What Nature Teaches?

In wildness is the preservation of the world

– Thoreau

It has been said many times that nature is a great teacher. Anyone who has said this would have had a particular reason in mind, perhaps a lesson they have themselves learnt from the natural world.

I also believe that nature is a great teacher. But I would add the qualification that the experience of nature is the greatest teacher. We can learn many things about nature in a classroom or from a book but the most powerful lesson’s that nature offers are issued directly.

But why is that true? And what are the key lessons that she has to teach us?

Nature’s lessons are best learnt directly because we are embodied beings and it is through our embodiment – and therefore our physical encounter with nature – that we primarily experience the world. Read more about this in my recent article here

There’s an alchemy in our physical experience of nature, but what does that physical encounter have to teach us? Certainly there are many biological and chemical processes occurring in nature, mechanisms, ecologies, pathways, and so on; there’s much to learn and probe and understand.

Those scientific findings are important but I’m thinking more about what nature can teach us about ourselves and how we face down the environmental crisis we face today.

What really important lessons does nature have to teach?

Firstly it strikes that me humans are fairly unique in our egocentrism. There are countless examples of other species who ‘take one for the team’, indeed who have that motivation firmly loaded into their psyches; they look out onto the world and see an interweaving fabric of life, not a collection of discrete selves bouncing around each other. We humans have that capacity too, but it seems to be several levels further down our neural programming (and perhaps this is why when it surfaces we are so amazed?).

John Muir famously wrote,

Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit – the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.

The second lesson is that humans are just one part of creation and (ready your ego’s!) not necessarily the most important part. This reminds us that we are very much immersed in the rich tapestry of life on Earth; we, and myriad other species, are in this together and that realization – and particularly the further realization of our dependency on the Earth others – can motivate compassion and empathy towards all life. We have an intrinsic relation to all life on Earth, there should be no scope for hubris.

But don’t take my word for it, get out there and let nature be your guide; touch, smell, hear and see nature in all its profundity and let her lessons wash over you; experience nature through your body and let your mind be refreshed and renewed.

Nature rocks, and so do you!

Did the ideas in this article interest or inspire you? If they did and you wish to learn more check out a free preview of one of the lectures from my online course. Or check out the course overview here


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