Nature as a catalyst for gratitude and wonder

Several years ago during my early twenties, I had a beautiful opportunity to visit South Africa together with my family. It was my first time visiting this vast and immensely beautiful continent. During our travels, we stayed at one of the nature reserves. It was an area where animals lived free, protected from poachers and only politely and respectfully harassed by us, the visitors and our slowly driving vehicles. Definitely not a game park.

One day we were led into the reserve by a ranger, who was guiding and driving us along a route where perhaps some wild animals could be spotted. There were no guarantees that we would spot anything but bush and blood red ground, as the game was roaming free and not specifically put there for our amusement. Before entering the fenced reserve, our guide reminded us of this fact.

“Friends, let’s be open to receive what mother nature has for us today. We cannot promise you will see anything, yet perhaps we may see a lot. Let’s be attentive and open.”

Somehow the fact of not taking what we encountered for granted made it even more meaningful and living for me. Not only the magnificent elephants with their calves, but the grand open sky painted in the hues of the slowly setting sun that only southern Africa has. The variety of plants and bushes seemed more vivid and welcoming, as did the occasional kudus and other antilopes, ostriches, jackals, and other animals who seemed to be equally curious as they were wild and shy. Rendering visible the innocence and fragility of nature, together with its resilience and strength. The riches this experience offered, as I was able to give my attention and be willing to receive it, laid the foundations for what could be called my initial spiritual awakening. Touching my heart deep.  

Somehow this approach and the statement made by our guide has stuck with me all these years. Along with the fact that the result of this open, unexpecting state of mind we had facilitated one of the most profound nature experiences I have ever had the privilege to encounter. It seemed to have a spot-on guideline to be implemented into my everyday life. Especially whenever I visit forests or otherwise immersing myself in nature.

Being curious and open has this peculiar tendency to open our perception to the fullness of life as it currently is manifesting itself in our experience. By not bringing our past conclusions, preferences, and judgments to color what really is, we can start to experience a more profound connection to life around and within us. As the defensive tendencies in our minds begin to subside, there is more space in us just to be and witness. Then the inherent liveliness of this being has an opportunity to touch us. Showing us this life as we have likely seen it as a small child – full of wonders and uniqueness, beyond attributes of good and bad, or ugly and beautiful.

As the saying goes, not asking for anything yet being open to receive everything. Thus without effort, a childlike joy and sense of gratitude come to being towards life itself.



Featured photo by Chen Hu