Before, a Dedicant had no need to understand the workings of nature, to spend time in nature's domain. Yes, we suggested that rituals be conducted outside, or that a Dedicant walk with open eyes to see nature's beauty, but there was no requirement for the Dedicant to be close to the pulse of the earth.
As Druids, we probably should have corrected this a long time ago, but we consider our lives, and how we live them, and we can understand why it took so long to return to this requirement and how we could have thought we were doing right by the Earth Mother.
Our lives are spent in constant seperation from the earth. We spend our days rushing from place to place, trying to get to the front of the pack, the top of the ladder. None of this is new, and I am not the first to point it out.
Recently, though, the question was raised on the email list ADF-Dedicants: what kind of relationship should we, as Pagans (and especially as Druids) have with nature and the earth?
This question is one that I've thought about in passing before, but never really answered to myself. I might have ignored it this time as well, but something pulled at me, drawing me into a strangely deep thought. Just how far should we be from the Earth Mother? How do we connect to Her if we live in cities of stone, glass, and steel? How do we deal with our modern lives, and how do we recocile them with our faith, if indeed our faith requires more connection to the earth?
Each of these questions has a number of possible answers. The answers are never set in stone, but they change with each person who asks them. No matter how you answer these questions, it must be answered differently for the next person.
Humans are consumers. It's in our nature, and it is, for better or worse, unavoidable. The idea, and I should think the hope, of anyone is to have a minimal impact on our environment, to find a balance that allows us to know how we want to live, and to live in a way that makes us proud. A large part of this is understanding how our actions affect the world around us.
Much as with the Nine Virtues, there are no definite answers to how we should behave and show our reverence. In the end, it's up to you to choose how much you impact your environment. In fact, if you really wanted to, you could even crouch the decision in the list of virtues:
1) Hospitality: Are you showing proper respect to those you're visiting (be they insect, mammal, reptile, or another human)? Are you being a good guest in their land? You might also consider the idea of a "gift for a gift," and offer something to the earth in return.
2) Piety: Do you see the earth as sacred, and how do your actions reflect that? If you *don't* put on your bug spray, and you go to a ritual but can't concentrate on it, would it be more pious to wear the spray?
3) Vision: Can you see what your impact on the ecosystem is, and how you figure into it? Can you see how your actions eventually impact you as part of the ecosystem?
4) Fertility: If you plant crops or own a yard, do you maintain the fertility of the soil? On a smaller scale, are you abridging the rights of mosquitoes to reproduce? Is that important?
5) Wisdom: Do you seek to truly understand your environment, and to interact in a useful way with it? Do you open yourself to the world in such a way that you gain knowledge that cannot be taught in any other way?
6) Integrity: Are you comfortable with the level of respect that you have for the Earth, and is that respect well grounded?
7) Moderation: In your home, do you conserve water, create less trash, and recycle? When you camp, do you leave higher-impact items (such as large awnings and axes) at home? Do you forgo a personal bonfire at your campsite in order to keep the natural beauty of the land intact?
8) Perseverence: Do you walk the extra few yards to be away from running water while doing your dishes when you camp? Do you make the effort to drive out of your way to drop off recycling?
9) Courage: Do you have the inner strength of character to stand up for issues that affect our environment that concern you?
While any Pagan would be quick to tell us that the best teacher is nature (and, as we Druids are fond of saying, "When in doubt, consult the nearest tree"), we should also remember that not everyone can hike deep into the woods. The reasons are many and varied: health, handicap, being stuck in the middle of a city, and an irrational fear of open spaces are just a few. These things should not prevent someone from feeling close to nature, though.
A modern Pagan is likely to face many issues that will prevent her from journeying deep into the woods on a weekly basis. Jobs, the city life, and any other reason should not be seen as an impassible barrier, but more as a challenge that can be attacked and beaten.
Many cities, of course, have parks where nature is obvious: there are trees, green grass, and often animals such as squirrels or rabbits to watch. One need not go to a park, though to enjoy nature, and to feel a connection to it.
If you are lucky enough to own a house, you probably have a back yard that is teaming with life. Spending time in a garden or a corner of your yard, and feel how real the earth is to you. Pick up a handful of dirt and simply hold it, feeling it in your hands.
If you rent, or have no yard, you might consider simply taking a walk. If you go for a walk down an urban street, are you able to see nature at work? Can you figure out how you fit in? Stop for a moment and let everything surround you. Look for signs of life, from pigeons to ants to squirrels. Watch a spider spin a web, or a moth flutter around a streetlight.
Consider how you seek nature out in your daily life, as well. I spent a summer working in downtown Chicago a few years ago. Every day for lunch, I would go for a walk. The Chicago Loop is, of course, pavement, steel, glass, and stone. There is nothing else. Yet I was able to find the sun and feel its warmth by spending a few minutes eating lunch on a large Picasso sculpture in Daily Plaza. I was able to watch a colony of ants working at the foot of my office building. I could stand in the rain and feel it soak into my skin. I worked on the 33rd floor of a building, and I could watch birds nesting on the building next to me on breaks. No matter where you live, there is nature. The trick is to find it.
It becomes a matter of perception, not a matter of place.
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A simple meditation for feeling connected:
Begin by simply breathing in the air that is around you. Consider that this air is not man-made, but is part of the cycles of life all around you. The oxygen that we breathe is the by-product of photosynthesis, and the carbon dioxide you exhale is a by-product we create that the plants need to survive. Already we are connected to nature.
With your eyes closed, try to seperate the scents in the air. Can you smell the rain? Does the smell of mulch around the trees lining your street reach you? Find the scents carried on the wind, and categorize them.
Place your hands on the ground. Feel the earth through the palms of your hands, or if you're inside, feel the texture of the carpet or floor beneath you. Consider what caused the ground to feel as it does, and try to make out different things that make it up.
Can you taste the air? What tastes can you discern? If you're sitting in the rain or snow, open your mouth and catch a drop or flake. Taste it.
Listen to the world around you. Pick out sounds and isolate them, so you hear only them. Open your mind to them, and concentrate for a while. Is it a natural sound, such as a bird chirping, or is it a man made sound, such as a freeway. Consider how these things fit into nature to make a complete picture.
Open your eyes and look about you. If you're inside, try to spot nature and how it has invaded "civilized" domains. If you're outside, concentrate on something small and natural, focus on something. It could be a small section of tree bark, or a single small animal. Watch it for a time, studying it. Now, pull back your focus and look at the whole world, adding one sense at a time, and feel the connection you have to the earth.