Sky Above, Earth Below

Spiritual Practice in Nature


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Imagine living your life in balance and harmony—relaxed and alive with possibilities, fully engaged in the moment. Embrace the power of natural energy as you explore six sacred principles and a wealth of engaging practices in this complete awareness training. Immerse yourself deeply in the natural world and learn energy cultivation practices that open your heart. This book shows you the way to create a profoundly new relationship with yourself.

John P. Milton is the author of many books, a former professor of environmental studies, a pioneering meditation teacher, and a founding father of the environmental movement. He integrates the essence of Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism, Hindu Tantra, Christ Consciousness, and indigenous insight into a method of spiritual practice in the wild.

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Praise for Sky Above, Earth Below


John Milton is one of the truly important teachers coming out of the American cultural context today; he has a unique capacity to help people into an encounter with nature that catalyzes their deepest sense of purpose and innate capacities as leaders.

—Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and co-author, Presence

John Milton is a wonderful spiritual teacher. His twelve principles are legendary and they really work. Now at last we have them in a wise and warm-hearted book. Superb!

—W. Brian Arthur, former Dean and Virginia Morrison Professor of Economics, Stanford University

John teaches us about our connection to the earth, to each other, to all. The information in this book is already changing my life, and has the power to change the world.

—Mark Stevenson, Vice President, Merrill Lynch

A stunning book of wisdom, and a guidepost in our quest to discover a more liberated life.

—Joseph Jaworski, coauthor, Presence

John is a pioneer who cares about the relationship between people and Mother Earth. This book not only gives readers a tool to unite with nature, it also provides practical methods to help them balance body, mind, and spirit. John beautifully translates Taoist wisdom into language and techniques for the western world. This book is a true blessing.

—Yun Xiang Tseng Chen, Taoist priest from Wudang Mountain

When meeting nature, you meet your authentic self. John gives us the guidelines, practices, and tools to re-connect to nature. This is a book we have been longing for.

—Göran Gennvi, founder and CEO of Nature Academy Learning Lab

If you are looking to transform your life—body, mind, and spirit—this book is for you. John Milton, a gifted spiritual master, shares ancient wisdoms and principles, practices to live into, and stories that open your heart. You are about to discover just how profoundly connected we truly are to the sky above, earth below, and everything in between.

—Cheryl Esposito, Executive Coach, and founder, Center for World Leadership


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John Milton undertook his first vision quest at the age of seven in 1945, and has been developing spiritual practices in nature ever since. This very remarkable book distills the wisdom of six decades into 12 principles of natural liberation, of which 6 core principles form the structure of the book: based on the fundamental truth that all forms are interconnected, constantly change and continuously arise from their return to primordial Source, the six principles are relax and surrender to life, be present in the now, cultivate union with the universal energy, open to the heart of universal love, cut through to luminosity and spaciousness, and return to the Source. John takes the reader through these principles and associated practices, for instance communing with a tree, which he characterizes as totally centered in its place, well grounded and rooted while being at one with the sky above and the earth below. He advises us to realize that the great mystery dances within and through all of us and that openness to the vastness and radiance is our true birthright, which we forget at our peril. Nature speaks to us if we are ready to listen.

—Network Review

John Milton, founder of Sacred Passage and the Way of Nature Fellowship, has devoted half a century and more to discovering the “common heart essence” beating within diverse spiritual traditions. Now, with the publication of his latest book, Sky Above, Earth Below: Spiritual Practice in Nature, we benefit from his awareness of the unifying principles of these traditions, as he distills them within one compact, highly accessible volume.

