An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Archive for the ‘Beauty witnessed’ Category


Women’s 2020 Nature Retreat: 3-Day Effect in Nature, Disconnect & Reconnect


Spring Ephemeral Forest Bathing Retreat, Sat. April 12, 10-3

Spring Ephemeral Forest Bathing 2014

There is a balm in nature to make the wounded whole

The old African-American spiritual hymn was playing in my head, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” and I stopped to listen. My friend, Honor Woodard, once told me of her practice to notice the songs that pop into her head. Since then, I, too, have paid attention, and instead of the song being background noise, it takes on great meaning like exploring a dream as a gift from the subconscious.

The boardwalk protects the abundance of wildflowers from being trampled. Most are nestled in bed for their long winter's nap in this protected cove.

The boardwalk protects the abundance of wildflowers from being trampled. Most are nestled in bed for their long winter’s nap in this protected cove.

It was a lovely day in December with a clear, Robin-egg blue sky, and a breeze with a tint of warm. I had a to-do list, and mid-way through, I decided to surprise my trusted 4-legged companion, Fay, with a visit to The Pocket. The winter-scape provides a beautiful time to be in nature and to listen.

The Pocket Trail is a sacred and protected place for life to live. It’s one of those places whose air emanates a refuge like a great sigh of relief. Throughout the seasons, I’ve been to this place with Fay, with companions, and while leading large groups. Each time, I’m enchanted by the sound of the water and birds; I’m held in the womb of the rock; I’m seen by the trees and herbs; and I’m healed by breathing in the enriched air.

Holli and Fay at The Pocket, 12-17-13

Holli and Fay at The Pocket, 12-17-13

Sitting on a rock by the waterfall, Fay leaning against my side, I noticed that old spiritual hymn in my mind. By paying attention to the lyrics, I heard this deeply felt connection of healing I had with this place through words sung in suffering. I sat until the song played out, my mind went still and the silent mind could receive the place. The sun had lowered, and December’s chilled air motivated me to say good-bye for now; I’ll carry the healing with me.

The last light in The Pocket.

The last light in The Pocket.

Fay and I started our slow walk back along the creek, but before we left, I stopped to hear the song of the beech trees rustling in the breeze.

This winter, my hope for all folks is to find a moment of quiet stillness, to be silent enough to deeply listen. Peace be with you.

Ethnomusicology sources helped me to see layers of meaning in this beautiful song.  *Thank you Honor Woodard

From winter 2010 at Southern Dharma Retreat Center with Teacher John Orr.

From winter 2010 at Southern Dharma Retreat Center with Teacher John Orr.

Forest Bathing Retreat: toe first then full immersion June 21-22

Forest bathing is a practice of being present, opening our senses to receive all of the forest. It isn't about taking your clothes off to literally bathe. It's a figurative use of the word, as in to fully bask in the atmosphere. This trail is through the forest at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

Forest bathing is a practice of being present, opening our senses to receive all of the forest. It isn’t about taking your clothes off to literally bathe. It’s a figurative use of the word, as in to fully bask in the atmosphere. This trail is through the forest at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.  – John Burroughs

Friday, 6pm-8:30pm; Saturday, 7:30am-11:30am *

(6am-7:15am optional start for sitting in meditation at the pavilion.)

Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center (Reflection Riding)

Forest Bathing is a Japanese concept of immersing oneself in the sensory experience of the forest with open awareness and no expectations. Studies in Japan have proven that opening one’s senses to the forest will reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, boost the immune system, and reduce the heart rate.

Join Yong Oh, mindfulness teacher, Dr. Jean Lomino, director of CANC and outdoor educator, and Holli Richey, therapist and herbalist, for this Solstice retreat into the woods where we will experience the life-changing practice of mindfulness in nature. Experience how to be present with the body and senses, and learn how to work with difficult thoughts and feelings which generate greater stress and anxiety. Experience what it is to rest in natural awareness. This is the first of more Mindfulness in Nature retreats to come. Toe first, then full immersion.

Register with Chattanooga Arboretum by Monday, June 17th.  Donation, $25 suggested.

*This is not an overnight retreat.


Perspective is everything

Blue-eyed Mary

Blue-eyed Mary, Collinsia verna

It’s so interesting how context changes our value of something. Today on a bird walk with David Haskell, he mentioned how the beautiful blue jay would be a focus of ecotourism in Costa Rica, but here in the eastern US, it’s a common bird, and thus we often don’t marvel quite so much. Though, Haskell says, its habits are still quite a mystery because its call is usually only far from its nest. When it’s near its nest, the blue jay is silent. Knowing that extra insight–or acknowledged lack of insight–into blue jay behavior, starts to change our perspective of the bird, and how we value it. Now, the blue jay is mysterious.

