A Meditation: The Trees and the Forest

As we sit in the quiet of this place, breathing softly, each with our own particular concerns, let us be aware of our common humanity. Each of us has our own hidden wellspring of joy, our own experience of sorrow, our unique perspective on the Divine and its relationship with the world.

Let us celebrate the diversity of dreams and visions.

Think of the trees in the woods: each grows into its individual shape to fit its particular place and the events that have shaped its growth, but each is recognisable as one of a species: oak, birch, holly, maple, yew, beech, hawthorn.

Religions are like that too: each has its own unique characteristics, shaped by place, culture and history; but all of them have their roots in the fertile soil of human experience, and all seek the living waters of the divine presence.

Let us honour the beauty and diversity of religions in the world, whilst loving and cherishing our own particular visions and traditions, recognising that we too are rooted in our common humanity, all seeking the nourishment of the endless outpouring of love and wisdom that we call by many names, all of them holy.

Trees (pexels.com) - CC0

Trees (pexels.com) – CC0 Public Domain


I wrote this meditation in 2010, or thereabouts. I thought it would work well in an interfaith or multi-faith setting. Please feel free to adapt it for your particular theological perspective. The phrase ‘the Divine’ is intended here to include deities and multiplicity.

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Embodied Spirituality: The Sit Spot

The sit spot

An important part of embodiment is experiencing yourself as part of the world. As climate activists have said, “we are not defending nature – we are nature defending itself“.

A really great way of experiencing yourself as part of nature is to incorporate the sit spot into your practice. The sit spot is a place in nature where you can sit comfortably for around fifteen minutes. While there, you slow your breathing, quiet your mind, and listen to the sounds around you: the rustling of the wind in the leaves, water flowing or falling, bird song. You return to the same spot on a regular basis, so as to become attuned to that particular place and its sounds, energies, spirits, seasons, and moods.

Adrian Harris, who writes on embodiment, describes the practice of the sit spot:

Spending time in your sit spot is a meditation that fine-tunes your sensory awareness. Gradually, patterns in nature become apparent and in time you fall into a “deepening sense of place” (Patterson). Such subtle embodied communion with one chosen place can pattern a sacred relationship to the world.

Utiseta

The sit-spot is similar to the ancient Heathen / magical practice of “sitting out”, known as utiseta. This is a practice for communicating with landwights, and should only be used if you specifically need help or answers.

Lydia Helasdottir describes utiseta:

Start with experiencing yourself, and that which is around you. Place your attention on the trees and the rocks, the root that I’m sitting on, the wind in the trees, the smells. We do this whole thing of “I can see one thing, I can hear one thing, I can smell one thing, I can taste one thing, I can feel one thing.” Then you go to two things, then to five things. Getting to the point of smelling five different things is quite difficult, especially if you haven’t moved your position, but it’s a good thing. So the first point is to be really aware of you and the things around you. Do that with your deep breathing.

Then you contract you attention inside yourself. If you’re wearing a cloak, at this point you put the hood over yourself. Contract your attention so that you’re not noticing anything from the outside, and you’re just trying to find the core of the center of your being, all the way down. Really compress it so that it’s just you. It might take ten or fifteen minutes for you to even get there, and then you do that for an hour or so. Then you expand your attention outwards, but you go past the boundary of your body, so now you’re experiencing all that stuff that’s around you, but not as separate from you any more. And at that point, often it’s easier to commune with the wights and the dead people and whatever else. And you do five or six or twelve or so cycles of that during the night.

Visualisation, meditation, and pathworking

Meditating in Madison Square Park

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, New York City (Wikipedia)

Often people use the terms visualisation, meditation and pathworking interchangeably, but they are different techniques, with different purposes and histories of development.

A meditation invites you to focus on your breathing, your body, or your feelings; it does not usually involve visualising. It is designed to increase awareness of your body. Typically, meditation techniques are drawn from Taoism or Buddhism.

Another related technique is contemplation, where the practitioner focuses on a deity, virtue, or quality (such as love). The technique is used in both Christianity and Islam, but was also advocated by Plato. Examples of contemplation include contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and lectio divina. Some people contemplate Nature as a spiritual practice.

A visualisation invites you to focus on specific images; sometimes it tells a story or involves travelling through a landscape (real or imaginary); sometimes it is intended to bring about a specific result – this is known as creative visualisation. Visualisation is popular with both Pagans and New Agers.

A pathworking takes you on a journey through an inner landscape. Pathworking as a technique is derived from magical uses of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. In that system, a pathworking is a journey along one of the 22 paths of the Tree of Life, each of which has a specific set of landscape and symbolism associated with it (and corresponds to one of the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot).

I would say that guided meditations were suitable for large groups; guided visualisations and pathworkings should probably be used in smaller groups where the person leading can be more aware of participants’ emotional responses.

Some visualisations are not safe (e.g. ones that invite you to visualise going out of your body) and should not be attempted by the inexperienced. People often think that it’s all happening in your head and therefore you can visualise whatever you like with no consequences, but that is not necessarily the case. Magic (defined here as “the art of changing consciousness in accordance with will”) does have real effects, even if they’re only psychological effects.

I never pre-record either visualisations or meditations – I prefer to do them live and feel the mood of the participants, going slower or faster depending on whether I feel the participants are following, and adding bits for the specific audience. Also, I would always try out a visualisation myself before leading others in it.

I have come across a lot of people who cannot visualise at all. For small group work, I always ask if there are people who can’t visualise, and adapt by talking about feelings and spatial cues as well as visual imagery.

You can test whether someone can visualise by getting them to think of an orange – most people can manage to see an orange sphere in their mind’s eye, and if they can’t, the chances are that they are one of those people who cannot see with their mind’s eye. I, and several other people that I know, can taste on my mind’s tongue (and smell on my mind’s nose) but many people can’t do this.

You can check whether people can experience all five senses with the orange visualisation – imagine touching the pitted surface, prising the fruit open with your fingers, hearing the noise of the tearing peel, smelling the orange oil from the skin and the juice inside, then tasting the fruit, and feeling the juice on your tongue. For people who can’t visualise in any sense modality, get them to remember the emotional feeling they get when they eat an orange; you can then use the same approach for other visualisations.