I feel that we owe it to ourselves as city dwellers, to know and have our own special places of power, because city life robs us of that special connection with place, our at-oneness with nature.

In this article I’ll look at:

  • what some others have said about their feeling of oneness with nature.
  • how modern city life and our new culture of distraction takes away our feeling of oneness.
  • some of my personal places of power.
  • what others have said when they found their place of power.

Sometimes our places of power are far away, high in the mountains, the ocean or the desert. Sometimes they are closer than that, a local park perhaps, or even in the backyard. Sometimes all it takes is for us to be alone for a while in our gardens or some other private place. But why, have most of us in daily life, lost our connection with nature, the special feeling we are at one, that we are a part of your surroundings?

It’s not surprising. We live so much of life in a hurry, our behaviour patterns are under pressure to speed up. Technology is just contributor to what has been called the “hurry disease”. Computers and mobile phones work so quickly we end up thinking faster and faster. We are so used to being able to multitask, we have not noticed how our concentration has been fractured, probably the cause of so much recently diagnosed adult attention deficit syndrome, and why I can no longer easily read a book.

What this distracted state of awareness has done is to put a large barrier between us and our capacity to be in the here and now. And as another consequence, all the communication tools, the social networking sites such as ‘Facebook’, for example, have not strengthened our relationships in an enduring way, they just multiply them manyfold, and they seem to weaken them in some way at the same time. It’s as though we have watered-down something important for the price of being instantly and everlastingly connected.

A personal anecdote might help us answer the question of why we so easily lose the connection with nature and inner selves. The phone company rang me the other day to say how wonderful it was we’re still their customer (actually it’s because I am already on information overload!), but they also wanted to know what communication devices we have in our home. I told them. We have a fax, an answering machine, three computers, three telephone handsets, and two mobile phones.

Thinking about what’s on the list, I’m surprised we don’t have a direct line to an inner or outer god, but sadly the phone company can’t offer this as their latest product! Thankfully, they’ll never be able to. But my real point is, when I answered I saw we’d gathered lots of machines to make communication with each other easy, but at the same time I’ve forgotten to look after another more important kind of communication, the one I have with nature. One for which the phone company can’t supply a special account or gadget.

In recent years I’ve had little time to visit my places of power to commune with nature, and get in touch somehow with what I think is my inner self and nature. You could also call it universal mind, or God, or the soul, eternal essence, energy or spirit – or whatever. I’ve lost the connection to nature via my places of power, the places where I feel empowered, where I feel deeply connected to something, right at home. But so much for having lost the connection, what is the connection? What am I talking about when I use this word.

Let’s hear about the oneness with nature from others, Henrietta Mann is a PhD, a Southern Cheyenne Elder American Indian. Her comments are published in the book, Native Wisdom for White Minds with comments by Anne Wilson Schaff:

“Nature is God’s greatest teacher. Man must learn to attune his higher spiritual consciousness to the harmonious flow of nature and the throbbing heartbeat of the man [in heaven] who created it for lasting duration in order to realise his oneness with nature and with God.”

And the author’s observation on the Southern Cheyenne Elder Henrietta’s comment is:

“Nature is my greatest teacher. When I take the time to go into nature it takes me a while to adjust to the rhythm of my surroundings. Initially what I hear is the rushing of my own heart and the pounding of my brain. It takes me a while to leave my culture behind me and begin to attune to a harmonious flow of nature. God’s messages in nature do not just enter the brain; they enter the whole being and move into a flow of consciousness that assures us of the oneness of all things with the creator. Only when the mind and the body slow down enough do I have the possibility to know oneness.”

Just listen to those words: It takes time to get to feel the rhythm of nature. Another way to say this is that it takes time to feel the rhythm of universal mind, or that which is nameless without form but with form. A quick jaunt to the country is helpful, but one cannot really appreciate nature without taking the time. My experience is it takes about three days to wind down and relax from normal city-paced living.

It also seems to take nature time to adjust to us. A city dweller writing for Time Life books describes a first night out in the dunes of the Sahara:

“The air was sharp and cold, and life was starting in the dunes after the dead heat of the day. I went for a short walk and surprised a fennec, a small desert fox with large ears, sitting patiently in ambush at a Jerboa’s hole. He was dazzled for a moment by the light, and his eyes glowed brightly. Then he bounded away up the side of the dune, a pale shape with its own moon shadow. I saw nothing else this first night; the dunes were not going to deliver up their secrets easily to a day visitor from the civilized world”. (p.17).

