I was so mesmerized by the views and the magic created by fog and early sunlight on the hills and yellow fields of the Sonoma wine country that I missed a turn, and ended up almost in Petaluma instead of Glen Ellen. So much for my intention of getting to our destination an hour early to take pics in good light and mystical fog.
That way, though, I discovered the incredible beauty of Hwy 116, all rolling hills of green pastures dotted with cows and sheep. I drive a Mini Countryman with a stick shift, so that was a fun ride! Next time I will take that wrong turn again by mistake on purpose.
Our third Shinrin-Yoku walk of the series was on Saturday, February 21 at Quarryhill Botanical Garden just outside of Glen Ellen. Surrounded by vineyards, this beautiful botanical garden is “one of the pre-eminent Asian botanical gardens globally, featuring one of the largest collections of documented, wild-collected Asian plants in the world.” It is also currently featuring an art exhibition of stunning wood sculptures by artist Bruce Johnson.
A committee of about thirty wild turkeys in all sizes welcomed me as I drove through the access gates, scurrying left and right, bummed at having to delay their scavenging till yet another car had driven past. I arrived still high from the beauty of my ride, and was shocked in getting out of the car as to how cold it was. To think I almost left my coat at home and wore sandals. Yaiks… was it cold! There I was, considering whether slipping on leggings under my skirt would be doable, when I saw Amos walking towards me in cotton shirt, pants and flip flops, obviously freezing.
While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, along with Amos’ clothing reinforcements, we tucked into the little gift shop, where I paid my $10 fee for the day and browsed artistic treasures, of which there were quite a few. Since Veena was not going to join us, Amos invested in a $3 flute that would take the place of the little bell when calling us in.
Warm poncho and socks arrived with Michelle, along with the rest of our group, which was down to an intimate seven for the day. We huddled shivering and enjoyed a first round of Kouign Amann (pronounced queen amaan) pastries I had picked up at the glorious Rustic Bakery in Larkspur on my way up. Chilling fog and buttery pastries made us all want hot coffee, but that was to remain an unfulfilled desire.
The group may have been small, but the energy was definitely the lighter one of people who are happy to come together again. The change in location and scenery had also added to the shift in energy, as the Spirit of Place here was less wild than at Sugar Loaf Ridge. Following Amos, our guide and newly elected Pan Piper extraordinaire, we headed up the garden path (pun intended) and gathered at our first base point near one of the featured sculptures.
We borrowed the only rocks in sight from a nearby water fountain and formed our connecting circle. Eyes closed, Amos’ words became a sort of guided meditation, an inner journey to connect us to the outer landscape we were about to explore from our own inner one. The stones became our grounding, and we once more placed them in a circle, the symbolic portal from which we departed on our first meander. These initial circles are like the opening ceremony of the Shinrin-Yoku and bring focused consciousness to what we are about to do. Without them the experience would not be the same. It also feels that, in that moment, the nature around us receives our intention and responds, co-creating a bubble of intimacy with us that would not be as deep otherwise.
The first invitation was the usual: to slowly walk around breathe, listen, taste the air and observe anything that was moving. Amos was the last to depart as he disbanded our circle in order to return the stones to their original location.
Camera in hand, I entered the zone and started my photo-stroll. Nature had taken a few steps forwards and new growth was everywhere, sometimes obvious, sometimes not so obvious. The slowly rising fog had left behind a sprinkling of mist for the sun to dry.
The winter rains had made the greens really lush, and increasing sunlight revealed all the subtleties in colors, some of them quite surprising. These nature baths are healing and beneficial on so many levels as they involve all our senses, even those we are not aware of having.
Twenty minutes went by in two, and the flute called me away from this stunning plant I was heading to capture in detail. I managed to get only this one shot, intending to return later, but that just did not happen. It is an eyeful, isn’t it?
We gathered to share about what had touched us during our meander, what had called to us and what had occurred to us. The flute doubled as speaking piece for the day. No particular issue had popped up for me to look at and release in the days prior, and I continued to be present and undistracted by anything else. That day was simply one of joyful immersion in the natural beauty around me in the company of my fellow bathers, and that is what I shared.
