Ecotherapy, Sanctuary, Seasonal Wisdom, Summer

A Summer Sanctuary

Summer is a season of fullness. It invites both play and rest. Creation and incubation. Exploration and retreat. Wildness and cultivation. Journeys and homecomings. It’s a season expansive enough to hold all of these ebbing and flowing rhythms. I’ve noticed that it gets very quiet in our yard in the afternoon. Birds, bunnies, and squirrels honor the need to forage and play in the cooler hours, while seeking shade and stillness in the heat of mid-day. They tune into their innate wisdom, following their summer rhythms and retreating as a form of self care.

In the spirit of rhythms and self care, I have been contemplating a seasonal sanctuary—a place inspired by wisdom from the natural world and our wisdom within. A space that honors the rhythms of this season as well as our needs and desires. A haven that restores the body. And a harbor of inner hospitality that sustains the heart. This may be an actual location or an imaginary, metaphorical space. Or perhaps a combination of both.

When I envision my summer sanctuary, there is flowing water, shade trees, and the softness of the evening as the sun rests on the horizon. There is respite from suburban noise. There are life giving books, a blank journal, and my favorite pen. A bowl of freshly picked blueberries is close at hand. In this dwelling, I savor the quiet and listen to the voice within. Wildflowers grow freely here, bordering this half-real, half-imagined sanctum of wild peace.

As you ponder your summer sanctuary consider what nourishes body and spirit as well as your natural rhythms. You may want to use the prompts below to explore these ideas through writing or imagery such as a collage, sketch, or watercolor.

A Summer Sanctuary

I imagine . . . (a place in nature, a landscape, or an imaginary space)

With scents of . . .

Sounds of . . .

Textures of . . .

Surrounded by . . .

I am nourished in this space by . . .

A place where I . . .

This season invites . . .

My sanctuary welcomes . . .

My hope is that you will seek out restorative places, find pockets of sanctuary throughout your day, and honor the ebbs and flows as you embrace all the hues of summer.

May This Be a Place
by Stacey M. Hayes

May this be a place of respite when you are weary,
Inspiration when you are stuck,
Calm when there is chaos.
A place of quenching coolness and inner warmth.
A space to reflect, dream, and create.
May you find peace and delight here.
May this be a place of embrace that lovingly holds all that you are.

Ecospirituality, Ecotherapy, Migrations

Practicing Reverence: The Wonder of Winter Birds

As winter and Christmas draw near, the natural world becomes quieter. It is a wonderful time to to seek the sacred in its stillness and to practice reverence.

I’ve always had a heart for birds, and my heart swells with awe for winter birds. They inspire the practice of reverence in me. All season long, I never tire of watching birds that have migrated here for winter such as juncos, sparrows, and the beloved hermit thrush. Our home becomes theirs as they’ve joined the family of our year-round feathered friends. 

My heart leapt with joy the morning I saw a hermit thrush as I had been anticipating its arrival for several weeks. I was keenly aware that his journey was many miles during one autumn night, and he arrived at our home— his home.

Its arrival inspired me to write this poem:

Hermit Thrush
Elegant with tones of brown.
Shy, kind, and gentle. You came last winter and stayed for awhile. Where do you go as the days grow longer? I’ve seen your kind in the deep woods.
You remind me to pause. May you find solace here.
~ Stacey Hayes

During the peak migratory months from September through November, my heart was filled with both wonder and deep humility for migrating birds. Writing this blessing for them was a balm for my worry as I imagined them dodging skyscrapers and navigating artificial light.

Reverence is practiced by acknowledging the gravity of their migration journeys. By beholding deep admiration for their beauty, habits, and understated songs. By offering hospitality, knowing their time in this particular place will come to an end.

Reverence reaches deep in the spirit—beyond observation and mindfulness, which can be paths to reverence. It is not only a feeling but a posture of the soul. In practicing reverence, our spirit connects deeply with another living being’s. We see its fullness—its gifts, strength and humility. There is a felt sense that my spirit connects with its spirit as if an invisible yarn knits us together, even if for a moment.

Reverence is defined as “deep respect for someone or something.” (Oxford Languages) and is derived from the Latin reverentia, or awe.

Reverence is a tapestry of attention, empathy, and expression.

We offer our attention as we carefully observe the being’s habits and personality. We offer empathy as we imagine what may bring it joy or suffering. We acknowledge its story, journey, hardships and delights.

Reverence may be so poignant that we may feel led to offer it expression in some way—through gratitude, a hope, blessing, painting or poem. It may stir us to compassion and invite tending such as offering protection or shelter.

Or perhaps we simply hold this experience within our heart as we go about our day—allowing it to engender wonder and care.

Much is written in psychological literature about the benefits of finding novelty in a change of scenery or traveling. Of seeking awe in new experiences. However, I find reverence in the ordinary — in the familiar song of the Carolina Wren whose tune resounds from our deck each morning. In the comforting predictability of cottontail rabbits munching in our side yard at dusk. And while my life is enhanced and my best self revealed in these moments, reverence in its purest form is ultimately not about me and my wellness. It’s about another, the vastness, and honoring the sacred in front of me.

