. . . I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
- William Wordsworth
We sense behind nature a guiding force, a unity and oneness within the minutiae of creation. This omnipresent spirit, nature's higher self, is a touchstone of truth and reality. As human beings it is in our nature to find out and become the divine self at the source of nature and within all in the cosmos. For every last speck of the universe is alive and ensouled, a microcosm of a universe constantly making itself from within outwards.
Spirit flows down through all nature's kingdoms, and everything visible proceeds from the invisible spiritual essence at its core. When the time came for the entity we call the universe to be reborn, nothingness became somethingness. From the gods flowed forth the world and all things, the gods representing the conscious powers of nature. Every wonder of nature is thus an outward expression, a reflection, of hosts of beings manifest and unmanifest. The fact that what is below, the microcosm, faithfully reflects the macrocosm gives us an infallible key for unlocking the mysteries of space and time.
Evolution seeks to arouse and make manifest the faculties of the divinity within. Nature is harmonious at its core and moves toward a restoration of harmony or equilibrium. Working with nature's tide induces an expansion of inner faculties. One who works for brotherhood and kindliness thus has all nature's evolutionary force with him, bringing strength and light. Those who are more fully evolved have brought forth their inner spirit and suffused it into every atom of their natures.
All creatures respond to loving kindness. We may think of St. Francis, who called everything in nature "brother" or "sister." In his presence wild beasts became tame and obedient. He cared for the sick and poor, for animals and insects, for he believed that having the love of Christ in our hearts should fill us with compassion for everything that can suffer pain or be benefitted by kindness. This view is also common in Oriental thought. Taoists try to work with nature by moving in harmony with the rhythms and processes of life in even their most mundane tasks. Buddhists are expected to show loving kindness to all things, while Jains practice ahimsa or non-injury. In Hinduism the Isha Upanishad says:
The entire universe and everything in it, animate and inanimate, is His. Let us not covet anything. Let us treat everything around us reverently, as custodians. We have no charter for dominion. All wealth is commonwealth. Let us enjoy but neither hoard nor kill. The humble frog has as much right to live as we.
We could not, as a civilization, destroy the earth if we understood that it is a living being of which we are responsible parts. Nature is like our own body, the house we live in, which we should respect, not pollute or deplete beyond repair. Amerindians and other peoples living close to the earth understood that humans must not take from nature more than they need, and that if something is taken, something must be given in return. This approach is echoed in ecological studies and in ideas of our tenancy or stewardship - not ownership - of the world. Nor would we seek to destroy plants and animals if we realized that they are our brothers and sisters. Through education, people of all ages can learn to see their kinship with our fellow beings, who have a right to live and evolve freely and to be approached in kindness. Seeing the beauty of nature and the results of our depredations will eventually lead us to use products of the earth in a more eco-friendly way.
The term biosphere describes the interlocking nature of various species and the economy of nature which can function only if all the components maintain their intimate connections with each other. According to the Gaia hypothesis of J. E. Lovelock, everything on earth acts together as one living entity endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts. Through evolution it seems to learn from its experiences, as we do. Nature manipulates the workings of the elements and uses the constant monitoring of billions of years of modifications to maintain an "optimum condition" that suits its overall needs. For example, the earth has a system of thermal regulation, like our body does, part of which involves marine cloud formation. These clouds cover over 30% of the earth's surface, and with their capacity to reflect sunlight they affect temperature and climate. The earth maintains the carbon cycle through microorganisms carrying out decomposition, a process that produces a billion tons of methane a year and is very important in the regulation of oxygen. The earth's pH has remained quite constant, close to 8, despite the fact that the planet's surface should have become more acid with increasing oxidation of the atmosphere. Such processes seem to show that the earth keeps a balance, preserving itself rather than allowing itself to be destroyed, which may point to the act of a guiding intelligence indwelling in the planet itself.
Many have pointed to the book of nature as our best source of information. Van Gogh likened the black trees on the snowy landscape to pages from the Gospel written in black on a white page. He believed that people living a natural existence were like flowers, possessing nature's qualities within themselves and therefore partaking in her knowledge. Once amongst nature we seem to slow down to her pace and, contrary to Bacon's dictum, need not try to force knowledge out of her. As told in This Living Earth, David Cavagnaro and his wife discovered the oneness of everything in nature by observing a natural meadow: "By crawling through the grass with all senses alert, we found in ourselves a simple, primitive awareness of the living earth. . . . Behind the hooting of an owl, the smell of damp earth, behind even the buzz of a mosquito, lay the thrill and excitement of discovery." Finally, "We learned in pursuing the pathways of knowledge that each insect or flower or drop of water in a meadow mirrors the universe."
Science tells us about nature's body, but what about her mysterious spiritual life? In Nature's Magic Alan Stover wrote of the "holness" of a place, an ecological term referring to the community of organisms as a quasi-organism of which the plants and animals are as cells in a body. He felt that the characteristic quality of a locale reflected the vibration of its great Oversoul, which often in the past was personalized as a god. This is an invisible essence shaping, sheltering, and teaching all life which rests in it, for consciousness is diffused through all aspects of nature, just as it is with us.
H. P. Blavatsky gives an essential key in The Voice of the Silence, saying, "Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance." Nature's laws are patterns or habits originating in the repetitive action of intelligent spiritual beings of many types and grades. But we also influence nature to some extent by the quality of our thoughts and the timbre of our actions. As English mystic Thomas Traherne wrote:
The world is a Mirror of Infinite Beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a Region of Light and Peace, did not man disquiet it.
What are the effects of our "disquieting" the world? Earth and the entire cosmos, as ensouled, intelligent beings, seek to restore balance and harmony. We may consider the seemingly destructive functions of cyclic flood, drought, earthquakes, and volcanism as a means of maintaining the planet's health and balance. These to us unpleasant natural phenomena have many causes, many of which are partially or poorly understood. But it is increasingly recognized that human attitudes and actions make a contribution, and therefore they should be carefully chosen and controlled to harmonize with nature. Instead of being destroyed by or impairing earth's immune system, our protective actions to defend and maintain the earth we share could make us one of her guardians.
Helena Blavatsky also remarked that "There is nothing profane in the universe. All Nature is a consecrated place . . ." (The Secret Doctrine 1:578). Viewing all beings as divinities might allow us to approach current global challenges in a positive way, by learning to live compassionately with other beings. What does this mean in practical terms? Urban dwellers and suburbanites can find their own paths to respect nature and work with it. Some, perhaps, might study indigenous peoples' attitudes and behaviors and adapt them to their own situation. Others might try to understand and apply scientific, environmental, or religious principles - the Golden Rule springs to mind in the latter category. We could decide to improve our own backyard by composting and enriching the soil, recycling, planting indigenous vegetation as habitat for the native insects, birds, and animals, in such ways seeking to recreate the harmony which mankind so often destroys. Amazing changes can happen when we work with nature with a pure and selfless heart, for the good of the whole of which we are a part, and cooperating in nature's larger harmony brings about a feeling of devotion for something greater than ourselves. As Katherine Tingley has said:
We lost touch ages ago with the Mighty Mother, nature, and now need to go to her again, . . . to find our own souls in her quiet places and to learn that all matter responds to the spiritual touch. Out beyond hearing and seeing and thinking are infinite laws that control our lives. Divine laws hold us in their keeping: immediately behind the veil of visible things, and but a little way from the consciousness of our mortal selves, are higher forces at work for our good. - The Wine of Life
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)