Down to earth
It is perhaps too easy to sieze upon Cistercian monasticism as an icon for environmentalism and deep ecology.  Visitors to their monumental ruins or spending weeks or even months in their  guest houses is too far from the existence of the monks, too sequestered in ways of thinking, to participate in their life or to form any definite opinion.  Their own writings stress that the cloister is a workshop of intercession and expiation for the mountains of sin which have accumulated since the Fall.  All we know is that their fierce acetisicm with its unbroken cycle of contemplation, prayer and back- breaking toil, is directed at taking the sins of others onto their own shoulders to lighten the burden of humankind.  Scholarship was mostly directed at understanding 'love of God' and the writings of their scholars emphasis this in homilies, sermons and letters.
Nevertheless in their daily lives they were surrounded by semi-wild nature, and their modern counterparts.  They were agricultural innovators and stock breeders. In this respect it is said that Cistercians were the most famous and most extensive horse- breeders in Christendom.  The importance of wild nature as a setting for meditation was highlighted by Patrick Leigh Fermor in his account of his experiences as a guest of the the monks of La Grande Trappe, the fountain head of the modern Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance.
"Later, when the air became brittle with frost and the puddles underfoot creaked with the first ice of winter, the country surrounding the Trappe was transformed into the world of Breughel and Hieronymus Bosch –their world, with some element even more Nordic and haggard and frightening which suggested Griinewald.
Round the Trappe, edged by hazel and silver birch and teeming with water fowl, are scattered seven stagnant pools. The largest of these, 'Etang de Ranee, is only a furlong from the Abbey and the monks wander here during their periods of meditation, or sit among the reeds with their eyes downcast upon their breviaries or merely gazing across the water, on giant cement mushrooms. The woods are full of game no longer hunted."
The following is an account of a modern monk, Basil Pennington, trying to communicate to a Godless lay world what it is really like to be a Cistercian.
"Cistercians are very down to earth people, very concrete and real. We have our feet on the ground, our hands deep in the soil of life. Contemplation, far from removing us from reality, rather makes us more fully aware of our oneness with all reality, and its oneness with God. For the true contemplative, all is God, all is prayer.
When Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux asked, the novice master of his daughter-house to write a manual for novices, Aelred of Rievaulx wrote on such things as finances, architecture, and music as well as crises and emotions and the transcendent and the cosmic. This is not because of some pseudo- spiritualism to be sure. The everyday real is very real and needs to be respected in its reality. At the same time, there should be no dichotomizing. The "spiritual" and the "real" are one. A monk's "spirituality" is expressed in and through the real. As the old monastic saying goes, you can tell how a monk prays by the way he sweeps the cloister.
The Pseudo-Dionysios, a fifth-century Syrian monk, has written a classic work on contemplation. In it he tells us there are three kinds of contemplation: direct, oblique, and circular. In direct contemplation, like Centering Prayer, we plunge directly into God, leaving all else behind, only, of course, to find it all again, and more truly, in God. Oblique contemplation finds God in and through his creation. Each thing that is shares in God's being and reflects in some way his truth and beauty. Circular contemplation circles around the many facets of God's being and truth, beauty and love that reveal themselves in our lives. Little by little we are drawn more and more into the whole and get some inkling of what the whole is like. This is the process of the contemplative life.
This seems to be the best way to look at the Cistercian way. Its richness and beauty are many faceted".