A practical guide to visiting ancient sites and “tuning in” with nature - Part 1
The tours I help organize often have a self-development or spiritual theme. I have spent many weeks on the road traveling with open-minded people from all over the world; many of the people who join me are teachers in their own right and often share their experience and insights with our groups. The techniques I encourage others to use are a simple combination of metaphysical beliefs and scientific understandings.
Below, you will find techniques and simple tips that I use and share on tour with guests to help them gain deep insights and inner peace. These tips can be incorporated into our daily or weekly lives when we need a moment of calm. I have placed recent scientific perspectives alongside my personal experience and understanding of eastern self development practices.
We all have constant pressures, deadlines, and families to look after. A common pattern is to clear our “to do list” for the day and then sit down to watch our favorite TV show, or perhaps visit the cinema to watch the latest movie.
I have spent considerable time studying ancient wisdom traditions that have survived until the present day. We have very little information on the spiritual practices of the ancient Egyptians or the Druids in Europe. How can we get an idea of their mindset? Perhaps we can look elsewhere for clues? I feel very grateful that the world has one area that acts as a spiritual library for the whole planet: India and Tibet. By following the ancient spiritual practices from the east during my visits to sacred sites, a whole new world has opened before my eyes.
Are we hurting ourselves by ignoring personal reflection time?
Most of us have not been taught the benefits of “me time” and by that I mean a quiet period in the day to for reflection, or to tune in to our state of mind and see how we are feeling. For those who practice mindfulness or meditation, it becomes apparent we are much more than our “chattering monkey mind”. Our busy minds acting upon us can be very tiring. Like anything, practice makes perfect. I always encourage others to try different techniques to see what helps them. My personal favorite is yoga. After yoga, it’s much easier for me to meditate. With a simple change in attitude you may find the impossible becomes possible.
Relaxation and expansion.
How good do you think you are at relaxing? As I write this I have just returned from a very relaxing yoga class where I managed to reach the very rare state of mind of being perfectly at peace. From my experience relaxation is like anything else it takes practice, I have a wonderful friend from Kuwait who is totally open, and she helped bring to my attention that even when we try to relax, we are more often than not still holding back.
Sometimes even when we try to relax, we are often unconsciously still tense. One simple technique that can help, try tightening all of your muscles and gradually relax them, that way you are consciously relaxing your entire body. You can also tense each major muscle group, start at the top of your body and work down. We also seem to carry tension in our hearts; consciously relaxing our heart space is also a good method. Check in with your surroundings and ask, am I safe here? Am I in company I trust? If the answer is yes to both questions you are fine to completely LET GO.
The next step is to enter a meditative state, one method we often use in yoga is to count the thoughts that come up as you try to clear your mind, this can be an effective way to control them, becoming aware of how the mind rotates between different subjects is an interesting process to witness. Merely observe the process without engaging the thoughts, they will pass you by.
You may find yourself becoming more at peace, with a growing feeling of contentment. The deepest stage of relaxation can often make you question if you are asleep or awake, a feeling similar to a really good nights sleep when you awaken totally refreshed. During this process you may feel a deep sense of gratitude, suddenly it becomes very clear that you are lucky to be in a physical body, to be here in a state of peace is a true blessing. The problems you had will still be there but for the moment a greater perspective shows you what really matters. With practice this state of mind becomes easier to reach. Once you have found it you will find it helps with every other aspect of your life. My top tip is, do not tell yourself this is impossible for you, what I am describing does not take years to reach, once you open your mind to the possibility, I feel confident you can start to experience this state of mind very quickly.
Anyone that has visited a museum or studied books on ancient cultures will no doubt have run into two labels “ancient ritual” and “ceremonial purposes”, these labels among others are used to explain in very broad terms what archeologists believe our ancestors were up to.
The purpose of many ancient rituals and ceremonies in my opinion is to act as a mechanism to move beyond our normal waking level of consciousness into the intuitive space, a place of deep inner knowing. Today our challenge is to move beyond the rational logical mind we use for most of our every day tasks. People who meditate understand there is something beyond this rational perspective. Many of us have learned to only identify with the rational state of mind and so it has become our default lens for viewing the world. However, it is not the only lens at our disposal to view the world through, by learning to meditate we can start to awaken our intuition and innate inner knowing. In truth it is not my place to convince anyone this is possible, I simply say, why not give it a try? Perhaps, as I have, you will unlock a whole new internal landscape, one that brings you some inner peace and serenity. This is the strength of meditation and the reason the practice has lasted for 1000’s of years, no matter the time period these ancient techniques can help the human body and mind to relax, the practice is as relevant today as it ever has been!
For our purpose of visiting ancient sites or spending time in nature, modern day ritual can act as a facilitator for changes in the balance of activity in the hemispheres of the brain, changes that can lead to deep meditative states of mind. Here is a quote from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center about the latest scientific findings on meditation.
In the last ten years, significant research has shown mindfulness to address health issues such as lower blood pressure and boost the immune system; increase attention and focus, including aid those suffering from ADHD; help with difficult mental states such as anxiety and depression, fostering well-being and less emotional reactivity; and thicken the brain in areas in charge of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy.
Above quote taken from http://marc.ucla.edu/default.cfm
Science can measure changes inside of us but it can’t tell us what we should be feeling or experiencing. To understand this we need to be in the present moment and aware of what’s happening to us, if we combine the technique of meditation with a visit to a powerful ancient site, it’s possible to achieve deep insights.
My advice is to follow the tenants of ceremony or ritual to allow yourself time to transition from your normal state of mind into the intuitive space, for some this may happen very quickly, for others this may take longer, the important point to remember is, it’s a process. Experiment with different techniques to find the right one for you.
“Tuning in” techniques
Tuning in techniques can be used at ancient sites or for simply tuning in to nature wherever you may find yourself: in the garden/yard, on the beach, in a park, or on a walk through a forest.
Is modern technology a barrier between reality and us?
For the majority of people a visit to an ancient site is about taking some photographs to share with friends and family and to capture the moment. From a mindfulness perspective, this approach is putting two layers between these people and reality. For a moment, lets think of it like this: we are a soul perceiving reality through the human body/senses. If we think of the situation like this we can see we already have a large filter between reality and us. Adding more filters such as sunglasses and cameras can distract us from the subtleties of our surroundings.
Eastern spiritual practices often discuss expanding our perception, although modern technology drives most of us to focus on what is directly in front of us.
My advice when visiting an ancient site is to allot time for photo taking, but also to take a moment and just be. Give yourself an opportunity to truly soak in your surroundings, and you may be surprised by how you feel.
By Gary Evans