Lindsay McLaughlin lives at Rolling Ridge Study Retreat, an intergenerational community living on and with 1400 acres of forest and streams on a small mountain foothill of the Blue Ridge in West Virginia. She offers and coordinates retreats there — when social distancing allows — and is beloved by many for her soulful writing, especially about our kinship with nature. In the following piece, she brings new depth to the democratic value of the common good by showing how even in the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic we can cultivate virtues of appreciation, caring, and empathy through different kinds of activities — including walks.
On the Schoolhouse Trail I passed an old tree with a craggy opening near the forest floor, an intriguing portal to the Underworld. Meanwhile, the serviceberries are out, their delicate creamy blossoms like fallen stars in the woods. Serviceberries are so named because they bloom at the time when the ground softens after the winter freeze thus readying the earth for burials and making services of parting and remembrance possible. Gray fog is wrapping itself around the high, still bare branches, shrouding the tree tops. So much is about fog and loss and descent. Collectively we have fallen out of a world we thought — even worried — was immutable. Mystery cloaks what comes next, what the eyes of the future see.
What do we do now?
Kate suggested a walk at sunset, repeated every evening. We gather loosely near the apple tree west of the garden. The clouds above the trees are blue, outlined in luminous orange, the light laying warmly over the sprouting wine berries, the nodding daffodils, the honey suckle thickening on the garden fence. We walk quietly, in silence, in a path around our residential community "shire", keeping appropriate space between us. We walk past the garden with its covered beds, some newly planted and mulched. We pass near each one of our homes, finally ending in the middle of the field where the sheep once grazed. We pause there. The thin sliver of the moon appears, accompanied by the evening star.
In this way we remember our connection to one another and our belonging in the family of things and bring to mind for a moment all that we love and hold dear, all whom we miss and long for, all that has been lost and all that still may be. There is gratitude: for the life we have right now and the gifts of the Earth we receive each day. In mere minutes we have fallen into a timeless place where we may find courage and provision for voyaging over a foggy sea to a destination we can't describe.
Hearts full, we bow and disperse.
I could end there. But a few more words remain. Not from me, from Steven Martyn, who has a farm and school in Ontario, Canada called The Sacred Gardener. We heard these words read aloud at the end of our first evening's walk:
...as I see it the pandemic is asking us to come back, all the way back...[it is] here to remind us that all that really matters, all that really exists, is the moment right here, right now.. ..so here we are, being asked to stay at home and stay in the moment. Now is the time for your rosary and prayers. Now is the time to hold the seeds dear, to grow food to nourish and herbs to heal. Now is the time to make art and music, and to write and tell stories that feed life. Now is the time to breathe good deep breaths of good clean air, in the stillness of the twilight.
And not just to be thankful for our lives, but to be in continual thankfulness for each moment, and show it in what we do. And from that expression may a grounded culture of stillness and care be born, may we learn once again to live like the old ones we all came from.
We invite you to walk with us every evening at 7:30, wherever you are. We understand that most are not as lucky as we are, to be living in a community on hundreds of acres of wild, sacred land. Many do not have the gift of walking with others at all, even at a socially safe distance. There is solitude, and perhaps, an apartment with a balcony, or a house with a back yard. Yet more possibilities may exist in this than we know. I came across some wisdom from Geneen Haugen in the latest Soulcraft Musing:
...cultivating our human relationship with the dreaming Earth is still possible, even for those now sheltered-in-place in cities. The miracle of water flowing through pipes - water wild at its origin - or the ever-present embrace of gravity (as our colleague David Abram reminds us), or the breath that connects us to all of life are worthy of our praise and honoring attentions.
...Even in isolation, depth is available - deep time, deep imagination, the deep river of soul. In solitude now — perhaps like a long vision fast - we might be more porous or receptive to dreams, waking images, or felt-sense of what is now being asked of us as individuals, and as a human family.
Wherever you are, we invite you to walk with us, whether around your kitchen or back porch, or in your mind. We are connected.
"We're all just walking each other home."
— Ram Das