– Gilles Havik –
Do westerners need to cross oceans to search for the spiritual in distant lands, or could some of these experiences also be found in our backyards? As in many other western countries, secularization in the Netherlands has opened up space for the emergence and popularization of a plurality of spiritual perceptions. New Age groups are constituted by many such examples of individuals with autonomous views on sacred matters. They perceive natural environments such as forests and city parks, in an innate way, and find life purpose, creativity and inspiration when they visit them.
Together with a number of New Age practitioners, and for the purpose of research, I have visited several Dutch natural and protected areas, including the Loonse Dunes in the province of Brabant, the Oosterzand Forest in Drente, but also the Vondelpark in the city of Amsterdam. There, we contemplated our experiences of the place while we were present in them and the impacts of earlier spiritual experiences on our current lives. One central point mentioned by all the participants in the research study, was the deeper self or the soul, which was experienced more strongly in natural environments. Most saw this deeper self as characteristically in touch with nature. They also felt that they could communicate reciprocally, with natural beings such as trees and animals, not through words and concepts, but through an inspiration which provided them with clarity and direction in life.
Personally, I thought it was interesting to note that even though some of the sites were extra sacred, there seemed to be a common understanding that any living organism, regardless of whether it lived in the city, or in a protected site, has the potential to provide spiritual inspiration. A beautiful way of looking at life, I thought, and one which hopefully keeps inspiring people to treat their environment with the care it deserves.
Link to the thesis that this write-up is based on: Spiritual Experiences in Nature
Header photograph by: Anne Havik