Last month, I hosted the first Still retreat weekend for seven smart, funny and kind women along the shores of peaceful Lac Clermoustier. On Saturday, after Chef Maya's beautiful breakfast and Carolynn's energizing flow, I invited the group to a creative prompt: walk down a lovely tree-lined path a few minutes from the cottage. Take at least 10 photos, up close and down low. Notice something, label it, observe your breath, keep walking and let go.
Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is one of my favourite ways to find stillness. I didn't always know it by the Japanese word. As a kid, I would just play in the woods behind my house, making forts and imagining fairies slept under knotty, moss-covered stumps. Now I seek ways to soak in the green; seeing, breathing, hearing, touching and tasting all of it.
It's the key for my caged urban soul.
Everyone headed out on their photo walk. "The path is at the end of this road," I promised. "You can't miss it." Then one by one they looped back, confused and disappointed but still smiling. A new sign and fence blocked the path entry - "Private Property, No Trespassing".
During the pandemic new development started in this area of the lake. Here I was, setting expectations for retreat participants that there would be peaceful hike. Now they were walking back and forth the along dirt road, next to cars, chalets and a pod of electric bike riders.
Despite the re-route, everyone had something to share over lunch. One woman said because I assured her she couldn't miss the path, obviously she must have done something wrong, missed a turn, failed the instructions. Someone else remarked because it was autumn there would not be anything beautiful to photograph but then she noticed the changing leaves and flowers around her. Another woman observed that she was walking too fast. "I have nowhere to be other than here. I can slow down." And yes, there were a few rebels that simply ignored the sign and hopped the fence to bathe in the forest. Because that's what they were craving.
It was a reminder to me of the power in the stories we tell ourselves and the beauty in a small invitation to notice and let go things go.