Time among leaves, rock, and water can give us a way to practice. It’s not that Zen is a religion of nature but that natural settings give us opportunities to pay attention, simplify our lives, and escape the constraints of social reality. We may sense our unity with a hillside or a fish. We may walk, recognizing the sacred everywhere we look.
In Mountains and Waters, our new issue of Just This, students share how the natural world has informed their practice. It may be an experience of water, as it is for Juniper, who finds lake voyaging becomes an inner voyage. David returns repeatedly to a place that speaks to him, the Big Bend, to explore its landscape and encounter its animals. Camping alone, Sarah also prizes encounters that reveal our unity with other beings — wildflowers and pines, snakes, flickers, and her little dog. For Kim and Glenn, a river under blossoms or a garden shaped to express Zen understanding show natural beauty in a city environment. Brandon sees a city river, too, and the lives of those who shelter under its bridges, and he experiences compassion.
It would be possible to practice in nature entirely in stillness and silence, but these practitioners have taken a further step. Part of their practice is response. Photographs, drawings, paintings, and writings are the fruits of their attention. They hope their art can say what came into their hearts.