Earth: Reclaim Your Connection to Gaia thru Ritual & Reverence
The natural environment is not only our home, but the foundation of our physical structure. Connection to nature has traditionally encompassed a physical relationship and rested on the assumption of spiritual connection. As the western world developed, belief of a spiritual connection with nature began to lose favor in lieu of a new mechanistic worldview. The scientific revolution, at the forefront of this change, contended that the natural world was something that could be quantifiably measured and dominated. However, as scientific understanding of the phenomenal world evolves, science itself may exemplify the value of ancient teachings. This article explores the history of our relationship with nature and how the natural world is in fact deeply connected to our body and being. It concludes with a ritual of the senses, designed to take you deep into the intelligence of nature and in so doing, deep into the wisdom of Self.
Of the Earth
We often search for magic, for esoteric gateways into deepened consciousness, yet, right here in this moment you are an expression of a profound intelligence. Take a moment to scan and feel into your body; notice your skin, your bones, and the heart that beats in your chest. Every aspect of your physical and molecular structure is born from the earth; the cosmic play of the universe itself. Our bodies are no less a part of this planet then the trees, the mountains, or any creature we find. Yet, to see ourselves as intimately woven into fabric of this planet eludes us and we often find ourselves feeling a deep sense of separation instead.
Our material connection to the earth is undeniable. Our bodies are made from the food we eat and will someday return to the earth to be transformed into nourishment for other forms of life. The molecular structure of all living creatures can be traced back to cosmic occurrences, such as the carbon that was created in the stars. What has been contended, in recent history, is our spiritual connection to this planet and the natural world. However, as our understanding of nature evolves, so too does the evidence of our vast interconnectedness.
What the Ancients Believed
In ancient times, there was a great sense of spiritual connection with the natural world. , a belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence, was prevalent in these times, dating all the way back into the Palaeolithic era. This way of being was so fundamental to ancient cultures that it had no name, it simply was. Within the animistic framework ones actions were seen as having direct impact on the spirits of the natural environment. This created reverence for the natural world and all her creatures.
The notion of a great natural spirit or intelligence can also be found at the beginning of western civilization as we know it. In Plato’s “ ” he spoke of the or “world’s soul;” a cosmic intelligence that supported the unfolding of reality. In Greek mythology, , or mother earth, was a great goddess. She was worshipped as the universal mother, gave birth to the first Gods and humans, and was the intelligence behind earth’s architecture of mountains, rivers, and trees.
Working in harmony with nature is still prevalent in many eastern and aboriginal practices today. Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and aboriginal traditions believe nature is to be revered as a wise and great teacher. The Taoist, for example, believe that the only way to discover original source is to observe nature. It is through peak experiences in nature that the depth of our being meets the depth of universal source. Ancient animistic practices are also alive in many of these traditions. Balinese Hinduism offers several examples where practitioners pay reverence to the spirits of the land through their many temples and rituals. Animistic properties are also deeply embedded into the beliefs of Shamanism. Shamans regularly call upon the spirits of the earth and plants to support in spiritual healing and higher wisdom.
A Shift to Mechanistic Thinking: Separation from Animus Mundi
Unlike eastern traditions, the western world pulled away from the ancients ideas of animus mundi, animism, and harmonious communion with nature. As Christianity vaulted over Paganism many of the environmental beliefs and practices were lost. This shift in religious practice, along with the scientific revolution, had a huge impact on human’s relationship to the natural environment. Some even believe that this was the beginning of today’s environmental crises.
The scientific revolution of the 15th and 16th centuries shifted the western worldview from one of spiritual unification to aphilosophy. Philosopher , at the forefront of mechanistic thinking, attempted to show that everything about humanity could be explained materialistically; with no connection to a soul of higher intelligence. , a well ascribed philosopher of the time, disagreed with Hobbes’ idea that the mind could be ascribed mechanistically and argued that reality was composed of two radically different types of substance; extended matter, which was mechanistic in nature, and immaterial mind, which was not mechanistic. He is famous for saying “ ”. Intelligence came to be seen as a higher level of existence, separate from the mechanistic natural world and existing only in human beings and the detached theoretical God of deism. ’s scientific revelations further validated the mechanistic qualities of nature. He seemingly proved that the natural world could be described through quantification, reductionism, and systematic experimentation. However, the assumption that matter was inert, foundational to Newton’s work, would later be disproven.
