It’s early morning and I am enjoying my coffee in the great Boreal forest of Canada: a forest that spans across much of Canada, all the way from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains. It includes many lakes and rivers and is made up of Aspen, Birch and Spruce and other coniferous trees. However, most impressively, the forest hosts many different animals such as moose, caribou, deer, bear, lynx, wolves, coyotes, beaver and many more. It is a rich, vibrant and diverse ecosystem and I am lucky to say that I was born on this land, and with the exception of one or two years, I have made and continue to make an annual pilgrimage here.
It reminds me of the poem ‘My Cathedral’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Like two cathedral towers these stately pines
Uplift their fretted summits tipped with cones;
The arch beneath them is not built with stones,
Not Art but Nature traced these lovely lines,
And carved this graceful arabesque of vines;
No organ but the wind here sighs and moans,
No sepulchre conceals a martyr’s bones.
No marble bishop on his tomb reclines.
Enter! the pavement, carpeted with leaves,
Gives back a softened echo to thy tread!
Listen! the choir is singing; all the birds,
In leafy galleries beneath the eaves,
Are singing! listen, ere the sound be fled,
And learn there may be worship without words.
For me, returning to Lake Athapapaskow is like going to church.
This morning, I am sitting in a camp chair, watching a Spruce hen (much like a partridge) leading her chicks through the undergrowth in search of a breakfast of grubs. There is a family of eagles who are nesting nearby, as well as countless ravens, so she must always be on guard.
Interestingly, in my stillness as I watch her go about her day, she has come to know that I am not a threat. When I first arrived and saw her little family, she clucked and puffed and let me know to stay away. Now, she is near enough oblivious to me.
This got me thinking about all of the things that we notice when we become the observer, when we spend some time in the mode of simply being in silence. When I touch in with the forest in this way, I watch the hen and her flock. I see their daily routine, and because I am simply sitting in silence, they are not threatened and go along their merry old way, happy to do what they do as they pass through my little patch of forest.
This is much the same when we sit in meditation and become the observer of our thoughts. When we spend some time in the silent mode of being. Our thoughts drift in, do their thing and move on without concern. However, when we make ourselves known and start to involve ourselves, our thoughts cluck and puff and become much noiser.
How wonderful it has been to have this meta meditation with the forest; this practice session where I can become the observer who sits in stillness, curious and grateful for the beauty of all that I see. Interestingly once again, I can also marvel at the grandeur of the circling eagle and know that she is simply doing her thing, searching for breakfast and hoping that mother hen’s guard is dropped.
This ecosystem supports itself- a simple fact of life: the grubs that feed on the soil in the undergrowth get eaten by the Spruce hen and her chicks; the chicks then get eaten by the eagle. It reminds me of the different thoughts that pass through my mind. There is beauty and there is pain. Yet, when watching the forest, I do not place one above the other. While I find the Spruce hen and her chicks a sweet and peaceful image, I do not judge the eagle who wants to disturb the scene. She is simply trying to feed her own babies. Pain and suffering is connected to joy and peace- you can’t have one without the other.
If only I could meet the thoughts in my mind with the same neutrality. What would that be like? Can I meet the varying images, thoughts, imaginings of my mind with the same attitude that they are simply a fact of life?
So, for this week’s challenge- when we sit in meditation, can we apply this forest analogy to our thoughts as we witness them? Can we see our minds as an ecosystem filled with interdependent thoughts and emotions? Some are pleasant and peaceful while others are dramatic and painful. Can we meet them with a curiosity and the reassurance that all of these thoughts are simply a fact of life? Interdependent on one another.
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