The yogis of old knew that Brahman spoke through nature. That universal consciousness, called Brahman, teaches its human children constantly. All the yogis needed to do was observe the flow of life around them. Everything became the yogis’ teacher. Everything dispersed the darkness and brought more and more light into their minds.
That’s the definition of the word “guru,” which we often translate as “teacher.” “Guru” means “disperser of darkness.” A true teacher breaks through the darkness of our normal thinking and seeing and brings us “light” in the form of insight into our mind. A true teacher awakens the student to a deeper meaning of life. For the one who truly observes and contemplates what is observed light breaks through.
All of creation, according to yoga, is our guru, our teacher. All of nature communicates important information to us about our lives. All of nature can awaken us from our ignorance, our mental darkness.
An example might help. One day I was watching an ant carry a piece of bread that was twice its size from a pile of crusty bread some 10 feet away to an anthill. It deposited the bread at the opening of the hill and let two or three other ants bring it into the hill. Then the ant went back to the food source and carried another large piece back to the anthill. The ant continued to do this again and again and again.
As I was intently watching and wondering about this ant, suddenly, it struck me how persistent and dedicated this ant was in reference to the task in front of it. Faithfulness to the task-at-hand was necessary to complete this important work. I immediately realized that nothing worthwhile in life happens without consistent, purposeful effort. This ant became my teacher at that moment. This ant dispersed the darkness of complacency in my life and the hopes and visions for a fruitful Center for Spirituality and Healing. This ant was my teacher, my Guru.
All indigenous people know this about nature and the earth. They know that the earth and all its creatures, even its vegetation are our teachers. They know that sunflowers and all plants teach us to always reach for the sun. They teach us that the source of vitality and energy is the sun, not some dark piece of coal or dark liquid in the ground.
The Earth and its creatures are always present to help us on our journey through life. The Native Peoples of the Americas talk about the medicine that each animal brings to us as we notice each of them cross our life. The Aborigines of Australia listen to the wind and the sun every morning and learn how to proceed for that day. Even modern Westerners, in moments of heartfelt thinking, identity nature as Mother Nature. We all know that a true mother always cares for her offspring. We know that a true mother also teaches her children hard things when the teaching is needed—“Go and sit on the step, a think about what you are doing.” “No, you have had enough Easter candy for today.”
The yogis of old understood this as well. I have heard my yoga teacher say, “I wonder why Agni (fire) is so active this summer?” referring to all the fires in California. To the yogic observer all the fires in the planet, even those that are burning marvelous cathedrals, are teaching us something about our human existence.
Every day we, as beginning yogis, need to sit and reflect on what our Earth, our Mother Nature, is teaching us. Every day is Earth Day; Every Day is Mother Nature’s Day!