitably lead to lowering standards of taste. The tragedy of vast forests being depleted or destroyed to feed papermills for newspapers catering to low tastes, mental vacuity, moral degeneration and hunger for reports on commercialized pseudo-sport is one sign.
The birth of spring was celebrated by most ancient cults and religions. Its culmination in the Christian year with Easter offers a fresh chance for each man to awaken spiritually; but it is for him to take advantage of this inner event and respond to the World-Mind. Those who can respond only with and in their flesh bodies materialistically benefit, too, but link themselves with the animals.
When a sensitive man is in distress he will often, if circumstances allow, turn to nature, go to a wood, a forest, a meadow, a park, or even a small garden, either for a changed scene or to muse upon his situation. Why? It is an instinctive act. He needs help, hope, comforting, guidance, or peace. The instinct is a true one, a response to a lead from his higher self.
We take nature's beauty for granted and do not adequately understand our good fortune.
The lake shore is bright and sunlit; moreover it stretches far away to the other side where steep snow-covered mountains slope abruptly down into the water. Thus the view is cheerful, beautiful, spacious--superb. But here, in this small wood where old broad trees alternate with green turf, the sun does not enter, although the distance to the lake is only about fifty yards. Here the scene is shadowy, a darker tint, and enclosed. The first picture is happier, offers more beauty to the aesthetic mind. But this second one carries a deeper message: one feels a stillness which verges on the mystical. If the first charms, the second calms. The first lightens the heart, arouses hopes, gives enjoyment. The second quietens desires, kindles reverence, lessens anxiety and, above all, bequeaths a more lasting remembrance.
Nature, which produces such great beauty in flowers and birds, on fields and mountains, does not hesitate to destroy it, too.
In looking for the beauty in Nature, a man is looking for his soul. In adoring this Beauty when he finds it, he is recognizing that he not only owns an animal body, but is himself owned by a higher Power.
These truly lovely sights and scenes in Nature suggest to a sensitive or spiritually aesthetic person the invisible but felt and thought beauty.
There are men who may appear to be materialistic but the admiration for Nature's beauty or the inspiration from noble music is their way of showing spiritual sensitivity. It is possibly the only way, given their past history and present character.
The unbelievably intricate and immensely complicated nature of both microcosm and macrocosm should leave scientific students of Nature awe-struck at the wonderful Mind behind it all.
Is it not the essence of practical wisdom to employ every means that will most effectively achieve the goal of the Quest? Is it not being narrow-minded to limit ourselves only to methods that can help Nature yet keep Nature herself out?
There are moments when a man may sit alone with nature, when no sound intrudes and all is quiet, pleasant, harmonious. If he will enter into this stillness with nature and enter it deeply enough, he will find that it is associated with what most religions call God.
No animal, insect, fish, or bird has ever produced a metaphysical work or written a mystical poem or wondered about its own consciousness. Yet each possesses intelligence within its grade and each, from a bird like the crane to a creature like the chimpanzee, turns instinctively to the sun at certain times, showing its reverence, again within its grade. All of us acknowledge the physical sun as the original source of our physical life. If we humans are so much more advanced than our animal cohabitants of this planet that we alone can produce the three aforementioned things, we cannot all recognize that we owe our spiritual life--what there is of it--to the spiritual Sun, the ever-glorious Sun behind the sun, to our relationship with God.
Why do the sensitive find the freedom of an open uninterrupted view across landscape or seascape so appealing? The largeness and freedom of space echo back from outside the body the same attributes of the Spirit within.
It is a delight to sit on a terrace or belvedere and stare across a green valley. But it is a spiritual gain to use the moment to pass from the pleasant sight (as if it were a diving board) into a meditation.
Nature is his only neighbour: peace and beauty his only friends. Man, with his accompanying evil, is absent.
In the quiet woods or green meadows, or hearing the mountain streams bubbling along their downward way, his appreciation of Nature may rise to actual communion.
We may take delight in the beauties of this natural world while at the same time remembering poignantly their doom--a fragile brevity that will wither and disintegrate in the end.
Some can pass into the inner state through the gate of mere pleasure at beholding a beautiful scene in Nature.
When we are disgusted with the pettiness of mankind we may turn in appreciation to the grandeur of Nature.
Whether in the sight and presence of the giants of Himalaya or those of the Swiss Alps, massively standing against the sky, the effect on thought is the same.
Dawn fills the sky with beryl signals of hope.
When his affairs become insupportable a man may escape to the sea, if he can, and there, by its shore or on a ship, find a little respite, that is, peace.
There is much difference between a window view which looks out on the steel, wood, stone, or brick artifacts of man and one which looks out on the landscapes of Nature or the gardens growing out of man's cooperation with Nature. We need broad, spacious or beautiful horizons.
The artist in me joins with the Nature mystic in demanding a window with a view looking out on open country. Seated at such a window, the writer can be content, too, for this helps thought.
The effect of sitting by a lake shore or riverside when the weather is good, the wind absent, the temperature pleasant, for a sufficient length of time, may show itself in a sensitive person as calmness, uplift, or appreciation of Nature's beauty.
He may go to the silent forest to take wordless comfort when in distress.
Winding rivers, snowy peaks, wooded hills, resting animals, peaceful pasturage, feathery ferns, and rustic sights--this is New Zealand outside the few cities.
How furtively the dawn comes into being yet how powerfully it grows into daylight!
When the sun slants over the Swiss Alps and glistens on the surface of the lake, men are given a message by Nature suggesting that there is a cheerful, positive side to their situation and experiences however distressing the latter might be at the moment.
What man who is troubled in consciousness has not felt in the peace of a forest the healing uplift of mind which it gives!
In the beauty which Nature can offer man, he may find a catalyst to bring his feelings toward a loftier plane.
The invisible rays of the sun can kill bacteria, give life to plants, heal ailing men under some circumstances or kill them under others.
The beautiful in Nature, the singing of birds, the coming of Spring's colours recall the beautiful moods in ourself when glimpses revealed the soul.
The Matterhorn is not, as we are usually informed, the highest Swiss mountain. There are a few others in its vicinity which are somewhat higher. But it is the central showpiece, the most striking in appearance, and the most interesting to climbers.
I stood on the summit of Mount San Salvatore, looking by turns, at the enormous and glorious protecting circle of the Alps. It was one of those clear crystalline evenings when the sinking sun touched ice and snow with rose or gold, and when the Infinite Spirit touched heart and mind with peace or beauty. I though of that other superb panorama, the lordly Himalayas, of the different years when I visited their eastern, central, and western parts--2,500 kilometres--from end to end. Salvatore--"SAVIOUR"--the very name instilled hope and promised help, while the mountain itself seemed to whisper support.
A sensitive person may be gently influenced by such beauty of Nature to pause and gaze, holding himself still for the while, admiring and appreciating the scene, until he is so absorbed that he is lost in it. The ego and its affairs retreat. Unwittingly he comes close to the delicious peace of the Overself.
The travelling Goethe wrote his friends in Germany about a Princess he met in Naples--she was young, gay, and superficial--who advised him to go to her large country estate in Sorrento where "the mountain air and lovely view would soon cure me of all philosophy!" Some of us, however, would only be more incited by them to philosophy.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.