Human’s relationship with nature was deeply altered by the mechanistic worldview. This new hierarchy, putting humans above nature, made the natural world something to be dominated.theories gained momentum and nature became a means to an ends; it’s value was only in it’s usability for future human advancement. The spiritual and material world were now seen as separate entities by the majority and thus, humanity found itself isolated from the natural world.
Integration: From Ancient Wisdom to Scientific Evolution
The scientific revolution catapulted our knowledge of the universe into new territory. The ideas of Descartes’ mind-body separation, mechanistic philosophy, and even the assumptions of “matter” have now been dismantled. Matter, broken down into quantum form is energy and space. In essence, there is no “matter” at all. Biology and psychology have shown that the body and mind are unequivocally linked; the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. For example, thoughts impact neurotransmitters which in turn affect body function, feeling states, hormone secretion, and the stress response. The body also affects the mind, as demonstrated by social psychologist . She proved that the way we hold our bodies can significantly affect our capacity and confidence in the world.
As science progressed many scientists became inspired by ancient teachings. Today, we find that several scientific theories correlate with ancient spiritual beliefs. For example, the Vedas, ancient Indian texts. Quantum particles demonstrate a form of existence that was once thought impossible; attributes it shares with , the Vedic term for God. Quantum particles show up as both a particle and wave simultaneously and, as demonstrated in , will exhibit correlated properties even at distances of billions of miles. Brahman, as described by the Upanishads (Vedic texts), is both far and near; moving and unmoving; within this and outside of this. Many theorize that the Vedic concept of Brahman is exemplified in the Quantum field., the co-inventor of quantum theory, obtained his inspiration for his theory from
It has also been scientifically proven that connecting with the natural environment has positive effects on the mental, physiological, and spiritual aspects of an individual. Communion with nature is equally effective for regulating body rhythms and physical vitality as is exercise and healthy eating. Mental health is positively impacted by the natural environment and “green spaces” have been shown to promote social cohesion, group-based activities, and increased individual well-being. , or forest bathing, is a practice of connecting to the forest through all the senses. As one breathes the forest air they inhale terpenes, bioactive substances released by the plants and trees. These terpenes have anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and cortisol lowering properties which support the vitality of the individual.
As we respond to the natural environment, so too does the environment respond to us. Science has shown that plants react to the sensorial world, from touch to sound. A recording of a caterpillar chewing leaves will cause the plant to shift into defence mode and produce chemical substances to deter the caterpillar from eating it’s leaves. Plants are also sensitive to the type of the touch they receive and can communicate with each other via aThe plant world is in a sense ‘conscious’ to it’s environment, though this consciousness may present differently then our own.
The, formulated by chemist , proposes that living organisms interact with the inorganic surroundings on Earth to create a synergistic, self regulating, and complex system that assists in the perpetuation of life on this planet. The Gaia hypothesis, though controversial, brings necessary attention to the synergistic and holistic properties of the planet. The planet itself works as a living organism with each system and subsystem connected through a complex array of relationships. From the oceanic algae that feeds the rainclouds to the earthworms regenerating the soil for new growth, the earth is endowed with an intelligence that inevitably restores balance and harmony, at least when it is left to its own unfolding.
Ritual: Convening with the Earth
The natural environment is deeply connected to humans and having a harmonious relationship with nature has huge benefits to our bodies, spirits, and minds. Below is a ritual to commune with the earth. This practice is based on our senses and opens our physiology to the medicine of the earth. Each aspect of the ritual may also be used independently to connect with the natural environment in your daily life.
- Choose a safe outdoor location in which you will be able to walk or hike into a secluded spot within nature. If possible, choose a location rich with plant life and a thriving ecosystem.
- Pack water, snacks if needed, a towel for washing, and any necessary safety gear (i.e. bear spray, first aid kit, phone).
- Find a friend to join you on your journey. They will ensure a higher level of safety and provide an opportunity to observe another human as part fo the natural world.
