Essays by Lang
Below are essays and other writings by founder and director Lang Elliott that help clarify the philosophy behind Miracle of Nature’s mission and goals.
To Be A Child Again
To truly appreciate the natural world, we must, in a sense, become a child again. This does not mean a return to the darker side of childhood – to the tantrums, outbursts, and selfish behavior – but rather to an innocent and unworried state of mind where the world is entirely new and every walk in nature is a path of discovery and absorption in the abundant miracles that surround us.
Remember how it felt when you first observed ants, how you squatted low to the ground and marveled at their industriousness, your eyes able to focus only several inches away. Remember how a tiny stream, swollen after a thundershower, appeared as wild a torrent as could be found anywhere on earth. Remember when you first saw a butterfly, its colorful wings flickering like stardust as it flew overhead. Remember when nature provided an unending wealth of miraculous discoveries, when life on earth yielded pure delight, and your undivided attention came as naturally as breathing.
You may think that you never experienced the world in this way, but I would say that that you did, and that you are just having trouble remembering. Perhaps you’ve lived so long in a state of constant worry and concern that you have lost sight of your roots, of that magical time in your life before you were overcome by self awareness, before you fell prey to the myriad forces in society that undermine the earth connection that is your birthright. While a lucky few maintain this connection throughout life, most of us become so overwhelmed by human concerns that we lose our lifeline to nature and forget how to embrace it with all our senses.
So how do we recover an open and ecstatic state of mind? How do we once again explore the earth with innocent curiosity, and delight in everything we find? Well … we find our way back by acknowledging the problem, training ourselves to quiet our minds, and by surrendering to our senses. To the degree that we achieve inner stillness and outward openness, nature will come pouring in, washing away any vestiges of the cares and woes that clog our awareness.
Entering into the “Nature Bubble,” as I refer to it, is easy to accomplish, once you understand what it is about and why you should do it. Relaxing into the bubble is rejuvenating and life affirming. Although you are awake and receptive, it functions like sleep, allowing you to rest your mind and renew your spirit. Occupying the Nature Bubble takes you out of yourself. It is the opposite of selfishness. With your mind quiet and senses directed outward, you become an un-obstructed point of awareness, a clear witness to creation, free of judgement and noise.
This is not to say that your mind is entirely inactive. You can still hold an inner conversation. You can laugh at things you see and marvel at things you hear. When you feast your attention on some natural phenomenon, you can wonder about it, converse with yourself about it, but always in a state of innocent rapture, where your inner conversation pales in comparison to the poignance of the experience itself. It is far more important to fully absorb the experience than it is to have this thought or that. Pure experience is thoughtless and essential to resting quietly in the Nature Bubble. Only in stillness can we truly behold the miracle unfolding before us.
Stumbling through life with noisy minds
Thinking we have answers, or thinking we don’t
Never stopping silent, and never Not thinking
And as a result, never really Hearing
Anything, but our own minds . . . Rattling.
Lang Elliott – circa 1980
The Nature Bubble
We are born into a magical world of sensory delight, our beings naturally tuned to our surroundings. We are part of Nature, our senses connecting us to the whole like an umbilical cord, allowing us to commune with and be nurtured by the source from which we have sprung.
My concern is about one’s personal relationship with Nature and especially one’s ability to enter into a heartfelt communion with the myriad life-forms with which we share planet earth. My approach is simple and easy to understand and requires no particular set of beliefs. Yet it can be challenging to put into practice because of the unending demands of human-created society which have left many of us alienated from Nature, observing it from a distance as an amorphous “other,” at best to be analyzed and described, rather than cherished and loved.
What I propose is this: If you learn to deeply connect with Nature, to enter into what I call “The Nature Bubble,” you will not only touch your earthly source, you will also benefit in countless other ways. For periods of time of your choosing, you will be released from endless thoughts and worries and you will become like a suckling babe, drawing nourishment from your mother.
How do you accomplish this? It’s really rather simple. Surrender to your senses, become fully “embodied”, and move your attention away from thinking and toward feeling your surroundings. Entering into the Nature Bubble is your birthright. You are made to do it. Your senses are tuned, built from, and connected to the natural world. It’s just a matter of surrendering, of allowing the senses to take control.
