I’ve been dilly-dallying an awfully long time getting this newsletter out but who can blame me? I've been enjoying my favourite time of year, a time of waking up to the joyous sound of birdsong and taking leisurely walks to photograph the blossoming trees and flowers. And besides, spring herself has dilly-dallied too this year, although she's certainly made up for her tardiness by dazzling us with one of the most exuberant and long-lasting shows of beauty in distant memory. And what a show it has been!
Nature has been unfolding new life at every turn, painting swaths of fresh green across the landscape and dotting them with splashes of cherry blossom and magnolia. In gardens, vibrantly coloured tulips, daffodils plus a host of other flowers have been popping up everywhere. And the abundance of lilac, that fragrant and stalwart flowering bush that lines many a fence row and country laneway, would surely bring a smile to the lips of the far-thinking farmer’s wives who planted them so long ago.
In the forests there have been other treasures of the wild variety – unfurling fiddleheads, magical clusters of trillium starring the grass beneath the trees like fairies dancing, the even rarer lily-of-the-valley whose heady scent beckons one off the beaten path in search of them.
Then there are the bright yellow faces of marsh marigolds in the wetlands and delicate apple blossoms gone rogue among the hedgerows, sprung out of seeds carried on the winds from a far-off orchard.
In the presence of so much abundance, it is imperative to soak up every precious moment of this magical beauty and joy, especially in a human world seemingly gone mad with politics, violent acts and natural disasters. To hold our centre amidst the frenzy of so much bad news is a challenge, to say the least.
What can help us hold to that centre is taking time for “slow-walking”; not running or power walking through life, and not, like I see so many people doing far too often, with ear buds in, blasting loud music that overrides the natural music of birdsong. The kind of walking I’m referring to is “zen” walking, with frequent stops to allow the senses to open and meditatively receive whatever sight, sound or scent is being presented at that moment. As Anne Marie Walsh says of walking in nature:
“My eyes perceive the delicacy of forms, letting them be as they are, no thought, no judgement, no science, no art: just lingering with these manifest things … All in their own silence somehow seem to reveal to my silence their infinite variety and fecundity, the hand of great Artistry.”
Our habitual ways of perceiving, which undoubtedly help us navigate important things like stopping at a red light, too often stand in the way of really seeing what is around us. In an increasingly fast-paced world, the logical left side of our brain is now so occupied with accumulating more and more information that it forgets to take time for gazing on the simple beauty, patterns and shapes our intuitive right brain craves.
We could learn much from the Christian monastic practice of Lectio Divina
(Latin for "Divine Reading") which is the contemplation of scripture in a meditative and prayerful manner. The art of Lectio
is about listening for whatever word or image “shimmers” or stands out at any given moment. It is also a way of inviting us to slow down and see all of life as a sacred text, ripe with beauty and the possibility of hidden wisdom. Birdsong can make for the perfect Lectio divina
but bearing witness to all the visual beauty this time of year is Visio divina
, “sacred seeing”.
In Nature’s “shimmering” blossoms and colours there is the potential for so many gifts and, if we but expand such sacred seeing to include all aspects of our daily living, no matter how mundane those may be, just imagine what it would be like to move through the hours, taking the time to watch and listen in a deliberate manner, waiting to receive moments of revelation and taking time to savour them when they appear.
We are so used to constantly analyzing and judging, bringing our expectations to each encounter, planning for the next step ahead while paying little attention to the one we are currently taking. It’s not always easy to make ourselves fully present to the “now”, to draw on our intuition and innate wisdom, rather than society’s over valued logic and analysis, to see what is most true for us … and only us. Such heart-centered knowing can only be had through mindful and continuous practice.
Whenever we take the time to stop and contemplate a beautiful flower or a lush landscape, it becomes a window of opportunity, an opening, however slight, out of the mundane and into the realm of spirit. The ethereal and transient quality of a flower or the way light and shadow dances across a meadow can entrance and captivate us, if we allow it, often taking our breath away with its sacredness.
When we truly appreciate the bursting forth of leaf and blossom we are also acknowledging that which helps bring it forth, the tender care of many a nature spirit. In earth-based and indigenous traditions, it is the task of nature spirits, or devas,
as they are sometimes called, to help birth the original blueprint of a particular flower, shrub or tree into its individual physical manifestations. In other words, devas
are the spiritual caretakers of plants and flowers, assisting them to germinate, grow and develop into the most perfect expression of themselves.
These nature spirits are channeling the initiating impulse of Creation which has been described by many spiritual traditions as the first Light, Thought, Sound or Breath, an outflow of creative energy from the One Source. And from the One comes the Many. The creative impulse is stepped down into progressively slower frequencies of the original primordial energy, ending finally with materialization in the physical realm. At the lowest or densest frequency are the physical forms that bring us such joy, like flowers.
This stepping down is not about creating a hierarchy though but rather a flowing continuum of unfoldment, like the notes on a musical scale. The frequencies that help midwife this process are the mystical Beings we know as Faeries, Nature Spirits, Devas and Elementals.
I often make offerings or express gratitude to these spirits that look after the trees and flowers, acknowledging the incredible job they do of creating not only a safe place for the plants under their care to flourish, but also sacred spaces for us humans to enjoy, spaces often referred to by the Greek term, temenos
, which can be both a physical space or a psychological one.
For example, the symbol of the circle or a mandala
, the primary basis of most of my art and my practice, is a type of temenos
, a safe place to artistically and symbolically express one’s self. And a particularly special grove of maples at a local park is a living, physical temenos
, not only for the wild trillium growing profusely among the tree roots, but also for the many chipmunks, birds and other wild folk who make their home there.
From the psychological standpoint, a temenos
is a means of protecting the centre of our personality from being pulled apart from within or being overly influenced from without. So, is it any wonder that slow-walking in nature, observing the perfection of her many mandala forms – the flowers, a maple grove, a bird’s nest – helps create a sacred boundary for the soul. Whatever quintessential safe place we go to in order to feel comfortable and at peace is our temenos
are the wild edges of Nature. They are what keeps me whole and grounded, focused on the here and now, each and every day. They are what bring me back into balance and harmony with the song of the earth by providing simple enchanting moments, like those in a certain magical maple grove. Once discovered, such a temenos
must be nurtured and protected with our own devas
of body, mind and spirit.
When we cultivate this mindful practice of quietly paying attention to Nature’s gifts - to what shimmers and calls to us, to what invites us into its sheltering sacred space - our own heart begins to vibrate and bloom forth to meet it.
We then find ourselves more able to look with compassion upon anything that may cross our path during the day – both the delightful and the unsettling. And then we are better able to simply receive without needing to always figure things out. We begin to follow the thread of moment by moment revelation, not knowing where it leads or even needing to know, but simply answering its call to walk with awareness and see in a sacred manner.
My studio is a temenos that provides nurturance, not just for my own creative endeavours but for those of my students. So take a peek at the workshops I have coming up this summer that will allow you to enjoy a little bit of this sanctuary yourself for a few hours.
You can also pick up one of my new colouring calendars of twelve different mandala designs, one for each month, which will take you meditatively and creatively through a year of Nature’s berries, buds and blooms. Be sure to get your copy at the studio before they are all gone.
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May you enjoy the dance!