Secrets from the woods

It seems that almost everyone I know enjoys a hike in the woods on a nice summer day. To feel the cooler air, to hear sounds unlike that around our homes, to see flowers and unusual vines circling up around the trees all lift a person’s spirit and soothes one’s heart and mind. The woods are a natural tonic to every day’s stresses and troubles.

This summer I received a very special gift from my community–to take a 5 week extended silent retreat in the woods of knobby Kentucky. I had wanted such a time of silence for several years after lots of intense activism. Finally after my 75th. birthday, it seemed the right time–a time to recollect, to remember so much to be thankful for and to recall so many experiences which needed to be integrated more deeply into my being.

The woods’ teachings shared many learnings within me. I saw every day that hundreds of various types of trees share a harmony which each of us wants for our lives and for the places and people who live in war–people who experience the ravaging effects of war. There is no place like a welcoming woods to help a person experience this peace, this sense of oneness, a harmony of body, mind, and soul, the kind of community we want for our world. The peace a tree emanates when I look high into its branches and into the sun gives me the feeling that all is well or will be well. The cool comfort I find beneath its branches and the curious array of root systems some of the larger members of the woods showcase entice me to “gawk” and feel a sense of awe and immense relief from the horrible daily tragedies and violence of our culture.

When basking in all this glory, I can’t help but think of the world’s children whose lives deserve this kind of peace more than anyone. The serene woods away from all technology–internet, TV, radio, cell phone– stir within me the feeling that it’s unfair for me to “have it so easy” when I hear in my heart the cries of these children, like the little girl running away from tear gas knowing that her life depends upon it, like the toddler trying so hard to toddle along with his mother as she continues her trek to a better life across the border of Mexico to the United States. And how the blank stares of the children who I see most frequently in my heart are suffering from hunger in Yemen and Syria–these pictures make my head fall in prayer and shame. In this woods I sense no scarcity, only an abundance of life and promise. There’re no signs of strife or oppressive practices one toward another. This is a place that shouts, “Come and share in my comfort, my shade, my life. The trees promise a generous hospitality to all.

The trees also emphasize to each hiker that it’s important to give yourself time to perhaps rest for a while on their fallen logs, and to study the gentle patterns of shadows of the surrounding leafy areas. The different stalwart columns of cypress and cherry-wood trees imprint on the heart the need to appreciate our amazing chance to live and to participate in the wonders of our world. It took many of them decades to get to their height and their strength so they urge us to be patient and to be trusting in our nature which wants to grow in peace with others. Hear them say “I am your sister, your brother, your friend. Take some time on my trails. I’d love it if you would.” Stepping back and centering oneself for renewed energy and for greater love truly does the work of peace also.