Artist and naturalist Michelle Louis has a vigorous curiosity about the natural world. Her abstract landscape paintings document life, well-spent, in wild places.
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I have no idea where Nature is, though I spout off about it all the time. I cannot define it in terms of place, or objects, or wild creatures found within its boundaries. Is it unaltered by humans? Can I find it on a trail through the woods? Is it a flower I planted in my backyard? Is it a bike ride to the grocery store? Is it a life being saved in a high-tech trauma center by a team of highly trained specialists? Or that aching back? Is it all these things, or none?
We tend to think of Nature as a place less touched by human hands. Less affected. Separate. But Nature is a funny thing that is not a thing, or a place, and certainly not separate from us.
Humans haven't come to terms with our place in Nature. It's just too hard to quantify. We give value to what we can label and understand. A label is what Nature is not- it is what Nature turns into when its process halts.
Where we fail to see ourselves, others, and the world around us as interdependent, suffering follows. Present day secular and religious dogma and practice is mostly anthropocentric, blind to natural process, and thrives on loneliness and fear even while fostering devotion, entrepreneurship, and innovation. To achieve balance, an inclusive view is requisite.
So how do we learn to value ourselves as part of Nature? We'll surely remain sadly out-of-balance until we learn. Being comfortable as part of Nature, as part of natural processes following the laws of physics, means accepting uncertainty and rejecting ego-driven fear. It means we don't know everything, but are open to new experiences and information- we explore, listen, respect, and take action. It means we are curious and want to know and have things, but aren't compelled to consume more things than we need. It means we open our eyes, hearts, and hands, to the experiences of all living beings on this planet.
At least one accessible process in Nature exposes the bigger picture- when truly immersed in the moment, the sense of "Self" vanishes. Thoughts, labels, emotions, cease. Focus is at once intense and diffuse. Finding ways to immerse oneself in the moment is the trick. For children, it happens commonly and often. When I was a new mother, it happened when gazing into my infants' eyes. Now it happens most often while exploring sylvan, wild places. Or when I'm looking up at the stars. And it happens while I'm painting. I recognize my unique interdependence and alliance in calm process with Nature.
How about you? Where do you find Nature? A gentle suggestion- put away that thing and be there.