Nature calls to me gently, whispering my name, inviting me in. I've become so in tune with it.
I usually hear it in the gentle breeze in the tree tops; I hear the call in puffy white clouds floating across a deep blue fall sky, in the cold bite of the winter morning, in the glow of the harvest moon, in the soft stirring of my heart while I'm sitting in my office. Nature and solitude have become my chapel, or perhaps re-emerged as my chapel.
Growing up in the mountains of NC, I spent a childhood full of wonder playing in nature, wandering the forest, catching snakes and frogs, swimming in ponds and becoming a part of it all. As an adult I have realized what a true gift my childhood was. These wood are mine, I am them, my innermost self is deeply connected to them. It hasn't always been so, because for years I forgot.
The business of life, marriage, 3 small children, work, building a community, love, and all of the distractions left me, for years, disconnected from myself, from God, from the sacred. Spending time alone wasn't even a thought for many seasons, because so many people needed me in so many ways and I wanted to be available. It's a beautiful, rich, delicious life to be so surrounded by love and need and want, but it's also overwhelming if you don't stop to take the time you need to connect with yourself, with what's sacred. I had to learn that the hard way.
The rich beauty I was disconnected from led to several manifestations in my body. The more I ignored my own needs, the more out of balance I became. The louder the call of these physical manifestations - starting in a whisper and finally screaming and debilitating - left me no choice but to surrender. It's taken me years to understand this, to see it for what it is, to be able to listen to the whisper and respond with loving care, for myself.
This path between physical disquiet and a need for self-care was just one of the things that pulled my attention back to the magic of nature, to the wonder of stillness, the healing of solitude. I was well on my way to reestablishing my connection with the sacred, when my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I immediately stopped my own care for myself and threw my energy into being the primary researcher, organizer, scheduler, caregiver, griever, and parent of our 3 daughters. I was in "Go Mode," and stayed there for a long time - trying to control an uncontrollable future. I ignored the whispers, the increasing insistence that I care for myself along the way, until finally I listened. This time instead of getting sick though, I went to the woods.
The woods had been calling - that call that had been there all along - and I'd forgotten that it fed and restored my soul like nothing else. I began hiking alone, with Otis, my trusty canine, on freezing cold winter mornings after I dropped off all of the kids at school and before my husband awoke and needed me. It became a crucial part of my survival, allowing me to be still, to mediate, to think, to gain perspective, to be surrounded by the ancient magic of the forest. I would return home refreshed, just in time to make him breakfast and watch him slowly die.
Nature is my place of healing as I am walking the long and twisting path of grief, a gift to my broken heart, now that my partner in life has moved beyond my reach. My mind is too busy for quiet meditation, but a walking meditation on a trail in the woods allows my mind to quiet and heart to open.
My favorite meditation came to me by a mountain creek one day; my mind refused to be still so I gave it something to do. I ask sensory questions, one at a time.
What do I see? .... What do I hear? .... What do I smell? What do I taste?
And then what do I feel?
This mental exercise brings me into the present moment; it heightens my own presence, it allows me to be still, it clarifies my understanding. I love this meditation because it can be done sitting quietly, walking in the woods, or sitting at my desk for a quick check in. Presence, gratitude, solitude and nature remind me that this life is beautiful, hard, deep, rich and ever expanding and changing. And I am honored to be a part of it all.
We need more places where nature is featured just as it as, where we can sit and think or meditate, pray or cry, consider the sacred in ourselves and our surroundings. A chapel that is not just on the earth but in it, OF IT, seems to be an idea with promise. There's metaphor there. Finding the depths of one's strength and courage by literally going deep.
Mary Cade Mainwaring is a mom of 3 amazing daughters, a widow, a lover of travel and adventure and a Realtor with Century 21 in Asheville. She believes quiet and nature are essential to a life well lived.