Heart pounding heavily in her chest, the fearful anger that had surged through her moments before now superseded by physical exertion as she carefully meandered her way through the woodland undergrowth, weaving her path between the trees and bushes on that bright, chilly, autumn morning. This wooded hillside was her retreat, the place she returned to when ever she needed to seek solace, find resolve; here her thoughts and feelings seemed to find order, clarity, her embodied anguish or frustration dissipating as she determined to reach the top of the hill.
Early morning sunlight streamed through the tall majestic trees luminating the rustic golden-red hue of the autumnal leaves. The cool crisp morning breeze brushed against her face, her warm breath a misty vapour carried in its chill. Pausing, she raised her head toward the cloudless sky, trying to allow the natural sounds around her to momentarily drown out the noise of her internal dialogue. Feeling the suns warmth on her face, she allowed the moment to bathe over her. Yet her heart still pounded heavily, as if beating to be heard, and she surrendered to her despair again. Perching on the fallen tree beside her, she wearily slumped. “What am I going to do?”, anguish resonating in her voice as her words tumbled into the air.
“Well, you’ll have to tell me your question if you want an answer.”
Caught off guard, she quickly turned toward the voice.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you”, smiled the elderly woman standing behind her. The woman’s face, although clearly aged, appeared soft, her expression warm, blue eyes gentle yet penetrating, meeting her gaze. “I walk up here a lot”, the woman continued, “apart from the exercise, of course, which, at my age is undoubtedly good for me, I love the sense of peace, don’t you?. My name’s Lily, by the way.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you were there, I usually keep my moments of madness to myself. Sarah. My name’s Sarah,” Lily’s demeanour breaking the spell that wrapped her heart in wretched anxiety and despair moments before. “Actually, the truth is”, Sarah continued, “I’ve just been thrown into the eye of a ‘shit storm’….” she paused abruptly, aware of her outspoken lapse of discretion.
“That sounds messy”, Lily smiled, her blue eyes mischievously meeting Sarah’s.
Feeling a little awkward, Sarah stood up, brushing damp leaves from her coat, her sudden movement disturbing a blackbird perched in the branches above her head. Taking flight, its feathers black as coal in contrast to the golden autumnal hues, the bird glided between the two women, coming to rest in the oak tree beside Lily. Both women stood in hesitation for a moment.
“Well, I’ll be on my way”, Lily said, sensing Sarah’s embarrassment, nodding a gestured ‘goodbye’, as she turned to walk on. Sarah awkwardly pulled the zip on her coat to securing the collar around her ears to buffer the chilly air.
“Please, don’t think I’m being intrusive or rude, and do tell me to ‘mind my own business’, I won’t be offended, but, and I don’t want to know why or anything, but sometimes when I am struggling with a difficult situation or a decision I find visualisation helps me find resolution, or if not resolution at least a sense of peace and perspective, or some sense of control and calm. Sometimes it seems as though things sit in a murky pond, and I find that it helps the pond water to clear, the sediment to settle into layers I can, perhaps, define or acknowledge, or at least, recognise, be ‘aware’ of.”
Sarah stared cautiously at Lily. “What a thing to say,” she thought. Disarmed by Lily’s gesture, her face flushed as her emotions surged up through her. Suddenly she felt as though her heart were made of glass, a window into the deepest part of her internal world. Her emotion, her tears, welled up behind her eyes. She felt weary and broken, her façade, the only thing holding her together, suddenly penetrated by the apparent astuteness of the woman standing before her, the stranger she met a moment before. Although spilling over, Sarah knew she could not begin to explain her dilemma, that voicing it was not enough to unravel the layers, the dynamics, complexities, interwoven into its story, its picture; and even then, in trying to paint the scene, could she ever capture its true essence, the colours, the shades, of a story that began so many years ago? It would take more than a few words, or a few moments – she could not even begin.