All who have attended Sacred Passage with John have come to expect lucid insights on the world’s spiritual traditions. In the first chapter, John credits his teachers in various of the world’s liberating, Earth-honoring lineages as having deepened his practice. However, the emphasis continues throughout the book squarely on John’s introduction of the twelve principles of natural liberation (which are available in summary on the Sacred Passage web site) and in particular on the six core principles of: relaxation; presence; cultivating universal energy; opening the heart of unconditional love; cutting through to clarity, luminosity, and spaciousness; and returning to source. Each chapter addresses one core principle in a complete manner. Taken together, the chapters form a coherent outline for creating a workable, lifelong spiritual practice. Especially useful are detailed descriptions of exercises to help one experience the embodiment of the principles. Contained within these pages, however, is much more than a spiritual template for getting the job done. Ultimately, we find words of encouragement, guideposts for progress, and gentle reminders to avail ourselves of the blessings Nature bestows when we open to Great Spirit.

Those familiar with John’s Sky Above, Earth Below audiotape series from the Sounds True catalog will be glad to know that included in this book are more inspirational reflections from his own life. These wonderful stories punctuate each chapter. While few of us might experience, as he did, the bite of a rattlesnake as a clear signal for opening to Great Spirit, John relates it while making the point that everyday (less dangerous) gifts may accomplish the same awakening effect. Having this understanding greatly prepares the mind for recognizing and taking advantage of cutting-through events, when “the sword of awakening cuts through and the gap of pure awareness arises.” My own first recognition of this buoyant awareness remains vivid in my memory. It occurred on the penultimate day of a 12 day Passage last June-the quality of late afternoon light just highlighting a particularly craggy wall of rock above the verdant base camp outside nearby Crestone, Colorado. Rereading Gift of the Green Mojave in the chapter on the principle of “cutting through to clarity and spaciousness”, I deepened my understanding of this special moment merely by drawing easy parallels.

This book continues to be of value in my own life. Days might go by before I realize that my meditation and T’ai Chi practice aren’t all they could be, because of disruptions like an illness in the family or work stress. Merely consulting the chapter on Presence, I’m sure to find just the salve. Sometimes, I might need to recall the simple, yet effective advise to “to engage the senses”. Other times, I might need to approach the issue less directly and find the key to what I need in one of the lessons: in this case, about what Presence is not.

I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed these principles of natural liberation in play during Sacred Passage, at home with family, and among Earth’s many relations. In Sky Above, Earth Below: Spiritual Practice in Nature, we find a valuable resource for anyone returning from a Sacred Passage, or for anyone ready to reflect on the means to “commit oneself completely to liberation in this lifetime.” With a lifetime of helping individuals learn to open their hearts through spiritual practice in Nature, expect that John has worked a bit of magic within these 230 pages.

—Way of Nature

Sky Above/Earth Below is the result of fifty years of personal training

Sky Above/Earth Below offers a cafeteria selection of liberating rationales, methods, and subjects. If ever there was a brief anthology on relaxation-related subjects, this book by John Milton is it. Milton catalogs natural spiritual practices that go back, way back, to before anyone knew about 21st Century stress, globalization, pre-emptive wars, traffic jams, alimony, and no access to health care systems. I suppose there used to be such times.

“My ‘Twelve Principles of Natural Liberation’ were essentialized over the past fifty years from personal training with many fine teachers, as well as from completing numerous meditation retreats, Sacred Passages, and vision quests in the wilderness,” writes John Milton. He draws from varied and manifold traditions to feed his nourishing text. From Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, the Vedanta, David Thoreau, John Muir, and his own experiences, Milton constructs a wealth of instructive material for those who seek liberation through spiritual, meditative pathways. The twelve principles he offers are intended to be used progressively and sequentially to bring the disciple to liberation and relaxation, which seems akin to Buddhist “mindfulness.”

I’m not the one to review this book, I suppose, because my monkey mind is always more intriguing than emptiness. I get attached to the monkeys as they swing from tree to tree in my frontal lobes. Even if I do manage to get free of the monkey mind, I always end up with an itch here or there which must be scratched. If I had the courage to study under a Roshi, I’d be black and blue from the instructive snaps with his whipstick. But, Milton’s treatment of spirituality and liberation make the whole endeavor seem worthy and appetizing. I have no doubt, if I could actually master his suggestions or eat and inwardly digest his text, my life and I myself would be of much higher quality. I’d be a better person for it.

