I have been mostly silent during this past year of pandemic life. Throughout 2020 I had much to say while at the same time was often speechless and unable to write. Life changed so rapidly from day to day that by the time I completed a piece of writing, it was irrelevant.
Way back In mid-October of 2019, I gently began settling back in Southern Oregon after a life-changing nine-month journey in Idaho. By late fall, I was once again guiding forest therapy experiences and was actively forging new collaborations for my nature-based wellness practice, locally in Southern Oregon as well as other areas of the state. 2020 was off to an active start.
In early January I signed a contract to guide a Memorial Day forest bathing retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort, in collaboration with sound healer and forest therapy guide, Joy Evans, from The Bay Area. I began planting seeds for the retreat 2 years earlier and was incredibly grateful for this hard-earned spot at Breitenbush. As well, Trout Creek Wilderness Lodge reached out in early 2020 with an invitation to facilitate a forest bathing retreat at their healing center in an old growth forest, later in the summer. I was actively mentoring forest therapy guides in training for The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and cultivating partnerships between Wild Wellness Guide and others.
Much was in the works by mid-March when my elderly parents relocated back to Southern Oregon after nearly two years of living in Montana, near my sister. They were set to arrive on March 19th to a retirement community in Medford. Little did any of us know what was about to hit. It was quite a shock for me and my parents when they arrived at their new community and went immediately into lock-down following a newly issued state order in response to Covid. I was unable to enter their apartment for over 6 months and my parents didn't see any of their friends for 3 months. I instantly donned my health advocate hat to remotely help my parents navigate Covid life, suddenly filled with communication/technology issues, medical crises and hospital visits.
With the sudden lock-down, my work halted. A forest therapy guide training I was scheduled to assist at in early April was cancelled and the training program came to an abrupt standstill. All trainings were postponed and staff put on furlough while A.N.F.T. began re-inventing itself. After many months of unknowing and waiting, my mentoring work came to an end.
At the same time, I received regular updates from Breitenbush Hot Springs, temporarily closed due to Covid, regarding my retreat scheduled for late May. At this point, when Oregon was beginning to slowly open up in early May, most of us were still clueless about what would follow as a world-wide pandemic unfolded. Breitenbush suggested they might reopen by the end of May, just in time for my retreat. I waited for their update, but it seemed clear that a large venue offering communal dining, hot spring soaking, workshops and shared lodging would be one of the last places to re-open during Covid. I received notice in early May that Breitenbush would remain closed until further notice. By August, the retreat was rescheduled for 2021. Then, in early September, when wildfires raged throughout Oregon, Breitenbush tragically burned down and will be rebuilding through 2022. The discussions for the other forest bathing retreat near Portland didn't even have a chance to move forward. I rapidly discovered that making plans during Covid was an exercise in futility. I was getting a serious lesson about living in the moment.
The world coming to an abrupt stop was a shock to my habit of expecting life to show up to meet my plans. Most of the world was in disbelief, and adjusting in unison to the new normal of lock-down, isolation, Covid deaths, loss of physical touch, covered faces and deserted offices and streets. Suddenly, grocery shelves were empty; we scrambled for toilet paper and Googled recipes for hand sanitizer. My daughter who had already been on lock-down in Hong Kong for 6 weeks, composed a Covid song and warned me to buy toilet paper. Up until Covid's arrival, life was easier than any of us had realized. Though I've had a daily gratitude practice for years, in 2020 I learned the meaning of "taking something for granted." Early into Covid, here, in The West, we got a miniscule peek into how people in third world countries and, in many of our own cities, scramble daily for the very basics. I realized what a privileged existence I've lived.
With no work and the sudden isolation, even though I am a quiet introvert, I felt seriously cut off from my local community. I was in stress mode with my sympathetic nervous system triggered daily by the fear of Covid. At the time, I was living with housemates who worked with the public. Initially, I became fixated on door handles, dish towels, hand towels and kitchen surfaces (which later proved to not be the route of choice for Covid's spread). When one housemate brought home a smashed box of sanitizing wipes that weren't saturated with toxic chemicals, it was like found treasure.
Considering "nothing" was happening, everything was happening on multiple levels. We were early into Covid and the overload switch had been flipped on. With the sudden shock of losing my work and income; the isolation; my initial felt fear of Covid and my parents need for much help, health advocacy and communication and tech support, along with the rest of the world, I had entered pandemic reality.
