The waning moon has sunk into the sea,
and the leaves of the fig tree tremble
in the zephyr come to rustle
the darkness from this mild winter night.
All across this mountain,
through a sunny autumn
and into a dry December,
leaves cleaved to their life-sustaining branches
beyond all reason,
now a storm is coming.
Raindrops patter on the roof
like the footsteps of exiles,
but then retreat.
Not yet! Not yet!
For a moment the wind holds its breath.
Hills and coastal plains thirst in silence,
and fading leaves await the fateful tug.
All day long clouds flirt with the sun,
and sometimes their private laughter
spills showers from above,
but the deluge does not come.
Instead, across sky and sea,
past fig leaves fluttering in the afternoon breeze,
through the window of my cell at New Camaldoli,
a sunbeam finds my notebook and me.
Leaf shadows dance a mad jig on the wall,
but a poet’s in the spotlight:
the page aglow tells it all.
Title from the poem “Mindful” by Mary Oliver.
When I am in nature, I don’t think in words and commas or feel guilty for not being good enough. The forest asks nothing of me, nor does the ocean require an answer when the waves roll to shore. Yet nature seems to offer something for nothing. In the forest I have found holy writ and homily, absolution and communion. Trees soothe my soul in the intangible way that reading a poem by Rumi or listening to the Moonlight Sonata does.
Now, before you accuse me of getting all poetic and gooey, let me point out that many studies have shown that nature is an antidote to the stress of modern life, and forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, is now a thing. The Atlantic and Mother Earth News have published articles about it, and you can even get certified as a Forest Therapy Guide!
Yesterday I sat for half an hour in a friend’s garden. A pair of butterflies danced concentric circles in the air, and aspen leaves fluttered in the breeze like a baby giggling when her feet are tickled. Water murmured sweet nothings to the world as it trickled from a fountain, and all around desire burst forth: of roots for damp earth and of leaves for light. In every moment this desire was quenched and arose again.
The forest vibrates with desire, as does your own backyard. Just looking out the window at trees can deliver the benefits of shinrin-yoku, but it’s best to go outdoors. Breathe the same air as the trees, take in their greenness with all your senses, let the same delicious light touch your thirsty skin. When you put your feet in contact with that same earth where roots are questing, you can breathe in beauty and exhale peace.
Get out and get under a tree!