I have always loved nature. Most people, though, tend to think that this is for the physical and pleasant beauty of nature. I disagree. I agree that nature can have a pleasant beauty at times. I also think that there is a beauty that goes beyond physical beauty. The beauty of nature, that most people refer to, almost always applies to specific “ideal” aspects of nature: a good view, a nice pleasant spot under some tree’s, a good camp site, etc. These are generally conditions that are “pleasing” to the human person and the human condition. No wonder there is such pleasant physical beauty there.
Anyone who really looks at nature, though, can see that there is dark side to nature. All you have to do is go out of the areas that are “pleasing” to the human person. Go into areas that you have to stoop to get through or push away branches to walk. Sit where insects are crawling all over the place. Walk up the side of a hill that has a 70 degree incline. Trudge your way through mud. You do things like this and the beauty of nature vanishes. In addition, one must remind ones self of all the hidden dangers. You could slip and fall and break your leg. A tree can fall on you. A moose might attack you. Its because of this that I often say, when I go into the woods: “there is danger here . . . hidden behind the flowers”. Its also not uncommon for me, when I walk in the woods, to state to myself, “If a tree falls and lands on me, killing me, no ones going to cry for me. You won’t be seeing the birds, squirrels, and deer line up in a row and weep. Nothing will happen.” Here another side of nature appears, a very unforgiving and cold side.
Truly, nature is “un-human”. That is to say, it is not a world that “conforms” to humanity and the human condition. Its not a place that conforms to us. Instead, we must conform to it and follow its lead. That is to say, we must take what it offers. In addition, we must create a niche, in the midst of nature, in which we can modify things so that it fits our “human nature”. We must keep within a certain temperature range. We must have food that is edible. We must make chairs, beds, etc. that our comfortable for us. This shows that “nature” and “human nature” do not correspond. This fact causes a need to create what can be called the “human niche”. This is that reality which we must carve out of nature, in the midst of nature, to make nature fit us.
This “human niche” slowly becomes human society and civilization over time. When this gets too big we tend to become arrogant and begin to think that “human nature” and “nature” are the same thing, forgetting that they are actually different. Eventually, we go on to think that we have control over “nature” and that we are above it. In this way, the “human niche” takes on an illusionary quality about “nature”, making it appear smaller than it is. As a result of this, it tends to develop misconceptions about “nature”. Commonly, there becomes a tendency to downplay “nature”, almost as if it is a minor influence in life. As a result, the “human niche” begins to be perceived as the everything in life. “Nature” becomes viewed as subsidiary to the “human niche” and may even be viewed as its servant. In some societies “nature” can practically disappear as a presence in life . . . “nature” literally disappears. In addition, we tend to lose the “nature” side of our selves as the “human niche” grows. In other words, an overly strong “human niche” makes us lose touch with “nature”. This even includes our “human nature”. In short, as the “human niche” grows we tend to lose touch not only with “nature” but with our selves.
One effect of all this is that the “beauty of nature” is looked at from the context of the “human niche”. This point of view tends to look at nature from contexts such as these:
- It is looked at from the comfort of the “human niche”. As a result, it is “pleasant” and “good”.
- It is looked at from a distance, as if seeing nature only from a context of a documentary.
- It is looked at from the context of people who do not have the proper sense of what “nature” really is.
- It is looked at from the point of view of people who have lost touch with themselves.
The effect of these is that this form of “beauty of nature” tends to be illusionary and lacks depth. In addition, it does not really hit one deeply at all. This is why the “pleasing” side of nature is emphasized. The “beauty of nature” that this condition creates can be described as the “human niche-based beauty of nature”.
But if one goes beyond the “human niche” one see’s another form of beauty, one that isn’t so pleasant, easy, simplistic, or shallow. Unlike the “human niche-based beauty of nature”, which is generally pleasant-oriented, it can be hard, difficult, painful, and even horrifying. In addition, it is so deep that it can change the person and alter the self. This, really, is when “nature” hits deep as it changes ones self. In this way, the self is as if transformed and altered by “nature”. In some respects, one becomes a part of “nature” by being transformed by it. In so doing it seems to have these effects:
- “Nature” takes on the quality of something that is animate or alive. We see, then, a natural tendency to see “nature” not as an inanimate object but as something alive and living. This sense, really, is the source of god and spirits. In this way, any form of spirituality is related with “nature”. As a result, any spirituality based in the “human niche” (such as organized religions, learning spirituality from a book, etc.) tends to be shallow or superficial-like. They are a good guide, and a support, but the heart of any spirituality lies in “nature”.