As we quietly spoke in the circle, other visitors to the garden went past us in one direction, then another, two people, six people in a cart, then three or four more, chatting, with cameras, and generally all caught up by their purpose and faster rhythm. We saw them, of course, but at the same time it felt as if we were invisible, in our own alter-dimensional bubble. It also felt as if we were where these people yearned to be, but did not know how. I for one kept feeling the desire to invite them in, and I now others felt the same as this came up in conversation later.
Gently guided by Amos’ calm invitations, we found ourselves gathered around a budding magnolia plant. Only a few flowers were blooming, but it was filled with buds ready to burst. It was interesting to discover how each flower had a different intensity of fragrance, which increased by the minute as the sun warmed the air. It was as if this plant knew we might be coming and really connected with us, reveling in the attention and love being lavished on her. We were invited to see if we could pick up the plant’s name – and not the official botanical name, but the one the plant was giving out. I kept picking up something with B and L in it, I wanted to say Lulabelle, but it was not quite that well defined so I did not say it out loud as my tongue kept getting tangled around it.
You know how some ideas, some concepts, and even some unfamiliar names and sounds cannot be phrased into words, but only perceived as an inexpressible whole? I think that when we pick up on those, it shows our forgotten ability to communicate telepathically. For me this has often happened in dreams, when I would see someone in front of me who was obviously telling me something but was not really speaking and I could hear no words. Yet I knew exactly what they were intending via thought transfer. Has this ever happened to you? I know this is an ability I am very interested in re-developing, and not just in the dreamtime.
The next invitation was an unusual one. We were to pair off and take turns in becoming photographer and camera. The person who was the ‘camera’ was to close her eyes and allow the ‘photographer’ to guide her to a particular location, plant, bush or other, then ‘focus’ and say: “Camera!” At which point the ‘camera’ was to open her eyes and express with movement what was in front of her eyes, and the photographer was to reproduce the movement, ending up with two people doing some curious dances. Amos and Michelle demonstrated with a touch of parody that induced giggles from us. A little bit like Hula movements, I thought, just funnier.
“Will you be my camera?” Lane said to me.
And off we went exploring. I was camera first and she focused me on some small-leafed and intensely green ground cover that seemed to be everywhere. To me they looked like they were reaching up and basking in the warmth sunlight – as we were, I might add. So I reached up with my arms and made an upward stretching movement that then opened like a flower. Lane mirrored me and the stretching movement felt so good that we repeated it several times.
When it was her turn to play camera, I led her to some tall bushes with branches in pre-spring nakedness. They may have been bare but they were stunning, and the movement inspired was a life-filled shimmy. A beautiful large rock she led me to inspired a more grounded, yet open movement. We were headed to another spot when the flute called us back and Amos invited us to move towards our next gathering place.
I was really enjoying how this Shinrin-Yoku session was different from the others. First the new location, then the new way of exploring and connecting. I like change and I felt that this was both very enjoyable and deeper at the same time. Amos has a calm and grounded way of guiding us and, while drawing from experience, he is open to the inspiration of the moment, thus keeping the practice alive and fresh. I also appreciate the fact that, despite the obvious intimacy with the practice, he does not take himself too seriously, and there is a welcome lack of spiritual melodrama in his approach.
By the way, the little green leaves that were everywhere turned out to be wild strawberry plants. The light-to-shadow ratio was getting too intense for good photos, so I whipped out my iPhone5 to see if a little video by an inexperienced videographer like myself could give you a sense of how many wild strawberries there will be in a couple more weeks. Just click play, the video is short.
We crossed a couple of Asian inspired little foot bridges and reached a sweet spot by the creek. A secondary footpath created a natural circle around another bare plant underneath some taller trees. It was a perfect little nook for us to gather, just off the main trail. Here Amos’ invitation was the one that I think took us all to a deeper level. We were invited to remove our shoes and walk barefoot on the circular moss path three times, once with our eyes open to familiarize, once with our eyes partly closed, and the third time with our eyes closed as much as possible, peeking only to avoid falling.