A similar phenomenon happens with plants. Our value of it can change based on the context. In 2007 when I was with my grandma and aunt in Wheeling, WV, we visited the river park at the Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River. I saw this darling blue and white flower, that at the time I considered some type of violet. It doesn’t grow in GA, where I have mostly lived, and so the beauty drew my attention, and the newness beckoned me to take time to photograph it.

My grandma and aunt patiently waited for me to take pictures, and chuckled at my rear-end sticking up in the air as I knelt down on the ground in this public place.

Later, after I moved to Tennessee, I learned that this is blue-eyed mary, Collinsia verna, not the Viola genus. It’s in the figwort family, or snapdragon family. To Tennesseans and the USDA Plants Database, it’s an endangered plant, which increases it’s sense of value.

The habitat of the blue-eyed mary is moist woods, though the blue-eyed marys I saw in Wheeling, West Virginia were coming up like flowering weeds in a frequently mowed, downtown park lawn in bright sunlight with few trees. Had I been from Tennessee, I might have jumped around a bit, excited and baffled to see this endangered flower in this uncommonly common spot. So, in hindsight I’m jumping around.

I think about how else my perspective influences my value or appraisal of something. Why does scarcity have to often occur for value to be perceived? We value aspects of nature or life when we finally understand that it could and will be otherwise.

Between the sensory awareness of something and the response, is a filter of meaning based on habits of expectation which colors our perspective. The blue jays and blue-eyed marys are only two examples of illustrating the process, but it’s happening every moment. In terms of plants and animals our perception can boil our choices of responses into three options: should I revere and protect this;  should I dislike and destroy this, ie mow, herbicide, shoot, trap, etc; or do I ignore and overlook it. These are sometimes necessary assessments for survival, and sometimes our assessment isn’t based on all the information, ending in unintended consequences. Many times, though, it’s not about survival; it’s simply about habit. And our habits place limitations on our experience. We may neglect to see, hear, smell, taste, touch much of our life fully because of how we categorized our experience.

Being an observer of nature is a gentle way to open our awareness and recognize the automatic associations we attach to our experiences. This is a mindfulness practice that might be more accessible to people rather than jumping into interpersonal and intrapersonal inquisitive awareness. Give it a try in your own backyard. Sit with a dandelion, or an ant, or a blue jay and see what comes up.

File:Blue Jay Ash RWD5.jpg

Spring Ephemeral Walk with TN Valley Chapter of Wild Ones

Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) at The Pocket 3-23-13

Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) at The Pocket 3-23-13

Once a year, we have the opportunity to witness the awakening of the forest floor. This is one of the most obvious times to see how nature is in constant change. The spring ephemerals, so named because of their here-today-gone-tomorrow way of being, rise from the blanket of last fall’s leaves to receive the brief sunlight available before the forest canopy overshadows them. Some of these flowers bloom only for a day. A true schooling in being present and aware awaits the soul that visits the same place day after day from late winter through spring. Join us as we walk along the boardwalk of one of the southeast region’s most spectacular displays of spring ephemeral wildflowers. A waterfall over limestone rock awaits at the end. Hard to leave here without gratitude.

Saturday, April 6th. Meet at 9am at St. Elmo Bi-Lo to caravan to the Pocket. Only open to members of TN Valley Wild Ones, and limited registration. Free.

Wheelchair accessible.   Contact TN Valley Wild Ones to register.

A rare spring beauty of Southern Appalachia

Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia)

Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia)

Beauty is a word for the ineffable. It is a word to describe vast feelings that arise within us when we’re in a meaningful relationship with an experience. Birth and death can be beautiful. A bright moon, a child’s laughter, a shared meal, so much in our day can be beautiful when we’re present to it. When we call something beautiful, we are stating that we are aware of being called to a higher place as a witness in this life.

A flower called me to this highest of places. Though it is not a striking flower, something about its rarity, its subtlety, its survival in adversity gives this Southern Appalachian flower the beauty of empowered presence.

The Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia), or in Gillian Welch’s song Acony Bell, grows in the mountains near the wild and scenic Chattooga River. It can be found in Oconee County, South Carolina, where it gets its name, and also near Highlands, NC, northeast GA, east TN and western VA.

When I saw this plant bloom for the first time on a sunny day in March, I got down on my knees and knelt with it. Another life was here before me. It was a life I wanted to know more deeply. Time passed, yet it didn’t. I continue to call upon the Oconee Bell in my mind’s eye when I need to be reminded of the message of its life and existence.

This flower led me to my favorite Gillian Welch song describing the beauty of its life. This time of year I find myself humming this tune. Hopefully I’ll learn to play it on my hammered dulcimer one day.

The fairest bloom the mountain knows
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which I’ll tell
Known as the brave Acony Bell

Just a simple flower so small and plain
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon

Well it makes its home mid the rocks and the rills
Where the snow lies deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world “Why should I wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away”

And so I’ll sing that yellow bird’s song
For the troubled times will soon be gone

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