Updated: Mar 6
As part of the retreat I was on earlier this month we were invited to take a nature quest. This was our non-zoom time to dive into a practice, to bring insight, with the invitation for that insight to be shared on our return.
Two hours in nature with the questions ...Who am I? and ...What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create?
The reason I'd booked the retreat was to have a wee bit of time, before returning to work, to connect with myself and what I wanted to bring into 2021, to consciously move in 2021, so it felt perfect.
As I understand it the practice of a nature quest is to ask questions and to see what you notice in nature, what 'answers' come... a conversation with nature as it were. It's one I've done a few times, but I realised, as the day unfolded, I could do more often!
We were invited... to find or create a gateway of some kind that would act as a portal as we stepped through onto our quest, marking stepping from the ordinary into the sacred. We were encouraged to talk to nature, to tell her what we were doing and ask for her help... to be give a gift, an offering for nature... to get playful with the experience.
At the time of the quest, after over a week of glorious clear, cold, bright winter days, it was pouring and windy bringing rain of a variety particular to the Hebrides... horizontal!
Having thought about where I wanted to go and packed a woolly hat (to swap for the cap keeping the rain from my eyes if I got cold), a flask of tea, a packet of tissues in my bag and with my journal and a gift for nature in my pocket, I wrapped up, put my hood up and tied it so only the smallest part of my face was exposed and set off...
I began at the standing stone, leaving my gift there, calling in the ancestors and speaking out the intent of my quest to nature, asking for her help.
As I asked the question 'Who am I?' I turned into the weather to feel the full force of it and immediately the answer 'The elements' came. I am the elements- just as nature - I am nature!
Wow! I'd not even found my gateway, my portal yet!
As I walked down the slope from the stone, I noticed reeds growing along the roadside with a gap in them... the gap became my portal as I stepped through and onto the road, turning right, into the wind and down the hill.
The reason I chose this walk was for a particular tree... the trees are calling to me at the moment and there are very few trees on this walk, but the tree I was called to visit is so beautiful... she's the Goddess dancing... that's what her form reminds me of. As I came towards her I wanted to go to her so I crossed the steam and as I approached her noticed how her form shifted and changed.
I noticed her branches, the verdant green moss on her and how she stretched over the running stream, reminding me of a tree I loved as a teenager which also stretched over a stream... where I used to go and spend time alone. There was a feeling of relief of coming home to have found this new version of that.
As I stood with her, I felt compelled to lean into her, to hug her. A strong feeling of sadness came and I was annoyed at myself for not bringing more gifts and perhaps for gifting so quickly to the stone, perhaps I was meant to gift the Goddess. But then I decided I could gift her... a song, so I stood with the wind whipping around me and sang to her. As I stroked along the moss of her trunk, I asked if she had anything for me and some of the moss and bark peeled away... I took it, thanking her and began to make my way back to the road. As I walked away I turned back and spoke the words 'dance beautiful' and then questioned was I speaking to her or she speaking to me?
And as I continued on my path pondering 'who am I?' the Goddess... the dancer... the dance... all came to me and I sang "dance dance wherever you may be, I am the Goddess of the dance said she..."
I had an awareness I was in a vast glen with an expansive view, but it was restricted by my hood and my cap... who am I? A vast expanse of which I have only a very limited perception.
The water ran down a channel along the road, having made an impromptu stream... who am I? the channel through which all life flows.
Oooh! This was fun!
My next encounter was with a rock. As with the Goddess Tree, I felt called to go closer and crossed the water. I had thought it was painted white but when I reached it realised it was lichen. I asked the stone who am I but no answer felt forthcoming. I stayed a while, hugged the rock, and then returned to the road, but felt like my encounter wasn't yet over. There was something unfinished. I realised I'd not made an offering and so chanted a mantra, complete with body prayer (and just in case you're wondering, yes I made a few furtive glances around to check i wasn't observed... getting more comfortable being in nature in this way, but still think people will think I'm mad!).
As soon as I did, I saw a young boy's face in the rock I'd not seen before. It was as if he were laying down on the earth facing up at the sky. Who am I? I'm not sure what the answer was here... but something else felt revealed... about the reciprocity of nature (more about that later).
