The Mandala and Nature Immersion
By Jeanette Banashak, co-founder of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
“The mandala evokes the universal longing for inclusivity, equality, peace, wisdom and love that is the profound spiritual aspiration of all living beings.” In this quote, Dr. Edward Bastian describes a tool that has the potential to grow and progress the spiritual life. The mandala is a contemplative tool that incorporates 12 spiritual styles, 12 questions, and 12 religious/spiritual/ethical traditions. The styles are “predispositions or lenses” that serve to support learning and spirituality; the questions are the big questions of life that have been asked for hundreds and thousands of years about the nature of people, creation, ideas, animals, etc.; the traditions include any spiritual/religious/ethical tradition that holds some of the means and practices that might illuminate and expand the questions.
Different traditions highlight different spiritual styles. Buddhism highlights meditation, Christianity highlights love, Taoism highlights wisdom (I realize that in this comment I am distilling these traditions into one word. It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the rituals, aesthetics, prayers, practices, and beliefs of all traditions.). The Mandala helps us to walk the spiritual path in step with our own traditions, spiritual styles, and big questions. In other words, we concentrate more succinctly on our development with focused awareness on ourselves in relation to our religious, spiritual, ethical traditions.
I have recently been trained as a facilitator of Interspiritual Meditation (ISM), also developed by Dr. Bastian, and in my final project, I created a Nature Immersion inspired by Forest Bathing Therapy and ISM. I’d like to extend the project and experience by considering and exploring how spending 1.5 – 2 hours in nature might serve any of the spiritual styles.
(On the website, you can click on any of the spiritual styles, any of the seven steps of ISM, and any of the traditions and a curated list of resources is available for me. For example, for the purposes of this paper, I looked for arts and indigenous sources (and found sub-sources for a variety of indigenous traditions), body and indigenous sources, devotion and indigenous sources, etc.)
The style of art appeals to people who are attuned to their senses: they connect with beautiful things, sounds, tastes, and smells. The questions for the artist include the following: “Are you naturally creative or comfortable with artistic expressions? Are there artists or works of art that give expression to your own sense of the spiritual? Does participating in the arts inspire and bring out the spiritual in you?” (p. 17). While immersed in nature, the artist may pay special attention to the textures of the trees or rocks, the smells of the woods, the sounds of the birds, or the taste of foraged mushrooms. They may feel inclined to create something while in nature (even a mandala using whatever is found around them) or after the immersion in order to enliven their experience.
The style of the body appeals to people who learn through movement and connection with somatic expression. The questions for the kinesthete include the following: “Does your need for physical activity make it difficult for you to sit still? Do you like to explore and express your spiritual insights through movement? Do you feel subtle emotional and spiritual states through your body?” (p. 25). People with this style would appreciate the act of walking in the woods, dancing through them, or doing yoga among the trees.
The style of devotion appeals to people who have a strong sense of loyalty to people, systems and ideas. The questions for the devotee include the following: “Are you more prone to faith than skepticism? Are you naturally loyal to a job, a person or a community? Do you yearn to be dedicated to a greater cause or higher principle? Do you long to be committed to a spiritual teaching, teacher, or higher power? (p. 39). Once immersed in nature, the devotee may reconnect with their commitment to climate change or a relationship with a person or something in nature.
The style of imagination appeals to people who perceive images and symbols as forms of knowing. The questions for the dreamer include the following: “Do you have vivid and memorable dreams? Are you drawn to spiritual symbols, icons and imagery? Are you naturally interested in mythological stories and beings? Have you had a rich and vivid imagination since childhood?” (p. 45). People with this spiritual style may perceive and conceptualize the animals of the forest, waterfalls, trees, paths, sky, etc. in ways that connect with qualities and practices that are meaningful to them.
