Saturday, February 21, 2015


“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”
 -Robert Frost from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
St. Johnsbury VT in the distance from the Town Forest trailhead. 8pm. Snowing.
Dearest Readers,

Two weeks ago, I joined a dozen members of the St. Johnsbury Vermont Shambhala Meditation Center for a night walk and meditation in the town forest. I could not use my camera on the trek, but I returned this week during the day to photograph my experience in hindsight.  Daylight, sadly, destroys the sense of night wonder.

Bob Taylor, Buddhist teacher and survivalist led the way in silence, single file and without flashlights. It was around 8:00 PM at the trailhead. The temperature had risen from near zero to the teens. Somehow the snowy path reflected enough natural light to provide visibility. Footing was slippery, but I kept my eyes on the feet of the person in front of me as we climbed to the top of the forest trail. Boots crunched on the snow, arms swished against nylon parkas and snow pants. 

 We stopped at a clearing near the top, surrounded by a circle of very tall pines.

Each of us picked a favorite tree, and sat in the snow on insulated pads for perhaps 10 minutes of contemplation.  I felt intensely the smooth and comfortable tree bark against my back, as I settled against it into a mound of soft snow. 

Light flurries tickled my face as I gazed up my tree into one-point perspective. My walk-mates dissolved into the darkness of the forest next to their trees.  I felt alone, protected, nestled within the strength of the pines.

My senses were on high alert–eyes, ears and touch. I experienced a sensation of danger, excitement, and solidarity with the forest. Those tall enduring black sentinels held back unknown and imaginary creatures wintering within the solid darkness behind our circle of trees.

Bob reminded us that the winter landscape is beautiful and cruel. We dressed for the cold, and showed respect for the external conditions of the landscape.

Then we rose from our silent nests and walked out of the forest, down the trail, and back
out into the world of people and things to do.
Bob our leader gave us four contemplations to ponder in the wilderness. There are many answers.
  1. How can contact with the non-human natural world be mind protection?
  2. How can the natural elements be a transmission of unconditionality?
  3. How can feeling connected with nature be an expression of good human society?
  4. What is "pure perception” and how is it related to bravery?

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