Book Review: Sky Above, Earth Below

Principles
John Milton wrote Sky Above, Earth Below: Spiritual Practice in Nature in the hope that the practices and principles he shares will “greatly enrich your life” (p.229). Over the years he has identified the following principles for natural liberation (pp.8—15):

  1. The fundamental truth: All forms are interconnected, constantly change, and continuously arise from and return to primordial Source.
  2. Commit yourself completely to liberation in this lifetime
  3. Relax and surrender to life.
  4. Remain in now.
  5. Cultivate union with universal energy
  6. Go with the universal flow.
  7. Rest in the radiance of your open heart.
  8. Active compassion arises naturally out of unconditional love.
  9. Cut through to clarity.
  10. Return to Source.
  11. Pure Source awareness is—remain in recognition.
  12. Serve as a warrior of the open heart and liberated spirit.
  13. Don’t take all these twelve principles too seriously.

From these twelve principles John Milton has essentialized six core principles (p.16):

  1. Relaxation
  2. Presence
  3. Cultivating universal energy
  4. Opening the heart of unconditional love
  5. Cutting through to clarity, luminosity, and spaciousness
  6. Returning to Source

Each one of these six core principles are introduced in the book. John Milton emphasizes that: “The key is to bring each of these principles into creative interaction with the challenges of everyday life” (p.14). Each principle has a variety of practices to help support the realization of its essence. And every practice “serves to cultivate the truth of each principle within” (p.6). Over time, our “old habitual patterns of fear and automatic contraction to life” will be replaced with “new, helpful habits of meeting life with openness and letting go” (p.9).

Relaxation
The union of (1) relaxation and (2) presence, combined with (3) the cultivation of universal energy, is the key to opening greater vitality. The main thing is this: “With whatever time you have available, go into Nature and start cultivating relaxation there” (p.30). It’s also important to remember that “you cannot force relaxation” (p.46). “The attempt to force relaxation just creates more contraction” (p.46). And contractions “usually arise from strong emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, and worry” (p.49).

Presence
The cure for much worry and anxiety is the cultivation of presence” (p.57). The main secret for transforming blocked emotions is to “breathe deeply and gently into them while applying … relaxation and presence” (p.43). The practice to start move emotional blockage is “to simply stay clearly present with the feeling it, while at the same time relaxing into its core” (p.43). If the mind wanders, “gently bring it back to the intention of relaxing all the constricted, tight, or stiff blockages” (p.46). Becoming “pristinely present while in a state of deep relaxation, totally surrendered to the moment, is the heart of spiritual practice in Nature” (p.52).

Nature
By immersing ourselves in Nature – “Nature that has not been heavily disturbed and damaged” – we begin to tap into “the primal natural harmony” that is our “genetic inheritance” (p.37). Our “whole bodies, our energy, our diverse emotions, and our mind” have all coevolved with Nature (p.28). “All … ecosystems, and the beings within them, have coevolved in a way that has produced extraordinary symbiosis, balance, integration, and harmony” (p.36). “Integration is characteristic of virtually everything in Nature” (p.37). This is why “Nature is a very powerful healer” (p.28). Nature provides a “natural vitality and harmony” that is “not accessible in our urban centers” (p.37).
One of John Milton’s favorite things to do is to “go into a forest, to a mountain, or by a river or wild coast and spend an hour or two each day” (p.55). John Milton says that: “All of Nature supports your being in the present moment. You do not even have to meditate. You can simply enjoy Nature” (p.55). The key is to find a place that inspires you – “a place that gives you a sense of harmony, peace, and tranquility” (p.74). And then, with practice, you can bring this “present-centered awareness back into your ordinary life, and you will find that the flow of your normal day will gradually become transformed” (pp.57—58).

Conclusions
John Milton has convinced me that natural vitality and energy are released when relaxation and presence are cultivated. The challenge is to gently bring this awareness and relaxation back into the flow of the normal daily life. It’s all about practice, and there are many practices in the book. In a way, it can feel a bit overwhelming, but it’s also important to remember that “every journey begins with a first step” (p.91). What’s so nice is that “just regularly being in Nature brings joy and happiness” (p.229). It’s a great book, and I’m now taking the first steps on my own journey!

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