I continued and came across an 'iceberg'... the surface of a pool at the roadside had been frozen, but with the rain had come a bit of a thaw and the thick sheet of ice had slipped into the water. The majority visible under the water with the top of the 'iceberg' above. It felt like it reinforced the message I'd had about having being the expansiveness but only having a limited perception... I see only the tip of the iceberg of all I am! As we all do!
A little further along the road was the place I'd decided I'd shift to my second question. There was a gate which took me up onto a track to circle back around.
Directly opposite the gate was a rock... as if placed there intentionally... I perched with my back to the wind and rain to make some notes in my journal (my rain soaked paper became crinkly, but my pencil written words survived).
I gave thanks for the journey so far with the question... who am I? and stepped through the gate into the next part of the journey...
Through the gate and into question two... What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create?
And then I remembered the sheep! Every time I walk through this gate the sheep think they're being fed and come from far and wide! They followed me up the path for a while... what does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? Followers? But sheep? When I later shared this with someone else on the retreat she said what really struck her was this was my 'flock' as a minister!
OK... back to the path... the sheep wandered off after a while, which I was pleased about, because its disconcerting to be followed by dozens of sheep!
I came across an abandoned house, no roof, broken down walls. I entered through the doorway, still with its lintel and wondered what this encounter was about? What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? Home was what came. I thought of the property renovation I've done over the years. How we used to see buildings all the time and think how we'd renovate them but how we don't do that so much these days. I want to help people find home in themselves... come home to themselves. Also as I reflect now I realise that entering the house was also a metaphor for being able to sit in the apparent brokenness whilst holding the vision of wholeness.
Up the hill, with the occasional glance overhead to see if the eagle I've seen around here was out...not today. I welcomed in Eagle, my spirit animal to be with me on my journey.
Just as I was about to turn left on the path, I saw the spring ahead and continued up to it. Not much to look at... a big concrete box enclosing the ground where the water bubbles up, but I've often wondered if the abandoned church not far from this spot was built because this was already a sacred place... this well perhaps being the original place of worship.
Again I felt drawn to walk right up and lean over to look inside the concrete trough. What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? Silence. No message? I remembered my experience with the white boy's face rock and stood and gifted the spring a song. Again I asked... what does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? And this time I noticed all that was growing inside. Was that watercress? Growth was my answer. I thanked the well and turned back onto the path.
As I walked I laughed at myself for missing the most obvious answer... healing! Wells have always been places of healing. Healing feels a big part of my journey past, present and future!
As I scanned for the eagle again I noticed birds I hadn't seen before, seagulls. I watched their aerial acrobatics noticing they didn't fight the wind but allowed it to take them... What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? Surrender.
I came across another gate. I had a feeling that not long ago this gate sat in the field untethered by fences, that it was just a gate, but now it was joined into a fence, keeping the sheep from following me further! What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create?
...A gateway... a portal to a new world. If you've read my recent posts you'll know I'm longing for this shift to a new world... a new way of being!
And as I headed back towards the standing stone I noticed the track I was walking had 2 paths running parallel... What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? The path... the way... not a way determined by me, but a path determined by those who I'll join on the journey... their path, with space for me to walk alongside them.
As I circled back around to the standing stone just an hour and a half later, I was cold, soaked to the skin, tired and ready for a cuppa... What does my heart most deeply desire to express or create? Warmth... comfort... welcome...
I was ready for home, but first wanted to go back up to the standing stone, to survey the path I'd walked to contemplate the journey, to thank all that had been present with me. As I stood in the full force of the weather with my hand on the stone I felt such gratitude for this journey and for the clear guidance I'd received.
Reflecting on my nature quest I'm struck by many things... the beauty of it... the privilege of receiving such clear guidance... the practice is one I could do much more often... I'm a wee bit in love with the Goddess Tree and will be visiting her more often... I'm so lucky to have access to this awesome land...
And when I'd created my 2021 visionboard there were lots of trees... a sense of being called to the trees... and when I'd talked about it with my husband at new year I'd said... "there's something about reciprocity... I don't know... like not just observing nature, but being observed by nature"
... and this is what my nature quest was! It was being in literal conversation with nature... asking questions... having answers revealed... seeing and being seen... communing with nature in a deeper way... gifting to nature and nature gifting back to me... a hug given and received...
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