As spring descends in the northern hemisphere, nature awakens. What was dormant or resting now bursts forth — trees bud, flowers blossom, and once hibernating animals emerge, often with new offspring.
The energy that supports this rebirth is made possible by the deep, replenishing rest of winter — a period of incubation. Now, at a newly vigorous pace, organisms fully engage in the inextricable web of life to which we all belong.
However, for those of us who do not feel well-rested, the activity of spring can feel unwelcome and off-putting. Sometimes the increased daylight can feel like a harsh glare, keeping us indoors. We might hide from nature’s invitation, isolating ourselves and turning further inward, contracting around our burdens and daily frustrations.
Where so much outside seems fresh, inside we can feel stuck.
With the continued shifting of the state of the pandemic, this spring in particular has the potential to engender in some people feelings of anxiety about the safety of emerging, and what’s to come.
Wonderfully, ancient Buddhists recorded teachings in writing that are highly relevant to modern life, including how to antidote feeling cut-off from the rest of the world. In fact, among the thousands of discourses the Buddha delivered to students of various sorts (monks, lay people, kings, and outlaws) there are instructions for mindfully relating to the elements of the natural world.
Practicing with these can be extremely useful for those of us feeling out-of-step with nature.
By mindfully contemplating the elements (namely the early Buddhist writers were concerned with Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind) we can start to view ourselves as not separate from nature, but very much of it. Such a meditation invites knowing the properties of the natural elements within our own bodies, as well as outside, in the landscape.
For example: a body scan in which we note the properties of hardness/softness, roughness/smoothness is a recognition of the expression of the Earth element within. We can become aware of the Water element by noticing moisture in the mouth and the cohesive property of the flesh. Fire, or the heat element, is felt through temperature on skin. And we notice Wind in motion, circulation and, of course, breath.
Simplifying our experience for several moments in this way, followed by noting properties of the elements in the landscape outside, or a favorite landscape from your life, makes it clear:
We are not separate from the world around us, but inextricably connected to it.
There is ease in the direct experience of the truth that we are just nature. Further, during the embodied mindfulness practice of an Elements meditation, what all feels so personal — our preferences, concerns, and worries — fall away.
If you're feeling discomfort with transitioning into the conspicuously busy season of spring, try a mindfulness meditation on the Elements. This Elements meditation is based on the ancient Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, inspired by the teaching of the contemporary Theravada Buddhist monk and scholar Bhikkhu Anālayo, scripted and delivered by yours truly.
Guest post by studio BE faculty member Sarah Jane Shangraw.
Sarah Jane Shangraw, M.S., E-RYT 500, YACEP, is a student of the buddhadharma who teaches mindfulness meditation and Insight Yoga in the Boston area and beyond. Using Buddhist, yogic, and western psychological approaches, she guides individuals and groups in alleviating stress and training in awareness for the greater good.
Find her at www.sarahjaneshangraw.com and @sarahjaneswell.
Feature photo by Creaturart/Adobe Stock