A Naturalist’s Guide to Spirituality

It’s no secret the demands of modern western cultures are increasingly detrimental to our natural environment and swiftly changing the social fabric of our communities. And change is constant.

So, how are we adapting? Amidst the fluctuating demands, how do we retain healthy relationships with the world around us?

Spurred on by technology, elections, inflation and natural (or unnatural) disasters; socially, politically and economically today is different than yesterday – and tomorrow will be another tale altogether.

Somewhere after we came down out of the trees, we traded in that kind of simplicity for our big brains and the freedom to choose. The descent brought us face to face with a choice: either we regard our bodies and the earth as autonomous properties to be owned, subdivided, and used for our own private gain, or we see them as confluent creations whose interdependencies resist all claims of possession.

excerpt from The Road is How by Trevor Herriot

So, how are we adapting? Amidst the fluctuating demands, how do we retain healthy relationships with the world around us?

With these, and several related, questions in mind, Saskatchewan-based author Trevor Herriot set out on a small-scale pilgrimage. His book, The Road is How, is a lyrical account of his three-day, 40-mile journey through his home prairie-scape. Evoking the philosopher within, Herriot explores the natural world and its connection with “the malaise of modernity and how to heal from it.”

As he guides us through fields, past sloughs and over highways, he examines what it is to be a father, husband, citizen and, essentially, a good human in today’s world.

Whether we’re thinking locally or globally, distinguishing if our actions are contributing to the continued health of our planet versus its destruction is an arduous responsibility. The alternative, however, to be remissive of our actions, may be one of the most destructive exercises of all.

As conscious beings we have a choice in how, and from which perspective, we make our decisions about the world. This choice, Herriot says, is both a responsibility and a privilege if we are to live an empowered life and in good health with all living things.

It is quite simple to point fingers and ask others to change; a more difficult task is to assess our own actions. We are not entitled to anything except ourselves, Herriot says. So, in order to unlock the underpinnings motivating our actions and come to terms with the repercussions they may have, we have to turn inward.

As he walks through different settings on his journey, Herriot finds that keenly observing the yin-yang of our natural landscapes can help generate the type of introspection we need to access this heightened awareness.

“The deepest part of our spiritual selves is formed within a matrix of nature and culture,” he writes. And to strike a balance, we have to come to appreciate how life is filled with interdependent forces and harmony is found in “back-and-forth reciprocity, that moves in an oscillating, dynamic interchange which over time ensures the equal influence of both polarities.”

Our ability to adapt hangs on becoming a “spiritual locavore,” Herriot writes. “Just as the good farmer focuses his attention and labours on the soil to feed and awaken its natural fertility — that is, its own capacity to attend to the needs of the plants — so we must all feed and awaken our own spiritual fertility gone dormant in our souls if we hope to mature within and attend to the needs of family, community, and place.”

Combining history, science, philosophy and an eco-feminist critique of patriarchy with the ideas of fellow thinkers and naturalists Roderick Haig-Brown, Henry David Thoreau, Rene Girard and Bill Plotkin, to name a few, Herriot’s meditative book, The Road is How, is a poetic observation of how to live well in our changing world by finding the space “to connect mind to body to earth.”

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