We call it by the name 'wood aven', but if you allow time and space to move beyond the word and get to know this plant more intimately, you will discover so much more.
It was a late summer evening when the air had began to cool. In the shady ravine, the lush deciduous trees exhaled, breathing cool air and readying themselves for an evening under the starry sky. We were meandering slowly alongside the stream when I spotted what looked like a little prickly ball atop a long stem- it was a seed head of the wood aven.
As it tipped back and forth in the gentle breeze, it gestured to me, inviting me over as if it
had something special to share. We walked towards it; my hand was rooting around in my pocket, trying to find my eyeglass. In my mind's eye, I envisioned the flower of the wood aven.
A member of the rose family, it has a delicate flower with five yellow petals that brightened the forest floor in early May, but the flower was long gone, now replaced by a funky-looking seed head that wouldn't be out of place in a sci-fi movie.
This contrast between spikey and delicacy captured and enticed me into a deeper relationship with the plant. I reached out cautiously, expecting the spikey ball to prickle my fingers, but to my surprise, they were incredibly soft. We each rolled the balls between our fingers, applying only a tiny amount of pressure. Then, before our eyes and in the palm of our hands, a magical transformation occurred. Each prickly ball disappeared, replaced by a soft carpet of beautiful tiny seeds, each with its own 'tail'.
We each took the eyeglass from our pockets and looked closely into our palms. There was a moment of silence followed by, in perfect synchronicity, a group 'WOW'. The design of every single seed was a work of magnificent art and perfect practicality. Each seed was light and delicate, covered with fine hairs, yet protruding from each was a long thin 'tail' with a hook that looked both delicate and menacing simultaneously.
One participant excitedly announced, "Its design is perfect", and indeed it was.
I followed with the question, "What else in nature has a perfect design?"
"Everything created in nature is perfect", came a reply.
"As humans are we a part of or apart from nature?" I asked.
Thoughtful reflection was followed by the nodding of heads and a collective breath. We hadn't headed into the woods for this lesson; we had gone along and trusted that nature would offer us new perspectives, new meaning and a deeper understanding of ourselves. Each of us left contemplating, 'I am perfect the way I am.'
Earlier, the wood aven, bobbing in the wind, had beckoned us over and invited us into a deeper relationship, and as we left, we gave thanks for this memorable 'gift of meaning'.
Shunryu Suzuki famously said, "you are perfect the way you are, and there is always room for improvement"- A Zen lesson that can raise many questions in contemporary society, but what if we reimagine our idea of perfection?
The common idea of perfection is often to look the best, be the best, do more and achieve more. There is so much pressure placed on each of us, and we are required to attain so much each day that it is easy to think there is something wrong or broken about ourselves that we need to fix or surrender ourselves to. But what if being perfect meant 'just being'- finding time to slow down, be quiet, spend time with nature and open our hearts and minds to the possibility of connection? That type of perfection is attainable in all of us, maybe not all of the time, we still have jobs to do, families to care for, a mortgage to pay, but maybe that is what Shunryu Suzuki meant when he said, "there is always room for improvement", maybe the call to 'be still' rather than to 'do more' is the home of true perfection.
Finding meaning in nature is one of the five pathways to nature connection. You can learn more about them in a previous edition of this blog.
If you'd like to join Danny on a Forest Bathing guided walk you can check out his upcoming events at www.forestbathingnorthwest.co.uk