Yesterday, I led an invitation as part of a forest walk for the forest therapy guide intensive I’m attending this week. I chose to lead “holding hands”; spending 15 minutes holding the hand of a tree or shrub or fern … whatever felt safe and comfortable.
The invitation began:
“As Humans we crave connection and relationship. It’s something we have in common with the forest.” I found my reference material here: http://www.integrativescience.ca/Principles/TreesHoldingHands/
I chose the words of the late Mi’kmaw Spiritual Leader, Healer, and Chief Charles Labrador of Acadia First Nation, Nova Scotia, who said, “Go into the forest, you see the birch, maple, pine. Look underground and all those trees are holding hands. We as people have to do the same.”
Chief Labrador was talking about Humans creating better connection with Humans and at the same time, Humans are craving better connection and relationship with the more-than-Human world, too.
One of my colleagues had just noticed the tall Eastern Hemlocks surrounding us and asked for a blessing of these beautiful trees because they are being attacked by an insect that is not native to the region. In the 1950s, an insect called the adelgid made its way into the eastern U.S. from Asia. The insect first appeared in the Richmond, Virginia/Washington D.C. area. Since then an estimated 50 percent of hemlocks in 11 states have been infected. The tiny insect, about 1/16th of an inch long, is identified by the white woolly tufts it creates on the hemlock's needles. It is known as the hemlock woolly adelgid, or HWA. It brought tears to my eyes that these beautiful, powerful trees needed our blessings because they may not survive this blight. As Humans, maybe we know how they feel.
I invited those in our circle to wander and be drawn to a tree; to hold its hand and see what might want to be shared, asked, or said. I, too, was drawn to a tree; a tall hemlock with a branch within my reach. She grew at the edge of steep drop from which the roaring brook could be seen and heard below. I don’t like heights so I stayed on the upside of the tree; the tree acting like a wall between me and the drop.
I asked if I could hold her hand and sensed permission was granted. At first, I held her hand tightly, as if I needed her more than she needed me. After a time, I relaxed my hold, realizing she wasn’t going anywhere, you know?
At some point, I leaned into the tree, smelling its sweet piney scent, which is always my favorite scent, and stayed there for some time just letting the connection deepened. Without any warning, I began to tear up and felt a deep sadness. I was moved to step back from the tree, still holding hands and readjust my position to where I could see the drop-down-to-the-ravine side of the tree. There was another tree there, long dead, with a larger girth than my tree. I heard the words, “She is my sister” and it was clear to me that she wanted me to meet her and know her own sorrow at losing her. Their roots were so close, I tried to determine if they were the same tree, split early in life, like twins … it was difficult to know more than what I’d been given. I didn’t want to pry.
I moved back to a more comfortable spot; where the tree was between me and the ravine. With a looser grasp, we played together; the shoots of her needles were like fingers; dark green with a paler green at the tips of the leader shoots. A tiny spider appeared to sigh at the interruption of its daily routine and lowered itself on its silken thread to do other things while we played.
At the end of the invitation, I was the one to call the group back together, using my Native American flute as the signal. One of the participants said we are all like deer. We heard the flute, looked up and slowly walked towards the sound.
I ended my hand holding with the Eastern Hemlock with some words of gratitude; for trusting me with her sorrow and letting me share some of my own; for play time together and for the connection and relationship.
I wish everyone could have a moment with a tree. We need it and the trees have been waiting for it.
Once upon a time, Humans belonged to the sentient, more-than-Human world; to the forests and the trees; to those who walk on all fours; those who slither and those who fly. Then, somehow, we forgot that we belong.
Once upon a time, Humans belonged to each other; we saw our diversity as a gift and uniqueness as part of the greater whole. Yet, somehow, we forgot that, too.
Now, what's left for us? Believing we are each alone on this huge planet and in this vast Universe? That is a world filled with emptiness and grief; a hopeless world of fear and conflict; of walls and bombs?
Humans need a remembering; first, that we are connected inescapably to each other, and next, that we belong to the sentient, more-than-Human world. It does not belong to us.
Look around you. The remembering is here; in our every-day lives and the global systems. Will we remember, or will we continue to forget, like dementia ... memories disappearing, grasping for words of compassion; forgetting until all our systems shut down and we finally forget how to breathe?
Have you ever poured your cup of coffee and thought, “Well, there’s just a bit left in the pot, so let me pour the rest of it in my cup?”
