Einstein said, “Look deeply into nature and you will understand everything better.”
But what does this really mean? And how is it done on a practical level?
Like many people who care about the earth, I’ve often wondered about the role that nature might play in my personal journey to find meaning & satisfaction in life.
Throughout history, humans have lived closely to nature, yet modern people are so incredibly disconnected from nature. How does this affect us physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually?
Sure, we’ve gained some nice comforts. But what have we lost from depriving ourselves of living so close to the natural world?
These questions led me to practice a variety of nature awareness techniques for understanding nature more deeply.
The result was a profound shift in my ability to understand what’s happening ecologically in my physical surroundings as well as my own personal worldview & connection to inner peace.
In order to understand nature we first need to know what it is, so let’s start there…
What is Nature? (3 universal understandings)
There are 3 universal understandings about nature that have appeared across multiple cultures around the world at all different sizes & social complexities.
These are simple concepts & ideas that really get to the heart of what nature truly is at it’s core.
1. Nature is a circle
The circle of life is this idea that everything is constantly cycling and recycling like an endless exchange of energy.
- Day turns into night
- Spring turns to summer, fall & winter
- Life becomes death, which feeds more life
- We breathe in, and breathe out
- Things arise and then fall away
This makes pretty good sense when you think about it, and it represents a natural balance and harmony between all things, regardless of we perceive them to be good or bad.
Yet for a long time, the circle of life was mostly just a concept to me. It seemed like a good idea, but I couldn’t actually see it with my own eyes.
It was only after I began studying nature awareness skills like tracking & pattern observation with natural cycles that I began to see the reality of this circle of life for myself.
Having a personal relationship with nature helps you see the circle of life with your own eyes and ears. Spend enough time observing nature, and you will see the realities of life and death.
You empathize with the awe & innocence of baby birds born before your eyes. Then you also see them killed by the hawk.
It sounds harsh, but this is actually the first key to truly understanding nature. It’s having a personal experience of seeing the circle in action (More on this in the practical skills below).
2. Nature is Interconnected
The interconnectedness of nature shows us that not only is nature a circle, but each part of that circle is also connected to every other part like a web.
Nothing in nature happens in isolation. Everything affects everything else.
This is quite plain to see for anyone with the patience to sit quietly and observe nature with open senses.
Consider the interconnectedness of a black bear…
When a bear moves in the forest, it sends out a wave of direct & indirect effects:
- The bear’s feet have a physical effect on the plants and a slight compression of the soil.
- The bear consumes plants which changes the appearance of those plants as they grow.
- The bear also leaves droppings which helps to spread seeds and innoculates the soil with nutrients & billions of tiny micro-organism.
- As the bear moves around, there are corresponding behavioral changes in birds & animals who want to avoid the bear.
Over time, the presence of black bears in the forest will actually change how that forest grows, affecting overall biodiversity and leaving a mark that continues for many generations.
In this way, the bear is a living part of the forest and has an essential role to play in how that forest evolves. It is connected to everything in that forest.
This effect is significant and observable by anyone who learns to track bears…
…But you need to have the trained senses of a tracker in order to perceive these connections.
Again – the important thing here is that interconnectedness can be SEEN for ourselves. It’s not just a concept. It doesn’t require technology or philosophy.
It simply requires awareness.
3. Nature Is A Fractal
A fractal is simply a pattern that repeats at multiple orders of magnitude.
Some common example of fractals in nature include snail shells, swirling hurricanes & our swirling galaxy.
Or the vascular patterns in leaf veins, compared with animal trails seen from above, and neural pathways inside the human brain.
This means whether you’re looking through a microscope, or a telescope, or with the bare human eye, nature is a collection of universal patterns that repeat at many different levels.
This also means when you look at a snail shell, you’re not just seeing a snail shell. You’re actually seeing a fundamental pattern of nature that exists at multiple levels of reality.
Because nature is a fractal, it means all of nature is contained within every aspect of nature.
This can also explain why people in all cultures around the world have looked to nature for answers in everything from mathematics & scientific breakthroughs, to personal relationships & our entire philosophy of life.
Consider that all the knowledge of the universe could be contained within the flight pattern of a bird, or a single flower.
This is what Einstein meant when he said “Look deeply into nature and you will understand all things better.”
We learn from the birds, plants & trees because the same patterns driving their existence also live inside us.
6 Ways To Understand Nature Deeply: A Recipe For Seeing Nature
The most important thing for understanding nature is that you really have to see it for yourself.
It’s not enough to just philosophize about nature as an intellectual concept. You have to cultivate personal awareness that literally changes how you perceive the world around you.
This may sound complicated, but it really isn’t.
This is exactly what humans have been doing for our entire evolution, which means your nervous system is designed to understand nature deeply. All you have to do is practice tuning in.
Don’t just take my word for it. I want you to go out and learn to understand nature for yourself! And here’s how…
1. Open Your Senses
Understanding nature begins with stepping outside and simply opening your senses to the world around you.