Other than taking care of the basics and helping my parents, I did the untypical for me- I stopped. All of my doing and creating came to a halt, replaced by being. My daily self-care practices became more important than ever. Mornings began with a set of Self-Reiki, Wim Hof Breathing, a shower ending with 2 minutes of ice water (or on some days, an icy dip in the creek); skin brushing, including lymph brushing; a glass of fresh squeezed celery juice and a set of Jinjing Qigong. Finally came breakfast. I'm still doing all the practices and have recently added in Nidra Yoga and EcoNIDRA. What if we organized our work around our self-care routine, rather than our self-care around work?
Early into Covid, my previous life morphed into a world of liminality as we call it in forest therapy- an experience of dropping out of one's typical mental mind and stepping into the present moment. Though it was still quite cold, wet and wintery, I spent much time in the woods, immersing in nature, dropping into my senses through forest bathing. Last winter and early spring, the streets were deserted and the park trails mostly empty. I often found ducks and squirrels using the paths and bridges which they typically stayed clear of when humans were previously present. After 40 years of walking these trails, I spied my first Jackrabbit at Lithia Park. As the animals reclaimed their forest for a brief time, they seemed to quickly adapt to very few humans on their land. At that time I had several experiences meeting small creatures on the trails who suddenly startled at finding a human in their space. More than ever, I understood whose home this forest was.
As Covid brought life to a standstill, I was stuck on a repeating loop, telling myself I should be creating, making and producing, even though I was being called to stop. The Pandemic brought with it the gift of a re-set on a worldwide scale, not something that comes along in a typical lifetime. Though I felt blocked and frozen, initially I pressured myself to offer guided virtual forest therapy walks or create a nature-based coaching offering through Zoom. But even with my strong passion and love for my work and always feeling driven to keep it moving forward, I couldn't make plans. During my trips to the forest, almost daily, I did take photos and nature videos to share through social media for those with no access to nature and the outdoors. That felt like exactly what I needed to do. After months of this feeling of "stuck" I finally was at peace, allowing my heart and inner compass to lead. I stopped grasping for the "next" thing; gratefully accepted the support of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and allowed myself the needed space to reorient while continuing to assist my parents. Instead of being in what felt like a sinking boat, wondering where land was, I realized the boat was my life raft where I could find safety through this challenging time. As the year progressed, I noticed more and more people looking for relief in nature, leaving gifts for all along the trails.
This time last year, I walked miles in nature and along the eerily quiet empty streets with darkened storefronts. I walked through the deserted campus of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and felt the massive loss of Ashland's main economic base. I knew that without Shakespeare many local businesses would never reopen once the lock-down was over. My home of over 3 decades was a new world. The silent, deep blue skies and billowing clouds, minus the air traffic became bluer and more stunning each day as I walked the trails, worked in my garden or practiced qigong in the grass. I wondered where all the people were and what they were doing? All the world together had stepped into the same story, called, "Pandemic"-vividly real and surreal all at once. In this story, I was astonished and bewildered and unable to tap into my previous clarity. Devoid of my former routine and mostly isolated, I entered into quiet, I could feel the shocked state of the world and was reminded of the pain I felt when my marriage ended-when ways of relating, unconsciously established over decades, suddenly shattered into disorientation while accompanied by vivid clarity, and the relief that comes with truth.
The challenges and journey of the past year have been powerful and for millions of people, painful catalysts for growth. My own experience was like navigating class 5 rapids in a raging river with no paddle; doing my best to stay afloat. All the death, loss, isolation, separation and pain on the planet has changed me forever. Just before the winter holidays, I lost three friends to different causes within a period of 6 weeks; each of them, gone in an instant from their vibrant lives. 2020 offered a challenging bridge into my next stage of life. I've finally come to accept and honor the beautiful and unique life I've lived. I am grateful for what is and continue to challenge myself to stay spacious, present and aware as I cultivate how to authentically best live, love, serve and remain whole. It took a pandemic for me to fully recognize my essential need to rest; slow down; make friends with the unknown; meet my shadow and practice kindness toward myself as well as others. Onward.
Many Blessings, Sari