I had walked barefoot on the beach and around the house many times, but never in a garden or forest. Something about it appealed to a deep-seated part of me, and after lingering in order to take another little video, I took off boots and socks and joined the slow moving circle as we picked our way around the tree.
Just click on the link to view the short video.
I just loved doing this. The feeling of the soft moss and roots under the feet, the coolness of the air…. It all felt familiar on some level, as if my feet remembered doing this before, in another life. As I circled one, two, three times, I started remembering reference points, branches in particular locations, sunnier spots, cooler spots, the sound of the creek from one direction. It became a little bit like a dance. I know other people walked past us on the main path, but we were again tucked away in our own bubble. I was really happy to be there, and to not be one of those people rushing past us, in a hurry to see everything, yet seeing nothing.
The spell continued as we headed for a nearby opening with some picnic tables where we shared some food and talked story. As each one of us spoke organically as we felt inspired, I noticed how, after having shared some of the thoughts and feelings I have written about here, the others completed the picture with their own sharing, expressing the rest of the thoughts and feelings I had yet to complete formed sentences about in my head.
At the beginning of the first day of Shinrin-Yoku, Amos had expressed his interest in seeing how things would develop in doing a series of walks with the same group of people over a period of time. He had never done that before and was interested in the outcome. Well, this group was definitely going deeper, connecting on more profound levels, supported by the natural world around us of which we were, and are, very much a part. Amos acknowledged this in words, and also added how we were naturally moving into the realm of the Seven Sacred Attributes in connecting with nature, and how today we had spontaneously already touched on two of those: energy like electricity in the body, and joy. My radar was up, I was very interested in this and made a mental note to find out more.
As we rested and replenished around the table, one more layer of ourselves was shared. As one of us mentioned a CAT-scan and another medical test she was due for in a couple of weeks, I was inspired to suggest something I had not done in a long time: a Circle of Light for her – if everyone was willing, of course. Everyone was, so that is what we did. We held hands in a circle while I guided them as best as I could remember into pouring healing light and love into our recipient who was standing in the center. I called in our guides, angels, archangels and masters to help us and they circled all around us. The light filled us and poured from our hearts to all her being, filling her up. It then expanded up and all around to enfold us all in a bubble. As we gave healing, we inevitably received healing in return. And that is how it is.
This was something my friends in Italy and I started doing spontaneously for each other when we gathered to explore the mystical realms. We called those gatherings Angelic Soirees, and closed them with Circles of Light. When these soirees first started, in a very serendipitous way, there were no more than five or six of us. At one of the last gatherings I participated in before moving to Hawai’i, the closing circle of Light held almost one hundred. We sometimes did them specifically for each other when we felt the need, but usually we would visualize planet Earth in the center, along with anyone we knew could use some help, and just focused the Light on that.
After I brought the circle to a close, Amos gave us our last invitation for the day, which was simply to wonder for a few minutes and express our gratitude to the nature around us for making us so welcome. Then we regathered for a closing circle before heading back to our cars.
I don’t know if the deeper level of connection or the energy from the Circle of Light, possibly both, with one enhancing the other, but I was on a high for the rest of the day, with oodles of energy radiating from me. I sang along with the music in my iPod all the way home and kept humming the rest of the day; the rest of the week actually, and I am still at it. Good thing the songs in my head change around so I do not get stuck with just one.
The next Shinrin-Yoku, day 4, will be this coming Saturday on the sacred Mount Tamalpais, the Sleeping Maiden I can see from my kitchen window. It is on her slopes that the magical redwood forest called Muir Woods (National Monument) finds its home. Muir Woods is one of my favorite places in the world.
Until the next Shinrin-Yoku.
Read about the other walks in this series by clicking on the links below:
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For more information about the practice of Shinrin-Yoku and on how to become a guide click here.