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Grief In the Wild

The day of the Grief in the Wild Retreat turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of the year. In the wake of winter and a long global pandemic, I treasured the clear blue skies and the hot sun, which kept me nice and warm in sixty-degree weather. Most of the retreat took place on a large open field that felt expansive enough to encompass all that I was carrying inside. I felt small listening to the sounds of the forest: the birds, the winds rustling the leaves of far-off trees, the occasional roar of laughter of another group at the camp—kids reminding us of happier days. My grief suddenly felt proportionate and manageable. The forest helped me to attain the clarity and peace that I would come to feel on this day.

What I learned about grief helped me to make sense of and honor the confusing emotions I was feeling—regret, sadness, irritation, disappointment, fear—that I both obsessed about and tried to avoid (continuously playing out the what-ifs and telling myself to “move on,” as if this were a possibility). I learned that grief is often complex and exhausting and that we don’t experience it only after death. We also experience it after transition and loss. I learned that many of us carry grief for years, masked as anxiety or depression. I learned that we are taught from a young age to avoid pain and that the preferred method of avoiding feelings is to stay as busy as possible. I was no stranger to this method. But if I can accept my grief, if I can make time for it and let myself feel it, the grief becomes more manageable, and I can heal. I believe this because a lot changed for me after only one day of learning to accept my grief during this retreat.

The best part of the day was the forest bath when we immersed ourselves in Mother Nature. Although it sounds intimate and extravagant, there was no water or nudity involved in this spectacular sensory experience. I have never smelled anything fresher; it was intoxicating. Nor have I ever felt so calm. Nature naturally regulates our nervous systems. The forest bath was perfectly timed to help us prepare for our journal assignment at the end of the retreat. It was now that I experienced the greatest clarity and peace. It felt as if I were experiencing a huge shift from the jumbled emotional state with which I had entered the retreat. The experience helped me to understand what I needed right now and inspired me to take a small step toward achieving what I needed.

We can only rarely take a day to focus on our emotions. It sounds too indulgent to spend a whole day dedicated to our inner world. Or maybe we worry that it will be too much to handle. But I did it and I am better for it. I don’t claim that my emotions are entirely resolved. But I trust that I will heal and move on. Now that I am home, I have made it a point to unplug from technology and get out of the house at least once a day. The spontaneity of Mother Nature helps put even my biggest fears in perspective. The forest bath is still with me. The trees, streams, and birds on my path are ever-present, reminding me that I am a welcome guest in their world.

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