- It makes one alike or akin to “nature”, almost like we are relatives or brothers. In this way, “nature” becomes something more like a relationship, something you associate with, much like another person.
- There becomes a strong sense of “self-in-the-world”. In some sense, the self is felt strongest in “nature”. Not only this, the self is perceived as being in-the-world. This gives a great sense of “aliveness” and of living. Perhaps one could say that life is found in “nature”?
- One as if becomes closer to “human nature”. In other words, by becoming closer to “nature” one becomes closer to ones natural self. Because of this, “nature” can have great impact on becoming a human being. One could very well say that a person finds “human nature” only in the midst of “nature”.
This transformation, and its effects, creates a whole other form of “beauty of nature” which can, at times, have great influence on a person and even become profound. We could speak of this as “transformation-based beauty of nature”.
This transformation, though, requires going beyond the “human niche” and abandoning it, at least to some extent. I do not believe, necessarily, that “living in nature” (that is, like an Indian or mountain man) automatically does this. That is to say, living “living in nature” does not necessarily create a “transformation-based beauty of nature”. In fact, it may not do any transformation at all! This form of living, it seems to me, can create a “practical” version of transformation, based on active living and participation, which is more akin to learning a lifestyle than anything else. It often only creates a “living in nature lifestyle” which is not the same as a real transformation. In other words, knowing “how” to live in nature is not necessarily transformation. It requires more than that.
I believe that, in transformation, we are looking at something that is deeper. It requires a mental attitude and quality. One could say, I suppose, that transformation requires, as a prerequisite, a “spiritual” sense. This means that transformation is more spiritual than physical or practical or a lifestyle. It happens in ones mind. I also think that only some people are prone to this. Many people don’t have this frame of mind.
Because it happens in ones mind (that is, interiorly) it is not solely based in the physical fact of “nature”. That is to say, being in “nature” doesn’t just automatically cause a transformation. This fact shows that there is more to “nature” than “nature”, that it is an experience and a phenomena. Because of this, “nature” appears in different ways:
- As a reaction to physical “nature”. Being in the midst of “nature” can affect a person interiorly and affect a person deeply. In this way, it can promote and cause an experience and phenomena.
- Having a “non human niche” perspective. In some respects, anything that is not part of the “human niche” is a form of “nature.
We see, then, a pattern where “nature” really means an absence of the “human niche”. Accordingly, it does not necessarily mean being out in physical nature. So we see that, since transformation requires “nature”, the abandoning of the “human niche” is necessary for transformation. In the end, one does this interiorly, in ones mind. Being in physical nature can have great impact on this interior sense and, in some cases, be critical. But to be in physical nature alone, with no interior sense, does nothing. In this way, we see that transformation is rooted in ones interior self.
With this we can see that there are two ways to abandon the “human niche”:
- Being inspired by physical “nature”. This only leads to the second way.
- By abandoning it interiorly.
The power of physical “nature”, in this process, shows that we have a deep association with nature. In actuality, “nature” is a part of us and we are a part of it. This fact tends to be forgotten in the “human niche” which tends to make it appear as if we are separate from “nature”.
When we move away from the “human niche” (both physically and mentally) one ceases to have its security, identity, and support. One is now exposed to “nature”. In this way, one really stands naked in the world . . . there’s nothing to hide behind. Not only that, we must remember that “nature” does not conform to us . . . it is “un-human”. In this way, “nature” as if squashes the self . . . “nature” kills ones self. This is what I found. For many years in fact, after loving to be in nature for many years, I found I avoided nature. Looking back on it now I know that it is because of its squashing quality. Nature actually began to scare me. Its because of this that I find myself often stating: “nature destroys me”. Later I would begin to say, “I go into nature to be destroyed by nature”. In effect, its squashing quality causes a death in the self. The self is as if insufficient in the face of “nature”.
