Aching and grieving last weekend, I took a walk in the forest near my home.
I had been watching the body tension and corresponding thoughts surge and then recede for some hours, feeling a deep grief about the state of our world and an even deeper grief that I felt so impeded by what I perceived to be my own immaturity, my inchoate being, such that I couldn’t have a greater impact, that I couldn’t do more, whatever that “more” was supposed to be.
Ebbing and flowing, the emotion was up into my neck and then into my face and eyes, then dropped again. It had been raining earlier, the ground saturated with both rainwater and snowmelt that had caused the creek I walked along to swell and nearly roar. Especially in this moody weather, the forest felt primordial, and the trees that I had spent so many hours and days with stood out with a mysterious magnificence.
But then, again, the emotions flooded in like the creek, and while I could appreciate and was present to some extent, I couldn’t give my full attention to this place.
What I was wanting was some kind of peace, reassurance, intervention by the forest itself, even though I knew that may not happen. My main intent was simply to find a quiet place where I could grieve uninterrupted, and eventually I found a spot next to the creek, tucked back on a side trail that disappeared into the water.
I just wanted to sit and be there, to see what might come up in myself, to feel the bigger body of the forest around mine so that I didn’t lose myself in the sensations, thoughts, and images.
Standing there in the cool air with the wet vegetation around me, looking at the ground, then gazing into the rushing waters, I found myself next to a dammed up section. The water was deeper and clear here, though it moved quickly through the branches and sticks that held it back.
An image flashed in my mind of myself standing in the water in this particular spot, looking upstream.
Should I go in?
I looked down into the pool, feeling some resistance. That water is going to be ice-cold, and it looks deep. I felt reluctant to take off my shoes with the wet grass and cool air. I’ve always hating getting in cold water, especially when the air temperature is anything less than 85, as it certainly was.
I got the sense that if I didn’t want to go in it’d be fine. But then, again, the image flashed.
I stood there, curious about it, feeling a gentle encouragement that this might be what I needed right now, but that if I didn’t want to, again, it would be okay.
And then I was hunched over, undoing my sneakers, peeling off my socks, rolling up my bottom-soaked pants over my knees, holding the bundle up with my hands as I stepped in.
Damn, that’s really cold.
And then, instantly, the tension in my upper body seemed to drop down through my core, my senses became heightened and sharp, the forest and the massive Doug Firs and spruces moved into the foreground of my attention, their presence commanding mine.
I felt clear and effortlessly oriented to the space around me. The emotions and thoughts had vanished and I felt like I was really here, in this place, with the beings that I had been sharing it with this entire time.
I stood for a moment, sensing the frigid water rushing past my feet and legs, taking in the surroundings, noticing the contrast in experience, and then stepped out.
Sitting there, I was now able to listen, to be open to what was around me and what might come through that presence of attention and capacity to hear that just moments ago had been blocked.
Something shifted for me and became clear: that I gave too much importance to the emotions themselves, and instead missed that there was more to life than simply being with emotions. That seems obvious to me now, but there was a subtle truth I had missed: that the practice of being with and feeling emotions was so that I might develop an inner clarity so that I can stop focusing so much on them, and instead become better at attuning in my relationships.
That life doesn’t start and end with healing. That maybe healing is just the first step so we can finally engage fully with those human and not-human others.
There, on that creek bank, the relationship that I was missing out on was my relationship with this forest, a place I’ve spent many hours and days in, that has facilitated much insight and integration in my own being. But it was like I had walked into a communal space consumed with my own pain, unable to fully hear or see anyone else because of its clamor.
Standing in the creek broke me out of my overindulgence in my inner world so that I could rejoin the community and participate with awareness and maturity, not simply so I could feel better.
Again, I laugh at how simple this is, and yet it was a profound and simultaneously anticlimactic moment. As if the trees, clouds, birds, creek responded with a “welcome back!” When I was jostled from my slumber.