Not wanting to short-change the substance of this book, I hesitate to summarize the twelve principles, but in a review, it is appropriate and useful to list them. The headings of the twelve are as follows: “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.” As you gloss through these principles, remember in his book Milton spells these out in detail and provides exercises that will probably liberate the truly disciplined believer. Oh, yes, there’s one more. I liked this one the best. It reminded me of an admonition I’ve been using lately, when 1 take myself too seriously. The admonition is, “Don’t believe everything you think” But, the one more thing in Milton’s list is number 13, vis., “Don’t take all these twelve principles too seriously. Don’t become attached to all of these principles! laugh! celebrate life’s gift! and enjoy coyote’s howl!” (I like that addition and somehow feel more generous toward Milton for including number thirteen.)

I’ve always envied people who know how to live lives where they go on vision quests and have lots of time to study relaxation. Being from German DNA, relaxation and meditation are not options for me, which is why it has been good for me to review this particular book. This is medicine I need. I wish everyone interested in politics, especially those who are addicted to war, would read and practice the twelve principles. What a world we would have if everyone, especially all the elected people, would become true believers and practitioners of what John Milton’s Sky Above/Earth Below has to offer.

—New Perspectives

Outside your door is a teacher who embodies every higher quality you are seeking, who, for millions of years, has served as the spiritual wellspring for all wisdom traditions. This living example of a liberated existence is as close as the wind in your face and the sun on your back. For over 40 years, John Milton has taught meditation and awareness training in nature. “The greatest spiritual teacher of all is nature herself,” says this retreat leader and naturalist who has led over 10,000 vision quests into the wilds of Colorado, the Himalayas, Bali, the Arctic, Mexico, and other sacred sites around the world. “No one ever comes back the same.” Sky Above, Earth Below shares every essential of Milton’s popular Sacred Passage wilderness program, from Buddhist and tantric-awareness meditations to Taoist and Native American practices for returning to the rhythm of nature. With these meditation, exercises, and insights, listeners can learn about: Why meditation in nature is unequalled in its transforming power Blocked internal pathways: how to clear and open them to Earth’s energy

  • Why there is more qi (life energy) in nature than anywhere else, and how to access it
  • The best times to accumulate vital energy in nature
  • A perceptual meditation for merging with a sacred site
  • Taoist teachings on the highest realization through integration with nature
  • The Vision Quest: the classic shamanic sacred passage in the wild
  • Sky Meditation, plus many other meditations, teachings, and stories
  • Step by step, Milton teaches authentic methods for communion in the wild and flowing with the life there. Even if nature seems unfamiliar to you, here is a way to merge with the magnificent aliveness in every tree, mountain, lake, and flower. He’s been there, and knows the ways.

John Milton is a Taoist sage who has also authored the great DVD trilogy Qi Gong for Long Life.

—Branches of Light

Nature’s Gifts: Tucsonan John P. Milton thinks people should take spirituality outdoors

Churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, pagodas and monasteries–man-made religious structures of every kind–are so closely associated with religious life that, for many, it may be hard to imagine spiritual expression without some form of sacred architecture.

However, ubiquitous as they are, houses of worship are only recent arrivals in the long history of mankind’s religious impulse. For thousands of years, long before the advent of civilization, early man, cradled in nature and believing that the inanimate world was teeming with spiritual entities and forces, worshipped, in fear and wonder, the earth, sky and cosmos without the barriers of walls and roofs.

In his new book, Sky Above, Earth Below, Tucson author and meditation teacher John P. Milton tells us that modern-day spiritual nomads can benefit greatly from the example of their ancient predecessors, writing that taking spiritual practices out of buildings and into nature can break down interior walls, opening us up to illumination about the world and ourselves.

Milton, a former professor of environmental studies and a leading figure in the environmental crusades of the 1960s, who has spent his life exploring the natural world and studying an eclectic mix of spiritual paths, began sensing the mystical possibilities in nature at an unusually young age.