When in nature I saw nature as “beyond me” and “more than me”. It seemed incomprehensible, beyond my reach. My human mind could not comprehend it. Knowledge such as “cumulus clouds”, “sequoia trees”, “strata of rock”, etc. were only words and ideas from the “human niche”. What use are they out in real “nature”? I could sit and pretend to know, using fancy words and ideas as they do in the “human niche” (particularly if they are scientific), but these truly, deep down, do not explain nature and are insufficient. Words have little use. “Nature” is beyond me, beyond words. This makes me feel so small and insignificant, a nothing. This creates a great sense of humility. I often call this one of the “great truths” for in accepting it one is accepting the first “great truth” of life, that one is small and the world is beyond ones self, mind, and understanding. This means that this “great truth” is not a knowing of information or facts, as is often supposed viewed as being “truth”. Instead, it shows that “truth” is an awareness of a condition and an acceptance of it. In other words, “great truth is awareness and acceptance”. Humility, then, is the accepting of ones insignificance and inability to comprehend. Of all the “truths” I’ve learned it has the greatest sense of “truth” I have ever felt . . . but yet it consists of not “knowing” anything. I call this “wonderful humility”. This sense can be so deep that it often becomes profound, almost unreal. In this way, it shows that “humility is the base of profoundness”. This profoundness is a beauty in itself, a “humble beauty”. It is truly wonderful to walk in the woods feeling this humility and insignificance and inability to understand. The world becomes something to marvel (see my article “Thoughts about learning to ‘marvel’“). This beauty, interestingly, is a beauty of a relationship, not of a sight or image (as we generally see in “human niche-based beauty of nature”). We see, then, that there is beauty beyond a sight or image but in something as simple as an awareness of a relationship.
Its not uncommon that this “humble beauty” makes me feel like a child in “nature”. I feel simple, helpless, and vulnerable. I feel innocent, dumb, and naïve. But, like a child, I find a reliance on a parent . . . “nature”. In this way, “humble beauty” tends to create a trust and a faith. This also leads to a relationship with “nature” as if it were a person. As a result of this, there becomes an awareness that nature is lord and master. That is to say, it dictates things. We follow it. In some sense, we serve and must submit to nature. Only in serving and submitting to nature do we truly know it and see its beauty (also see my article “Thoughts on the importance of subservience and submission“).
But this sense of humility and insignificance also “destroys me”. My self is as if squashed by it. But there is a part of me that lives and grows, a “nature” part of me. It is a deeper self that is awakened by this squashing of my self. It is as if awakened. In this way, it shows that there is an “outer self”, which is based in worldly things and the “human niche”, and a deeper “nature self”. The squashing and death of my self, my “outer self”, becomes the birth of a new self, the “nature self”. This death/birth becomes the transformation. In this discovery of the “nature self” a person becomes changed, a new person. With this new “nature self” the world changes and new beauties appear.
Through this new “nature self” there is a sense instilled in me that there is a deep and strong connection between nature and me, that we are “bound” together. I feel nature as a part of me and it a part of me. As I said once many years ago: “when I looked out into the world I see my self looking back at me”. The sky, the trees, the mountains, seem as much a part of me as my hand or foot. In this world, then, “nature” and me become so bound together that we seem as if one entity. This is a great expression of the self, of what I call extension and projection (for example, see my article “Thoughts on the importance of spatial relations and the self – the creation of a “self-space” and its effects” and “Thoughts on the progression of projection“). The self is as if expanded to encompass the whole world. It creates a bond, a belonging, a being-a-part-of. “Nature” is no longer just a place but “me”. This creates a beauty based in the expression of the self. This expression of self, this sense of being “bound”, and the beauty it creates, is “beauty-by-being-bound”. A person becomes a part of all nature, including all the things that have no apparent beauty, such as the horrid heat, the insects, the mud of the marshes, the dead branches, the spiders, etc. This bond, this being bound to nature, is one of the great beauties of nature I think. Its also difficult to achieve and very transitory (meaning that it comes and goes). As a result, one is always seeking it.