This can be as simple as choosing a favorite place to sit with the conscious intent of tuning in with your basic ability to see, hear, feel, smell & sense whatever is happening in your surroundings.
Sensory awareness is the most basic of all human skills and it’s really the key to unlocking the natural world.
There are specific sensory awareness exercises you can practice outdoors to consciously extend the reach of your perception. Just practice and you will get better.
2. Observe Your Surroundings
Even after opening your senses, you still have to apply your awareness towards consciously observing the patterns of nature.
Consider the difference between having awareness of a bird, compared with taking the time to actually observe that bird as it moves through it’s day.
Awareness can happen in an instant. All you have to do is focus your intent on the bird and suddenly you’re aware.
But observation requires an ongoing presence of attention as we get to know how that bird lives through all different situations.
Observation requires that we ask good questions and direct our awareness towards understanding the deeper relationships & connections that bird has to the trees, plants, predators, insects, seasons, etc.
3. Slow Down
Possibly the biggest thing that prevents people from truly understanding nature is trying to move too fast.
Your ability to understand nature isn’t marked by how much distance you cover on a hike, or how many different plants you can identify in 20 minutes.
It’s about how deeply you can sink your awareness into whatever experience is taking place right here right now in your natural surroundings.
The best way to check whether you’re moving slow enough is to gently test your memory after you come back home.
At the end of your day, see if you can mentally relive the memory of your time outside (like replaying a movie in your mind, or telling the story to a listener).
- Where did you go?
- What did you do?
- What did you see, hear & feel?
- What plants, birds, trees, or other natural features were nearby?
- Can you describe them?
Most people doing this exercise will be shocked to realize their ability to remember natural experiences is extremely poor.
As you slow down and practice really absorbing nature more deeply into your senses, you’ll develop an almost photographic memory for nature that helps you make connections you wouldn’t otherwise perceive.
This is the whole idea behind my nature memory journal program, so go check that out if you’re interested in really getting skilled at this.
4. Go Tracking
If there’s one skill that really ties together everything required to understand nature deeply, it has to be tracking.
Tracking is perhaps the oldest of all human skills (even older than fire or tool-making).
And before you get the wrong idea, just know that tracking is so much more than just following footprints of animals.
It’s really about being alert to what’s happening and understanding what nature is telling us through all different sources of information:
- Weather tracking
- Tracking the growth patterns of plants
- Tracking our navigation routes
- Tracking bird language
- Track the entire ecosystem!
Everything is tracking, and the more inclusive you can be of all sources of information, the more connections you’ll find.
Through tracking, you’ll really start to see how everything is interconnected.
5. Engage Yourself With Life And Death
A big part of understanding nature simply comes down to knowing our own relationship with life and death.
The simple fact of being human is that in order for us to live, we have to consume life.
This is true whether you’re a hunter or if you buy your food at the grocery store, and even if you’re vegetarian!
We simply cannot avoid having an impact on the world, but the important thing is being conscious of our impact.
Modern food production tends to disconnect people from the realities of what it really takes to keep ourselves alive. It’s crucial to see this impact if we want to truly understand our place nature.
This understanding can be facilitated by pursuing opportunities to harvest things from nature in an intentional way that respects and honors the life you’re taking.
Harvesting from nature for food, clothing, shelter, heat or medicine makes you grateful for the benefits and sacrifice of your harvest.
With repetition, we learn how to get our needs abundantly met with the least amount of negative impact, and even to improve the fertility & abundance of nature through our own life.
6. Appreciate The Beauty In All Things
Understanding nature depends on a delicate balance between scientific analysis, and plain old heart-focused appreciation.
Most people gravitate towards one side or the other depending on how they were brought up or personal strengths.
Some people are incredibly skilled with scientific analysis & critical observation skills, but lack that deeper awareness of the inherent beauty in nature.
Others can see a tremendous spiritual beauty behind every tree & bird, but they simply cannot appreciate the special evolutionary relationship that tree has with the bird when its seeds ripen for one week every year in spring.
I’m a firm believer that both sides are critically important to truly gain a deep understanding of nature.
People who have BOTH the sharpness of a scientist AND the heart of an artist are able to perform at a much higher level overall.
When you seek to understand nature, it’s all about balance and finding the sweet spot between scientific inquiry, and getting lost in the appreciation of all the beauty life has to offer.
You want to spend some of your time investigating really good questions about all the little quirks & inner workings of plants, trees & animals in your local ecology.
But then you also want to spend some of your time just letting go of all that studying to just be present with how beautiful & amazing everything is.
Look Deeply Into Nature!
Follow these 6 steps and you’ll be on your way to truly understanding nature.
The most important thing is taking simple actions every day.
With consistent practice opening your senses & observing the patterns of plants, birds, trees and connections to everything in your environment, you will learn to understand nature from a deeply embodied perspective.
If you want help getting started, try my audio learning program which will guide you to open your senses and understand nature with your own eyes & ears – Awaken Your Naturalist Intelligence.