"Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life." - Rumi
I am presently reading "Braiding Sweetgrass" - an elegy to indigenous cultures and to Mother Nature. Author Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us that "(...) In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognising abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. (...)"
In "The Celtic School of Yoga. An Aishling for the 21st Century", Jack Harrison speaks of the Yoga of Wandering: "(...) This wandering is a love of being for its own sake. It is not only the physical travelling, but it is the delight in looking at the world in all her manifestations and not just following the teaching of a single way or a single perspective." And on the heroine's journey, he says: "Whereas the classical hero has to leave his home, go out into the world, survive a series of tests and return home powerfully triumphant, the heroine has to descend into her soul and emerge with a recognition of her own power."
I wanted to combine an outward journey with a descent into my own soul and left the city for a 10-day solitary retreat.
Scantily equipped with a lust for adventure and with an initially gentle then ever stronger calling to spend time in nature and alone, to face my fears and to embark on this journey inward. It was a bit too cold for me to want to sleep outside - and I was not equipped for this - so I booked myself into simple accommodation in a guest house, on the banks of the "Byala Reka" (White River) at the edge of the Central Balkan national park in Bulgaria.
My days started with birdsong just before dawn - I packed my bag: a thin hammock, warm clothes, my journal and a pen, food and water and wandered out into the day -I took my phone, in case of an emergency (although I did not know, whom I would have called...!) and went out with no goal and no time plan - just with the natural rhythm of the day, which would beckon me home before dark.
Initially, being alone and in silence opened the floodgates of my mind... here a short video, on day 4:
The moments of inner stillness, however, expanded as the days went by. My senses became more and more alive and alert. I began to perceive of my surroundings differently and, I felt as if nature around me was responding, too. Giving me gentle nudges on what direction to take in the forest, by having a blue tit appear on a branch above me and coax me with his song to take a certain route, or simply by just making me aware of the beauty surrounding me and enticing me to follow the call of a gushing stream or to look more closely at a rock formation.
I also noticed that whenever I got caught up in thought again - i.e. I let myself be drawn out of the "now" - nature would gently remind me to be present - I would bump my head on a branch, for example, one that had "definitely not been there before" (!), or I would stumble or slip.
Some days, I would make a "basecamp", hang up my hammock, rest, gently rocked by the wind, journal or nap - and then, if I felt so inclined, would wander out from there, barefoot, maybe dance with the trees, arrange stones or twigs, bend down low to observe a spring flower making itself up into the light through thickets of leaves... I rekindled a childlike curiosity for all things animate and inanimate and remembered days, when very young, of spending hours observing ants in a microcosmic world, totally absorbed.
Everything I saw and lived, became the object of my meditation. I observed how my mind would wander between wanting to conceptualise what I saw, i.e. "oh, an oak tree", or "that must be the call of a jay" and simply beholding the presence of nature with all my senses. Skulls and bones I found allowed me to meditate on death and the wonderful privilege of being alive, on the cycle of birth and death inherent in all. I was enraptured by streams and rivers incessantly burbling down from the still snow-covered peaks, wrapping the world around them in their song.
"There is an intimate reciprocity to the senses; as we touch the bark of a tree, we feel the tree touching us; as we lend our ears to the local sounds and ally our nose to the seasonal scents, the terrain gradually tunes us in turn. The senses, that is, are the primary way that the earth has of informing our thoughts and of guiding our actions. (...) For it is only at the scale of our direct, sensory interactions with the land around us that we can appropriately notice and respond to the immediate needs of the living world." David Abrams, "The Spell of the Sensuous"
I noticed my energy change, I felt grounded, alive and strong - as never before. So excited about my experience, I wanted, too, to journal it all, but sometimes the impressions and feelings were just too many for the pen to catch all on paper. I would let my insights and thoughts go, in the hope that maybe somebody else would catch them and they would go through them.
When I returned home 10 days later, so much richer, people would say "welcome back to the real world" - yet I felt that I had been in the real world - and the city seemed "unreal"...
Yet, in any environment, we can return to our senses - "renew our bond with this wider life, to feel the soil beneath the pavement, to sense - even when indoors - the moon's gaze upon the roof." (D. Abrams)
I encourage you to do the same - I know I will, as often as I can, return and remember my place in the breathing, living, pulsing beauty of this planet.