As I drive to our city park that has forest trails in its valleys, my mind is paying attention to the road, checking off mental notes on my never ending to do list, arranging priorities. I always think if I can just get one more thing done, THEN I will feel spacious and free to do what my heart desires. Oh, the fallacy of this never-ending trick of the mind! Checking those things off my to do list has always been a relentless pull and a way I falsely feed my self-worth. How many gold stars did I earn this week? So, for reprieve from my mental agenda, I am headed to the forest, one of my favorite respites.
The first thing I was amazed at in my new rosary practice (no, I am not Catholic, but I have fallen in love with the rosary) last year was its incredible ability to STOP my mind from endlessly looping, especially on problems it couldn’t fix, like coronavirus anxieties. Meditation had never allowed me to achieve these same results as consistently or quickly. Just a few beads and prayers, and my mind is quiet, I become present in the moment, and my brain waves drop into a theta state, like when I am daydreaming. Entering a forest trail has the same effect on me.
Finishing my car ride to the park, going through traffic, driving up the road to the park, over the speed bumps, past the construction crew, into the parking lot, parking my car, locking it, gathering my water bottle, phone (for the camera), my car key, locking the car, and WHEW! I made it. Now I can set my sights on the trail head.
As soon as I drop into the forest trail, and head down through the trees, my whole presence shifts, like when I pray the rosary. The contrast between the world that is formed and paved and manicured to make things easy for people, and the forest left to be wild and grow how it wants to be, is like stepping into another world. It is almost literally a veil I have stepped through, from the ordered human world into Her world, the wild complex harmony of the forest that only our Earth Mother fully understands. The forest does just fine thank you, without all that manmade control.
There is something primally connecting about praying the rosary while walking in the forest. Walking becomes a prayer, a conversation with the earth. The rhythm of the walking mirrors the rhythm of the prayers. I think of our ancestors who walked everywhere they wanted and needed to go, of how the rhythms of walking were fundamental to their everyday lives.
When I arrive at my favorite spot, there is a special silvery afternoon light from the way the sun spills through the trees that have just barely begun to leaf out. I fall into a revelry…. Full of awe and devotion…. Is it possible to describe this Beauty, this life force, Her essence?
Standing here by the stream listening to the gurgling of the water as she flows under the rock shelf she carved into the side of this hill, the air itself seems to pulse. This stream of life-filled water, carrying an endless prayer, has sculpted a safe and sacred womb in the face of the rocks, where birds nest and the light glimmers with a wink. A small hemlock grows on the vertical face of the rock and literally spirals its trunk down and then around and upwards to the sunlight, knowing the circle of life is feeding its roots. Ferns hang down, and moss clings to the face of the rock, circling a mandala of bright green creeping Charlie that holds my eye like a central focus point. There is a presence here, a song that I’ve heard before, ancient and calling to me, and I find myself singing. A portal has opened, the gurgling water a mantra, a hail mary. A yellow swallowtail butterfly flies gently into and through this womb, like a song note.
Time starts to move again, and I come slowly out of my revelry, steeped in gratitude for this gift. Suffused with deep devotion I almost feel like I am floating. But it starts to fade, and it is time to leave.
As I return up the trail, an unmistakable phoenix bird greets me in a dead tree branch. Not an ordinary face in the tree bark! It feels like a confirmation that this wasn’t just an ordinary walk in the forest; it was a transformation, an everyday miracle, a glorious mystery!
Following the dirt path back the way I came, each step, like each bead, is a prayer. As I step back through the veil at the edge of the forest and go back to my car, I ask our Earth Mother to be with me in both worlds and to bring them closer together so I can experience Her magic everywhere as easily and surely as I do in the forest. And I hear the message again to “Pull up my skirts and show the world my passion! Be full of courage!” as Bleeding Heart said to me. This is how to bring the worlds together.