A Night in the Forest
byMark Boulet
Photo by Belinda Towns

All 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.

I 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 of ‘Sacred’.

... 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 ...

The weeks 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 feared.

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 ...

While 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 meaningful action…

We 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, and smog?

As I rode to work today and thought of my full diary and meetings, my mind’s 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…