The earth not only feeds you, it is the source of endless delights. It provides you with an enormous, extended family which you can visit any time you wish, an inexhaustible world of friends – of all shapes, colors, and dispositions – that, in a sense, are wondering where you have been.
Perhaps now is the time to enter into nature’s nurturing bubble, to embrace nature fully, and say hello to all your brothers and sisters in life. Now is the time to invite them into your inner circle and into your heart. You have been gone so long — now is the time to come home.
Nature Absorption vs Nature Facts
When it comes to introducing children or adults to nature, I believe that “lecturing at” is to be avoided. Too many facts and too much detailed scientific knowledge can overwhelm a person and draw attention away from direct experience of the miracle at hand.
I believe that the emphasis should be on helping a person “connect” or “bond” with nature. This is more about igniting the spirit than it is about filling the mind. It is about helping a person come into intimate contact with nature, and make a connection of the heart.
The focus should be on the process of discovering nature, of tuning-in to its magnificence. This is about exploring, finding, observing, and documenting, for the sheer joy of it. The goal is not to convey a set of facts – the goal is to improve the quality of a person’s life and to increase the depth of their experience of the natural world.
Becoming absorbed in nature, letting nature fully excite one’s senses, is central to the process. Perhaps we should call the activity “Nature Absorption” rather than Nature Study, Nature Education, or Natural History, all of which imply an academic approach to things.
Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, emphasizes that feelings and emotions are central: “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”
Liberty Hyde Bailey, an eminent botanist at Cornell University and one of the founding fathers of the Nature Study Movement of the early 1900s, expressed similar ideals: “Nature study is not a science. It is not knowledge. It is not facts. It is spirit. It is concerned with the child’s outlook on the world … one’s happiness depends less on what one knows that on what one feels.”
More recently, David Sobel, in his book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators, makes the point that “One transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts.” I agree, because such powerful experiences in nature will ignite a child’s spirit and foster an intimate connection to nature and the earth.
[Sidenote: My personal relationship with factual knowledge is like a tumultuous love affair. I am both attracted and repulsed. I love the facts and yet abhor them. I sense how they help me, yet I’m aware of how they harm me. I draw them to me and yet curse them at times. I long for childlike simplicity, yet I know that knowledge paves the way for a more mature communion.]
All the above authors are concerned about how we introduce children to nature, but why not take the same approach with adults who have never experienced childhood wonder? Shouldn’t the process of nature absorption be applied more universally, such that no matter who the audience is, the goal is not primarily to educate or inform but rather to encourage an absorption in nature and a loving and caring attitude toward all living things?
I believe that spending time in nature, enjoying her wonders, is our natural birthright. Blessed with acute senses, we humans are literally made to receive. Opening fully to nature is not only good for our spirits and souls, it is good for our earth, and will help us in countless ways as we face the many challenges that lie ahead. While expanding our intellectual understanding of nature is certainly desirable, deepening the spiritual and transcendent quality of our connection should be the most important goal of all.
The Nature Immersion Manifesto
The Nature Immersion Manifesto – Text Version
It is my goal:
to embrace the outdoors with all my senses, exploring the world with sharp eyes and ears … touching, smelling, tasting as if life has just begun
to tame the mad rush of modern life, so that i have time to rest quietly in nature and bring my poetic sensibilities to life
to peer once again into the trees above, grasses below, ponds and pools … not as an expert, but with childlike innocence, excitement and curiosity
to immerse myself in the wonder and beauty of nature, gradually becoming a clear mirror reflecting … nature witnessing and celebrating itself
by Lang Elliott, The Miracle of Nature
In Defense of Beginner's Mind
Beginner’s Mind and the Benefits of Ignorance
In all fields of natural history, there are no shortage of experts who know way more than myself. They have become masters of their domains and are fountains of knowledge concerning the creatures or phenomena that fall within their expertise. In comparison to these experts, I am clearly a novice, a mere beginner, with limited knowledge and understanding. Now you may think that I would be working hard to rectify this situation, to turn myself into a self-professed expert on “everything nature” in order to gain wisdom and then minister my knowledge to the masses. But this is not at all the case. On the contrary, I am actually glad I know so little and I embrace my condition with glee!
