Solitude & Silence of the Winter Forest

“Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others I am beginning to discover. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through solitude.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

It’s January 1991. I am a young 30-year-old wife and mom of two little boys who are 10 and 7.

I am just waking up. It is barely sunrise outside; I am looking out the window from a cozy bed in a cabin with no running water or electricity; I am in blissful heaven. I am alone in the woods at a Monastery called Nova Nada. I have been here before. I see my breath in the billows of steam as I exhale into the chilly morning air, even though I am toasty warm underneath all these blankets. I finally get up the nerve to crawl out of bed to the wood-burning stove. I put a few small logs onto the now small amount of hot coals on the bottom and open the draft. I soon hear the crackling of the wood catching fire as the flames are fanned by the air blowing on the coals through the draft. Ooooh, the heat feels good on my face and hands. Soon the tiny room is warm again. I get dressed and go to the well and draw some cold crystal spring water. I had forgotten to do this last evening before I went to bed. I love the sound of the bucket as I draw it back up the well as it hits the stones on the way up. I run inside with my splashing cold water, wash up, and make myself a hot cup of herb tea and toast for breakfast.

Sitting here at this small table, I gaze out the window and watch the snow outside floating gently down to the ground; I am still mesmerized long after my tea is cold. Later, I walk through the woods along a well-worn path; If the trees could talk, they would have many tales to tell. There are some older trees here that have seen many generations in this forest. Each step feels like I am on holy ground. The ground is sacred because, first and foremost, nature is sacred no matter where I am, but secondly, it feels holy today because I am feeling the presence of God’s love everywhere. The only thing I hear on occasion is the jarring crunch when I step on some hardened snow. This stillness is settling deep inside me.

I love my family and friends dearly, yet I love time alone in silent prayer and reflection. Here at Nova Nada in the winter, stillness lends itself to a kind of silence that goes deep inside me. When it is extra cold like today, snow blankets the ground; there is no wind or sound. The hardwood trees are bare in contrast to the evergreens that are especially green in the winter against the backdrop of the snow. Most woodland creatures are tucked away in the trees or dug in the earth, snuggled in the nesting material that keeps them warm. The stillness is vibrating in my body. It may sound strange; this silence is almost deafening.

There is a silence here that opens up the heart and soul if I allow it. It was here that I began this love affair with silence. A silence that at times gave me great joy and a sense of inner peace I had never felt before. But this silence was also and can still be painful at times because I am alone with my thoughts.

“Solitude can be frightening because it invites us to meet a stranger we think we may not want to know-ourselves.” Melvyn Kinder

Sometimes it takes time and practice to be alone in our thoughts. In time though, I began to hear the song of my soul over the loudness of my “monkey mind” self-deprecating thoughts and childhood memories; that is when great healing began.

When I came home, I started to create snippets of time in silence. I would walk on the beach or in the woods for silent reflection. Some mornings I would rise before my family, even just for 15 min and later created a prayer room. Once I understood the importance of silence for me, it became a regular part of my life.

During that time of my life as a young mom, I began to voraciously read and listen to books and poetry by Mystics from different religions, spiritual teachers and inspiring everyday people from all walks of life. The first book I listened to at Nova Nada was “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. One of my favorites, the message this book left me, was life-changing. She was a young mom of six who went away to a private beach for a retreat alone. It was where she began to write this book.

“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

This lesson was almost unheard of in my time as a young mom. To me, my essence is my soul song. I began to hear it in the silence of the winter forest.

I also found like-minded friends at Nova Nada who were on the journey of living ordinary lives in extraordinary love-filled ways. I am glad to say some of whom became lifelong friends. These kinds of people have lifted me, inspired me and helped me grow and quite frankly get over myself on days I need to soften my hard edges. I worked hard over the next few years as my children grew. I went into therapy for a few years, went on many group therapy Shalom retreats and later trained to become a Shadow Life Coach. These collectively taught me to let go of most of the pain of my childhood, forgive myself and those who had harmed me. I found contentment for many years long after our sons were grown and had families of their own. Life will still give us plenty of opportunities to grow, and it certainly did for me. The ebb and flow of life continues as long as we are alive.

In recent years, after coming out of my dark night of the soul, I began time in silence again with a gradual practice. I started by guided meditations and then later sitting 5 minutes in silence, and that increased over time until I could easily sit for 20 minutes. Or simply walking outside for a short distance without headphones on. By doing so, my heart expands and with it so does my eyes and ears. There is a awareness in my body that I was numb because of so much time numbing myself with food or in front of a screen. When I just stayed present on my walks, I began to see things in nature that I had not noticed in many years again. Also becoming the observer of my thoughts in the beauty of nature began a profound shift back to my soul song .

Today because of my knees, I can’t walk very far or sit on the ground, but each day I once again find much of my day is in silence again, even doing my daily chores. I love listening to a summer rain or the songbirds in the morning or simply gazing at the trees as they sway back and forth in the wind while at the table eating my meals. Silence and nature have helped me remember what I had forgotten and has brought me peace of mind once again.

“The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigor and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.” John O’Donohue

This magical property is no longer a monastery but is now known as Birchdale. You can still walk this sacred ground of large older forest and quaint cabins, for more information visit www.birchdalelake.com

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