Forest Bathing as a Mindfulness Practice

Curious about the mindfulness practice of “forest bathing,” I looked into it recently for My Little Bird.

The Benefits of Forest Bathing

“STAY AWHILE,” the trees call out in Mary Oliver’s poem, an invitation to “forest bathing.” The term, translated from the Japanese shinrin-yoku, means immersing yourself in the woods; it’s an attentive way of being among trees, under the sky, on the earth.

“Forest bathing is slowing down and connecting with nature with all your senses and it’s something you can do very close to home,” says Melanie Choukas-Bradley. The author and naturalist leads forest bathing walks in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park and regional open spaces. Forest bathing, she says, is linked to other mindfulness practices like yoga, Tai Chi and meditation, “but there’s another dimension to it because you’re feeling a connection with nature.”

That connection Choukas-Bradley describes seems to reduce stress and foster well-being. Studies conducted at Japan’s Chiba University, Center for Environment, Health and Field Services and described in the book Your Brain on Nature, found “that spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and a feeling of liveliness.”

Guides like Choukas-Bradley facilitate forest bathing on the walks they lead.

“You’re engaged with nature and nature has a slow sweet pace, and it’s very rejuvenating to be around trees and listen to birds and smell the autumn smells from the earth and just feel fully alive.” She adds, “If we’re only engaged electronically, it’s not enough.”

At the heart of forest bathing is quieting the mind and awakening the physical senses. And it works, says Barnesville, Maryland artist and avid walker Tina Brown who took her first forest bathing walk with Choukas-Bradley in Rock Creek Park in October. The women have collaborated on guides to the plants of Sugarloaf Mountain.

“We were asked to focus on a tree,” said Brown, “to look closely at the bark and to pay attention closely to the stream, the water and rocks and smells and sounds.”  Choukas-Bradley, Brown said, invited participants to dig deep into their immediate experiences.

A typical forest bathing walk might begin with breath awareness practices or a poem, drawing people into the present moment. What’s called an “invitation” follows, a suggestion to explore a quiet spot alone and notice with all the senses, listening, observing, savoring scents and touching leaves and stones.

The mental and physical benefits of spending time in nature through forest bathing can be felt in a nearby park.

“I’m always encouraging people to connect with their own backyard or park down the street,” says Choukas-Bradley, “to find a place of natural beauty that’s very close to where you live and visit as often as you can. It’s a form of intimacy with nature.”

She described her own special sitting spot in Rock Creek Park. The day we talked, she had just seen a kingfisher in the stream.

“It’s so rejuvenating to walk through this forest in a park created in 1890. The trees are huge. I am so intimate with this place that all of the changes that I see over time are incredibly meaningful. It’s like any relationship, the more you know a person the more you love the person; it’s the same thing with nature.”

Spending the time is key. Forest bathers set aside cell phones. They suspend conversations on politics, movies and work. They let go the need to identify a bird or classify a blossom. There are no miles to log. Wonder reigns.

“When I lead walks,” says Choukas-Bradley, “my favorite moments are when everyone gets quiet. We’re looking at Virginia blue bells blooming; I love it when people stop talking and just feel the quiet moments of pure reverence for nature and pure awe.”

A survey sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and cited in an article on forest bathing in The Washington Post states that Americans spend 87 percent of their time indoors and 6 percent in an enclosed vehicle, on average.

Choukas-Bradley believes forest bathing could shift that percentage, inviting more and more people to re-connect with the nature around them.

“Our culture and our way of life separates us from nature, so we have to work at it a little bit. It’s a practice like anything else. If it’s important to you and you make time for it, the rewards are boundless.” she says.

Ready for a dip into forest bathing?

As with any mindfulness practice, you can start small, with five or ten minutes. Next time you’re walking to the train, detour under a tree. Pause. Touch the bark. Lean against the trunk.

Or pause on a bench during errands. Lift your face and watch the clouds, feel the breeze on your cheeks and mist from a nearby fountain. Smell the fresh-cut grass.

Or, on a walk with a friend through a park, agree to drift in opposite directions for a few minutes, smelling the air, collecting fallen leaves. Then reconvene and share what you observed.

Participants in Choukas-Bradley’s walks range from 20 to 80.

“It’s for anybody who enjoys nature and wants to get outside, de-stress,” says Brown, the artist. “You’re not thinking about anything but being present.”

A wonderful aspect of the natural world is that it’s vast enough to absorb our moods.

