Walking Ashram

From the Druid Path: A Nature-Based Take on the World and Our Place in It

            By Ron Slabaugh, Apprentice, Ancient Order of Druids in America

 

“Nature is God Made visible.”    

   Amma, living Indian Saint

 

I was talking to a friend the other day who is involved with a non-profit organization which was the recipient of some beautiful donated conserved land.

Before the wife of the couple donating the land died, my friend had asked her what she’d like see for this exquisite Green Mountain (Vermont) terrain. “Let me think about it,” she said. Several weeks later he asked if she’d thought about it. “A walking ashram,” she replied.

I said to my friend, “I’ve never heard those two words together.” “Neither had I,” he said.

Spirit in Nature could be considered a “Walking Ashram.” While for some visitors it’s just a place to walk (or snowshoe) through the woods, maybe walk the dog, for many it invites a contemplative mood and functions like an ashram: a place away from the daily toil, where the natural beauty of forest and stream invite and encourage rest and reflection, meditation, quieting, centering, silence, connectedness, peace. This framework is encouraged by the sayings on the trees along the way.

I looked up “ashram” in Wikipedia. It’s a combination of the Sanskrit work for work,  

Shrama with the ‘a’ as a negative. So it’s a place away from work (or daily activities).

I can think of many, many places where I have walked in nature with the intention of a sacred walk. That makes them ‘walking ashrams’ for me. This includes parks, forests, trails, rivers, or a wild patch along the rails.

One aspect of my Druid spiritual practice is to spend regular time in nature. The curriculum calls for quiet, open, noticing time as well as some focusing time where the goal is to notice minutia in nature. I also do a daily ritual called the Sphere of Protection which involves some body movement, invocation of the seven directions--North, South, East, West, Below, Above and Within--four elements, gods and goddesses and some mental imagery. While the ritual may be done inside, I find it much more satisfying to be outside, summer or winter.

So, one doesn’t have to go to India, Japan or California to visit an ashram. One might be available just down the block or at the edge of town or in the backyard.

        PS: The quote beginning today’s post appears along both the Hindu and the Interfaith/Peace Path. Amma grew up Hindu and her ashram, Amritapuia, in Kerala, South India has Hindu trappings but her message is beyond any religion. I brought the quote back from a visit there in early 2016.

 

From the Druid Path: A Nature-Based Take on the World and Our Place in It

    By Ron Slabaugh, President of the Board, Spirit in Nature

    

“Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”

Wendell Berry

 

This quote points to what I believe to be a major issue of our times: how do we let ourselves see all that is going on in the world and not be totally depressed?

 

I became acutely aware of this tension in my life when I began reading the ‘peak oil’ literature (If this term is new to you, try Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over; it’s been called a “peak oil primer”). I see us collectively caught on these two horns.

 

The planet is warming and Arctic ice is disappearing. One hundred year storms are becoming a regular occurrence. Coral reefs are dying, the oceans are acidifying, species are going extinct, forests cut or dying from beetles or other environmental pressure; plastic in the ocean. The climate is destabilized and we have created a way of living that requires more and more resources, more and more energy and produces more and more toxic output. Depressed yet? I could go on; I’m sure you could also add to this list.

Some of what I do and I see society doing, is distract ourselves: “ wait, I’ve got to check my smart phone, have a drink, watch TV, etc.” Not that some of these things can’t be good choices in context, but they can act to keep us from “consider[ing] all the facts,” turning away from what is happening on our one precious planet because it hurts too much to look.

One of the healthier coping things I do is go to nature. It might be my backyard where I have a stone circle, (very Druidic): six stones,the four directions plus Washington, D. C.--need to send energy in that direction--and Orcas Island where I used to live and left a piece of my heart. I also find that working in my garden heals me (or just walking through it). Or I can walk a block from my back door to the Battell Woods, a 225 acre woodlot full of trails, left to us by the local 19th Century publisher and philanthropist, Joseph Battell. Or, better yet, drive fifteen minutes and walk at Spirit in Nature.

While in nature I do various meditative and ritualistic things to feel the connection and to affirm that I AM nature, I am a part of the ecosystem I walk through. I apologize to nature for my own footprint and that of my species and my country (the average per capita carbon footprint in the US is twice the average European footprint); I send love; I listen for messages or any subtle communication from the plants, rocks, sky, moss, stream, birds, etc. And notice the beauty--the incredible beauty--of rocks, trees, streams, sometimes decorated with snow--like it was today. And I am renewed.