Conscious of her sense of weakness and vulnerability, Sarah nervously pulled the zipper of her coat higher, drawing the collar even closer around her ears. Lily’s words resonated through her. “Can she really see through me?” She wondered. “How could she know, be so astute?” She averted her gaze away from Lily, feeling her anguish return as her dilemma again flooded her thoughts, the voice of her despair echoing inside her head, tingling in her heart.
Sensing Sarah’s vulnerability hanging heavily in her silence, feeling the weight of her emotion, Lily intuitively sensed the catalytic impact her gesture instilled in the woman standing before her. She did want to just walk away, having apparently stood so close to Sarah’s emotion, so suddenly, neither, though, did she want to be invasive or seem pushy.
Suddenly, breaking the spell of the moment, the blackbird took flight again, swooping down from its perch in the oak tree, landing a few feet away from Sarah. Grateful for the distraction, Sarah gazed at the bird as it began to peck tentatively at the ground, alert, head held as if listening, watching, then pecking the ground again.
“It’s a very simple thing to do”, Lily said reassuringly, walking slowly to the fallen tree trunk Sarah sat on moments before, carefully lowering herself down. Pulling the small rucksack bag from her shoulders, she retrieved a bottle of water.
“I may as well rest my legs for a moment before I finish my trek up the hill…. I try and get myself up to the top. Then, I can say to myself, ‘Yes, you’ve done it!’…. Such achievements are quite a big thing at my age”, Lily said, chuckling softly to herself. “The view, though, is amazing, so rewarding. I like looking down beyond the trees into the village. The houses always look so small from that point. Then, somehow, my problems seem so small too, from that perspective. I feel like a bird when I look at the landscape, viewing the context in a way that places my house, my village, as part of the bigger landscape, I suppose it’s a symbolic reminder….”
Hesitating, Sarah watched Lily for a moment, then tentatively followed her lead, sitting a couple of feet or so along from her on the fallen tree trunk.
“Yes, I know what you mean”, Sarah said. “I do that too. I come up here to ‘walk out’ my problems. It somehow defuses things”, she continued, feeling a sense of ease replace her caution. “ Although today, …..”. She pulled a small bar of dark chocolate from her pocket. Removing the paper, she offered Lily a piece, which Lily accepted with a smile, and both women sat in silence for a moment.
“So, how do you use visualisation then?” Sarah said quizzically after a few moments, feeling a little more relaxed.
“You create a picture in your ‘minds eye’.
“Oh. O.K. That seems simple enough”.
“Well, there’s many ways, many images, metaphors, you can choose”, Lily continued, smiling warmly as their eyes met. “It depends on what you need at any given moment. For example, what do you feel or believe you need in this moment that would help you?”
“At the moment, I don’t know”. Sarah responded. She paused, turning her head away from Lily, thoughtfully staring into the trees in front of her as she pondered. Then, issuing a deep sigh, she turned toward Lily.
“It’s difficult. In a few words…. I suppose………. protection, strength, clarity.”
“OK. So, how do you see, how do you imagine those things? For example, if they were an object, what form would they take?” Lily enquired encouragingly.
Sarah pondered for a moment. “A wall, I suppose. A wall around me to protect me, keeping me in and the world out.”
“Mmmm…… like a fortress, or a boundary perhaps?” Lily offered pensively.
“Yes. Yes, I suppose so. I suppose a boundary rather than a fortress… a fortress seems a bit like a prison too”.
“Well, ok, that’s a good starting point. Imagine a wall, your wall, your boundary. Build your wall in your imagination. What does your wall look like? Close your eyes and visualise its structure, texture, it’s colour, and notice your feelings and thoughts too as you manifest your wall in your ‘minds eye’.”
Sarah obediently closed her eyes, then opened them, glancing at Lily.
“This feels a bit weird. I’m sat here in the middle of the woods. I hardly know you, yet you’re sat next to me, I’m trusting you. You seemed to appear from nowhere, and now I’m sat here with you imagining pictures – I don’t know whether to laugh or run a mile.”
Lily laughed softly with a child-like giggle.
