Submitted by: Raj
In 2007, I returned home to Camrose, after having lived as a Buddhist monk for eight years, studying under the Tibetan Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. I wasn’t prepared for the shock of returning to “regular” life, and often times found the transition overwhelming as I suffered through a deep sense of loss and unknowing. My training had taught me the value of sitting still during times of upheaval, so I continued with my daily meditations and tried to let the turmoil ‘just be’. This contemplative time was often complemented by walks in nature. Just a little more than a stone’s throw from my family home is Mirror Lake, a natural gem in the centre of Camrose.
During high school, I would often whiz by the lake on training runs for cross country. At that time, I had not yet developed an appreciation for any of its features beyond the running trail. But during my daily walks, I grew to find a deep comfort in the energy of the trees and meadows alongside the lake. There is a Japanese term, forest bathing, that recognizes the subtle healing power of nature to cleanse the spirit and help us calm the many burdens we take on through the course of our lives. Over time, I grew to look forward to this gentle dialogue between my worries and confusion and the silent energy of the waters, pine trees and Russian poplars. I continued this rhythm – meditating and then going for a walk around the lake – for one year.
Ever so slowly, the meditations and forest conversations began to ease the turmoil. Over time, my daily walks alongside Mirror Lake took on a deeper character. At times it seemed that some of the luminosity that was emerging in my meditations was also shining back at me from the natural world. These experiences prompted me to take up photography to try to share and express what the lake and its environs was becoming, had become, for me.
These photographs became the basis for a book called “My Happy Peaceful Place,” that I developed the following year, which I produced as part of a new job working in mental health at elementary schools in the local area. Since then, the healing properties of the natural world continue to move me and influence my life. When I left my job and returned to complete my university studies, I was able to work closely with a good friend and professor, Dittmar Mundel, to develop a program called Spirit of the Land that seeks to integrate the spiritual dimensions of our relationship with nature with undergraduate and community education programs. This work has since evolved into an annual course and conference, open to the public, at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus (www.spiritoftheland.ca). We are now in the process of expanding the program to elementary schools.