Night in the Forest
Photo by Belinda Towns
these people with
me in this forest.
Yet here, in my little clearing,
it may as well just be me,
the trees and the wind.
want to continue my exploration of aspects of the sacred. Previously,
I explored these in the act of tree-planting, this time, I would like
to focus on the night in the forest that we spent at Moora Moora. I had
begun to write this piece in a formal way, using my journal as a guide.
However, this formal style did not feel right. The night had
been poetic and sacred and I wanted to give a sense of that in the writing.
The clearing in the Cathedral forest, and its effect on me, needs to be
explicitly present in this piece as I reflect more abstractly on aspects
of the sacred. I will therefore include excerpts from my journal to guide
my writing and to provide the poetry. Where appropriate, I will break
in and attempt to link the writing to the over-arching themes and discussions
The peaceful little glade that I found in the forest with the
tall, slender and wand straight eucalypts and the stunted, grass-monster
trees and occasional bracken held me lightly, with little interest
and connection, but seemed happy to move over and give me room to
spread out my bedding and light my candle ...
... a sense of letting go of the problems and work which
had gripped me over the last few weeks. A sense of rest and gathering
of strength to face them in the next week. A stilling of the mind
and preparing. I thought a little of love, of family, of work, of
study, and of future. A sense of gratitude for the things which I
have and the work which I found ...
preceding this night had been grim. Deadlines and timetables clouded
my vision and were crammed in my mind. I had glimpsed the mountains
of work ahead of me and they filled me with a kind of fear and inaction.
I needed time away. Time to clear my mind and to regenerate. The night
in the forest was sacred because it provided sought after opportunity
to escape. A sacred wedge of time to gather strength and
to think of something other than work and study. On the Monday morning,
as I viewed the mountains ahead, I was filled with greater strength
and energy than before. The challenges were there to be enjoyed, not
Perhaps this aspect is among the among the primary reasons why we call
time alone in nature sacred. We are removed from the stress and chaos
of social life. We are given a chance to sort through the confusion
of our minds and once again find our feet. We clear spaces in our minds,
gain insights and understanding, and generate fresh energy, motivation
and dreams for whatever lies ahead.
I wanted to just sit and feel the changing of the light, the
forest smell, the sounds of birds going to sleep and others waking up,
the insects, to watch the tiny spider struggle to weave a web attached
to my sleeping bag and to, with nervous fascination, observe a leech
tumble across my tarp. with some mysterious business to attend ...
... without a watch or other people around, there was a timeless sense
to the place. With this sense, there was also a feeling of time actually
moving forward but measured by other things than watches and
social timetables the fading out of the forest at dusk and the
trees fading back in at dawn, the movement of the moon across the sky,
the burning down of my candle, the sounds of night insects appearing
and then disappearing. A more natural rhythm ...
people were within shouting distance, there was no-one close by to offer
distraction. Often social connections and tensions distract the mind
and the gaze from Earth. A night such as this becomes sacred because
it allows for focus on, and contact with, the Other. Our minds uncluttered
by talk, social demands and interactions, we are freed to observe the
movements and doings of plants and animals. To read messages in the
swaying of the trees, in the dying sunlight playing on eucalyptus trunks.
To quest for visions in our own lives by observing theirs.
I thank [the leeches] for being humble little remainders that there
are things out there that are not over-awed and fearful of our magnificence
as all powerful lords of creation. That to some things, I am still a
meal and they are quite mindless in their determination to get at me.
And that the fear and anticipation of something can stifle and prevent
are reminded again of our biology and of our place in ecological networks,
of our place in food chains. This change in perspective is humbling
and very necessary. Sacred time alone in the forest reminds us that
we are part of a greater whole which breathes in as we breath
out and, by breathing out, allows us to breath in.
While this night was an individual time, with nature as silent teacher,
there also were glimpses of what sacred times like this do to social
connections. There was a heightened sense of group support and togetherness
throughout the weekend. Even though our times in the forest were alone,
activities before and after served to enhance and deepen bonds between
people. Group meditations, a simple lunch, an extensive briefing by
experienced elders, open discussions of the sacred - social
structures and activities given meaning by time spent alone in the wilderness.
The eagerness of people to both share their experiences and listen to
the experiences. The Sunday morning hugs, smiles and words of affirmation.
This writing, to some extent, makes the night seem sacred in hindsight.
By reflecting on its impact on myself and on the social connections
within the group, the sacredness of such a time becomes even more apparent.
During the night itself, sweating in my sleeping bag, waiting for the
next leech to slither onto my neck, there was no often sense of sacred
at all. But now, when I compare my feelings and emotions to what they
were a week ago, when I think back the joyful group expression of thanks
during the Sunday morning Ceremony, the night becomes sacred. Perhaps
it is only after the event that we truly recognise its affect and sacredness.
After these musing on aspects of sacred and their more immediate impacts
on myself and other people, the question of their long-term impact remains.
Should these be one-off times of regeneration and renewal, or should
we be seeking them out on a regular basis? How are our lives changed
and how long does this change remain? Where is the line between an(other)
exploitation of nature this time to meet physiological needs
and a meaningful deepening of commitment to living sustainably
and lightly on Earth?
How is our activism for Gaia affected? Or is this just another feel
good thing that our emotionally starved society does for stimulation?
How can we be reminded of this before we sink back into deadlines, work,
I rode to work today and thought of my full diary and meetings, my minds
eye turned back to the little clearing and I again saw the tall slender
trees, the trunks lit by moonlight, the swaying canopy revealing and
obscuring a starry sky