Sylvan Reflections: Wanderings, Paintings and Ponderings from the Forest, by Barbara Brown
I was so moved by the October issue of One Thousand Trees . . . the vulnerability of all of us, facing our fears; and when we do and we move through them, the joy we feel – I call it ‘deep fun’ – gives rise naturally to the impetus toward celebration . . . of self.
My journey toward the creation of SYLVAN REFLECTIONS: Wanderings, Paintings and Ponderings From the Forest is about facing my fears; and it’s about wanting to get to know better that feeling of wonderful satisfaction, fulfillment; those times when you’re having fun . . . deep fun, . . . you’ve come out the other side of that fear and you do feel celebratory towards yourself, self-congratulatory, proud yet always oddly humbled . . . blessed . . . grateful. Thankful that you’re able to get your message across; so pleased that it is well received; so honoured that it touches others and adds to their lives . . . what a feeling that is!
I’ll begin my story about ten years ago; I was in my early fifties, and no longer creatively challenged by my work . . . but always resisting, or somehow never fulfilling, the deep-seated urges I always felt toward making art. There was then a year of many deaths, close in to me, including my mother. And then the next year I was diagnosed with lung cancer. And in these losses, and in the facing of my own mortality, I awakened to a new level of aware-ness of what this life is all about; it’s about embracing it as the wondrous gift it is, as fully as we can; it’s about finding what gives you deep joy and sinking yourself into those depths. I made the decision to sell my small home-based business (I had been annually producing my area’s tourist maps and street maps for twenty years) and to reinvent myself as the artist I always knew I needed to find out if I could be. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff . . . and I was going to need to learn how to fly. I remember feeling like somehow my whole being – even my past selves and ancestors, my future selves as well – were all crying out to me saying: “It’s time!” I didn’t know what it was I was going to do; all I knew was that I had to give myself the time and space to see what wanted to percolate up from the depths. I attended a Hay House ‘I Can Do It’ conference, without knowing really why I was there, and speaking to barely another soul there, but being immensely inspired by the likes of Louise Hay, Marianne Williamson . . . and Wayne Dyer with his “don’t die with your music still inside you.” So I freed up my life to begin painting. I hadn’t done a painting in twenty years; I had huge resistance to the actual act of painting; I didn’t know what I wanted to paint; but I knew I had to. I knew I had demons that needed to be faced. And I felt I had promises to keep that I had made to myself way back in the mists of time.
I registered as a participating artist in our local ArtWalk, knowing that if I had a deadline, involving a commit-ment to other people, that I would meet it. I created rituals to help me to break through my resistances, using music and aromatherapy and the wearing of what I call my ‘power necklace’ that I made for the purpose from bones and amber and feathers from the forest. I listened to webinars by inspirational speakers. And I began experimenting with watercolours, pastels, colour schemes, figure drawings and symbolism, abstracts and landscapes. But most importantly I simply asked. I asked myself, my higher self, and the universe . . . I asked what was I meant to do. And then I did my very best to step back, to get out of my own way, let go, trust and surrender . . . to let the answer come. Allow the answer to arise. And it was when I asked myself the question “Well, what is it that you love the most?” that the answer came: I love spending time in the forest. I had been walking in the forest as a daily practice for nigh on two decades – ever since I had seen a psychologist in the late ‘90s, seeking relief from the chronic low-grade depression I had suffered from for most of my life; and one of the first and best things she said to me was "well, do you want to be depressed or do you want to go for a walk every day?” I began walking, every day, in the forest where I live – in the remote wilderness of the Slocan Valley nestled in the mountains of southeast British Columbia – and it immediately became the best-loved part of my day. It became ‘who I am,’ the activity I most identify myself with. As my connection with the forest deepened, all aspects of my life – my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves – all experienced deeper levels of well-being. And the realization came to me that while I was in the woods, being awestruck every day at the beauty of nature, feeling so blessed to live where I live and have this amazing gift right outside my front door – I realized that while I was walking there, and sitting in stillness there, I was imagining sharing it with others – in my imagination I had an audience who I was showing the beautiful images to and telling my stories to, of animal encounters and of the finding of treasures and the feelings of reverence and connection I was experiencing – I wanted to share all of this. It was a feeling of being filled up to overflowing so that it had to flow out of me and be shared. For the last painting completed for ArtWalk that year I thought I’d try my hand at oil painting (it had been thirty years since I’d done an oil!). There was one particular Grand Fir tree on the edge of the forest, that struck me every day with the gorgeousness of its great and graceful boughs sweeping out from the depths of the shadows of its deep dark core, and I decided to see if I could capture this presence in oil. And I did it! It worked! I called the painting ‘Grand Depths’ and I knew I could happily spend the rest of my life painting the forest. I had begun to write as well, following those same urges to share. I wanted to somehow offer the experience of the forest to people who weren’t so lucky as I was live within it. The book began to take shape, and then the website . . . with the idea to bring the forest to people. I had in mind especially elders, house-bound, or even just city folk who can’t get out into the forest as much as they might like to, to join me, vicariously, for a walk in the woods. Three years later I published the book. It begins: “Come, let’s go for a walk together, in the forest . . . If you are unable to spend time in the forest today let me take you there; come along with me. I’ll be your eyes and your ears, your nose and your skin. Come drink from the creek with me, get a little wake-up slap on the cheek from a tree branch in passing . . .” It is my hope to inspire and to soothe people by bringing to them the beauty and healing magic of nature. I still have many hurdles to get through, fears to face and challenges to rise to. In many ways it feels like the publishing of the book is just the beginning of the journey, as now comes the work of finding the people it can touch, sharing it wider — the prospect of which fills me with terror! But I have come to learn that those fears always hide the joy; it is in moving through our fears that we come to the deeply fun experiences of sharing our gifts, our offerings, and shining our light. . . . And in that is the ultimate feeling of celebration of self.