Knowers of nature

27 Mar

The next blogs

In order for you to be able to follow the story easily, each of the next blogs are divided into the following sections:-

The Story  – a small section of the Ugly Duckling so far

Interpretation of this part of the story – my personal views

Resonance for us now – the bigger picture

Examples from near and far – the ways in which others have worked with these ideas

How can we use this? – ideas and thoughts on how to incorporate this into our lives and how to become ‘elders’



   Knowers of nature

The Story

“It was so beautiful out in the country. It was summer. The oats were still green, but the wheat was turning yellow. Down in the meadow the grass had been cut and made into haystacks; and there the storks walked on their long red legs talking Egyptian, because that was the language they had been taught by their mothers. The fields were enclosed by woods, and hidden among them were little lakes and pools. Yes, it certainly was lovely out there in the country!”


Interpretation of this part of the story

“Whatever being comes to be,

Be it motionless or moving,

Derives its being from the union

Of ‘field’ and ‘knower of field’ – this know.”

Bhagavad-gita, xiii, 26


Hans Christian Andersen shows a wonderful understanding of nature, the identification of the time of year not by its month, but by the colour of oats and wheat.  All you need to know is it is summer, a time of light, birth and vigour. Nature is the source of the story, it is about birds, and yet it is well within our human capabilities to read nature in the ways animals do.  Indeed, it can be through such a close connection to nature we start to unravel and understand our own lives.  The connected-ness of the author to nature and his appreciation of it, have given him the ability to tell the story in such a mystical and appropriate manner.  This awareness is sadly lacking in today’s Western culture, and it is just a little hint towards the depth and wisdom within a love of nature, which can only come from close observation and intimacy.  It is a hint about how old the story is, how ancient the roots of the words are.   We need to be a ‘knower of field’ and the only way to do that is to spend time in the field.


In the groups I have worked with, many comment on this opening passage as making them feel all warm inside, and on hearing it, being able to see the green and golden flow of the crops.   It is almost a collective memory imprinted in our minds, representing a peace and wholeness often lacking in our lives.


Resonance for us now

Many people feel they don’t live in nature, many people feel they have isolated themselves from the natural world, ‘you have to live in the country to understand nature’.  To be blunt, this is untrue.  Obviously, if you live in a rural idyll, and have the time to spend hours and days in it, you can be close to nature.  But, there are many people I know who live in the country who are incredibly out of touch with nature.  Equally, there are many people I know who live in large cities, who are fantastically in touch with nature.  To be in touch with nature, I believe, you need to see everything as part of it.  You don’t have to be in the wilderness to be in nature, you are equally surrounded by it in a tower block.  Nature is human, we are natural, there is no separation.  We are always in nature wherever we are.  Although I was brought up in London, my brother imbued me with a love of birds. He was forever seeking out birds and observing them, from a very young age.  My debt to my brother is the fact that I can be anywhere in Britain and know what birds are singing, what birds are passing glimpses in the bushes.  I know their names because of the hours and days spent as a boy observing, and when I try to explain how I know it is very difficult.  I just do.


Being in nature is one thing, knowing nature is another.  The observation and interpretation of natural phenomenon is innate in all of us.  We are fascinated by our surroundings and we are always observing and interpreting them.  Watching your favourite soap on television is an observation of nature. When we are absorbed, we are observing ‘what does she mean by that?  Will he really go out with her?’  When we ask ourselves these questions, it’s an indication we are observing nature.  The internal answers ‘I’m sure he really fancies her’, are the conclusions of a knower of nature.  ‘It’s in the way he talks to her, it’s in the way that he is always looking for her in the crowd.’



If you want to understand and interact with the whole of nature, not just humans, it is easier to be in wilder, less populated, areas.  By spending time in wilderness and the more rural areas, we feed our souls more easily.  Being amongst wild things, be they animals, plants or places, there is a natural absorption of harmony, well-being, and a sense of correctness. That’s why we all enjoy going on holiday and lying in the sun.  When we do this, we need to start from a point of observing it, not making judgments.  To be an observer is an intuitive skill, children are very good at observing, indeed, that is their primary means of learning.  As we grow older we become more judgmental and we seek to interpret our surroundings.  I believe we need to passively observe more often.  Non-judgmental observation is a very absorbing and delightful state to be in.  It links us into a state of mind which is the same as all those eastern practices of meditation and physical activities – yoga, tai chi, etc -. Being in nature and being an observer is simple and yet very profound. To be with yourself, rather than distracting yourself through other things, is the ideal. The more we do this, the easier it will become.  If you do it often or deeply enough, you will observe mysterious events, different to the expected, which take you by surprise and cause unexpected reactions.  These may be the quality of light on clouds near the sunset, the dancing shapes of starlings in the winter as they settling to roost, the waving celebration of summer that is a field of barley, twinkling and shimmering in the sun.  These experiences create wonder in us.  At that moment, we may cry unexpectedly, or smile, shout out loud just for the sake of it. All of us can benefit hugely from such mystical experiences in our lives.  When we have them, they lead us to question our reality, they stretch us and paradoxically make us feel more complete.  


