On the banks of the river of grief

After about 20 minutes, the woods came to life. One small bird, and then another, announced the shift, flying so close to me I could hear the whir of their wings as they flew past. Where there had been only silence and stillness around my sit spot in the woods, now a symphony of life.

I’m not sure if the change from an experience of separation to one of welcome in the woods was due solely to the fact that it takes the more-than-human-world about 20 minutes to adjust to a human presence.

It takes me about 20 minutes to move into a felt awareness of the woods, gradually quieting and softening as I sit still in my chosen spot.

As I find myself growing more vital and alive through this practice, I wonder if the woods, too, are somehow healed or made more alive by my presence.

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When walking out on the land after being quieted by the woods, I have learned to notice who and what is moving around me. Noticing movement around you as you walk through the landscape is like watching the breath in meditation practice. It slows you down, brings you into the present moment, and restores you to your senses, but instead of focusing on one’s own breath, looking for movement attunes you to the collective breath we all share.

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I am finding my forest therapy guide coursework to be a study in applied animism, which is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

Shamanism is an earth-honoring practice rooted in the older spiritual substrate of animism. Learning to relate skillfully to the powers, peoples, and energies of the Unseen world rests upon a foundation of relating skillfully to the powers, peoples, and energies of the more-than-human world.

We can only engage the healing power and potency of these worlds when we move away from our screens, are pushed beyond our preconceptions, and invest in time spent outside-of-doors.

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Sitting in my sit spot, I have been noticing a softening in the grief I carry within me about the state of the natural world.

A river of grief runs through me pretty much all the time, but sitting here in the woods, rooting into this time and this place, feeling into the layers of life, death, and decay beneath, around, and within me—again—something shifts.

The raging waters of grief, a grief we share with the more-than-human world, grow quieter and are contained as I root into the presence of something far larger and wiser, someone more ancient and alive than I.

Here, on the banks of the river of grief, I am returned to a feeling of trust and appreciation for the wisdom of this process of transformation initiated and overseen by our source of life and elder, Gaia.

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I’ve made a commitment to spend an hour of each day out on the land until the arrival of Spring, sitting, walking, exploring, drawing, building relationships with my more-than-human kin. I find that for those first 20 minutes in my sit spot I am cold, I am fidgety, I am bored.

My mind tells me I am crazy, that nothing is happening, that I am making things up about the subtle energies I perceive—the same litany of complaints I heard when first I began the practice of shamanic journeywork.

Then, after a time of feeling directionless and lost, I shift and the world shifts around me, too: new answers present themselves, birds fly close by, and my being overflows with quiet joy.

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Sitting out on the land will be a different experience during the dry summer months of fire season. These February days are already clear with little rain in the forecast here in Oregon.

My plan is to sit out on this land I love for at least the magical threshold of 20 minutes, even if I have to wear a respirator.

Time will tell if the river of grief will be contained or will spill over its banks with this practice.

Experience tells me that the practice of quitting my house to be with my more-than-human relations will help me move through hard times with more humor and joy than I could ever hope to muster on my own.

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Gaia Shamanism is offering free online journey circles in 2022 on Wednesdays from 4-6 pm PST. 

This weekly circle is an opportunity to hone the practice of journeywork in a  spiritual container of mutual support, real talk, and humor.

If you would like to join us this Wednesday, February 9, from 4-6 pm PST, feel free to email me at anna “at” gaiashamanism “dot” com.   All skill levels are welcome.

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