And here’s a good question. Why would not the Sahara not deliver her secrets to a day- visitor from the civilised world? Why can’t you as a day-visitor, read nature’s secrets? My theory is that as we no longer live in the cathedral of nature, the trivial thoughts and exasperations of daily life smother our awareness of our oneness with nature. To always be in a hurry. Multi-tasking madness!

The city dwellers divine occupation and privilege is to fight the peak hour traffic, like David against Goliath, but with bad aim caused by an overdose of morning news and rising interest rates. Add to this the disruptive energies of other people, sent just a little bit crazier than us, by their over-sensitivity to modern city living. For example, I have a workmate, James, a devout Buddhist, who seems to be nearing nervous collapse, trying to please too many other people in his struggle for perfection. Sadly, his stressed out condition gets on our nerves. All these influences we do not control, but have to adjust to, can be at the expense of realising and knowing our inner life, our connection with nature and other people. Ask anyone who lives in the country and they will usually say city people are quite mad. They might be right!

But what drives these influences that propel us in the direction of haste? I think it is important to understand this. For many of us, it’s the daily struggle to accumulate more possessions, comforts and experiences than somebody else. The author of the excellent book, Clutter Busting, Brooks Palmer, says we are already complete in ourselves, but marketers and advertisers have seduced us to think we are somehow incomplete, that’s why we buy more and more stuff to fill a void – and one does not even exist! Collecting ‘stuff’ also harnesses the natural human urge of competition. Car-makers, for example, know our egos are weak. We’re also hooked on creature comforts; as is the appliance maker who now supplies remote controls for microwave ovens. Some city dwellers like to collect experiences in the same way as possessions. I’ve often heard people say they will ‘do’ Europe or they will ‘do’ Asia as though they were on some kind of a trophy hunt.

The frenzy of modern life has turned the city to a place of spiritual emptiness and powerlessness for many individuals with little connection to others. It’s a rootless existence, lived in a borderless and endless urban tract. More so, when they keep moving from suburb to suburb in search of more impressive houses and supposedly better lifestyles. What this creates is a large group of people sensing they belong to nothing, no personal history of place, and cut off from nature and even themselves and each other. Sometimes they turn on each other in frustration.

Road rage is an extreme example of pent up frustrations and anger, fuelled of the feeling of powerlessness and discontentedness; it’s a strange permission to let-fly provided by the seeming anonymity of the car. To continue in my harsh insight into modern living and the city as a place of spiritual powerlessness, modern life also offers so little inner satisfaction and communication with the inner life, and so much frustration, that addictions of all kinds are common. They are symptomatic of a life spent in a state of denial of our authentic selves. Do I exaggerate? Look at the statistics for mental illness and prescriptions for anti-depressants, the rate of heroin abuse and teenage suicide – they are increasing. All these are symptoms of unhappiness and inner discomfort on the increase, when outer comfort increases.

Yet supposedly we are living in paradise, “relaxed and comfortable” as a past Australian Prime Minister said some time ago. So what is my solution to all this angst? When possible I go to my places of power.

Here is the story of how I discovered the first when I was seven or eight years old. On a heavily overcast humid, warm spring morning, I stood alone in the schoolyard. A warm wind swept the long grass. For some minutes I was the breeze, and the grass and the grey clouds above, floating across the schoolyard, waving the tassels of the ripe grasses. Sometimes I can still feel this moment of awakening to Mother Nature or Universal Mind.

For many years I lost this feeling of being connected to the elements, of oneness, until I rediscovered it through renewed contact with nature outside the city. I guess that early schoolyard experience was a sign for me for the need for a close future relationship with nature. The outdoors would be important. There would always be the quest for the special feeling of being alive in a different way. To get away from the city entombed in concrete, to find the subtle shift of the breeze, the scent of the bush after rain away from the city, and the pure, cold air carrying the scent of snow in the mountains.

Today my places of power are the river and mountain and forest. I get to them when I can, or when I am driven to them by some inner urge. The first and most important is the river. The river gives me the strongest sense of connectedness most quickly. Why? Because I find the quickest way to get in touch with natural forces and rhythms is by being on and in the river, paddling a kayak. A kayak allows me to float with the current, ride the rapids and basically feel alive again. In a kayak one is with the movements and energies of the river, there is really no other choice. One cannot think about work or anything else but being there. If you do think about other things, you lose focus and capsize. It can be very cold and sometimes dangerous. If there’s a strong current or lots of rapids, the need to focus on the natural forces outside you is even stronger.

