Enshrouded by darkness, I sit cross-legged on the dirt ground in the sweat lodge, focusing on the only source of light emanating from the hot, glowing rocks before me. Water is poured over the rocks and soon I feel the steamy moisture creep onto my skin, into my nostrils, and into my lungs, making me fully aware of my body. I sing with all my heart songs of healing and blessings and I am left breathless. It’s hard not to sense nature all around me. She is the earth I sit on, the air I breath, the fire that heats the rocks, the water in my sweat, and the space that exists between, within, and all around. I begin to recognize my part is not that of observer, but remembering my oneness with nature. The people around me, the sounds, the smells—all eventually blend into one and I feel as if I am in the womb of the universe …
It is well known that the elements of nature have always been recognized in various forms and respected by cultures, both past and present. All aspects of life such as art, language, ceremonies, and medicine have been influenced by nature’s beauty and wisdom.
Today, as we move further and further indoors and into our tech-supported lifestyles, it’s easy to see how society has become disconnected from that which has been a source of healing and guidance. Feeling grounded, peaceful, and energized are a few of the benefits of regularly “hanging out” with nature. Luckily, we don’t have to go on a wilderness retreat to experience these benefits!
Connecting with Nature
Nature was born from stillness and it is from stillness that we connect with her. Stillness can be found in different ways for different people, from running to doing dishes. However, there is something special about connecting with the primordial elements of nature that triggers the notion that there is a bigger picture and the potential for something more.
Smelling wet sand after a rain, standing on a mountain top and feeling the wind whip around you, or listening to the crashing of ocean waves are examples of experiences that can invoke a renewed sense of self-awareness, fortitude, and balance in life. If you are thinking back to similar moments and don't recall having such heightened perceptions that is perfectly fine. Perhaps what was missing at the time was awareness.
Importance of Awareness
Awareness comes with knowledge and experience. When you have awareness regarding the importance of nature and her influence on you and vice versa, you can fully engage in the moment. Author Eckhart Tolle states in his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” You will discover the truth of this as not only how you look but where you choose to look will vastly change. Over time the ripple effect can profoundly improve your life, relationships, and overall well-being.
So how do you activate this awareness and invite the benefits of nature into your life? You first begin with an understanding of the five elements, according to Ayurveda.
The 5 Elements
Ayurveda recognizes five great elements, or pancha mahabhutas, representing the most important foundational aspects of nature and matter: space, air, fire, water, and earth. These natural elements are considered the building blocks of all material existence. Ayurveda also observes these same five elements within the human body and mind—as it exists in nature, it also exists within you. Everything in life is created with varying proportions of these five natural elements.
Here are a few of the qualities of each element:
- Space or akasha, is the subtlest of the elements. It is expansive, empty, and has no resistance. It is the source of all matter and houses the space within which it exists. It allows for growth and change to take place. It is the space between your cells, your breath, and your thoughts.
- Air or vayu, is movable, changeable, light, dry, mobile, and dynamic. It represents the capacity for motion and gives flight to ideas or goals. Externally, it is seen as wind; internally, it is the movement of breath, circulation, and nerve impulses.
- Fire or tejas, is hot, light, intense, powerful, and transformative. Externally, we see it as the sun or fire; internally, it drives digestion and cognitive processes.
- Water or jala, is smooth, flowing, cool, and movable, and can be solid. It transports, connects, and provides protection and nourishment. Both your body and the planet are roughly 70 percent water.
- Earth orprithvi, is heavy, solid, stable, constant, and rigid. It represents all solid matter and the structure of the universe. Earth gives form to the human body and to all of creation.
Take a moment to observe and you will begin to notice these qualities all around you. The more you shift your attention and explore the elements, the more you will be able to understand and relate to the entire universe. The best way to start connecting with the five elements is to meditate on their natures.
A Meditation Exercise for Exploring the 5 Elements
The following is a simple meditation exercise to help you begin exploring the elements. This can be done on its own or combined with an established meditation practice. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to perform this as it is all in your control. The total time to complete this is approximately 25 minutes.
- Gather items that represent, in your mind, each of the five elements. This is good way to practice awareness and use your intuition. Here are some examples:
- Space – picture of the night sky or anything that inspires a sense of lightness and growth
- Air – feather, dried herbs
- Fire – candle, statue of a god or goddess
- Water – bowl of water
- Earth – gemstone, plant
- Find a quiet place within your home and arrange the items you have gathered around you in whatever fashion you choose. Have a notepad and pen close by, just in case.
- Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep belly breaths, allowing your body to relax. Do this for two minutes.
- Open your eyes and place your attention on your chosen symbol to represent earth. For the bowl of dirt, you can smell it, feel it, and maybe even taste it! Engage with using your senses. Do this for one to two minutes.
- If you’re able to, hold the item gently in your hand or place it close by you. Slowly close your eyes and bring to mind the qualities of the element as listed above. Begin to watch where your thoughts flow and notice any feelings without judgment. Maybe you feel heaviness—try exploring it and simply observe. Continue to do this for five minutes.
- Open your eyes, thank your symbol, and set it aside. Feel free to jot down quick notes regarding images or feelings.
- Continue this process with each item by repeating steps four through six.
- Upon completion, take a moment to close your eyes and take a nice deep breath in, then release and exhale all the air.
This exercise is meant to help expand awareness and harmonize your relationship with all of nature—but it’s only the beginning of your journey. Exploring the five elements through meditation will encourage you to move beyond the physical expression and into deeper meanings as they pertain to each of us. There is an expression in Ayurveda that states, “As is the human body, so is the cosmic body. As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind.” This essentially describes human intelligence as not separate from nature’s intelligence. They are intimately intertwined and when you open your heart and mind to this, you will find that Mother Nature has been patiently waiting for you to be still, listen, and learn what you have only forgotten.