The Forest Within: The Gentle Giants will Heal You

bright daylight environment forest
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Today, I found myself walking in the forest. The familiar path I took is well worn as a result of receiving quite a bit of traffic from families, dogs, bikers, and occasionally horses. My dog, Gracie, and I traveled often alone today as the weather was damp and cool. We only passed a few others along our journey. Gracie was free to roam off-leash and was often engrossed in sniffing the forest floor or finding a stick to chew. She was completely occupied and appeared happy and content.

I made a sustained effort to be mindful during my walk by fully attending to the depth of the surrounding forest while at the same time opening my senses to embrace the present moment. What happened pleasantly surprised me. For a time, it was as if the path had actually disappeared. My focus had rested on the looming giants of the forest and the spaces surrounding them. The density of the forest nearly caught me off guard and was a bit disorienting at first. I had always narrowed my attention to the path before me. When I shifted to the tall trees and the spaces in between them, I was able to see so much more of the forest. I noticed the spaces between the branches and how solid and strong the trunk truly must be. The forest floor was covered with pines and debris, often from a fallen branch or two in a distant, past wind storm. There were trees down and hollow trunks that seemed to be old and decaying. My pup would often interrupt my concentration by playfully climbing on a log or finding a stick to chew. A few times, I’d have to call her as she had disappeared, more than likely searching for a rabbit or two.

I got halfway through the walk and it dawned on me how much I had healed here in this forest and continue to do so. I have always felt that the forest can hold my grief and absorb my pain. There is so much space and depth within the forest that any amount of emotion can be released and let go there. A forest is the perfect combination of decay and growth, simultaneously. And, upon further thought and reflection, both are needed to evolve. This reminded me that all of the pain and hardship in my life, from mistakes to disappointments, have their place in my life. The forest is often messy with brush, scattered branches, and even downed trees, but this doesn’t make it any less beautiful or captivating. Each tree, standing tall, is alone and separate from the others, but is frequented with many visitors from squirrels to birds and even insects. Storms come and storms go. It rains heavily and sometimes a light mist hugs the giant firs. And then, there are the days of sun and warmth. In the Winter, the branches become heavy with snow. Out in the elements, the trees are vulnerable, but on most occasions unless there is a tragedy like a fire or a disease, these gentle giants carry on through the seasons reliably. Life moves in and around them and they adapt and change, letting go of the life that inhabits them and remaining grounded by their roots.

I was feeling quite at home there in the forest today. It dawned on me that I had found my stillness again. I knew that this experience was trying to teach me something. Perhaps, I could be like the gentle giant. Life will stop in and pass through, but I was not to cling to it. Maybe I am also to value the messiness of life that contains the parts of myself that are decaying so that new growth can occur. This was a reminder to not devalue the decay, but honor it as it is also part of the beautiful mess that has made me. Looking around this beautiful dense forest, it seemed actually more mesmerizing with both the large looming trees and the downed logs on the ground. How could I view the old and new, together, as less somehow? ¬†Immediately, more compassion came to the surface. How could I devalue the struggle and the “downed logs” of my life that made me? Perhaps, my mess could also be beautiful in ways.

I began to admire the trees for being so rooted and grounded. Their strength and separateness made me feel a lot less lonely and isolated. And at this moment in time, I was part of their reality, a passerby perhaps altering the forest in a tiny way.

There is and always has been immense healing for me in the forest. It has made me realize how we are all interconnected and that nature and life in all forms depend on each other for sustainability. We all are sharing the same oxygen. I feel more tuned in when I walk through the forest and I always gain something from the experience. Sometimes, ironically enough, a walk, all alone through the forest, is what you need to connect to yourself and others. Enjoy the forest, my friends, it will heal you!

