As a child, being outside amongst the trees was a place to retreat, to find beauty, nourishment and healing. As an adult, I am intentional about including time outside as a health and wellness practice for myself. Often when I am outside for a wander, I carry with me those who are struggling or grieving. When those around me are suffering, I instinctively offer their pain to the trees, the earth, the water or the sky as I walk or sit. I cannot take away the pain of the world, but I can hold it with Love and offer it to the trees. Indigenous peoples have lived this way for thousands of years, immersed in nature with sacred rituals and offerings to the Creator. I find a deep level of comfort whenever I attend Indigenous ceremonies for this reason - it feels natural, ancient, rooted in my bones. I have no sense of a higher being or creator, necessarily, but I always feel cradled and connected to Life and Love.
Years ago, almost thirty years now, I went on a weekend retreat for the very first time. It was an intense time with a lot of group sharing and therapeutic practices. I understood the value of this particular retreat's structure, but realized, in retrospect, that what touched me more deeply were the surroundings. We were a short walk from a small river and surrounded by trees. The trees, the sound of water and the quiet of the evening were the therapy I needed.
After returning home, I began to be more intentional about spending time outside, even for short moments. I sat outside more often with my tea or coffee, simply looking at the clouds or feeling the breeze. I went out to sneak a peak at the moon before I began the nightly bedtime routine with my kids. I installed a clothesline and enjoyed the simple pleasures of hanging clothes and putting sheets on the bed, infused with fresh air. Around this time, I was introduced to Thich Nhat Hahn, through books. His simple practices of connecting with trees really spoke to me. We had just moved into a house that had shrubs and flowers on the property, but no trees. Even though we were a short walk from the forest, I wanted to be surrounded by trees, so I began planting them on the small lot surrounding our home.
I have been out in nature throughout my life, whether camping, going to the lake, taking forest walks, or cross-country skiing. There was, however, a shift taking place. I was more aware of my surroundings. I was drawn into using all of my senses and being present, really present, to each moment. Everything was speaking to me. People would often talk about seeing "signs" during times of struggle or doubt, but what I came to understand was that signs are everywhere, all the time. I was just too busy or distracted to notice them. Now, I was paying attention.
Over time, my practice of awareness in nature, transferred over into my surroundings, no matter where I was. All aspects of my ordinary daily life became more vivid and meaningful - making dinner, taking a bath, riding on a train, shopping at a store, listening to music at a social event. Maybe for some people, this kind of contemplative way of living comes naturally, but for most of us I believe that it is something we need to cultivate and practice.
I now run a place of retreat for others, something that I sensed would happen one day. I am fortunate to be able to walk out my door and be inspired, be nurtured and have a space to offer others the same opportunity. I was feeling under the weather today, sleeping most of the day. Such a beautiful autumn day. I could be out wandering in the forest. Several people in my life are going through very difficult times and I longed to be out with the trees, to offer up their grief and sadness. I noticed the ledge of the window full of leaves. So moving, I wasn't sure why. So I stepped outside and took a photo. All these beautiful leaves piled on the ledge. A sign.
As I looked at the photo I began to cry. A song that my son wrote recently, “Please Wait Awhile” began to play in my head. It’s a song about pain and loss, urging the listener to wait awhile, that things will get better. The pile of coloured leaves spoke to me of the importance of community in difficult times. The small pinecone peaking out was a sign of new life, almost hidden from view, but present. The leaves grasping onto the edge were held by the others - lightly, but firmly. During times of grief or pain, the ledge need not be a place we cling to in solitude, but a place where we gather in those who love us and wait awhile. It won’t be forever and we are not alone.