“Even before I could speak,” he says, “I remember crawling through blueberry patches in the wild meadows on our hillsides. I quickly discovered Nature was filled with Spirit. … (I)t seemed absolutely obvious that the church of the Earth was the greatest church of all; that the temple of the forest was the supreme temple.”

When he was 7, he convinced his parents to let him spend several days alone in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (unfortunately, he doesn’t provide details for what must have been an incredible adventure), the first of numerous vision quests he’s gone on.

Milton writes that vision quests can sometimes be quite intense, pushing people to the limits of their endurance; a traditional Native American vision quest requires a participant to spend up to five days in an 8-foot diameter circle, engaging in ceremony, meditation and prayer, with no food, clothing and sleep, and little or no water. However, he affirms these solitary sojourns in the wild as powerful tools for spiritual regeneration.

“A vision quest,” he tells us, “means surrendering to Nature and Spirit in a sacred way to deepen relationships with the mystery of life, the mystery of you, the mystery of Nature, the mystery of Great Spirit. A vision quest means praying for a vision of the truth of your life.”

Milton has certainly had some remarkable experiences. He tells of exchanging spiritual energy with eagles and whales, merging with a brilliant and comforting light after being struck by a thunderbolt, using Tantric teachings to recover from a rattlesnake bite and, once, feeling himself levitate after being startled while meditating.

Milton writes that the chief reason the Earth is so conducive to our spiritual health is because we’re an integral part of it.

“Our cells,” he says, “our DNA, our tissues and organs, our whole bodies, our energy, our diverse emotions, and our mind, all have coevolved with Nature and Gaia over billions of years. … (T)his is why many of us feel so at home praying, meditating and doing ceremony in wild Nature.”

Milton contends that many of our psychological and social ills stem from having encapsulated ourselves in the artificial chrysalis of civilization, and the greater part of this book details many meditations, visualizations, energy exercises and ceremonies that can help us reconnect to our natural matrix. Happily, for those of us less ascetically inclined, none require the spiritual iron-man approach of a traditional vision quest.

While many spiritual philosophies contain world-denying elements, Milton tells us that the living Earth, “truthful, direct, loving and fundamentally supportive,” naturally guides us toward our spiritual depths, and the key to inner development–in nature or out of it–is learning how to relax and attune ourselves to the present moment. As a result, he says, we will automatically experience bliss and become primed for important insights.

This book, open-hearted and life-affirming, is bound to deepen readers’ appreciation for nature and its many gifts to us.

“The flower of your true nature,” Milton writes, “is no different from the tremendous gift of outer Nature. … As you discover your integral being, you will be supported by the primal integral being of Gaia.”

Tuscon Weekly

Written by meditation teacher and workshop leader John P. Milton, Sky Above, Earth Below: Spiritual Practice in Nature is a simple guide to healing one’s physical and spiritual body and creating a new relationship with oneself through meditation and connecting with nature’s healing energy. Chapters walk the reader through how to experience the joys of meditation, a 10-minute practice designed to restore internal balance, means by which to cut through mental clutter to clarity and spaciousness, and much more. Written out of boundless reverence for the Earth and life itself, Sky Above, Earth Below transfers the wisdom of Taoism into simple terms accessible to all readers regardless of personal background.

—Midwest Book Review

about the author

John P. Milton

John P. Milton is the founder of Threshold, an international center for environmental renewal, and Way of Nature, a global community of creative and passionate souls who are committed to exploring and sharing the liberating recognition of Source Awareness as our true nature. As a practitioner of meditation since the 1950s, he has developed unique practices for uniting inner and outer nature through training in Buddhist, Taoist, Vedantic, Tantric, and Native American traditions.

He is a former professor of environmental studies and Woodrow Wilson Center scholar at the Smithsonian. John was a founding father of the environmental movement in the early 1960's. He was one of the first ecologists ever on staff at the White House as a member of the President's Council of Economic advisors. He lives in Crestone, Colorado.

John Milton's website is