“When despair for the world grows in me/and I wake in the night at the least sound/in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,” writes Wendell Berry in his poem The Peace of Wild Things, “I go and lie down where the wood drake/rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.”

The peace of wild things is a form of resting in the world. It’s a cleansing: Forest bathing both restores and rejuvenates.

“It’s healing and it’s celebratory,” Choukas-Bradley says. “There’s a great joy in feeling alive in the forest or in the field or any natural setting. It’s true that it’s comforting if you’re troubled or depressed, but if you come feeling happy your happiness will be enhanced by connecting with natural beauty.”

Why meditation matters to me

When I found a small sangha within walking distance of my D.C. apartment last summer, I was exposed for the first time to a sincere zendo, a dedicated sangha (community) that made space for me to learn and practice meditation. This changed the way I think about stillness, integrity, simplicity and joy. Yoga Stanza was enriched by Dogen, Suzuki Roshi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Blanche Hartman and more.

Meditation helps me reconcile a streak of extreme independence with a foundation of affection for community, a pattern of iconoclasm, restlessness and rebelliousness with a respect for pattern, ritual and service.

As I assimilate puzzle pieces of myself, pieces labeled history, personality, experience, desire, I’m at last sensing how integration must feel. Having probed the subterranean depths of the stream of seeking, I’ve drawn up water for the millpond of teaching and living.

These sustaining waters spring from the Buddhist well and other teachings, from faith traditions, naturalists and poets, as well as conversation with friends, family and strangers and time under open sky.

Yoga, with its postures of moving meditations, its honoring of the breath, sutures various quilt blocks of knowledge into the blanket of values and beliefs that warms me.

Moment-by-moment attention to this life, through study of movement and philosophy, has been the catalyst for happening upon the peace that passes understanding.

Peace offers a sense of security that leads to quiet joy. 

In Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser eloquently explains the value of meditation (for Westerners, as in Americans).

Meditation is a matter of slow and steady experience. It is not a cure. It is not a set of moral values. It is not a religion. It is a way–a way to be fully present, a way to be genuinely who we are, a way to look deeply at the nature of things, a way to rediscover the peace we already possess. It does not aim to get rid of anything bad, or to create anything good. It is an attitude of openness. The term for this attitude is mindfulness.

Buddhists call mindfulness meditation maitri practice. Maitri is often translated as “unconditional friendliness.” Meditation is the practice of unconditional friendliness toward whatever is happening in the moment–the moment during which we sit in meditation, and all the other moments of life, whether things are going well or falling apart.

We may be drawn to the practice out of suffering, but meditation is not just for pain relief. It is also about joy. It is like a magnifying glass in the hands of a child on a sunny day. He holds the glass steady; the light concentrates on a spot on the ground; a dry leaf goes up in flame. Meditation can be the magnifying glass that lights the fire of happiness in our hearts….Over time, mindfulness practice sensitizes our capacity for joy so much that even tiny physical and emotional pleasures can bring great happiness. When our minds are quiet and our hearts are strong, we see that the whole world is full of grace.

If you want to start in a small way right now, here’s the link to Make it a Mindful Morning. I encourage you, though, to find a teacher. This may be a book, a class, a sangha or yourself.

 

 

 

Coming to senses

My apartment building has a wonderfully musty book-filled room in the half-basement near the laundry center. Paned windows look out on Rock Creek Park; a freight elevator groans in the hall. Cushy discard couches and chairs with a table to set your feet on. Regular time slips away in this un-clocked space.

Anonymous attempts have been made to organize the books, but the tomes seem to roam on their own volition and comforting chaos reigns. Inventory turns over with the steadiness of cookies in an untrendy neighborhood bakery. You can always find something good.

One Tuesday night, in search of something to read, I took the back steps and narrow hallway to the room and browsed until Stargirl glowed like a lightning bug from a high shelf.

In this scene, Stargirl shares her go-to slice of Arizona desert with new friend, Leo, the story’s narrator.

A minute later she stopped. “We’re here.”

I looked around. The place couldn’t have been more ordinary. The only notable presence was a tall, dilapidated saguaro, a bundle of sticks….The rest was gray scrub and tumbleweed and a few prickly pears. “I thought it might look different,” I said.

“Special? Scenic?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“It’s a different kind of scenery,” she said. “Shoes off.”

We pulled off our shoes.

“Sit.”