When confronted by things we don’t know or understand it is also intuitive to want to interpret them.  This is fine, it is a natural progression.  We need to use our accumulated knowledge and wisdom to interpret these occurrences or phenomenon.   But, don’t be in too much of a hurry. Spend time just looking. The combination of observation and the interpretation of nature nurtures wisdom, but it takes time, experience and knowledge, something only a few us of have achieved.  Hans Christian Andersen knew about all this, he was a very good observer of nature, and he used his skills to then create images and wonderfully imaginative interpretations. “…the storks walking on their long red legs talking Egyptian, because that was the language they had been taught by their mothers.”  Is just such a beautifully poetic description of storks.  It imbues them so correctly with mystery and awe, as anyone who has seen storks will identify.  Storks are exotic, they seem so out of place in lowland Denmark, it is no wonder they speak Egyptian, as they are so different.  Their language is the language of their winter retreat, where they fly, and is a little reminder of the journeys that most of the characters are due to make.


Examples from near and far

His description of the landscape also reflects an innate love of that particular land, and this comes from a sense of belonging to his place, Denmark.  This was intuitive in so many people before the industrial revolution.  We all knew where we were in the world, and how good that place felt.  


“The Crow country is a good country.  The Great Spirit put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it you fare well; whenever you are out of it, whichever way you travel, you fare worse…The Crow country is exactly in the right place.  Everything good is to be found there.  There is no place like Crow country.”


This is a quote from Arapooish, a leader of the Crow Indians of Montana in 1837, just 7 years before Hans Christian Andersen wrote the Ugly Duckling.  They both reflect genuine love of their land, and within that love lies the history of the land, respect for the nature of the land, and the knowledge this relationship is thousands of years old. When I took a little time to think about these statements, I realized in 1844 the great majority of people on the planet felt this way about their land.  They were intimately connected to their place and they knew how to be in harmony with the seasons and the land.  Only a tiny percentage of people had been infected by the contagious disease of materialism and greed.  How times have changed in less than two hundred years!


How can we use this?

On a personal level

We are natural, as an individual you are part of nature, you are carrying around inside you natural elements.

As a knower of nature, you need to know yourself.

This can start with not putting so many poisons into your body, stopping the pollution of your body.

Take time to breath, learn how to breath correctly. 

By doing this you will be appreciating the innate beauty of your own nature.

These things will make you happier, healthier, and prolonging your life.

When you breath correctly you will start to be able to let go of thoughts, quieten the voices in your head. 

Take time to just observe things, don’t judge them, just let them happen.

Let thoughts come, don’t beat yourself for having them, just let them come and go. 

You aren’t going to become an enlightened guru overnight.

Try to learn the names of plants, trees, birds, those things in nature that interest you, don’t force yourself, if it is not of interest to you.

Once you know the name of something, observe it’s character.  For instance, once you know what a chaffinch looks like, observe what it does, where it sits in the trees, how it cocks it’s head, how it flies.

Admire the innate sense of chaffinch-ness that all chaffinches have!


If we are to become elders

We need to share this knowledge and enthusiasm with children and teenagers.  When someone is keen and enthusiastic about nature and really enjoys beings in nature, they can inspire others to do the same.  When we role model our enthusiasm we become attractive, especially to children and younger people.   Don’t keep your enthusiasm to yourself.  Share it with your children and with other children.  


Take the children out into the park and try to identify the different species of birds, plants, trees you find, try to find more each trip, it needs to be fun, but also a challenge.  Men are particularly good at this, observing and collating – that’s why the vast majority of train spotters and bird watchers are male. Taking this to another stage, men are good at trips out, going on adventures.   They take children fishing, out on boats, surfing, camping, hiking in the woods, making dens, cooking over an open fire.  Such activities are hugely important for children, and they develop their understanding of maleness.  This is equally important for girls as well as boys.  They need to see men being enthusiastic and challenged, don’t we all!

If you don’t think you can do this, then seek training and experience. Try out the activities for yourself first, see what happens, or go on some training courses. Outdoor and wilderness pursuits are now very popular, and there are courses, training and development programmes in a wide range of skills.    Wilderness survival, climbing, orienteering, the list is endless.  By receiving such training you will be learning about yourself, increasing your confidence, and you will be able to share this with the next generations.  This is vital work.


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