Try this—using your mind’s eye, imagine a room. It can be cluttered or spacious, light or dark, with windows or doors and furniture as you please. Visualize it clearly, noticing everything in the room. See all the details and greet each object with your thoughts. Notice that however full you’ve envisioned this room, you likely allowed some empty space in the center, some air to breathe and move.
Now, take a closer look at this air. See the dust motes spiraling, and the quality of light as it moves throughout the room. Remind yourself that this space that appears “empty” to you is actually quite full.
Everything is energy.
You, me, the grass, the trees, the bird at the water fountain—we are nothing more than forms of energy vibrating at different speeds in constant flux and flow. This is life. Even so-called “dead matter” such as water, rocks, clouds, and the earth itself are constantly in motion and alive. It’s all energy and sentient in its own way. In addition to the physical things, there are subtle energy layers all around us—some might call them spirits—that certain people sense more easily than others. These energies cannot be seen, but we can learn to feel and sense them with the mind’s eye.
That’s why it’s a good practice to try to sense what is around you.
Each piece of land that we live on, work on, and pass over every day has energy. The energies of these lands are what we call the spirits of the land—and they are quite conscious of what is happening. Whenever a tree is cut down, a garden is planted, or a prayer is said, the land responds in a thousand tiny ways that go far beyond our human ability to sense and understand. Redwoods send nutrients when one of their neighbors is hurt. The human body relaxes when we place our hands into healthy soil. The spirits of the land are talking to each other (and to us) all the time, and we can learn to communicate with them, too.
Because nature moves at a much slower and more complex vibration than humans do, it’s hard to hear what it has to say when we’re rushing from here to there, looking at our phones or talking all the time. It’s nearly impossible to tune in and connect unless we slow down and get quiet. So we need to do those things if we want to communicate.
And what’s the first thing we want to do when we want to communicate with the land? Ask for permission.
You may have been taught that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. This is a lie. While forging ahead without clear consent may be a quicker means to an end, it is also ABSOLUTELY wrong, and often leads to great damage and unnecessary suffering.
As we wake up and become conscious of the abuses of power around us in today’s world, we can see that it’s easier to grant permission than it is to forgive and heal from abuse. It’s essential to ask permission and receive consent before we take action or do work in the world. Only in this way can we do no harm to ourselves or others—or the very planet on which our lives depend.
You don’t want a stranger barging into your house, knocking down your walls, and taking your food any more than the spirits of the land appreciate you doing whatever you please in your backyard. Whether you “own” the property or not, the land and its spiritual inhabitants have been there long before you and will remain long after you. You are simply a steward at this moment in time.
Sometimes trees need to be cut and holes need to be dug—we need to learn to do these things only when necessary in a way that respects the spirits of the land. To start getting to know your land and the spirits living there, each time you go outside, slow down and listen.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and feel your feet connecting to the earth.
Now, in your head or aloud, ask for permission. It goes a little like this:
“Thank you for being so beautiful, today and every day.”
“Thank you for always brightening and adding such wisdom and peace to my life. If you feel so inclined, you can recognize what is especially catching your attention at the moment – the blue sky, the red tulips, the refreshing rain, the bluebird singing for joy.”
Take a deep breath.
State your request, such as “I’d like to: dig some weeds / make a firepit / cut some flowers / lay in the hammock and enjoy the sunshine. Am I welcome to do that today?”
And then you wait. Remember – nature is quiet and moves slower. Count to 60 in your head if you have to. It shouldn’t take longer than that. But wait.
Permission can be any variety of subtle cues. A breeze that kicks up right after you ask, a gentle buzzing in your heart, hearing someone say “yes” in your ear, the clouds parting to let the sun shine through. These are all gentle forms of permission.
It’s rare that you will get a no, but it’s usually pretty clear when it happens. There are a variety of reasons we may be denied permission and, after you’ve established a relationship, you may also be able to ascertain why. It could be a sacred area you don’t have permission to enter, it may be unsafe for you, or the spirits may just be directing you to do something else instead that day. But if you are told no, respect the request, just like you would any friend or family member who politely asked you not to do something.
Over time, you will get to know the spirits on your land, and they will offer suggestions. Sometimes they will test you – if they ask you to pick up trash – do it! You’ll often be rewarded once they know your intentions.
Offer your thanks to this friendship with something that seems appropriate: flowers, seeds, cornmeal, tobacco. As you get to know the land, ask what it would like – it may not be something “traditional”.
As you get to know the spirits of the land (and they you), they begin to co-create with you. The neighbors may begin to say that you have the prettiest garden or grow the best tomatoes, or that your trees seem more vibrant that the others on your street.
You can do this practice with any piece of land – the spirits of the land at the park may be different than the ones at your house. The energy of a mountain is different than a river. Get to know the land. Take a couple of minutes to orient yourself on each piece of land you will spend a little time on each day, and don’t forget to ask for permission.