“Yes, you’re right, and I certainly won’t be running a mile in any direction. Walking’s as fast as I go these days……….. Well, I suppose, though, there is something in what you say about trust, wondering if you’re safe….. Do you feel safe, here, now, sitting with me in this wood, on this fallen tree….?”
Sarah, in spite of her cautious hesitation, paradoxically felt imbued again with the sense of calm warmth she experienced when Lily first appeared. Smiling, she nodded, taking a deep breath as she closed her eyes again, trustingly, to visualise.
“Just notice your breathing to start with. Feel the air as you inhale then exhale. Listen to your breathing. I will just sit here next to you,” Lilly said quietly, reassuring Sarah.
Sarah listened to her breathing while trying to focus her ‘inner eye’, trying to picture, imagine, the wall she would construct to protect her, help her feel strong and safe, so that from such a vantage point she could find clarity, feel less vulnerable and shaken, calmly consider her choices.
For a while she could not muster any form into her ‘minds eye’, her imagination. Still conscious of her breathing, she was aware of the shielded brightness of the sun permeating her eyelids, as it beamed through the trees, touching her face and body. Her chest gently rose and fell, as her lungs filled with cool air then issued her warm breath back into the atmosphere as a misty vapour. Her body slowly began to relax and she realised how tense she had been. She focused on her sense of calmness and the warmth of the sun on her face.
The image that initially manifested in her ‘minds eye’ was of a flat wall, like a garden wall, a red-bricked garden wall. Visually, sensually, holding, observing this picture, she became aware, though, that this wall stood alone, was not connected to anything at its sides; it did not actually surround anything. So she wondered at its purpose as it was not containing, protecting, keeping in, keeping out; it did not appear to provide a boundary.
As she gazed in bemusement pondering her wall it began to appear brighter, animated, grass and flowers surrounded its base. Feeling a soft breeze, she was aware of the smell and sound, the presence, of nature around her. Then, as she continued to gaze at this image, she seamlessly realised she was observing herself too, leaning over from behind the wall, peering at a man sat cross-legged in the grass, eyes lowered, watching a small camp fire burning gently in front of him, the smoky odour permeating her senses as if it really existed. This image began to drift effortlessly into another, similar picture, no longer a garden but a forest, the sound of the fire cracking, birds ‘chattering’. She was aware of the nature-al sounds around her, the smell of the earthy undergrowth permeating the air, filling her senses. She noticed the man had also transformed, and now appeared as an indigenous Shamanic Indian. gazing at the scene she became aware that her own self-image had altered, again seamlessly, her hair long and dark, her features defined and tanned. The wall had transfigured into a large leafy bush.
Gazing intently into this picture she observed her self-image walk from behind the bush toward the Shamanic Indian, who continued to sit cross-legged, gently poking at the fire with a stick, a subtle smile lighting his face. Neither spoke, but she somehow sensed their connection in unutterable words. The wall no longer visible, this scene filled the space of her vision, and Sarah felt an uplifting yet deep awareness that this connection was entrenched, embedded, within an unspeakable spiritual love. This forest, unlike the woods she sat in with Lily, was filled with tall ancient trees – pines, junipers, cypresses – a Northern forest, it’s atmosphere cool and dry.
Observing this scene, Sarah felt sensually immersed within it. As the forest was ancient, so her sense of connection reflected depth and belonging. As she continued to focus, she became aware that there were others in this picture too, watching in the shadows of the trees; she could hear what she imagined was giggling, but could not clearly make out any form. Then, as she began to walk closer to the fire, she noticed other women, dressed similarly to her, approaching from the trees towards her. As they arrived at the fire, each sat down, smiling and gesturing to each other, and to her, creating a circle surrounding the glowing fire. She sat down with them, no longer the observer, but seeing through the eyes of her self-image as if she were really there actually participating in this scene. The women surrounding her were elderly, and noticing her own hands placed on her knees as she sat cross-legged with them, she realised that she too was elderly. None of this fazed her. She felt an intrinsic sense of belonging; this was her tribe. These were her people.