Practicing reverence, I assure you, will make an ordinary day extraordinary. And thankfully reverence isn’t reserved for mountaintop experiences. It dwells in the familiar. It rests in the ordinary. It is enlivened by the intimacy of knowing the creatures around you.

Welcome the wonder of birds into your life by listening for their winter carols, hanging a bird feeder, and providing a bird bath.

Or, simply step outside your front door or peek outside your window. See what calls out to you and invites your attention.

Practice reverence to warm your soul on a cold winter’s day.

Autumn Leaves, Ecospirituality, Ecotherapy, Nature & Me

The Wisdom of Leaf Skeletons

Most of our attention goes to the brilliant leaf color this time of year. However, I’d like to recognize and honor an often unnoticed gift of the season. As we move deeper into autumn, leaf skeletons become scattered amongst crunchy and colorful leaves on the forest floor.

When I first became aware of a leaf skeleton, I was struck by its beauty – its starkness, delicate nature, and intricacy. The skeleton reveals the structure of the leaf and the veins that supported it with nutrients and water in previous seasons.

Though now delicate, those veins nurtured and nourished the leaf until energy was sent into the tree roots to prepare for cold weather ahead. Some fallen leaves become leaf skeletons. But not all do. The process requires a harmony of exposure and shelter. (Ultimately, all leaves join together as leaf litter that nourish the soil, trees, and creatures below it.)

The leaf skeleton is a gentle, yet poignant, visual reminder of what is life giving and spirit sustaining. Of what supports us when everything else is removed—the superficial comforts and distractions. When all else falls away, the essence remains. The life lines and supports that sustain us are revealed.

Sometimes it takes a shedding, a decomposing, a falling away to reveal what is vital. Just as food, water, shelter and sleep are essential for the body, there are essential elements for the spirit.

My Soulful Leaf Skeleton

Just as each human is imprinted with a unique and precious spirit, what sustains each spirit will be unique.

I researched leaf skeletons online to learn more about the biological processes. And I was surprised that the majority of results were how to create your own leaf skeletons artificially (as they have been treasured for their beauty for many years). However, I’d prefer to find, observe, and treasure them in their natural environment.

If you happen upon one, delight in the botanical wonder you have found. Invite it to remind you of the essence of what’s needed for your soul.

When everything else falls away—whether by choice or circumstance—what is there to uphold and sustain you? Embrace what nurtures your spirit this autumnal season.

And when you venture into the woods this fall, take comfort in the leaf skeletons and leaf litter that nourish the earth you walk upon.

To delve deeper into the gifts that autumn offers, explore the wisdom of autumn trees.

Ecotherapy, Nature & Healing, Summer, Water

Water’s Edge: Refresh

Water is Elemental

Summer can be hot, dry, and stagnant here in North Carolina. The contrast of cool water reminds me of how elemental and essential water is to both our bodies and souls.

The quenching rainfall after the monotony of hot, dry days. The mist off a beautiful waterfall. Putting your feet in the cool flowing water and feeling the river rocks of a mountain creek. And, of course, walking along the threshold of sand and sea at the beach.

All of these experiences replenish my body and nourish my spirit. The cool touch of water on my skin, the sound of running water to my ears, and the flow of water shift my inner rhythms. What was once still and stagnant now has movement.

Sometimes the soul’s remedy is simply flowing water.

Each of us is drawn to particular elements and landscapes that soothe or speak to us in perhaps sacred ways. For me it has always been the water. As a child, I was drawn to the sea and would crawl to the shoreline before I could walk.

When I’m in the mountains, I seek out waterfalls. And when I’m in the woods, I get giddy when I find a small creek or stream.

Water’s Invitation

We can explore more deeply the wisdom and wonder of water with our heads, hands and heart.

When you are feeling parched, stagnant, or disheartened, I invite you to seek the water’s edge—this could be a lake, a creek, a waterfall, or beach. Or a puddle after rain.

Be in this space however you’d like—maybe it’s sitting, walking, observing, or playing. Maybe it’s a “dip your toe in” experience or a deep dive.

What do you notice about your external environment?

Does anything shift for you internally? What thoughts, memories or feelings arise? Maybe you are soothed or energized.

Does the water whisper any wisdom to you?

Feel free to write down any thoughts.

You may even want to create art …

Perhaps by exploring the shades of blue or green in the water with crayons, pastels or watercolors.

Or taking a photo.

Or sketching a flora or fauna you encounter while there.

Or creating an image that represents the way you feel at the water’s edge.

If you are inclined, take a moment to offer gratitude for the water. You may be moved to write a hope or blessing for it.

I offer thanks to the quenching water for earth’s creatures and flora. I am eternally grateful for the way flowing water buoys my soul. May we treat this precious natural resource with wisdom, kindness and tenderness.

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years…is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

~ Rachel Carson, Marine Biologist & Conservationist