By Sean O’Donnell
You meet many people along the spiritual path. Often, you cycle through looking up to different figures for inspiration and knowledge as you develop a deeper understanding of the world. In Sanskrit, a guru is a “teacher, guide, expert, or master” of a certain discipline or area of knowledge. You may look to another person as the representation of the guru and, eventually, may learn to follow your own inner guru. But, a guru doesn’t have to teach in a traditional way and can come in non-human form.
The word guru can also be interpreted as “one who dispels darkness and takes toward the light” and “an inspirational source who helps in the spiritual evolution of the student.” Clearly, other people can play this role, but much knowledge, peace, and understanding may also be gained by using nature as a guru—connecting with a sunset, a river, a forest, or even a kitten.
Seeing Nature as a Guru
In reality, everything in your field of awareness is divine, even if you cannot always see it clearly as such. Sometimes, it is very simple to experience this divinity—you see very intricate and beautiful manifestations of grace. At times, it is easy to share these experiences with others. But often, they go far beyond words. In a peak experience, you can draw inspiration from and be pointed to your True Nature by just about anything.
There are endless examples to ponder, but consider the following non-human gurus as you start thinking about nature as a guru:
The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to inhabit the Earth. Reaching over 30 meters (about 100 feet) in length, they have hearts the size of cars and their heartbeats can be heard over two miles away. Their vocalizations resonate at very deep frequencies that go below what humans can normally hear. This, combined with the strength of their voices, allows their calls to travel hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles.
Blue whales have such immense power that they could use sound waves to obliterate the bodies of human research divers or other animals. Happily, they have the restraint, good judgment, and, perhaps, compassion not to do so. Blue whales were long thought to be solitary, but given that they can communicate over such long distances, it is likely that while humans may perceive them as being alone, they are actually in constant communication with a large network of comrades.
The behavior of blue whales can remind you that even if you are physically distant, you can develop the capacity to feel connected to your loved ones. Even though you may appear to be alone, the sea of vibrations keeps you connected to everything else in the Universe. As advaita vedanta teaches, there is nothing other than this One.
Honey bees have one of the most dynamic and powerful community structures in all of the animal kingdom. They all have varied, hierarchical roles, but each supports the greater good. Their labors underlie a web of existence that extends to thousands of species beyond themselves.
Bees represent the nature of sacrifice—toiling away in order to serve their queen, and surrendering their own personal goals for the good of the hive. They also move and communicate as a whole. The individual bee doesn’t go through life in the separateness of “I am a worker bee and I have personal desires and thoughts and dreams.” Instead, the bee hive lives, breathes, and operates as a single, more complex organism. Its health is measured as a unit rather than individually.
Let the nature of the honey bee remind you of how sweet the rewards are when you forego your personal aims in order to serve something larger, releasing any qualms about the role you’re playing and whether it’s important enough. These actions can lead to sustainable abundance for yourself, your community, and countless others who are positively affected by the ripples of your diligent service.
One of nature’s most incredible inspirations for spiritual seekers is the redwood tree. Redwood trees can live for hundreds or, even, thousands of years. They grow in groves and are a communal organism. Like many tree species, they can communicate with each other through underground fungal networks, transferring nutrients and sending distress signals and other scents and vibrations to relay information about their health and environment.
Redwoods are silent gurus―growing diligently, in stillness, and always reaching towards the light. They perform the ultimate symbiotic selfless service of cleaning the air needed for all of creation to flourish.
John Steinbeck said it best in his book Travels with Charley, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
So, remember, whenever you’re feeling devoid of inspiration, you are usually never more than a glance out the window away from some form of life that can teach you about where you want to go.
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.