This morning, I caught myself folding sheets and pillowcases as an Olympic contender, going for the gold, timing myself and offering color commentary regarding the elegance, choreography and precision of the folds. It amused me, but also told me it was time to turn off the Olympics and go for my walk.
A few nights ago we watched the movie Greenfingers, a wonderful testament to the ways gardening can be transformative and healing. The story is based on the true experiences of prisoners in HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Leyhill, a minimum-security prison in the Cotswold’s, England. At first indifferent to the suggestion they participate in gardening, a group of prisoners eventually creates a garden, and then competes in a prestigious garden design competition.
As their connection with the earth evolves, each man gains a wider view regarding his gifts and opportunities for naming his presence in the world. They learn that they can choose new ways to show up for their lives. Capacities for surprise, for delight, for love and relationship have been nurtured by engagement with the earth.
Earlier in the week, we’d watched part of Ken Burns’ excellent program for PBS, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The title is taken from a quote by Wallace Stegner, and the program reinforces the wisdom of those who fought long and hard to establish the national park system, arguing for the deep healing that gently entering and embracing wilderness offers humanity. Not unexpectedly, lobbyists, corporate interests, and politicians wanted to commercialize, mine, and deforest every square inch of the acreage that became our national parks, and it often seemed they would. Thankfully, in the end, the National Parks were established, but the threats from those who would exploit them continue to merit vigilance.
These programs reinforced something I’ve always known, and I expect it’s true for most people: solitude in natural settings is deeply healing and over time, transformative. Our own wild hearts find solace in the garden, the forest, along the seashore, and river. A few hours spent tending plants and weeding a garden can offer deep peace to the spirit. We reconnect with those dreams and truths we bury so quickly when faced with the outer entanglements and accelerated speed of life; in nature, we slow down enough to finally hear our song and bring it back into tune.
I don’t “power walk.” I stroll with my camera, treating the walk as a long, silent meditation. I stop at trail benches to sit and breathe in the smells and sounds. While I believe physical exertion and aerobic exercise are rewarding and certainly contribute to my health, I don’t think every activity that invites my physical engagement has to be dominated by an aggressive need to exaggerate effort, compete, speed, and hurl myself through the experience. In fact, I suspect the need to “power-up” is sometimes related to an inability to slow down, to be still, to breathe mindfully and to listen deeply. And our old friend, fear, can sabotage our need to be still: What if we don’t like what we, finally, hear? What if, when we arrive at our center, there’s no there there? Or even more disturbing, what if the voice at our center tells us we must change to save our life and fulfill its purpose?
Of course, when we let go and journey to the center, the likely result is the gift of gentle messages from Love, but we may certainly encounter truths along the way that are painful. I’ve found that “staying with” the journey transmutes the pain. Exposing it to the light and restorative power of nature dissolves the accrual of spiritual disturbance that builds up between walks. The more personal power I surrender, the more deeply nature’s power washes my spirit clean.
Today, I let go of all those ever-present inner voices and listened to the songs of the wind, rain, trees, birds, and turtles, and my own song and energy were guided back into clarity. I doubt gardening or walking into the woods and meeting stillness, silence, and listening will ever be Olympic events, but in the end, they offer the spirit treasures more precious than gold.
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