Jeanne Corrigal is the guiding teacher for the Saskatoon Insight Meditation Community. She has been meditating since 1999, and is a graduate of IMS’s Teacher Training Program and of Spirit Rock’s Dedicated Practitioner and Community Dharma Leader Programs.
Certified in Indigenous Focusing Oriented Trauma Therapy, Jeanne is also a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher and Life Skills Coach trainer with more than 20 years’ experience facilitating adult programs. She is a member of the mixed heritage Métis Nation, one of three Indigenous communities recognized in Canada. One of her first teachers in loving presence was Cree Elder Jim Settee.
In this Q&A, Jeanne talks about her upcoming online program which will explore how the Satipatthana Sutta, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, is an experiential map showing the way that external nature supports awakening in our internal nature.
Nature as Teacher of Awakening
Sunday, October 15, 2023
9:00 am – 5:00 pm ET
Register for this program here.
Why is reflecting on nature as a means of awakening so important right now?
In this time of climate crisis, I’m seeing the Buddhist teachings more and more as teachings from nature. For me, it’s about being able to move from our love of nature, of Dharma, into whatever we need to do to meet this time with wisdom. Opening to nature as the foundation for many of our teachings helps me to stay connected rather than to shut down my heart in fear.
Why is the Satipatthana Sutta such a useful tool for helping us explore awakening?
Many of us have experiences of feeling—even in very small ways—connected to nature. We might have a photo or painting of nature that we really like, or a beloved memory of a time when we sat quietly by a lake. We don’t have to be outdoors to enjoy nature. House plants can bring us happiness. The Satipatthana Sutta is a description of how these simple experiences with nature can be understood and worked with intentionally as a doorway to understanding awakening.
Tell us a bit about how the Satipatthana Sutta is a nature practice.
The first line in the refrain from the Satipatthana Sutta is: “In this way, a practitioner abides contemplating the body as a body internally, or they abide contemplating the body as a body externally, or they abide contemplating the body as a body both internally and externally.”
When we are in a place in nature where we can relax, we begin to tune in—through our senses—to all that surrounds us, and as we do this our internal nature calms down. What we are doing is sensing the body internally and externally. This happens so naturally that it’s not something we need to learn.
The next line is: “The practitioner abides contemplating in the body its nature of arising, or they abide contemplating in the body its nature of vanishing, or they abide contemplating in the body its nature of both arising and vanishing.”
When we are sitting in a place of nature, maybe watching the sun set, or waves lap, or leaves rustle, we get it in our being—in an embodied, non-cognitive way—that things rise and pass. Our internal nature can be understood as part of this flow. We are able to hold our thoughts and emotions as coming and going, much as we observe the coming and going of birds, clouds, and waves. Nature teaches us how to know that we’re a part of it through this internal and external contemplation.
The next line in the sutta is: “Or else mindfulness that ‘there is a body,’ is simply established in the practitioner to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and mindfulness.”
This invites us to know—with just enough effort—the body internally and externally. This invites us into a way of being that’s present and easeful, without striving or tuning out. When we tune into external nature, we come into a way of being that’s more in rhythm with the natural cycles. Nature is a teacher of this fundamental attitude.
And then the last sentence of the refrain is: “And they abide independent, not clinging to anything in the world.”
One way of understanding this non-clinging is to feel into the release we can experience by spending time in nature. We’re not clinging so tightly to the knot we had before our walk in the urban park or our weekend in the country. We’re a little looser, clinging less tightly, able to see with more wisdom how to respond, rather than react. We’re dwelling a little more independently from external conditions and leaning more into this sense of our connection with this flow of being.
We can even tune into this shift simply by remembering ourselves in nature. At the beginning of his teaching in Still Flowing Water, Ajahn Chah invites readers to “create the feeling that right now you are sitting on a mountain or in a forest somewhere, all by yourself.”
Give this a try sometime! Stop whatever you’re doing for 15 seconds, and recall a favorite place in nature. As you do this, observe what happens in your body and mind. See if you notice a calming in your internal nature, just from recalling external nature. In a way, this exercise is much like the practice of “Touching the Earth” and receiving help, like the Buddha did. Perhaps this is part of what Ajhan Chah meant when he said, “We can learn all we need to know from nature to awaken.”
How can this sutta help us understand and face the extreme challenges our planet is experiencing right now?
This natural process of release from what Wes Nisker calls the “tight shoe of separate self” allows love, compassion, connection, spaciousness, and other wholesome qualities to flow naturally. We can then channel this love to wholeheartedly addressing the crisis in the world now. We can move from love to love in action. Reconnecting, touching the earth, again and again, especially when we do this in community, can protect us, support us, and help us find wise response, even in the midst of the overwhelming challenges that all beings now face.
What do you hope people who join you will experience with this program?
I’d love for the sangha to have an experience of the Satipatthana Sutta as a natural awakening process that can support them in daily life and in any climate care work they may do.