We sat, legs crossed.

What happens next is a sweet account of stillness as a way of engaging with life, and love.

“So,” I said, “when does the enchantment start?”

We were sitting side by side, facing the mountains.

“It started when the earth was born.” Her eyes were closed. Her face was golden in the setting sun. “It never stops. It is, always. It’s just here.”

“So what do we do?”

She smiled. “That’s the secret.” Her cupped hands rested in her lap. “We do nothing. Or as close to nothing as we can.” Her face turned slowly to me, though her eyes remained closed. “Have you ever done nothing?”

I laughed. “My mother thinks I do it all the time.”

“Don’t tell her I said so, but your mother is wrong.” She turned her back to the sun. “It’s really hard to do nothing totally. Even just sitting here, like this, our bodies are churning, our minds are chattering. There’s a whole commotion going on inside us.”

“That’s bad?” I said.

“It’s bad if we want to know what’s going on outside ourselves.”

“Don’t we have eyes and ears for that?”

Leo and Stargirl are practicing mindfulness, merely regarding the landscape, watching, receiving, stepping aside from expectations and anticipations, from control.

She nodded. “They’re okay most of the time. But sometimes they just get in the way. The earth is speaking to us, but we can’t hear it because of all the racket our senses are making. Sometimes we need to erase them, erase our senses. Then–maybe–the earth will touch us. The universe will speak. The stars will whisper.”

The sun was glowing orange now, clipping the mountains’ purple crests.

In yoga, we practice pratyahara, becoming aware of sensory stimulation in order to avoid escaping into overstimulation. Judith Lasater describes pratyahara as “a tool to improve daily life. In these moments I begin to understand the difference between withdrawing and escaping….”  I describe it as “leaning away.”

Leo’s experiences in the desert with his friend mirrors the haven of silence some find in pratyahara.

…I could not seem to leave myself, and the cosmos did not visit me. I could not stop wondering what time it was.

But something did happen. A small thing. I was aware of stepping over a line, of taking one step into territory new to me. It was a territory of peace, of silence. I had never experienced such utter silence before, such stillness. The commotion within me went on, but at a lower volume, as if someone had turned down my dial.

The first stanza of Patanjali’s 2,000 year old guidebook begins “now.”

Atha yoga anushasanam
Now, the teachings of yoga.
—Yoga Sutra 1.1

The simple word reminds that there’s no time like the present. If not now, when? Vow now to, like Leo, turn down your own dial in the days ahead, once in awhile. Richard Rosen suggests,

Sit with your spine straight, close your eyes, and slow your breathing. With each exhalation, say the word “now” to yourself, drawing out the “w.” Feel how the present moment becomes suspended even as time passes and transforms into another moment of now.

Well-come!

come to mind/come to cloud

“Imagination is in the present,” says Marie Ponsot to City Lights.

Marie Ponsot, poem-maker.

I believe this is because imagining–although it takes place within the small space of the cranium–is a physical act, as an image is formed. 

Teaching and practicing poetry and yoga, I’ve seen just how physical poems are, and how intensified by the figurative asana and meditation can be. Offer up an effective metaphor and a yoga student slips into new awareness of the body. Generate a vivid image and a reader is visibly moved.

In Ponsot’s poem “For Denis at Ten,” in Easy, a boy is sent to the brook beyond the pasture to collect watercress. He sets off on the errand whistling. The poem concludes when the speaker says,

                Nothing reminds him of something.

He sees what is there to see.

Seeing what there is to see.

Hearing what there is to hear.

Tasting what there is to taste.

Smelling what there is to smell.

Sensing what there is to touch.

Feeling what there is to feel.

Experiencing. Directly.

“The direct experience of what?,”  writes Trappist monk Thomas Merton In Zen and the Birds of Appetite. “Life itself.”

An essayist, Merton puzzles out ideas on the page. “I believe,” he concludes, “Zen has much to say not only to a Christian, but also to a modern man.”

Seeking the authentic in creative and spiritual encounters, he traveled, studied, worked, contemplated, conversed and stilled. Of Zen,

It is nondoctrinal, concrete, direct, existential, and seeks above all to come to grips with life itself, not with ideas about life, still less with party platforms in politics, religion, science or anything else.

As a poet, Ponsot logs direct experience in the recreation of recollection.

Could a moment be inhabited as an eternal present?

This is not enlightenment but another offshoot of the tree of experience–imagination.

