To be in harmony with nature is a popular ideal, especially in light of the increasingly popular environmental movement.
In fact, when Blue Mountain Institute was founded, we used “In harmony with nature, in tune with the heart” as the motto of the Institute. But what is in harmony with nature? And how can this harmony be achieved?
Let’s look at human relationships. If we want to establish harmonious relationships with others, we need to understand them, know their feelings, and know their strengths and weaknesses. We don’t want to push the wrong buttons. Most important, we need to respect the others we want to be connected with.
The same is true for relationships with nature. We have to respect the earth, the rivers, the natural settings, and so on. Among other things, this means that, if we want to build on a piece of land, before we get approval from the government, or other agencies, we first need to get permission from the land and the rivers.
This may sound a bit strange, but in traditional Chinese culture we talk about reverence toward heaven, respecting the earth, and being in harmony with the land. When we show reverence toward heaven and respect earth, we are not putting ourselves above them. When we really understand and respect nature, then we can begin to talk about harmony with nature.
In the West, after the Enlightenment, people came to regard human beings as the center of the universe. Human desires and needs were primary: nature was something to be controlled and used. Drilling holes through mountains, damming rivers, and so on, was done purely for human benefit.
Although we often talk about “Mother Earth”, in fact we seldom treat the earth as our mother; rather, we often treat it as a wayward child. The result, we have begun to realize, is that we have come to abuse the land – that is, to abuse our mother. We want to restore it to what it was before, if only for our own survival.
But when we try to do something for our mother, do we really know what our mother needs? Does our mother really appreciate our help? Or is it, for her, just another kind of interference?
If we continue to use the paradigm of man is above and earth is below, even with good intentions, we are likely to create the same damage or more. If the old paradigm is problematic, then what should guide us in our relationship with the earth?
First, we must re-assess our attitude toward nature. We must realize that we are just part of nature – just as fish or frogs are part of nature. We cannot separate ourselves from it, or put ourselves above it. We are transient passengers on the earth: we do not own it.
As Chief Seattle said, “Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth. Rivers are our brothers; the sound of the waters is the voice of our fathers’ fathers. Who can sell the air and the blue sky?”
If we try to have a relationship with someone but always put ourselves at the center, our relationship will be unbalanced. As long as our attitudes are human-centered, our relationship to the earth will be unbalanced.
You might think that asking permission from rivers and land is too “new age or odd.” And how do we ask?
Then the answer is, “have you ever tried?”
In fact, you’ll be surprised that if you ask permission with an open heart and humble attitude, you might find the right answer from your inner heart.