There is a foreign land where structure, goals / outcomes, reward / punishment, measurement / return, personal development and laser-focus give way to less precise things like spontaneity, irreverence, beauty, surprise and playfulness. This land is exemplified on the other side of the window if we stop there rather than hurry through it. If we do, we encounter an entirely different world, and we are not in the centre of it – which can be experienced as rather a big relief.
Over the years of working outdoors, I have come to suspect that the single greatest service that a guide of any sort can offer is not the skills or knowledge or clever techniques they have, but whether they can create the conditions that invite this ‘alternative environment’, and therefore assist the depth of experience that people might have.
Such an environment partly comes about through keeping a lot of ‘indoor’ artefacts and ideologies out of the way. Another side of it is often the guide keeping themselves out of the way (including their own artefacts and ideologies), so whatever subtle things already going on in the woods or hills have a chance of coming through. If this happens, then a visitor might refreshingly immerse in a natural environment where the priorities and processes at play feel very different from those that direct them in normal life.
It’s not that nature itself has different values to other abstractions like business or people, or anything else; nature has no values. Values are a product of a type of self-consciousness that humans seem to have developed, an evolution that seems to carry a blessing hand in hand with a curse. This very self-conscious state is something we do need to unwrap ourselves from now again, or we get irritating, or boring, or very destructive. But I find it’s like quantum physics: to appreciate the essence of ‘the other thing‘, I need to somehow think in a way that my mind is just not equipped and conditioned to think; it’s a dimension I find hard to imagine, a way that runs contrary to the common sense of things.
When we do manage to look at things differently, we see different things, new worlds. In even its most literal sense (i.e. diffuse rather than focused vision) this is astoundingly true, in the woods or the mountains or the garden. Doing this occasionally might be important, if there is truth in the idea that certain problems can only be addressed at their root with a transformation in perspective / consciousness, rather than applying more of the same intellectual thinking, which tends to be clever, but very narrow. And anxiety-inducing.
As long as we don’t try too hard, if we find ourselves in an atmosphere that invites it, and if we feel safe enough, we can find a different mode or mindset arising when in nature, and we might get out of our heads.
Ultimately, it’s about control, and whether we are prepared to relinquish it and open up to possibility, or cling to it, in return for a narrow band of perceived (illusory) certainty.
Can I take the insights gained from an experience of opening up outdoors and apply them to indoor pursuits? This is a decent idea, albeit a doomed one as it is ambitious and controlling in a most indoorsy, self-conscious way. But if it is true that the fool who persists in their folly will become wise, then I find it’s nevertheless worth a crack. Why not? In my mistaken quest for glory I might actually be caught by surprise and stumble across a more wholesome and less meddlesome way.
To that end I am putting forward three books which I think, if you let them, can knock a person sideways off the path of least resistance. Books that are like poetry, accessing that extra dimension, creating imagery that can carry us beyond the confines of our common sense, and finding language that rejuvenates essential wisdom rather than contribute to wearing it down, or packaging it into toolkits for sale.
I won’t give synopses or reviews, just accompany each one with a couple of sentences that don’t so much sum up the book, but represent some of my own personal take-aways from it.
If you feel the urge to have a look, then enjoy. And make sure to ignore the suggestion in the title of this post: there is no such thing as a “nature mindset” to be used like a tool – that would be to get all clingy and controlling again. But if there were, the mindset would probably be to read a book for the sake of it, because you feel like it at the time. Or to do something else that grabs you instead, like actually going outside.
The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka:
Understanding nature lies beyond the reach of human intelligence. The clamour of ambition and the activity of the intellect crowd out the more subtle messages.
Go nowhere and seek no victory: one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them.
Instead, if an individual temporarily abandons his own will and allows himself to be guided by nature, nature responds by providing all that’s genuinely needed.
The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts:
To want to be secure in life is to want to be separate from it… but the feeling of separation makes one feel isolated and insecure.
So, the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing!
And the more my efforts are focused on future pleasures, the less I am capable of enjoying pleasure at all.
Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin:
It could be said that we live in a culture dominated by adolescent habits and desires.
If this is true, then the enduring societal changes we so desperately need won’t happen until we individually and collectively evolve into an engaged, authentic adulthood.
Strap yourself in, this could be an interesting ride…