In “This Bridge, like Poetry, is Vertigo,” Ponsot writes,

Late at night when my outdoors is

indoors, I picture clouds again:

Come to mind, cloud.

Come to cloud, mind.

Any activity can be termed meditative that fastens us like a seat belt to the present. You spot it in people in motion, stacking wood, running, cooking, whittling, crocheting. It happens when listening to music, painting, reading.

Louise Rosenblatt identified the transactional quality of a reader’s response to literature. Many of us believe this imaginative engagement fosters empathy.

In decades of teaching, I’ve experienced a handful of minutes when the close attention of a reader to a marvelous text creates a third thing, when the abracadabra of words manifests.

Could empathy be another offshoot of engaged experience?

As effective as words can be for straddling fissures among us, we cannot become too attached to them. Words displace silence. They can disrupt experience. We’ve all been jarred out of moments, distracted, by a companion’s well-intended comment.

Words remain intermediaries.

Merton writes,

The Zen experience is a direct grasp of the unity of the invisible and the visible, the noumenal and the phenomenal, or, if you prefer, an experiential realization that any such division is bound to be pure imagination.

In a somatic workshop I attended this month on the vagus nerve, Lauren Wadsworth suggested walking barefoot on a variety of surfaces. Even inside, contrasting textures of rugs, linoleum, tile and wood provide information.

I’ve noticed my city dog is happiest when our walk traverses varied substrates–fallen leaves, puddles, mud, and, back inside, the thickly carpeted hallways of our building.

My chair yoga students slide soles of their feet along the carpet and place them on chair rungs. They write the alphabet in the air with their toes. JoAnn Lyons, who specializes in teaching yoga to people with disabilities, says moving the feet benefits the heart.

The wandering vagus nerve, “nerve of compassion.”

We experimented, in the workshop, held in a sunny tenth floor apartment, with humming and moving, sensing internal spaces and external. Wadsworth pointed out that “gravity is a force of belonging.”

This gravitational belonging is being at home on our precious planet through presence.

For me, it happens when I am absorbed in yoga practice, playfully attuned with my pooch, arrested by beauty, gripped by pathos, aligned with a friend, engrossed in work, captivated by wonder, snagged by an idea, participating in life.

It’s when breathing with an awareness of how precious earth’s atmosphere is.

How does this happen for you?

Merton’s embrace of the tree of experience is encompassing. He writes,

Both Buddhism and Christianity are alike in making use of ordinary everyday human existence as material for radical transformation of consciousness. Since ordinary human experience is full of confusion and suffering, then obviously one will make good use of both of these in order to transform one’s awareness and one’s understanding, and to go beyond both to attain “wisdom” in love.

I offer a potential formula.

[knowledge ÷ experience]  + [(compassion) (love)] = wisdom ≈ intuition

 

stop, hey, what’s that sound

“You and I are just swinging doors,” Suzuki Roshi says.

The tidal rhythm of the observed breath provides clues into what that might mean.

Out? In? Neither? Both?

In Seeds for a Boundless Life: Zen Teachings from the Heart, Zenkei Blanche Hartman explains,

When we all concentrate on our breathing and we become a swinging door and we do something that we should do, something we must do, this is Zen practice. In this practice, there is no confusion. If you establish this kind of life, you have no confusion whatever.

Tuesday I felt unsettled. I wanted to be outside enjoying the perfect autumn afternoon instead of in front of a computer or, honestly, “sitting” on my folded meditation blanket facing a wall.

But that unbalanced, dissatisfied feeling, like all feelings, is temporary. I decided to help it along the pot-holed Feeling Road with a few minutes of focused breathing, a form of mindfulness meditation.

In The Washington Post’s Health & Science section, infectious-disease physician Manoj Jain describes his experiment with mindfulness meditation during a week-long summer vacation.

Experts define mindfulness as a state of moment-to-moment awareness that emphasizes attention without judgement, without thinking, for example, that the sound of cicadas is irritating or that the lawn needs to be trimmed or “Why did I say that to so-and-so?”

He cites studies supporting benefits of mindfulness and shares his students’ reactions to the practice. As for his own attitude,

I have come to think that encouraging patients to adopt meditation as a way to mental well-being is as important as encouraging them to jog as a way to physical well-being.

He points out that,

Today, our lives are filled with stressors, from work, home, financial pressures and digital devices. Mindfulness is a low-cost, medication-free way to manage and reduce the ill effects of stress.