In the space of an hour I become the river, my body is an extension of the river, no longer fighting, but working with it. Mentally you must concentrate and read the rocks and the current. This then is a sacred place, a sacred connection between human and natural energy, a place of moving power, because you’ve forgotten yourself and the trifles and troubles that occupy the anxious and worried, uptight, tense, nervous, stressed, annoyed, angry irritated mind – and the emotions we’re not supposed to have.

But if there is one place where I am awakening to an even stronger special energy it is the mountains. It takes me by surprise every time. Before my eyes is a feeling of place where I somehow feel I have always been – a place of feeling “infinite and unforseen” as the singer KD Lang says. This is my connection point with the heavens.

The first time I realised the power of altitude, was on a New Zealand mountain, in the Mt. Cook range, 7,000 feet high, overlooking a glacial valley (see the picture opposite). A strange feeling washed over me. (Hit me is probably a better description!) I was in my element. I felt all powerful, confident, expansive, and at home. Perhaps it was the magnetic forces of earth or as the followers of Feng Shui might say, ‘Tiger energy’, concentrated at the peaks and summits that caught me unawares. Perhaps it was the concentration of negative ions. Whatever the explanation no other place had offered this unique feeling. Even so it was a slightly dangerous place to stay – the mountaineers’ hut I stayed in that night had once been blown off the mountain by a freak gust of wind, with several people in it.

Years later the feeling returned. Atop a higher peak, Mount Santis, in the Swiss Alps, with the sound of three fine female yodellers at the cafeteria, I looked across an endless armada of grey peaks all the way to Italy. Small circles of colour drifted in the far distance – hot air balloons in the far distance enjoying the clear weather. Once again I got the feeling of being in a place of intense energy, a place, stirring intense emotions, a place of power. It seemed as familiar as home, as familiar as your suburban backyard does to you. I felt in tune, as though it were my special playground, my private kingdom. I don’t get to the high altitudes often enough.

Others have been strongly affected by their connection with nature too. On the ocean, the first man to sail solo around the world, in 1898, Joshua Slocum in his book Sailing alone around the World said this:

“During these days a feeling of awe swept over me. My memory worked with startling power. The ominous, the insignificant, the great, the small, the wonderful, the commonplace – all appeared before my mental vision in magical succession. Pages of my history were recalled which had been so long forgotten that they seemed to belong to a previous existence. I heard all the voices of the past laughing, crying, telling what I had heard them tell in many corners of the earth.” (p.51)

If we have no place for peace and contemplation, we have no place, we have no sacred site where we can see and feel the true nature of our lives; places where we may contemplate, and where the soul and the body might sing quietly or loudly in unison. Do you know your place of power? Perhaps you have a vague recollection you like the sea or the mountains. Perhaps your place of power is near a waterfall where the earth’s energies are more conducive to your own special thoughts and feelings seldom felt at other times. Perhaps your place is in the desert, perhaps in a She-Oak forest, with its magical quality of soft foliage and bark on rocky slopes, with the breeze whispering all about you in the desert air.

Thankfully in Australia we have vast empty spaces, much envied by overseas visitors, and not so difficult to journey to.

I’d like to end this short paper with a true-life account of a world-famous person’s first encounter with his place of power, the ocean. The ocean frightens me, Jacques Cousteau, co-inventor of the modern aqualung, found the ocean was his place of power. Quite by surprise, in fact. Jacques Cousteau suddenly realised, on his first dive with swimming goggles, that the quiet enchanted world with its “incommunicable beauty”, so close to a busy street in the Mediterranean, yet so far removed from everyday life, was his place of power:

“One Sunday morning in 1936 at Le Mourillon, near Toulon, France, I waded into the Mediterranean and looked into it through (Fernez) goggles. I was a regular navy gunner, a good swimmer interested only in perfecting my crawl style. The sea was merely a salty obstacle that burned my eyes. I was astounded by what I saw in the shallow shingle at Le Mourillon – rocks covered with green, brown and silver algae and fishes unknown to me, swimming in crystal clear water. Standing up to breath I saw a trolley bus, people, electric streetlights. I put my eyes under again and civilisation vanished with one last bow. I was in a jungle never seen by those who floated on the opaque roof. Sometimes we are lucky enough to know our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me on that summer’s day at Le Mourillon, when my eyes were opened on the sea.”

As they say the rest is history!