- At the beginning of your hike take a moment to set your intentions. You may choose to recite a prayer or invocation. “Mother Hear Us,” by Sundari Studios is an option for an invocation to the divine mother
- Become silent. Take a deep breath and imagine the energy and wisdom of the environment entering your entire system
- Begin your hike when you feel present to the environment
- Remain silent as you walk and open all of your senses to your surroundings; smell and taste the air, revel in the colours and shapes, listen to the sounds of the trees, and feel your skin penetrated by the natural world
- Take a comfortable seat when you have reached your destination within nature.
- Become aware of your breath, imagining that with each inhale and exhale you are becoming more and more linked to the natural world
- Soften your eyes, as though you are looking out from the backs of your eyes. Allow your gaze to organically follow the lines of the plants and the earth
- After centring for 15 or more minutes, begin to engage with the natural world around you
- Press your hands into the dirt, scan your fingers across the rocks, the soil, and the trees. Become attuned to each element as though it is touching you, and you are soaking it through your skin
- You may choose to take off your shoes and socks and rub the earth onto your skin and walk barefoot along the ground
- Witness the beauty and sensorial connection to the natural world
- Witness the beauty of your friend in this natural world, seeing them as much a part of the earth as the trees and the soil
- When you feel complete in your exploration, take a moment to give gratitude and blessings to the environment. Thank her for allowing you to explore
- Begin the walk back and remain in silent observation
- Notice how you feel over the coming days. Journal about your experiences to remind yourself of the impact the earth has on your well-being
The earth is the foundation of our existence, from our physiology, to the playground of our human experience. Science has come to prove just how connected we are to the natural environment, and ancient wisdom provides guidance on how we may reclaim our connection to Gaia. We now know, both scientifically and spiritually, that nature is a healing and deeply intelligent force. Our communion with nature not only serves our higher good, but, perhaps, also teaches us how we can establish synergistic and harmonious relationships with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.
Autumnal Equinox: Ritual Through Yoga
The autumnal equinox marks one of two specific positions of Earth during its year-long orbit around the sun where the celestial equator (the spatial projection of the plane between northern and southern hemispheres) passes through the center of our solar star. In these equinox positions, our planet’s axis is directed neither toward nor away from the sun and the boundary between light and shadow is perpendicular to the equator.
During this significant, albeit brief, moment of cosmic equanimity, the planet is divided into approximately equal parts night and day, hence the word “equinox” with Latin roots meaning “equal night.”
The Macrocosm: What Happens Outside During an Equinox?
On an equinox, the sun spends approximately the same amount of time above and below the horizon; rising due east, setting due west, and appearing directly overhead at midday. The word equinox, however, is something of a misnomer. Due to the curvature of the Earth and the composition of our atmosphere, the amount of visible sunlight reaching a particular location varies with the observer’s distance from the equator. For this reason, the global equinox occurs with slightly different timing than the local equilux, which is the latitude-specific date on which the sun rises and sets at the same time, just 12 hours apart.
An Invitation to Turn Within
As Earth progresses along its orbit, passing through a balanced equinox point at the end of summer, its axis begins to lean away from the sun, bringing the southern hemisphere closer to, and moving the northern hemisphere farther away, from our radiant star. As a result, the sun’s rays hit the northern hemisphere at an indirect angle and less solar energy reaches this part of the world.
This waning sunlight initiates a distinct and perceptible shift in our terrestrial environment as the sweetness of summer begins to fade and the top half of our planet retreats from the heat of the sun.
The autumnal equinox is our invitation to turn toward the light within.
The Earth, like our bodies, breathes with unyielding rhythm and there is no better time to observe this divine truth than during a change of seasons when the breath wave of our planet can be experienced through all the senses. This yearly cycle, mirrored in every breath we take, is described in the table below.
When considering how the planet breathes, the autumnal equinox occurs during the inspiration cycle which can be likened to puraka or the inhalation. With the downward-moving inhale, all elements are magnetized toward the Earth. That which was exhaled during the effulgence of summer is reintegrated. Plants surrender their vegetation in response to shorter days and cooler temperatures. Their leaves drained of life-giving sustenance, eventually fall in the ultimate display of impermanence.