Having found this to be true, I rode the elevator from my first floor apartment to the building’s rooftop patio. No one else was up there. Good fortune! I set the phone’s timer for 20 minutes and sat down.

sky
Looking up to look in. Tuesday’s D.C. sky.

 

Eleven stories above the street, breeze on my cheeks, I thought of Charles Simic’s line,  I am happy to be a stone.

I imagined as I settled myself to be a river rock, water coursing around.

A hundred feet below, sirens brayed. One buzzing insect passed. Jets droned overhead.

Hartman offers an explanation for what Dr. Jain and I experience in mindfulness. She writes,

When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door and we are purely independent of, and at the same time dependent upon everything. Without air, we cannot breathe. Each of us is in the midst of myriad worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment by moment. We are completely dependent and independent. If you have this experience, this kind of existence, you have absolute interdependence; you will not be bothered by anything.

 

green chair
The green patio chair-cum-meditation seat.

Preparing her workshop students years ago for a public poetry reading, Julia Connor told the jumpy among us that nervousness is just a kind of excitement.

Feeling antsy, feeling confused, is agitation, it’s excitement. That good old prefix ex– is a call out and away; excitement is a calling forth.

It’s a version of curiosity.

Having satisfied his own curiosity, Dr. Jain recommends meditation to his patients. He concludes,

Meanwhile, I have taken my own advice. I am still at it: sitting on the deck, focusing on my breath, watching my thoughts, clearing my mind amid the shrill end-of-summer calls of the cicadas. I think I have noticed an effect–I feel a deeper sense of acceptance in my life, without losing a passion or resolve to change things for the better.

Just as we stop at the red and white octagonal traffic signs, we need to stop at the signs in our own lives that tell us to stand still. When we stop, we can listen. We discern inside and outside and the door of perception that connects them. We are calmer and more motivated. We are the stone and the stream.

Sit still for a few minutes, Dr. Jain-style

Or try this guided ambient sound meditation .

More ideas for mindfulness here.

Walking Meditation

These past couple of months I’ve been taking my meditation practice outside, experiencing movement, place and mindfulness at once. Walking meditation can be practiced just about anywhere.

Any walk becomes mindful through breath awareness and focus. In walking meditation, we notice surroundings at the pace of the body. The ability to just be, with ease, reduces stress and contributes to mental and physical health.

Stand. Feel the connection of your feet with the ground. Sense the body’s organization, hips aligned over ankles, shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders. Relax the outer corners of the eyes. Keep the chin parallel with the ground as the gaze lowers. Clasp hands in front of or behind the torso or let them swing freely.

Start at a crossing-the-room pace. Then walk more slowly. This may feel off-kilter, as if you are relearning the body’s relationship with gravity. Slip into what meditators call “beginner’s mind,” a perspective of openness and receptivity.

Apply a sense of spaciousness to thoughts as well. Imagine the mind made of baleen, the keratin bristles found in a whale’s mouth. Gather through the senses what nourishes; filter out what doesn’t.

Continue reading here.

(Mindful) Morning!

Pleased to have “Make It a Mindful Morning” published in today’s

WITHIN OUR MORNINGS, there are moments as expansive as giant soap bubbles we could step into and inhabit. This is mindfulness: that intentional “stepping into” the current of right now, with curiosity, without judgment.

Why bother with mindfulness? After all, by the time the sun comes up there are cats to feed, coffee to brew, news feeds to read and cereal to chew.

Mindfulness, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. Noticing what’s happening in our mind and body, as it’s happening, appears to offer a host of benefits from greater relationship satisfaction to increased focus, strengthened immune system and a more functional memory.

Even better, the cat can eat, the coffee can pour and the cereal can be crunched. Routine activities provide the perfect home base for practicing mindfulness.

Reading the news, on the other hand, will have to wait. But after a few mindfulness moments, when you do turn to headlines, chances are you’ll feel more focused. A mindful morning increases the likelihood of continued mindfulness throughout the day.

How do we measure a moment?

Continue reading here.

Finding Trails

Walked this morning near Klingle Road through a patch of the 2,100 acres that make Rock Creek Park.

Spotted cardinals and robins, red-bellied woodpeckers and sparrows. (The variety of sparrows confounds me!)

A few years ago, I researched the park as setting for a story.  In my notes, I came across these words from Senator B. Gratz Brown, 1867. They hold true today.

