guest post and photos by Elaine Breckenridge,
Recently, my husband and I had a very unpleasant encounter with our next-door neighbor over the issue of her barking dog. When left home alone, the dog will bark for hours on end. We wanted to offer our concern for the animal and to share that it was difficult for us. She told us “To mind our own business.” She was abrupt and rude. As we left, I said to my husband, “We need to have compassion for her. She must be an angry and lonely person.” About an hour later, I was anxious and depressed. As I tuned into myself, I realized that the event had left me feeling fearful and powerless. Clearly, this meeting with our neighbor was a catalyst for me to experience unresolved issues from my past.
With that in mind, I got into the car and drove to a nearby nature preserve to walk and to visit one of my favorite trees. Once parked, as I started walking down the path, I prayed that I might be open to receive whatever nature might have to offer me in that moment. Imagine my shock as I approached my tree finding it in a terrible state. One of its huge limbs had been stripped away from its trunk, leaving behind a shocking gash.
After my initial shock, my tears began to flow. Hot tears. How could this be? I found myself speaking to the tree, “I see you. I feel for you. I am sorry for your pain.” Later, I realized I was also speaking to myself, recognizing my own buried pain evoked by the encounter with our neighbor.
But at that moment, as I stood there, I realized that the tree was calm and steady and actually reaching out to me. I had a witness as I released and let go of a layer of pain that I had carried, but, ignored for years. I experienced that the tree was seeing me and was present to me. I was grateful.
In a book called, Forest Bathing by Cyndi Gilbert, she writes, quoting May Sarton, “I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep… Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”
Let it go. Some of us leave childhood with wounds. Others of us experience tremendous losses later in life. Being human is to encounter and experience pain. However, I like the saying, “Pain is inevitable but suffering is not.” Clinging, grasping, holding on, or burying emotions actually intensifies our feelings of fear, anger, sadness, pain. The alternative is to let go. But how do we do that? What spiritual practices can we adopt to help us let go?
Imitating the trees is one example. In Forest Bathing, the author recommends sitting with a tree (especially in the season of autumn) and imagining whatever it is we want to release as one leaf. Imagine the leaf falling to the ground. Say good-bye. As it lands on the ground, imagine it decomposing and providing new energy for the soil. Say goodbye again.
“Autumn is a season that invites us to let go… yes to yield… yes, to die. We are encouraged to let things move in our lives. Let them flow on into some new life form just as the earth is modeling these changes for us.”- The Circle of Life by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiedecker
A friend of mine created her own ritual after the accidental death of her twenty-two-year-old son. She went to a sandy beach on the ocean. She laid on the sand and let the waves caress her body and she imagined her sorrow going out with the tide. She said she felt emptied, dying, and came out of the ocean like a new woman. She said she had to die as a mother and be born again as a childless woman. Since then, she has developed a resilience to live alone and her career as a kindergarten teacher and dancer is bringing her great joy.
Her grief and pain were transformed. “When we discover that we don’t need to be afraid of our pain, that we can stand witness and bear it, we release a tremendous amount of energy for living.” (Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner).
I have been visiting this favorite tree frequently. The limb that was torn from the trunk appears to be diseased. I wonder if the tree is standing taller without the burden of that weight? Looking at the tree from another angle, one can’t help but notice its wound is in the shape of a heart. In my recent journey, I am feeling lighter and more open to life as it unfolds. The tree encouraged me to let go of a dis-eased part of myself. There has been a measure of healing for me, flowing, I believe from the tree’s broken heart.
Letting go is realizing that it does not mean falling into an abyss or into nothingness. We fall into grace, into the divine mystery, into the compassionate arms of God. Ultimately, we let go to fall into divine love which in turn transforms us.
Questions for Reflection
- What spiritual practices have you used to help you let go of grief and pain?
- How has nature helped you in identifying wounds and guide you into healing?
Bio for Elaine
The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge is a recently retired Episcopal priest residing on Camano Island, Washington. She is enjoying nature, caring for two grandsons, taking online classes, and enjoying experimenting with photography.
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