The style of love and compassion appeals to people who have an acute sense of our interconnectedness, empathy, care for all people. The questions for the lover include the following: “Do you have a natural empathy for others? Do you want to create happiness and eliminate suffering? Do you have a naturally kindhearted feeling toward others? Do you feel embraced by a universal love and compassion greater than yourself?” (p. 51). While in nature, the lover may experience an overwhelming sense of love from the Divine that might lead to an insatiable desire to serve; they may pass other sojourners and offer love and compassion through a silent prayer or intention.
The style of meditation or contemplation appeals to people who appreciate silence and introspection. The questions for the meditator or contemplator include the following: “Do you long for inner tranquility, focus and insight? Are you comfortable sending considerable time alone in silence? Are you called to discover truth and needle through deep introspection?” (p. 33). For the meditator/contemplator, the journey into nature parallels their journey within, for while they gaze at the beauty and wonderment of a place, they also gaze at their own beauty and wonderment.
The style of mystic appeals to people who perceives things beyond what they might regularly observe with the senses. The questions for the mystic include the following: “Have you had unexplainable experiences of the supernatural? Are you attracted to the possibility of mystical visions and revelations? Have you had paranormal experiences not mediated by your five senses? Are you drawn to an unseen mystery that could review of the ultimate nature of reality?” (p. 57). Individuals with this particular spiritual style might connect with the magic and mystery of the woods or they may interact with the non-human elements.
The style of nature appeals to people who feel at home outdoors and communing with natural places. The questions for the naturalist include the following: “Is your connection with nature sacred? Is nature your church or place of worship? Do you feel a special affinity with animals or plants? Do you feel tranquility, oneness or an inter-beingness when immersed in the natural world?” (p. 63). This style will naturally attract individuals who relate to the land, advocate for the land, and work to keep the balance and peace of the environment.
The style of prayer appeals to people who seek assistance or forgiveness, extend gratitude, and feel reverence for people, animals, nature, and ideas. The questions for the prayer include the following: “Do you receive a special peace and tranquility when you pray? Do you feel that prayer is an essential part of spiritual practice? Do you have a daily prayer for help, guidance or protection from a higher power? Do you believe that there are transcendent beings that can hear your prayers and help you?” (p. 69). While meandering in nature, individuals with this spiritual style may feel the desire to sing or chant, or may be compelled to pray for others, offer gratitude for the gifts of their life, or feel a sense of awe for their surroundings.
The style of reason appeals to people who find profound satisfaction in thinking, pondering deeply, and figuring things out. The questions for the thinker include the following: “Do you need a good reason before beginning a spiritual endeavor? Do you like to ponder the universal questions of existence? Do you regard reason as a foundation for a spiritual practice? Do you naturally ask the big why questions, rather than the how questions?” (p. 73). For the thinker, time in nature may include extended time to contemplate life’s big questions or consider nature’s ways of working from an intellectual vantage point.
The style of relationships appeals to people who love to connect with others and practice interacting with others in positive, compassionate, and healing-centered ways. The questions for the mensch include the following: “Do you gain wisdom primarily through relationship with others? Do you prefer the company of others to solitude? Do you like to help others to learn, solve problems and become happy? Do you enjoy being involved in community projects for the common good?” (p. 79). Individuals with this style may want to immerse themselves in nature with a companion or take part in a ritual with a community in support of each other.
The style of wisdom appeals to people who have a deep understanding of life’s truths, insights about or direct perception of ultimate reality. The questions for the sage include the following: “Do you long for the wisdom to guide your own life and help others? Do you yearn for transcendent insight into the true nature of how are you? Do you aspire to the wisdom of the Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu, Black Elk, Ramakrishna, Muhammad, or Moses?” (p. 85). Individuals with this style may take in nature’s surroundings and integrate the information into their consciousness for future insights and understandings about life.
Working with our spiritual styles helps us to relate to life’s grand questions in ways that nurture and support us. In the context of nature, accessing our styles can enhance our time and lead to holistic spiritual experiences.
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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