Lessons from a forest

When I enter the embrace of a forest my jaw slackens and my heart rate drops. Birds swoop and flit among the leaves overhead lifting my spirits skywards. Whenever I need a rest, I search out trees. Solid and grounded they teach me how to be still.
Light filtered through the newly budded chestnut leaves deep in the Massif Central of France on the Via Podiensis. I was tired after a restless night and looking for a picnic place. I unbuckled my pack and pulled out the quiche I’d bought for lunch. Nestled in a notch of an old chestnut tree I had time to soak in the stillness of the forest.
Last year’s leaves cushioned me. This year’s leaves glowed in the mid-morning light. Small birds broke the silence, busy collecting nesting materials and greeting each other.
I’d started the day on rote, gathering my clothes and packing my bag mechanically. For some reason I’d slept fitfully, despite having the room to myself. After visiting the bakery, I’d dragged out of town and up the hill.
Now I had time to let myself be still. I had nowhere to be, no appointments, no obligations. I could just sit and learn from the forest.
In normal life I rarely allow myself to be still. Household chores, work colleagues, clients, phone calls and the minutiae of daily life don’t admit stillness into my day – unless I schedule it in. The trees go nowhere. They are grounded and not uprooted by the winds of life.
When I returned home to Australia and my usual rounds, I worked hard at putting their lessons into practise. Stacking stillness and meditation onto an existing habit helped. Straight after I dress and feed the dogs in the morning, I sit at the window and let myself just be. The day can begin when I am calm and ready to deal with the commitments and difficulties it has in store for me.

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