You fill that cup to its very brim. It teeters a bit. Then, magically, it holds. Of course, now you’ve got to pick it up and walk with it and that’s another story altogether, isn’t it?
It’s a lot like life. We’re all carrying around these cups that are filled to the brim. How do you walk around with that? Do you stare at it and walk very, very slowly? Do you look away (as many You Tube videos suggest) and just walk normally, knowing it’ll find its own level and so will you? Either way, you probably leave a trail of coffee along the way; something you have to clean up before you get to drink that coffee, which will probably be cold by the time you get to drink it.
How is it possible that we Humans cannot walk with a cup of coffee without spilling it? It’s like asking, “Why is the sky blue?”
It turns out that Human stride has almost exactly the right frequency to drive the natural oscillations of coffee when the coffee is in a typically sized coffee mug. That’s physics.*
The sacred is our Human propensity to take on more than we can without spilling. Filling our own cups to the brim and then going through life, spilling every step of the way. Have you ever heard someone order coffee who requests that the Barista leave room for the cream? Ah, there’s another moment to ponder. Who is this person at your local coffee shop who’s discovered the secret to life itself - leave room for the cream? Even if you take your coffee black, you’ve got to be impressed.
What does it mean to leave that little bit of room in the cup? What does it mean to walk and leave room for the oscillation in the cup … or your life? It’s a lesson worth learning.
What is What is My Medicine?
To know what our unique gift in the world is, or to understand how to use that gift in the world, is a universal Human longing. It matters little if that world is just one person, a family, a community or the whole planet. When you don’t know what your medicine is, it can be tough to make choices, you may feel envious or competitive with people who seem to have it ‘all together’ or all figured out. You may feel ‘lesser than’ or ‘undeserving’ because you haven’t figured it out. When you don’t know what your medicine is, it feels like you’re always crossing paths with a bear in the woods. And the only thing to do when that happens is to stop and respect the bear’s space; hold peace in your heart and give that big, wooly beast the right of way. Anything else is downright dangerous.
It was on a walk in the forest one day that the question came up. Looking up at the tree tops, the question was asked, “What is my medicine?” and the tree tops replied, “It’s certainly the sound of the wind as it passes through your leaves.”
Leaves? That didn’t seem very helpful, so the question was asked again, this time of the dirt; the earth along the trail.
"What is my medicine?” and the dirt replied, “It’s certainly the decomposition of stones, shells and organic matter that hold the history of this place and make up your being.”
Stones and shells? Still not very helpful. So, the question was asked again; this time, of the birds in the trees, “What is my medicine?” and the birds replied. “It certainly must be your song piercing through the forest, and the nest you build in the trees.”
Not sure where else to turn, the question was asked one more time; this time, to the lichen on a nearby maple tree, “Lichen, what is my medicine?” and the lichen replied, “It’s certainly the relationship between the moss and the algae that creates something even more fertile.”
Leaves, stones and shells, organic matter, nests and songs, moss and algae. Every more-than-Human being replied from his or her own perspective! Whatever sustained it, whatever purpose it held, that was its medicine and that was the only way it knew how to express it: the wind, the decomposition of matter, the song, the symbiotic relationship of beings.
If you’re surprised by the simplicity of the answers, you might be even more surprised to learn that they were right! Our medicine is already fully expressed in our being; not a vocation or an avocation that we need to search for; our medicine is fully expressed in how we move through the world and what sustains us as Humans; our connection, love, compassion and creativity.
What’s the Einstein quote? “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid.”
Our medicine is ours and ours alone. It’s something we cannot not do. Imagine a bird that refuses to sing because it believes no one is listening, or moss that withholds moisture from the algae because it fears it won’t have enough for itself. Imagine a leaf that refuses to yield to the wind or organic matter that is afraid to lose itself in another to become something more fertile.
Here’s the question again: What is your medicine? Is there a bear crossing your path? Stop and respect that bear’s space; hold peace in your heart and give that big, wooly beast the right of way. Anything else is downright dangerous.
You know that thing you cannot not do? Name it and go do it. The world is waiting for your medicine.
P.S. - I share a much-loved image of Ben Franklin as a true Renaissance Soul, fully expressed, not as a 'jack of all trades'; rather, as someone who knew his medicine beyond a vocation or avocation.