Nourishing My Roots—Returning to the Forest, Revitalizing Our Spiritual Practice in Japa part 1
Even though living in an idyllic place in the country, and sometimes working outside, I still need to occasionally visit one of two spots on our property which I have set aside for writing and contemplation. Sitting in a chair nestled in the forest I am embraced by the trees, and sometimes the lovely wind, and feel a type of home coming--at least emotionally speaking. I am grateful to the trees, who as Krishna’s agents have taught me so much about life, and remind me of my insignificance by towering above as the hairs on the Universal Form expansion of my Lord. I find it hard to imagine life without trees—especially old growth trees—though in Kali-yuga, they are becoming more and more scare, seen simply as a resource to feed the hungry appetite of a culture that is consuming the planet.
I don’t look forward to seeing the Earth as a barren waste land (as predicted in the Vedas), a testimony to the godless temperament of the exploitive tendency of humans on steroids—which the misuse of technology facilitates. At least for all of us personally, we can endeavor and pray to check this type of conditioning, and practice seeing ourselves not as master of Nature, but as Her stewards. We can see this as one service to God, and to all living beings. I wonder how world conflicts would be greatly lessened if the Middle East was covered by vast unspoiled forests, rather than desert with great oil reserves? Spiritual practice and being in Nature go well together and help us be more sensitive to the importance of living cooperatively with trees (and all living things), appreciating their aesthetic value, and not merely as raw materials for houses or paper.
Being in Nature brings us peace and the feeling of connectedness to all of life—at least it has that potential if we allow ourselves to be fully present, taking our surroundings in like air for our higher selves, without a selfish agenda. As a relevant point, in the superb Gaudiya Vaishnava literature, Govinda-lilamrita, by Shrila Krishnadas Kaviraja, tells us that when blue Krishna and golden Radharani go the forest, it is imbued with the combination of Their colors, emerald green! And green is the color of the heart chakra. Even though forests on this planet are only a dim reflection of spiritual forest of Krishna's spiritual abode, Vrindavan, they still have a such potential to open our hearts—especially if we remember the divine couple there!
As I have often shared, the beginning of my spiritual life was at the feet of the giant Redwood trees in California. Although for most of my devotional life, I have rarely spent much time in Nature, that all changed when we moved to our current location nine years ago. I have reacclimatized myself to living in the country, becoming naturally attuned to the cycles of seasons, feeling the embrace and hearing teachings of the trees. The environment we surround ourselves with talks to us, influences us, and makes us who we are, in addition to whatever we may learn in school or culture. Although Nature is not an end itself, being Krishna’s nature and His energy, it can still have an important part to play in our change of consciousness from material to spiritual, or from exploiter to servant/giver. My wife and I truly appreciate the value of living in a quiet, peaceful, beautiful country setting to facilitate our spiritual practices. Our move here has been a natural outcome and progression of our lives, as we are now semi-retired, which means for us, not idle leisure, but having more of an emphasis on those spiritual practices we have been involved with our whole adult lives.
Thus besides a “home coming” for me to be amidst a natural environment, we are also having a home coming in terms of our japa. While it has been a constant in our lives, since my wife began facilitating japa retreats three years ago, we have deepened our relationship with the holy name. Though her health prevents her from traveling much, we still were able to go to New Vrindavana in West Virginia recently to teach a course on the importance of japa. It was titled, “Better Japa, Better life,” and was a boiled down version of the essence of the japa retreats we have participated in, along with our own experience of what has been useful for us, on our journey in japa. I feel it is important to see our main spiritual practice of japa meditation on the Hare Krishna mantra, as a journey, since we have found that so many devotees have developed bad habits in their chanting over many years, and need to revisit the basics. If they do, they often feel their japa and spiritual lives rejuvenated. And to be honest, some older devotees have lost touch with chanting japa, and it can be difficult to again take it up. Amidst the stress of life—working, being on our own as a family person, and just dealing with our desires—our spiritual practices are often the first thing to go, as we may have lost the urgency which as a younger person, prompted us to come to Krishna.