Chanting is no more holy than listening to the murmur of a stream, counting prayer beads no more sacred than simply breathing, religious robes no more spiritual than work clothes.Lao-Tzu
On the morning after the school shooting I awoke early to get ready for a hike I had planned to attend with a group of friends who hike together every Thursday. My back gave me even more grief than it usually does in the morning, making it difficult to lean over and put on socks. This seemed like a sign that I should go back to bed. In a world where such brutality exists, I could think of no good reason to get up and go out into it, and the aching back just seemed like one more reason to stay in bed. My heart ached. My back ached. I wanted to simply pull the covers over my head and escape into the sweet nonexistence of sleep.
I could not hide from it though. The sun was shining. It seemed like too much light for a troubled world, but there it was, demanding that I stand up and go out into it. It did not take long for the back pain to diminish. Movement, I have learned, is the best treatment for it, and doing what I needed to do to get ready for a hike.
I met my friends in town, and we drove to the trailhead, a smaller group this time, just six women. The sun was shining, a nice change, for all of our hikes so far this spring had been cold and taken place under gray skies.
Step by step I felt the burden lessen as we examined wildflowers, watched a hawk fly over our heads, and gazed at a jagged ridge to the south. The mosquitoes were abundant, so we selected an open spot with a breeze to escape them while we ate our lunches. I listened to the sounds around me: women laughing, women telling their stories, a chickadee calling from the ravine, the breeze rustling the tender new needles on the larch trees. As I sat still I became aware that the back pain was still present, but I had not noticed it since we started hiking. I began to wonder how it is that nature heals. The pain was still there, but in a world where there are hawks and wild clematis and the sounds of happy chatter, it did not seem to matter.
These days there are therapists and hikers who offer to serve as guides for the healing powers of nature. This has never quite made sense to me. I have never needed anyone to tell me that a meadow dotted with yellow balsam root is a happy thing. My body knows it.
The other kind of pain, the heartache that is present when I contemplate the tragic events of the last couple of weeks, cannot be chased away by a sunny day. It is still there in the meadow with my friends, and it is present still as I sit here at my desk. But it is not the only thing present. There is also a bluebird perched on the fence post outside my window.
Nature does not offer an escape any more than alcohol and drugs do. Getting a break from painful memories is not a bad idea, but sooner of later we must return to the daily life that lies before us, however much it has been changed by tragic events.
What nature does for me is to offer perspective. However horrible these events may be, they are not the only things happening in the world. There is still a bluebird perched on the fence post.