Moisture and heat are absorbed into the ground and air currents begin to circulate near the surface to catalyze these natural processes. As vehicles of the universal breath, we can interpret these environmental cues as a reflection of our internal seasons and emulate the perennial wisdom of the planet by letting go, slowing down and taking time for regenerative practices
The Microcosm: What Happens Inside During an Equinox?
A Cosmic Dunk
The autumnal equinox is the beginning of a cosmic dunk into darkness. With each passing day, nighttime arrives a little earlier and lingers into our waking hours. With this gift of environmental down-time, we are encouraged to welcome and not resist the centripetal force of consciousness that pulls us inward. This is a time for meditation and rest. Use this opportunity to surrender to your inner gravity, ask difficult questions, and listen deeply for what arises. Get curious as you dive into the darkness.
This is the call of the Dark One, The roar of life seeking its source. The union you long for is within reach.
Throw off all hesitation. Become one with the fear. Plunge into uncanny blackness,
Eyes wide open, As if there were no other choice. Vibrating with fierce tenderness, Breathe intimately With the Source of Infinite Space.
Translation by Lorin Roche, Vijnana Bhairava Tantra — Yukti Verses |87|
Summon Your Shadow Side
Occurring roughly in the middle of a 6-month period of waning light, the autumnal equinox represents a confluence of life and death. In agrarian societies, the equinox signals the completion of the harvest season, the fruits of which are gathered and stored for the barren winter months. The fullest expression of vibrant light and activity in summer gives way to the stillness of shadow in fall.
As a complement to the light, our shadow side often carries a negative weight when it is mistakenly interpreted as comprising the most troubling parts of ourselves and our experience. The truth is, however, the shadow side encompasses all things outside the light of consciousness, good and bad. Our collective unconscious harbors everything that is unseen or hidden from awareness, like the dark side of the moon. So, in the same way, we might conceal our least desirable qualities, we may also unconsciously hide our brightest attributes on account of shadow forces like shame or lack of self-esteem.
Shadow work is as important to revealing our light as it is to release our darkness and the time to begin this work is now, between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. This is a time to excavate anything that may be churning beneath the surface, a time to invite such thoughts and emotions to gently rise and dissolve. As a guide, you may consider the following contemplation questions either in meditation or in journaling to facilitate this inner exploration.
- What has been my personal harvest this year, what has grown into full expression and brought me joy? Begin each sentence with I celebrate…
- What seeds of insight will I collect and re-plant in the next season? I nourish…
- Where am I holding back or ceding to doubt? What fears are stalling me? I am afraid of…
- Where am I creating struggle or holding on? How can I conserve energy by releasing any unnecessary effort in this cycle? I release…
- Am I housing any latent anger towards myself or others? How can I liberate myself from it? I forgive…
- Do I presently feel ashamed or embarrassed by any behaviors or decisions I have made? How can I lay them to rest? I accept…
- Do I feel guilty for any of my thoughts, words, or actions? How can I make a conscious change? I resolve…
- If my body were to speak, what would it say to me? I hear…
Autumn: The Vata Season
As explained in Ayurveda, Vata is the predominant constitution or dosha during the fall season where the elements of air and space are prevalent. With inherently cool, dry, light, and mobile qualities, Vata is most susceptible to aggravation at this time of year when similar qualities are increasing in nature.
With a direct relationship to Prana, the source of life inside and outside the body, Vata governs all movement and circulation. When in excess, mobility in the body may result in dryness, joint pain, insomnia, and a general feeling of unease. As a result, the positive energy associated with a balanced Vata dosha, the energy that inspires creativity, intellect, and activity, can quickly devolve into fear, anxiety, and irritability. To pacify Vata during the upcoming season, focus on the balancing qualities of earth, fire, and water.
- Get Grounded. Contrary to societal norms, autumn is a time to slow way down. All too often we find the end of the year becoming a time of hurry and overwork. Instead, take every opportunity to reduce your commitments, keep only what is absolutely necessary on your personal, professional, and social calendars. Get more rest by eating an earlier evening meal and committing to a regular bedtime. Develop a fall rhythm and stick to a ritual routine. Be it exercise, nutrition, or self-care, Vata is pacified by steadiness and consistency.
