The Old, Holy Ways

A note from Carl:

I’m sitting on our porch on a cool, early September morning. The goldenrod and the tall, feathery grasses catch the light. I just love this time of year!

With our son back in school, I drive him to drop-off most mornings. His school is in a local canyon, so there are several beautiful canyon trails that I can easily drop into on my drive home. As it is early morning on a weekday, I often find myself alone there.

I appreciate the opportunity to be alone in nature as an incredible gift and more and more, as essential soul-nourishment. To have the regular time, in Wendell Berry’s words, to be in the peace of wild things, who do not tax themselves with the forethought of grief, seems as necessary as water, air, and sunlight these days.

As I’m walking, I often think of a story the eloquent Mayan Shaman, Martin Prechtel, tells about training with his teacher. The two would be walking together in the Guatemalan jungle, and suddenly his teacher would stop and say “Martin, how many birds do you hear right now? Which kinds? From which direction?” I just did this now, on the porch, typing, and along with the weed-whackers and the distant power saw, I heard the zippy tweet of a hummingbird, some finches, and also became aware of quiet crickets who have been chirping this whole last hour of sitting here, but I did not notice. How often we can be reminded to come back to our senses – on a porch, in the jungle, on a trail, in front of a laptop…

Sometimes I’ll slow down my pace to see if I can walk silently on the trail, and immediately I shift into a different relationship with my environment. Like most of us, my default mode is to amble along with some appreciation of my surroundings, but with a hefty amount of my attention pondering weekend plans, New York Times articles, books I’m reading, the Netflix series I am watching… But in the moment that I listen and feel for walking silently, I enter a different relationship with my surroundings. Everything I sense around and within me becomes more alive, and the thought activity becomes much less magnetic and relevant. On a good day, I aspire to pause, and refresh my direct, sensory experience, in a variety of ways, 200 times as I walk along the trail.

As Stephen Jenkinson says, we need to “strengthen our wonder muscle.” And time alone in nature is one of my favorite workouts for that muscle.

And for living example of a thriving wonder muscle, we can always look to Mary Oliver:

The Trees

Do you think of them as decoration?

Think again.

Here are maples, flashing.
And here are the oaks, holding on all winter
to their dry leaves.
And here are the pines, that will never fail,
until death, the instruction to be green.
And here are the willows, the first
to pronounce a new year.

May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?
Oh, Lord, how we are all for invention and
But I think
it would do us good if we would think about
these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply.

The trees, the trees, just holding on
to the old, holy ways.

Wishing you a wonderful late-summer weekend.

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.