Maybe it has happened to you, too, that small secret moment of intimacy with a non-human creature. It’s a powerful experience yet easily dismissed by the mind. The one I want to tell you about happened on a trail in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in northern California. It is a rocky, spare place, steep and windswept and intensely alive. High on a ridge above a mountain lake, the trail weaves among pines and Douglas Fir growing singly or in small groups, huddled around granite boulders. On a hot late September afternoon, their combined scent rose like incense; the air was charged with it. I walked briskly, enjoying the vigorous motion and the give of the trail surface, changing from rock to needles to bare earth to patches of coarse grasses. I became keenly aware of an added dimension, the arrangement of bodies in the middle distance, so often lost in our habitual focus on panoramic views. I mean by that the sense of my body mass relative to trees and boulders, the way trees stood in twos or threes or alone; a pine and boulder together; or the way the boughs formed a screen so that only slivers of blue were visible, and then suddenly parted to allow a full view of distant peaks. My steps slowed to a walk as I absorbed this new pleasure. My hand reached to touch the furry patch of lichen on a granite boulder, the deep furrow of Douglas Fir bark. I put my arms around a Jeffrey Pine, maybe my age in pine years, glowing deep red in the late afternoon light. I laid my cheek against the bark and was enveloped in a light, sweet aroma, like vanilla, very different from the more pungent “conifer” fragrance that rose from the forest as a whole. (I read later that pines, and especially Jeffrey Pines, are unique among North American conifers in distilling this vanilla-like scent.) There we stood for a long while, the pine and I, in a timeless embrace of arms and branches, skin and bark, one breath.
In her book, “The Legacy of Luna”, activist Julia Butterfly Hill describes her relationship with the giant redwood in whose canopy she lived for more than two years in order to save it from being logged. Hill is positive that Luna knew Hill was there to save it, and gave her support in its tree-ish way. Similarly, with my arms around the pine, I felt very strongly, from the tree, a wave of – encouragement? Support? Was the pine hugging me back? These are human terms and they don’t quite fit. I felt that the pine and the land it sprang from were holding me up, wanted me to continue my work to save the Peace Valley in my home province of British Columbia from being dammed. I was being offered a gift – an experience of joy and unity, and something more: confirmation, confidence and strength to persevere in my work. Joy and gratitude buoyed me as I walked back to the cabin.
I offer a moment-to-moment description of a grounded presence experience that I had with a deer as we both walked through the woods. This example highlights an important Wholebody Focusing practice–holding a “we” space for partners. It also shows how we can have a “we” space with any other sentient being and how both of us are impacted by the relational space they create together.
There he was, Mr. Deer, quietly but unexpectedly just over there. In fact, he was just beyond the clearing of the forest as I began my own walk. I was taking a break from a training that wasn’t going well for me. I wanted to enjoy a walk in the forest to find a grounded sense of myself again.
That is when it happened, that encounter with Mr. Deer. It seemed to startle both of us so unexpectedly. It was a surprise, yes, and startling? Maybe for a split second we both knew that something felt different here and so we seemed to pause and take in the moment with curiosity. It was that pause that seemed to change everything because we both took some space to take in what might be happening that felt so different from what we were used to. What was that? What made us stop and take a moment to become aware of the something that felt new here?
I can’t speak for Mr. Deer. He has his own sense of what was happening in him. For me, as a reflective human creature that I am, I realized I was in a good place. Usually I walk through a forest without really taking much in. But this time I felt differently. I was enjoying this moment of peace and enjoying myself in this wooded environment.
Many of us who are Wholebody Focusers have learned concepts and practices from many other modalities. In a workshop many years ago, I learned about the concept of “heart’s desire.” The practice I was taught in this workshop was to silently wish yourself your heart’s desire and then silently wish those around you their heart’s desire. We also learned that a true heart’s desire can only be for our highest and greatest good.
I live in New York City and take public transportation so I have ample opportunities to live this practice. It has helped me learn so many things. First, I struggled to remember to wish myself my heart’s desire. It would be ten minutes of concentrating on others before I remembered myself. Then mentioning me felt quite “selfish.” Eventually, it took less and less time to remember me and wishing myself my heart’s desire gave me a surge of energy.
Then I noticed how judgmental I was. I vowed to wish everyone in my subway car or bus their heart’s desire but I felt negative feelings coming about some people. I had to recognize that harsh part of myself that is so critical. Often the criticism would be about someone’s hairstyle or clothing but it also showed up when people seemed different from me too. My practice became noticing what came for me when I thought about wishing a particular person their heart’s desire. I would acknowledge what was there and let it go. When I added the wish for that person, my heart and the criticism would soften. It also helped me be with how all that criticism that emerged was really about me. This practice helped me be with both the wish to generate love for others along with a fierce need to separate myself through criticism of others. I needed hold those parts with equal regard. This eventually has led to much less criticism for myself and for unsuspected random citizens of NYC.
Elizabeth this a response to “It Is for This.” It is the power of her voice, the tone of the sound that is so healing to my soul. My body instantly awakens to her tone of voice even before the words are felt.
I am just allowing Elizabeth’s prayer to be heard and to be felt inside of me. And the words that seem to awaken something deeper in me is this expression that she keeps repeating: it is for this. It is for this. It is for this.
And each time I hear that repetition, it touches me even more deeply because I know that sound. I can feel that sound and I can feel me.
That is what Elizabeth has awakened in me too—that sense of me that knows who I am. What I am.
And I love the feel of it. I love being awakened when I hear someone else is there too. It gives me a sense of myself that feels totally satisfying. It is a feeling of love.
I am Love.
I live love in my body as a whole.
It is me.
This is who I am.
Something more came for me listening to Elizabeth saying what was there for her and how deeply that awakened something in myself about me. It is as though her sound, her voice, her expression, awakened a sense of myself from inside–like awakening a tuning fork of who I am.
There is an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits: that world is round us, for it is everywhere; and those spirits watch us, for they are commissioned to guard us; and if we were dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us on all sides, and hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognize our innocence. — Charlotte Bronte
There is a kingdom of spirits that protects you. Do you not see them? –Charlotte Bronte
I wish I could see them—the spirits, the angels that surround us, waiting, longing to help us. I believe—with my mind—that there are such things; it’s consistent with the great saying God is Love which, I’m told, can be found in the gospel of John. I’m not a big follower of the bible, and I’m not a believer in the creeds of the world’s great religions. But I do believe in Divine Love—that It’s all around us, and available to us.
I can’t see the ‘angels’ that could easily be around me—around each of us—waiting to help us in our struggles, or perhaps wave some of that fairy dust off their wings onto our aching hearts—at least, most of the time I can’t see them. I’ll admit that sometimes I do have a sense of the Love around me. It’s just that it disappears so easily.
Your experience Kevin resonated profoundly in me. When you listened deeply, in searching for a sense of self, an uninvited Trappist monk connected with you – and you came alive. As if listening deeply for life could be as a calling to the universe and something from beyond answered you. Could this be possible?
In the beginning of the nineties I was on a similar journey, in my longing to become alive and be myself. My travel led me to an Orthodox Monastery, named New Valamo, in Finland. During the winter war 1939, some 190 monks fled from Valamo Monastery in Russia. They founded a refuge and a new home in a mansion in the east of Finland. To have somewhere to live they had to rebuild the old barn into monk’s cells. The monks lived and prayed in the barn for years. It was possible for me, as a visitor, to stay in one of the old monk´s cells in the barn. And of course, it was an offer I could not refuse. Continue reading To Become Alive / Att bli levande