The Shamanic Indian lifted his head toward the sun-drenched treetops veiling the sky above, chanting, in a universal language, words she had never heard before, but instinctively, somehow, understood, his voice filling her head, permeating every cell in her body.
“You are here to remind you that you are not alone, you belong, your journey is observed with love. You were chosen, and gifted, and blessed to make this journey. We will come to you in the form of others always to support you. Remember, although ‘embodied’, you travel this world of illusion in spirit only. Remember you truly, wholly, belong to a deeper love, a deeper bond, than you can ever imagine. Even though you despair and feel pained, even though your eyes become blinded by your sense of separation, you are, always have been and always will be, loved. This is your shield, your protection, your strength. Your ‘wall’ is the love that envelops you, omniscient, available, at the epicentre of the present, of each moment in time.” Slowly lowering his head, the Indian looked directly at Sarah, their eyes meeting, she felt weightless, suspended in a place where time and words did not exist, yet his voice touched the very core of her being. “Take this memory with you as a gift. Take the spirit of this gift in the symbol of White Wolf who will walk beside you in spirit, your journeying companion, to remind you you ‘belong’, you are not, or ever have been, ever will be, alone.”
The love she felt, the exuding message enveloped within this visual image now resonating through her, was complete and conditionless, unattached to a specific relationship but embracing all relationships. The forest felt so earthy and safe, sensually complex, yet emotionally uncomplicated. She felt such a belonging there, sitting on the leaves and grass, feeling the softness of the carpeted ground, the coolness of the air, hearing the nature-al sounds, smelling the myriad of nature-al, earthy aromas. Her self-awareness seemed to dissipate into the environment and into the love she felt as she gazed into the eyes of the Shamanic Indian. The women silently surrounding her, sitting cross-legged, appeared strong, resilient, wise, yet she sensed their lovingness too. She did not feel protected and safe, she unquestionably just was.
The women, one by one, stood up, nodding to her in acknowledgement of her presence, and of their farewell, as they began to gracefully walk back toward the trees. She turned to observe the Shamanic Indian, but he no longer sat in his place by the fire. Eyes naturally gazing beyond the space he had occupied, she saw, stood in the near distance, a large white wolf, watching her, and, as she also turned to walk from the fire too, she felt his presence, a sense of his warmth, following at her side.
Sarah opened her eyes, blinking, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight streaming through the woodland trees. She turned toward Lily, who still sat beside her as promised, meeting Sarah’s gaze with a knowing smile.
“Now, don’t say anything, just stay with the feeling, and breath, just breath in….. breath out…….. feel your breath, the air, the cool air as you inhale, then the warm air as you exhale, just notice each breath…….. breathing in filling, receiving, accepting, absorbing……. then…. breathing out…. returning, giving, expressing ……… in equal measure ……. This is the rhythm of life, of living, of nature, of ‘being’, giving and taking in balance ……..”
Sarah slid willingly, effortlessly, into the rhythm of her breathing, feeling the chilly air as she inhaled, the warmth of the sun touching the skin on her face, moist warm air issuing from her as she exhaled, forming a misty stream suspended momentarily in the chilly air in front of her face before dissipating into the surrounding atmosphere.
Sarah opened her eyes, blinking, the distant ringing noise echoing at the edge of her awareness gradually becoming louder, closer, vibrating through the air, as her sleepy eyes adjusted to the morning sunlight streaming through the window. She stared around the room, dazed and confused, quickly scanning the scene surrounding her, the gradual recognition of familiar objects orientating, anchoring her sense of reality, steadying her initial bewilderment, waking her from her dreams. The ringing stopped abruptly, and the answer machine obediently clicking ‘on’.
“Hi. I’m not available to take your call at the moment. Please leave your message and telephone number, and I’ll return your call as soon as I can”. Sarah listened silently as her pre-recorded voice automatically addressed the mysterious caller.
“Hello Sarah. This is Sebastian Wolfe, ‘Russell, Wolfe, and White Solicitors’, returning your call…………………….”