It has running water; it has rugged hills; it has picturesque scenery; it has an abundance of varied forest timber; it has a native undergrowth blushing with beauty. It has the tangled vine and the clustering wild-flower, and the quiet mosses gray with age, and indeed a thousand imprints of native adornment that no hand of art could ever equal in its most imitative mood.

Last night I was rereading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are. Kabat-Zinn talks about sitting for meditation in a dignified way. As opposed to “sitting up straight,” he says, sit with dignity.

The body will find its own alignment through dignity.

He points out that meditation is not a few minutes or an hour out of the day but a state of being, of living with awareness.

As I walked this morning, I noticed the dignity of the setting.

We are in the city and it was quite quiet.

I am reluctant to ascribe too many human adjectives to the non-human…the stateliness of the sycamore, the majesty of an oak, the decorum of the dove, the gravity of the crow. I bristle a little at the natural world being overly appropriated for personal metaphor. (Though I know I have done and do it. As a human, I am a meaning-making creature. As a writer, I am a hunter and gatherer of words and phrases.)

What I am looking for these days, when I’m looking for anything at all, is the decorum of the moment.

I am wondering if every movement in every moment–from the gesture of the neighborly wave to the automaticity of the next breath–can be an expression of esteem for the life that is.

And I am wondering: How is the very act of living a ceremony? 

I find the answer in yoga, particularly my home practice, where division dissolves on a physical level with the flow of breath and movement, where segments of time blur imaginatively as edges of past and future wash into the present. Mind and heart awake within the watershed boundaries of the body. An awareness, like that sensation we find walking along a path, of singularity and connection.

Viparita Karani + Judy Halebsky

Legs-at-the-wall releases us from our upright participation in life’s constant change. The pose offers a “time out” from personal and social history– what has happened and what will happen. When we put feet back on the ground and look up to pay attention, sometimes, like the poem’s speaker, we receive wonders presented to us.

Dark Matter, Pine Trees, Eternity, Room 205

Like a handmade ceramic bowl
uneven, oblong, dripped, bare in spots
Joshua departs for the Army at dawn

birds fly south and return months later
by then they are different birds
it’s not that they change
it’s that the distance is longer than any one life

my job asks me to teach the history of the earth
with both science and the idea that there’s a greater purpose
so students don’t get depressed or have a crisis
when they learn
that our sun is a star that will burn out
that death is part of what defines an organism as alive

at boot camp they pound their teachings into him
how to fold sheets into squares
how to dream in black and white

birds know the routes to nesting places
they know how to cross the ocean

Joshua, be like water
change shapes
float
let sticks, discarded carburetors, broken glass
drift past you

first thing, they cut his hair
put him in uniform, take his picture

he looks like a soldier already, Eve says

Joshua, dug from the foothills
built by hand

a student comes to me with her palm out
holding a little green cone-shaped seed
from this, she says, a redwood tree
isn’t that amazing

Judy Halebsky

Note:  first published in Failbetter; poem used by permission of the poet

Pair with: viparita karani

Speak: The poem uses italics to include other voices. When you read the poem, any poem, let your voice be more than just your own.

Consider: How do you receive the wonder of another, palm outstretched?

Savasana + Shenyi

In a class, savasana sometimes carries a feeling of transition, a mark between the preceding practice and the pending reentry into “regular life.” These pauses amid what was and what will be are the present, and can be bittersweet when lived and, as the poet does, recalled.

Recalling a Past Excursion to Wang Convent: Sent to Zaisheng

 

Human life consists of meetings and partings,

in the end but froth and foam,

Gazing back at the vast expanse, I am moved

by thoughts of our past excursion.

The morning dew had not yet dried, the blos-

soms were plentiful and firm,

The noon shade was about to settle, the songs

of the birds were hidden away.

Inhaling the fragrance around the little bench,

we were oblivious to the dusty world,

Walking in the moonlight, our pure talk swept

away all the old sorrows.

The slanting shadow of the plum blossom

looked just like a painting;

Who will gather up the tattered blossoms

strewn upon the ground?

 

– Shenyi, translated by Beata Grant

Note: previously published in Daughters of Emptiness: Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns (Wisdom Publications, 2003);  reprinted with permission of the press

Pair with: supported, swaddled savasana

Speak: What happens when a poem ends with a question? Listen to the music of silence that follows.

Consider how recalling someone is a way of loving.