What does it mean to see nature? When we look at nature, do we try to comprehend it or is it a voluntary and purposeful act of observation? How does one separate a truthful vision and immediate experience of nature from the mirage of our renewed expectations from nature, literary and otherwise?
Right from the times of Kalidasa and Edmund Spenser, there exists in the cognition of nature and its aspects, specific feminine and masculine spaces. Our response to nature is often a cultivated one and learned from literary and cultural influences. In a sense we perceive nature through our inner masculinity and femininity. And Nature itself has been culturally feminized. The narrative of ‘Mother Nature’ is necessarily guided by the masculine and thus casts nature in an oedipal or maternal light. A love for nature that comes from inner femininity is similarly hinged on an emotional currency that is distinctly feminine. The dynamic by which the inner feminine being responds to nature is implicitly different from the dynamic by which the inner masculine being responds to nature. Therefore, our mode of observing and communicating with nature operates on a projection of gender difference onto the natural world. Take these two examples from the Sangam Tamil text Silappatikaram:
May the flowers of your eyes
Be able to withstand the fire of mine.
We are from Puhar where the male sea ravishes the sandy c
astles that we girls construct…
Here by connecting to nature through a gendered perspective, the flowers are feminized while the ‘male sea’ and the potent fire is masculinized. Thus, our interpretation of the natural world is essentially a gendered one and hence holds no real balance; instead it swings like a pendulum to both polarities.
In order to truly observe nature, one must do so with an androgynous mind. Virginia Woolf writes, “the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.” Such a mind is truly open and is generous with its patience of perception. Woolf also talks of the soul balanced in its masculinity and femininity, “The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating.” This does not mean a total absence of gendered perspectives but a spiritual coexistence of these perspectives in us. This ‘spiritual co-operating’ in the act of being with nature is an act of supreme and primal balance.
This degree of openness needed to read into nature and see it is therefore the product of a balanced mind. Krishnamurti writes, “Be in communion with nature, not verbally caught in the description of it.” This communion with nature is perhaps an instinctual one—led not by the artistic or analytical or descriptive eye but rather the untutored inner eye; raw in its empathetic gleaning of the world around. There is often a conflation of the emotional observation of nature with a description of nature. One is an outward preconditioned act while the other is an instinctual inner action that allows one to experience solidity and stability through a sense of deep connect. I am reminded of Woolf ’s Orlando which seems to understand that, “Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.” It is in the act of description of nature that the desire to comprehend rather than observe nature arises. As such, this projects onto the stark vision of nature in front of us, an unnecessary expectation to conform to our inner being.
When we seek resonance with the natural world there is perhaps a degree of romanticism. We don’t really try to reach an inner core of our being; instead we linger on in the margin, trying to affirm and validate our imitations of nature. So how can we reach the ‘green in nature’? In a sense it is to feel the green rather than see the colour. There is also something universal and unifying in the phrase ‘the green in nature’. There exists a deeper and more intricately connected whole beneath our singular and often limited perceptions, and in recognizing this we are truly connected to nature. I am reminded of another extract from Orlando, “He loved, beneath all this summer transiency, to feel the earth’s spine beneath him.” In a sense I do believe that the truly meditative observation of nature lies in penetrating the ‘summer transiency’ to reach the permanent bedrock beneath. An appreciation of nature, or the deliberate pause in our daily lives to go into nature, must be guided by something more than accommodative seasonal shifts; pleasant rains and warm winds. Krishnamurti writes, “A flower in the next garden may be ill-kept, crowded with weeds, but look at it, feel that you are part of all that, part of all living things. If you hurt nature, you are hurting yourself.” A true resonance with nature means to see the beauty even in its ugliness. When you ‘feel’, rather than simply ‘see’ with the eyes and not the heart, you are reminded that there is an emotional clarity in the aesthetic ill-fitted appearance of the flower. The flower is connected to the weeds and it is the junction of that connection that makes it beautiful. It is indeed simultaneously a flower and not a flower, something much more than the flower. Acknowledging this allows us to get in touch with the spine of the earth. This reminds me of Woolf ’s thoughts in Moments of Being:
I was looking at the flower bed by the front door; ‘That is the whole’, I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth; part flower.
In observing the vision of nature in front of us we are a part of it as much as it is a part of us. Krishnamurti also writes, “…be a part of it, be aware, feel that you belong to all that, be able to have love for all that, to admire a deer, the lizard on the wall, that broken branch lying on the ground.” ‘Belong’ is special word. It is an evocative and powerful idea. In a sense, true observation is to dissolve the veil holding the observer separate from the object. However, this does not require an abject destruction of the self in order to belong and feel connected—as this is only a loss of one-self and identity; not a losing of oneself to a primal spine in the earth. It is when the observer loses herself to the object, and in doing so belongs to the object, that true observation takes place.
Returning to the ‘Green in nature’, one must understand that it is not a visual object or even a series of visual objects but rather it is the intricate spiderweb weaving throughout the natural world and through us. We are truly open to it and nothing separates us.