Honoring the forest is an easy thing. Arched boughs and weaving trails practically demand reverence. Those of us who feel drawn to nature often bring a token of our appreciation, something to leave in the hollow of a log or the perfect cup of a knotted root. We speak to the trees, revel in streams, dance to the music of rustling leaves.
But what about when the days grow cold and short, or when the pilgrimage is too far to make? When life grows busy and we become disconnected from the green places we love so much? What if you could go there anytime, no matter where you are, in the blink of an eye?
I forget how old I was when someone very dear to me first introduced me to the idea of creating a sacred space inside my head—a place that would always be with me and available, whenever I needed it. It’s a fun thing to do, to create your own mental sanctuary. It’s an exercise in imagination, as well as a chance to get to know yourself better.
My space is a small meadow surrounded by tall hills. There are mountains in the distance if you look hard enough. There’s a small waterfall flowing down into a glassy pool, perfectly outlined by smooth rocks. Toward the center of the clearing is a large willow tree with a boulder that serves as an altar, and just outside the clearing is a dense forest of oaks and maples and countless trails leading who knows where. This is where I go to think, to escape, to connect with myself and the earth.
Think of your favorite place in nature. Where do you feel the most relaxed? Conjure up an image in your mind’s eye of this special place, or think of your favorite tree or terrain. It can be anything you want it to be. The trees can be purple, it can always be twilight, whatever you like—all that matters is that it’s yours, and you feel safe here. Here’s a guided meditation to help you get familiar with this place:
• Relax in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes and take one deep breath, then another. Feel the muscles in your neck and shoulders relax, and the tension in your back loosen.
• Take one more deep breath, and imagine yourself standing at the beginning of a forest trail. The trees on either side of you are tall and strong, arching toward each other. You smile as a light breeze moves through the leaves and brushes against your cheek. Feeling welcome, you begin making your way down the path. You take in the sunlight, the birds that dart this way and that overhead. As you walk, you run your hand along the bark of the trees, enjoying the roughness on your fingertips, the strength of the massive trunks.
• As you make your way down the path, you see that it ends at the foot of a large wooden door. You approach the door curiously. It’s open just enough for a sliver of light to break through. You lean forward, and the door swings slowly open, revealing a serene forest landscape that sprawls out as far as you can see. A narrow, mossy footpath leads from the doorway down into a small glen, tall grasses swaying on either side.
• Step forward now, and explore this place. Follow the path down and take in the sights, the smells, the tastes. Feel the ground beneath your feet, the soft moss, the smooth stones. Perhaps you take a drink from a cool spring. Perhaps a goblet lies waiting for you on a stone table.
• Take time to breathe. Feel yourself let go of anything that does not exist right here, right now, in this place. Immerse yourself in your surroundings. Explore. Investigate. Discover. Most important, take your time. After a while, you feel a gentle nudge at the back of your mind, and you know it’s time to go.
• Slowly make your way back up the footpath to the door. As you pull open the door, take one more look at your newfound haven. Then step over the threshold and back onto the main path. The breeze picks up again, beckoning you back the way you came. The birds keep you company until you find yourself stepping out of the forest and into the here and now.
You may find that, when you visit this place, it will be easier to think and breathe. Sometimes animals, helpful guides, or spirits will visit you or perhaps even leave gifts for you. You may want to have a notebook handy so you can jot down any ideas or messages you get while you’re there. You don’t have to do a full meditation to visit this place, either. You can go there whenever you like, wherever you are. It gets easier to visualize the more you think about and visit your space. Drawing, finding photos or talismans to represent it, or even creating a playlist of songs that remind you of it can help strengthen your connection to that peaceful place here in the all-too-often chaotic physical realm.
While there is certainly nothing as magical as standing in a real wood and taking in the sights and sounds, having a personal piece of forest within ourselves can help bring relief when the real thing is inaccessible!
Follow Meghan Pell on Instagram @themedievalmouse.