This “nature self” is not something that, once found, is always there. One must continually hunt and seek for it. The “nature self” is a deeper self and an experience that comes and goes, is found and lost. In this way, the “nature self” becomes a continual questing, and endless seeking, and an ongoing hunt. This shows that “nature” requires a continual seeking of a death and a birth to discover the “nature self”. Its this death and birth that leads to transformation which creates new forms of beauty.
I know, from experience, that the “nature self” is really a sense of the pre-self, which is what I call the self before a self actually appears (see my article “Thoughts on the pre-self, primal self, world self, post-self, and the greater self“). This causes a number of responses:
- A sense of “uncontaminated self”. That is to say, the self is felt in a pure way, without all the conflicts, burdens, and dilemma’s that the self develops later. The self is as if “pure”. In some sense, its a “primal sense”, of “life at the beginning”.
- A progression of self’s. The sense of the pre-self as if starts a “new beginning” with the growth of the self. One goes back to the “self before the self” (the pre-self) and progresses through the different self’s again (such as the primal self, world self, post self, greater self). In this way, the self’s are as if renewed and reestablished. One effect of this is that it makes it so that the self is dynamic and is active on many different levels.
The effect of these is that the different self’s as if revolve around and around like a big wheel, going around and around from one to another. This gives a great sense of life, a growth, and insight coming from the different self’s. Hidden aspects of the self as if appears from nowhere and one develops new awareness and growth. The self changes. The perception of the self changes. The perception of the world changes. This causes a new form of beauty, one based in experiencing the self. This is the “beauty of the revolving self”.
Interestingly, the more the “nature self” is practiced, the more the “human niche” seems small in comparison. This has become so powerful that I often view the “human niche” – human society, human lifestyle – as a separate entity, a separate world removed from nature. Human society, to me, takes on this quality of being nothing but a big shell that separates itself from nature and as if protects itself from nature. It makes it appear that nature and the “human niche” are separate distinct places that are, in actuality, incompatible.
When I do not practice the “nature self” I find that I slowly become absorbed into the “human niche”, usually without my knowing. Accordingly, I find that nature moves further and further away from me and the “human niche” mentality becomes dominant. In this state the “external self” becomes dominant. Because of this, the “human niche-based beauty of nature” becomes the beauty I see.
Its as if there is a great tug-of-war between “nature” and the “human niche”. One continually goes back and forth in an endless struggle. Though this is hard and painful, at times, it is much like the revolving of the sun, which creates day and night in an endless never ending cycle. There seems a naturalness in this revolving of “nature” and the “human niche”. They reflect two aspects of the human self. Like night and day they, too, are opposing elements. And, like them, they have moments of conflict and moments of glory. This tug-of-war, of going from one to another creates a particular quality of beauty. There becomes a beauty in the glory of “nature” and the “human niche” as well as the conflict that happens between them. This becomes a beauty in conditions. We could call this the “beauty of opposing qualities”. I find this the hardest beauty to see and the one I most struggle with. I often feel this is because of a number of qualities:
- Its hard to go from one extreme to another.
- Its hard to see beauty in all the qualities at one time (“nature”, “human niche”, the glory of each, and the conflict between them).
- The birth/death (transformation) is painful.
All these put great stress on the self. The tendency is to “favor” a specific quality at one period of time. In other words, we tend to be ‘quality focused’. Since this is a cycle of opposing qualities this ‘quality focused’ orientation hinders the cycle nature. This form of beauty requires one to see things as a whole. In other words, to be ‘cycle focused’. One cannot really see the “beauty of opposing qualities” until one becomes ‘cycle focused’. This seems to be something that takes time to develop. Time develops things like this:
- A growth of self
These add up, over time, and allow one to be able to look at things from a distance. This is because the ‘cycle focused’ orientation is an orientation based in looking at things from a distance.
What we see in all this is that the beauty of “nature” goes way beyond physical beauty to the depths of ones self. Not only that, it appears in different ways, such as a beauty in experiencing the self or in a relationship. Because it goes into the depths of ones self it requires a change of self to achieve (transformation). This opens up new aspects of the self and, accordingly, new forms of beauty. In many ways, this shows that the “beauty of nature” is not only found in actual nature but within ourselves.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen