Today I rode my bike to Missionhurst, a hidden retreat in the midst of Arlington, hauling yoga supplies on my Burly trailer. Up and down the hills of 26th Street I arrived sweaty for my first-ever silent meditation retreat…about time!! The day was structured with periods of sitting in guided meditation, sessions of very slow gentle yoga, and walking the verdant grounds to contemplate as each of us desired.
Thanks to my dear teacher goddess friends Jackie and aLex for providing exactly the respite I needed. And here are a few of my observations and reflections:
Birdsong and insect twitter, the lullaby shusssshhhshshshsh of leaves in the breeze, and maybe a crunch underfoot. And then the surprise of wind chimes hung from a tree, their lovely tones in the air current.
Amazing – it is so easy to slow down and find this restful space. No hurry. No stress. Just thoughts and observations, and feelings in my body and in my heart and on my skin.
The shady outdoors is perfect – not too hot, or humid: nature’s palette of greens and browns. The green tones are so similar, but the diversity of leaf shape and pattern are astonishing. Things to see only when I’m slowed down enough to look. Doing Natalie Goldberg’s “slow walking” – so nice – not impatient with it. There is nowhere else to be. Nothing else to do. But feel, and let the thoughts filter through. Not drilling into them, just letting them float up, be considered, float away.
Thick tufts of grasses – in clumps, sprouting up from the soil. A hosta – leaves broadening out to a pointed tip, lines along their length as though, while moist and unformed, someone drew a comb through each. Rounded heart-shaped leaves of violets. Clumps of bamboo-like grasses. A weaving of English ivy – contrasting vein running to each pointed tip of the leaf, miniscule stars of spreading moss, and interspersed a more spiky moss – looking soft and cool. Bright shamrock leaves poke out. All peacefully coexist. And the splendid ferns, each thread extending, so fragile, yet somehow strong enough to support a spray of delicate leaves. And some other fern, with larger, sculpted leaves, smooth and broad. There is plenty of brown earth, and little rocks and pebbles, tree roots bulging up, fallen twigs and dead leaves.
I don’t know what trees I’m seeing – cedar? Black walnut? As I walk along the path I come to groves of bamboo – and it’s cooler – instantly, and quiet. I grab the shafts of two bamboo poles – so green and smooth – one in each of my hands, small flies dot their segmented length, unmoving, even as I undulate the bamboo stalks, whose tops are stuck on the adjacent deciduous tree. And there, near the ground, one lone sprout of a holly bush, its waxy leaves shiny, each one ringed with a delicate pattern of sharp barbs, shouting DON’T TOUCH.
I see the sun shining through the leaves, the one leaf casting a shadow on another. There’s a moment of illusion, as though I’m looking through a green window. I see delicate maples, and ancient oaks, and a monstrous silver maple with it burly rough bark. And the towering giant of a tulip poplar that would dwarf dinosaurs, leaves the size of dinner plates fallen on the path. I caress the leaves of the cedar (if that’s what it is) and a small tough berry lands in my hand. I carry it as I walk, rolling it between my thumbs, strangely comforting. I grasp a wet drooping hydrangea flower – magnificent in its blue contrast to the quieter surroundings, and rub the damp residue onto my face and arms, leaving little specks of its pollen on my skin.
Some troubling thoughts emerge, but I let them drift away and return to simple observation of tree branches shifting and bobbing – leaves quivering and bouncing, sun brightening patches of green, shadow darkening others. I’m looking now at the patterns of tree bark – the vertical lines up the cedar trunks, horizontal patches on some other tree that I can’t identify. And another trunk – rough all over, looking whitish and grayish, and another tree whose lower branches have all been cut off, leaving bumpy, painful-looking stumps. Does it still hurt? Did it hurt? There are three crumbling cement steps off the path, leading nowhere. A tiny white insect lands on my arm, content to rest there, but when I examine it, it flies off.
A small black insect trundles along the ground, its back sleek and smooth, shiny and straight. I’m surprised I don’t see more – insects – but grateful that they are not buzzing around me biting and ruining my enjoyment of the outdoors.
I see two white moths chasing each other and some insect flying…could it be a precious bee? What will we do if we lose our bees? The lunch I just enjoyed with such sweet strawberries and watermelon – their shades of red – the strawberries shiny and pocked everywhere by seeds; the watermelon, like a full sponge, and the small yellowgreen slice of avocado whose creamy smoothness I sliced from its bark-like skin with my teeth. And bright orange carrot soup – so sweet – it must have had brown sugar, but also a hint of spicy, and the crunch of some almonds…such a lovely lunch – filled out by warm cheese, on French bread (yes, ok, white bread) with the contrasting sharpness of Dijon mustard.
During our final meditation, Jackie suggests we consider all that we know and all that we don’t know, and helps us realize that, of course, all we don’t know is so much vaster than what we do know. And she encourages us in our meditation to resist the pull of what we know – the recurring thoughts and patterns and daily concerns – and instead, allow ourselves to open to the unknown, an invitation I eagerly accept,
I have absorbed the green energy of the day, and find myself relaxing into the present – whatever it is, whatever it is, whatever it is.