Why? Because it allows me to be a child again and explore nature with my senses unobstructed by a thick wall of thoughts and ideas. I am free to look in all directions, rather than restrict my view to a single domain. Furthermore, I am not burdened by the many responsibilities that plague the experts — they have to know as much as possible in order to maintain their expert status, and they must be forever vigilant of others who challenge their position. Being an expert is a great responsibility. But is it really worth the effort?
No matter how much we think we know, when we consider the full breadth of reality and our meagre knowledge of it, even the most accomplished expert is truly a novice. In Zen Buddhism, there is the concept of “shoshin” or “beginner’s mind.” This has nothing to do with actually being a beginner. Rather, it refers to an open and receptive mind, free of preconceptions and conceit (or other ego-driven thoughts), irrespective of whether one is a beginner or is at an advanced level of study.
While beginner’s mind is a fairly simple concept to grasp, it is not so easy to achieve. Actual beginners are often so self-conscious of their limitations, so caught up in the game of learning from experts, that they are unable to relax and become an empty vessel, fully receptive to the natural world unfolding. Likewise, experts may be so bound up in their detailed knowledge, and in playing the role of teacher, that they too are unreceptive. Thus, the student and teacher may become so locked together in the learning game that both lose touch with the miracle of nature, continually renewing itself around them.
Therefore, I celebrate my personal ignorance and the freedom it provides! If I don’t bemoan my lack of knowledge, and instead cultivate a beginner’s mind, I can remain relatively uninformed and yet wallow in the glory of nature as if I were just born into it. I am free to discover the earth and all its forms as if I just arrived here from another planet. How fortunate to know so little, and especially to have a beginner’s mind! This is a cause for great celebration … Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,
in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Shunryu Suzuki – Zen monk and teacher (1904-1971)
Joy, Gratefulness and Being Present
Every Day – Text Version
Every Day it is important to bring joy into one’s heart, to touch the miracle of existence, and relax into the present moment.
For me, focusing on nature, the “whole” of nature, is my doorway. But there are many ways …
Simple be grateful for all that is. Be amazed to be here, now, witnessing the ebb and flow of the seasons, the doings of other human beings, and the talkings of the animals and plants.
Enjoy the rooted spirits of rocks and stone. Be uplifted by the whimsical dances of clouds in the sky.
Take a slow and careful look around. Breathe in the freshness of the open air. Absorb the innocence of another person’s smile.
Feel deeply the joy of being alive. Be kind to yourself, to others, and to the earth upon which we stand.
25 January 2014
The Music of Nature
I wrote the following at age 34, while I was living in the Adirondack Mountain region of upstate New York. When I touched upon this diary entry several years ago, I was shocked that my thinking “way back then” was quite resonant with my thinking today. Miracle of Nature is truly extension of this earlier vision, now finding its way into reality primarily through video-based productions.
Diary Entry, March 18, 1982:
“For me, the exploration and enjoyment of nature and the life histories of its myriad organisms is best likened to the study and appreciation of music. Each creature’s life constitutes a melody of a particular and distinctive flavor. The various transformations in form and behavior through time define the quality of rhythm, while an organisms interactions with other life forms, including members of its own species, expresses the many facets of harmony.
As with music, the lives of nature’s creatures are never static, they are always moving. No single process, or note, in an organism’s life stands still for long in the endless stream of flowing melody. To study and appreciate a creature’s life cycle may leave one with the impression of a discrete composition, but in reality it is characterized by dynamic movement and change, as each individual creature dances its life and creates its own evolving melody.
If I were asked from where I would like my writing to flow, I would speak of my desire to translate the melodious life-movements of the creatures that I share this small planet with into a flowing movement of words that might, in some small measure, give the reader a hint of the melodies being played-out in nature all around us.
For years, I have struggled with questions concerning the meaning of this incredible diversity. Why is it there and how should I approach it, interact with it? Then one evening, from my radio, came a flowing and hypnotic Irish jig. I surrendered to its beautiful melody and the answers to my questions came effortlessly …
Who am I to grasp the meaning of life, to understand the why and the how? I am alive and I have been given ears. That is enough. Quit asking questions, quiet down inside, and just listen. Listen to the music of the forests and fields, the mountains and lakes—surrender to it and absorb its essence. That alone is enough. Be silent, there is so much to Hear.”
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