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Nature Gazing as a Path Inward

“ I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~ John Muir

Photo by Kathy Mansfield, early morning mist in Todd, N.C.

Residents of every urban area experience the frustration of driving on roads crowded with tense drivers, and Fridays are the worst. So, when my husband and I decided to go out to one of our favorite restaurants after work on Friday I was frustrated but not surprised to pop over a hill and see we were trailing a long line of cars. I wanted to be content to gaze across the landscape at the array of brilliantly colored fall foliage which lined the roads toward the mountains. But the congestion of glowing tail lights distracted me. I yearned for an uncluttered view from the high peaks in the distance and the expansive beauty of the less populated valleys of the front range.

Though city life fills my emotional well in a number of ways (easy access to performing arts, varieties of museums, and life in proximity to many friends), I do long for more time away. Out of the city. To gaze upon landscapes and natural art.

Thomas Merton, a favorite spiritual teacher wrote:

“How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the rain, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind; these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters. They form our contemplation. They instill us with virtue. They make us stable as the land we live in.”

His words were addressed to his fellow Trappist monks, but they are true for any of us.

Contemplating nature is a form of Visio Divina which invites the slow contemplation of an image as a path toward the Divine. Seeing a full landscape and letting our eyes fall in love with each element of it, at our own pace, is a spiritual practice that can stir us, soothe us, and center us.

Think of gazing on natural art as a visual encounter with God’s revelation. The experience of being out in nature, surrounded by a living landscape is ideal, but images of God’s creation can also be a conduit to a peaceful visual meditation. (Especially those that recall your lived experiences in nature).

Let’s try some nature gazing…

Take a moment, settle yourself, and gaze at the following images . . .

Consider the questions paired with the images to help guide your encounter. You may want to transfer these images and your thoughts about your experience to a journal.

Enjoy the fullness of the beauty in the image below. Let your curiosity lead you. Notice the details of the leaf, from its tips to the innermost point. Trace the veins with your eyes. Consider the care and Divine order of this one small element of a landscape. What wisdom does this leaf offer you?

Photo by Kathy Mansfield

Where does your eye want most to land in this image? Explore it at your own pace, what are you most interested in?

Are you feeling the energy of the water in the image? Do tumultuous memories come to mind? What memories or emotions arise?

Does this image bring to mind the smells, sounds, and feels of other beach experiences? If you wish, take time to let your mind linger in these memories.

Photo by Kathy Mansfield

This landscape is yours to enter. What do you sense once you are there?

Photo by Kathy Mansfield

What story is this landscape offering you? Let yourself “walk around” in it. Where are you drawn? What of this scene most reflects your idea of the Divine?

Photo by Shelly Hall, Lake Willoughby, NY

Let your eye explore the shapes and colors in this image. Does a word or phrase come up for you?

Photo by Kathy Mansfield

Nature gazing is a practice that can be done in any season, in brief time periods or longer ones. Experiment with it. I hope you will find your way into real or pictured landscapes, as a path inward. You are invited to share your images and experiences on this site or to send them to me to post if you wish. Enjoy!

Pleased to be on the journey with you,


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