This Raw, Beautiful, Wild Forest

As I sit here once again in the stillness, I feel exposed and raw from the continual shedding of layers that define me. I am reminded of the song, Watershed, by the Indigo Girls. The lyrics quickly fill the space surrounding me. So many times I have communed with this song, engrossed in its message. I wanted to share the lyrics below and encourage you to give it a listen on YouTube if you are unfamiliar with the Indigo Girls and their music. So much of their music has served as the backdrop of my youth, planting so many seeds along the way. I’m grateful to them and to other musicians whose music has been a gift and is every bit as relevant now as it was back then. Here are the lyrics to Watershed:
Watershed
Song by Indigo Girls
Lyrics
Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
‘Cause the crossing is chilly and wide
Twisted guardrails on the highway
Broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone’s tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it’s never too late
But you don’t, you don’t get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness
And feed the hunger
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And there’s always retrospect (when you’re looking back)
To light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life
And I have a good laugh
You start at the top (start at the top)
Go full circle round
Catch a breeze
Take a spill
But ending up where I started again
Makes me want to stand still
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Stepping on a crack (stepping on a crack)
Breaking up and looking back
‘Til every tree limb overhead just seems to sit and wait
‘Til every step you take becomes a twist of fate (twist of fate)
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And when you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Songwriters: Emily Ann Saliers
This song sums up perfectly so much of my current mood. There is so much inside of me I lam longing to express. If one could see and hear my spirit growing, I’m certain I’d be a tree in a dense forest at the start of Spring. My branches that once were stark and starved would be starting to show plenty of green, alive and full of color. The air surrounding me would be full of aroma. I’d be standing on my own, arms open and extended, embracing the warmth of the sun. I’d be part of the grandeur of the forest, but full and fruitful on my own. All the loving spaces between my branches, unencumbered by limitless space and my feet rooted firmly to the forest floor, forever grounded. I have nearly arrived and have taken my space among the firs. Together we are majestic and magical, separate we are enough.
I’ve been awake and with myself enough now to know how important it is to like myself, even more so to love myself. I absorbed so much that was not mine in my lifetime. Looking back, I am not ashamed to say that I was a “shell of a person” often searching outside of myself for validation and identity. I was lost. It made sense in ways to search for self-love through others. I reasoned that their opinions carried more weight than mine. I didn’t trust myself and never felt that I was good enough. Placing my trust in people who did not have my best interest at heart and refusing to “let go” nearly “did me in”. I did not want to exist without their love and acceptance. Something inside of me continually told me that I would cease to exist without their love. That I was nothing without them. So I hung on despite the utter hopelessness of the relationship and the reality that my needs were not being met.
Inside a storm was brewing. As certain people painfully discarded me, I began demanding more from them. I stayed too long in broken relationships demanding what I was willingly giving of myself, my time and energy. What I did not realize at the time is that in “rebelling” I was actually learning to trust my inner voice and love myself. That I was worthy of a reciprocal relationship. During this messy and brutal time of demanding more, I often acted in irrational ways and made things worse for me. The self-loathing got a lot worse until I became aware that hanging on for so long was an act of self-destruction and resolved nothing. Everything inside me wanted to remain engaged with those hurting me. It nearly felt like I would not survive if I “let go”. So, this process of holding on went on for a few brutal and dark years. Years of being suicidal and not wanting to press on. Years of losing opportunities and employment. I’m still grieving what I lost in not “letting go”. And yet, the tree in the forest still stands and Spring has come and there is lots of green peaking through!
Learning to love yourself through the layers upon layers of self-doubt is a long and arduous process. Self love can seem elusive and too often I was missing the mark. When you are “in love” and love yourself, it shows in the actions you take in your life. It is demonstrated in the boundaries you have in order to maintain self-care and self- preservation. I did not love myself. I did not know how to love myself. And it’s ok, so many others are also in this struggle, seeking validation of their self worth in people they trust more than themselves. The last decade of my life has been the tug-of-war of “holding on” and “letting go”. And I am feeling more confident now that I actually am beginning to love myself more and more each day. I still make mistakes and have shame. But, I accept myself and do not demand perfection. I do not beat myself up anymore. And ultimately, I know I am worthy. I no longer need others to tell me so.
This journey is a blessing despite the pain and suffering it took to get here. And, it is only the beginning. It is a spiritual change and one of perception. In retrospect, I was learning. I accept that we all start at different places and we all go at our own pace. I am not in any contest. I have taken my place among the firs, in the dense forest, and I feel strong in my separateness and uniqueness. We all make up the forest and it’s raw, beautiful, and wild. Let it be.

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