- Stoke the Inner Fire. With decreasing warmth available from the sun, make every effort to minimize the loss of internal heat. Dress warmly, taking care to always cover the head and ears, hands and feet when cold winds are present. Favor warm, cooked foods over raw and allow time for eating as Vata-regulated digestive functions are susceptible to imbalance when we eat on the go. Refrain from drinking cold water or juices and drink room temperature or hot beverages instead.
- Saturate the Senses. Apply Vata-pacifying sesame or olive oil generously after showering as hot water tends to dehydrate the skin. As you lubricate the joints and muscles, use gentle pressure with the hands and fingers to perform self-massage (abhyanga, which grounds upward-moving energy to stabilize Vata. Cook with heating spices like cumin, ginger, and fennel to maintain a steady digestive fire and diffuse warm, earthy scents like geranium, patchouli, and rose. Listen to slow rhythmic music with heavy drumbeats and deep melodic chanting with vibrations that resonate in the lower chakras, drawing energy closer to the earth. Minimize over-stimulating the eyes and during meditation, visualize deep reds and browns.
Practice Regenerative Yoga in Autumn
As we approach the transition from summer to fall, Ayurveda prescribes a gradual shift from cooling breath and postural practices that pacify pitta to those that heat internally to strengthen the fire element in preparation for the colder climate ahead. The Vata dosha also benefits from postures that keep us close to the ground, particularly those that draw energy from the upper centers of the body including the head, throat, and heart, into the lower centers of the belly, sacrum, and hips.
Observe the following guidelines in your practice with steadiness and conscious rhythm to bring balance during times of elevated mobility and stress.
- Soft Eyes. Maintain a soft gaze during asana and pranayama, absorb earth energy through the eyes by looking down in postures where the tendency is to look up.
- Keep it Simple. Avoid overly complex sequences and movements which can over-stimulate intellectual thinking and aggravate vata.
- Root Down. Embrace the earth with all points of contact by pressing down firmly to feel the reciprocal support of the ground, particularly with the hands and feet.
- Get Prone. Compress the low belly and pelvis in prone backbends to alleviate any accumulation of vata that generally occurs here when out of balance.
- Marinate. After warming from the inside out, allow the body to marinate in seated or reclined hip openers and gentle twists, focusing on conscious relaxation rather than activation.
- Surrender. Melt into deep forward bends, closing the throat and resting the third eye on the earth or a block where possible.
Autumnal Equinox Yoga Sequence: Moving Meditation for the Whole Body
Let the focus of this practice be illuminating the fire of the heart for the upcoming season of darkness. With steady, focused effort, visualize a magnetic flame that draws heat and energy into the very core of your being, burning brighter with every inhale. Withdraw from distracting thoughts and listen to the rhythm of your breath. Allow the pace to be slow and smooth, transitioning mindfully from one pose to the next.
Practice this sequence with an emphasis on samavrtti pranayama or equal rhythm breathing. With longer time spent in postures, you may elect to count the length of the inhale to inform the exhale. Let this action be fluid and centering, without rigidity or force. Notice how the breath changes and expands throughout your practice. You will also have an opportunity to practice several rounds of Nadi sodhana, alternate nostril breathing toward the end of practice to bring the subtle body into balance.
When attempting to balance the Vata dosha with asana practice, it can be counterproductive to begin immediately with slow, grounding postures and long holds, despite their potential to alleviate Vata-induced distress. When the mind is fluctuating and the body is agitated, any request to be still might be met with frustration and resistance. In this sequence, we begin instead, with strong and simple standing movements to heat the body and discharge any excess nervous energy before settling into deeper postures for longer periods of time. You may also notice the absence of the basic vinyasa, by design, as it can cause us to rush and get ahead of the breath.
The standing waves of class incorporate two complete mandala flows, one initiating with the right (solar) side of the body and one with the left (lunar) side to symbolize the balance of sunlight and shadow available during the equinox.
The standing postures offered will focus on pressing the feet firmly into the ground while stabilizing the gaze to prepare for single-leg balance asanas before lowering to the earth for deeply meditative hip openers and forward bends. The sequence closes with a gentle downward facing twist and optional downward facing Savasana for grounding.