This past weekend I was at a wedding in Vermont. The groom has been a friend for over two decades. And like all the rest of his friends, I was so happy that he had found love, especially after the pain and loss of his first wife’s illness and passing. It was bittersweet; the ache and grief were still there, in part, but his new life is rich and full we are so happy for him. That evening, driving home, I rolled down the windows and opened the car roof to glance up at the night sky, in the Vermont darkness so rich and full of stars. It was quiet, with only the tree frog’s evening chorus. The sweep of those stars across the sky was beautiful and all encompassing, curving over everything; movement and stillness, joy and sorrow, good times and bad, seeming to reflect the fullness of human experience, complex, rich, and wide.
Sometimes the natural world can offer the exact moment of awareness that reflects our circumstances in this world. And it can work in reverse, too. Often I have found myself caught off guard by the unexpected sight or sound that summons me out of my routine worries and concerns: the sound of a bird singing in the summer evening darkness; an unexpected rainbow over the tree line at the close of a rainy day, or the feel of a cool breeze on my skin as I pause for a moment in my rushing about from place to place. Once, as I was sitting outside, my arms wrapped around my knees and with my head bowed, lost in a painful memory, a butterfly came and landed gently on my arm, fanning her wings slowly. I breathed a quiet thank you, and was reminded of the Presence of love and gentleness.
Mother Nature is constantly trying to get our attention- calling us to awaken and simply be, if only for a moment. Rumi says,
“Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
The Japanese tradition of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a practice of becoming immersed in the environment, inviting attention to all the senses and letting the mind begin to stop its endless chatter and become calmer. The effects on the body are measurable, too. A few years ago, National Public Radio did a broadcast on the practice, citing the health effects: “significant decreases in blood pressure and stress hormones,” possibly related to the compounds trees release into the air, known as phytoncides. (Think of the smell of cedar or other fragrant plants.)
In the Hudson Highlands we are so fortunate to have it all- green and fragrant and woods, hills and valleys, grasslands and marshes, the rocky shores of a stunning river. The chatter of the wren and squirrel, the soft watchful gaze of deer and rabbit, the surprise of garter snakes and box turtles. Summer itself is a season that invites us to slow down, to look, to feel, to inhabit the place we find ourselves with all of our senses.
On August 16-18, 2019, we’ll answer that invitation at the Garrison Institute with a weekend of becoming awake to all that is around us. We will wander in the woods and along a river trail. For those who are birders, we’ll see who is “in the neighborhood” in an early morning walk. There will be opportunities to practice some mindfulness and appreciation of the miracles of rocks and leaves, clouds and wind. We will also have some gentle yoga practices and meditation, both guided and self-directed, and time to rest and play. That particular weekend is also the close of the Persied Meteor Shower, so if the weather is clear we will take time to ponder the night sky.
Sarah Blondin, a meditation teacher, says in her meditation “Make it Sacred:
“Nothing is for certain. It is all a mystery. Even the words I’m saying now are ideas, hopeful perspectives, comforting ideals that help us walk more surefooted in this great mysterious journey. There is something, however, that I feel fairly certain is not just a soothing thought but a truth. It feels good and right to lift our faces to the sunrise. It feels good and right to be ultimately guided by our hearts. Something in all of us ignites when we live this way.”