Sanctuary for Humanity’s first half-day nature retreat was a smash hit—despite the low enrollment. This intimate group allowed for more personal interaction, making the event truly one of connection, which was the theme for the day.
The event began at our meeting place at 10:00 a.m.—Flying J’s in Ripon, on Highway 99. It was a discovery moment for the participants who live north of Stockton. Unless you live in the area, you probably haven’t heard of Ripon—a small town nestled in the agricultural lands of the Central Valley. And for those of us who commute along the 99 corridor and are in need of caffeine, Flying J’s is a familiar friend.
After purchasing a few necessities, (snacks) we drove the short 15-minute route through orchards, vineyards, and fields to our destination: Caswell State Park on the Stanislaus River. This magnificent landscape is one of the last remaining riparian forests in the Central Valley. The sunny 80 degree weather was perfect for our outdoor agenda, and surprisingly, there were few people at the 285 acre park that day.
The first task upon arrival was to select a special spot for our altar and blankets and to set our individual intentions for this day. My intention was to experience a retreat from the perspective of a guide or facilitator and to learn more about how I can help others connect with their deeper selves and with the natural world. When the participants, Jessica and Vannak, expressed their personal intentions, the words differed but the intentions were the same: this was a day just to be. They expressed that their lives are hectic throughout the work week, and on weekends obligatory occasions also create a sense of constant doing. Today would be a special time for an awareness of being.
With our intentions set, our next goal was to set up the altar. We explored the nearby landscape to find an object from the natural world that called to us in a special way.
Exquisite treasures were found, and when we regrouped at our site, we took turns sharing how the object called to us and what it represented in our lives. (I will let the participants comment about these objects if they choose.)
To get the chi flowing through our bodies from the natural world around us, we participated in 20 minutes of Qigong. Qigong, pronounced “chee” (life force) + “gung” (skill), is an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been scientifically documented to aid in stress reduction and overall wellness. Because Qigong includes both sitting and standing versions, it can be performed by almost anyone and is an excellent low impact exercise. Eastern cultures use Qigong as moving meditation, and this can be beneficial for many Westerners who find it too difficult to sit in meditation (because they are so used to our culture of constant doing).
We practiced the Eight-Form Moving Meditation and were amazed at the palpable energy that flowed through us after this short session. The video at the link below offers a three-minute introduction to the benefits of the moving meditation followed by a 35-minute guided session. The video can also be downloaded to your own computer for offline viewing. A separate printable copy of the instructions is available on the website.
The Qigong Institute is a great resource that provides free sample movements on video and access to lots of great information.
After Qigong we were hungry, so we ate our lunch to nourish our bodies, and we shared in conversation to nourish our souls. It didn’t take long for the walking paths to call us, so we prepared for the intentional walk by participating in the Web of Life Meditation.
With our hearts and minds open to how this intentional walk was to be different than a walk for exercise, we headed toward Fenceline Trail. As we reached the portal to our walk, we stopped and set our intention to walk in mindfulness and with a sense of connection to all beings around us.
The one-hour walk was lovely! The birdsong was enchanting, and the rustling of unseen creatures along the path made us highly aware that we walked through the homes of others. The river was much higher than the last time I walked here in May—in fact, there was no sand beach as there is normally. Along our walk we found a great meditation spot right above the river and vowed that we would return next time to meditate here.
At one point in our walk we decided to explore a path I hadn’t taken before. About half way to our destination, the path was overgrown with berry bushes. The thorns were merciless, and in a few minutes we found ourselves crouched near the ground trying to untangle ourselves. Vannak and I learned the hard way that the berry bushes weren’t as dangerous as the stinging nettle—which when touched in just the right way create a burning sensation and itchy bumps on the skin. It’s funny. We were so concerned about avoiding the large stands of poison oak that we were not aware of the nettle. I reminded myself later that night when the tingling sensations continued that the riparian forest had given me a souvenir of my journey—and an important lesson. Not only must I walk in reverence; I must also walk in knowing how to walk on the land. I have much to learn.
At the end of the walk as we returned back to the portal to reenter our normal lives, we paused in gratitude and with the understanding of our connection with all life. Mary Oliver’s poem “The Sun” seemed perfect for the moment of gratitude and as a reminder that we had a role to play in healing our world.
Each of us has distinctive gifts to bring to the world. Your special strengths will allow you to do something no one else can do. You may not see the path very clearly yet, but the knowledge of it is within you. This knowledge will unfold now, more and more with each step you take. Take a moment to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and feel in the core of your being the strength of an intention that compels you. What are the blessings that you can offer to the world on this sacred day?