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  • Angela O'Brien-Greywitt

Nature Heals



Walks in nature never disappoint me. Nature's ability to transform my state of mind is quite powerful. I live in Minnesota and we are blessed with the changing of the 4 seasons. Each season brings a different sort of beauty to behold. I have learned to embrace them all. Rosie, my 4 year old, Velcro Vizsla, accompanied me on my walk this morning, as she does every day. The air is crisp and the possibility of rain hangs heavy in the air. I am dressed appropriately in a light, down jacket and stocking cap. I am prepared for the cooler temps. The sky is gray, but the breeze is filled with swirling autumn leaves of sorted shapes, sizes, and magnificent colors. The orange, magenta, and yellow leaves spiraling together for their last dance of beauty before falling gently to the ground. I have always loved the smell of fall, the crisp air and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. The changing of the seasons, fall especially, brings to the surface of my awareness, a wistfulness and lessons in letting go.


I really felt the calling today to walk amongst the trees. Healing just magically happens when you go out into nature, breathe deeply in her essence and allow it to wash over and through you. There is beauty everywhere. It's up to you to notice. The plants, grasses, trees, rocks and bodies of water surround me on my walk and all vibrate at a high frequency and have the innate ability to make me feel alive. When you need a lift in your spirit, go take a walk, a hike, or a run in nature and you will feel lifted up. It is powerfully transformative and so good for your body to move, to breathe, and to be in nature. Nature heals.


There are magnificent oak trees sprinkled throughout the woods in the midst of the 11 acres of wetlands that surround my home. I am grateful the builder had the foresight to include sidewalks in our neighborhood that are connected to a paved path that meanders through the trees and ponds. One of my favorite trees, is a majestic oak tree just off the paved path. It is about a10 minute walk from my home. Just being in her presence, fills me with peace and connection to all. There is a path worn through the scrub growth that leads to her trunk. I am not the only one that has sought out her company. It is a sacred place for me. I pick up any trash that may have been blown into the brush around the tree or left by visitors. I have frequented this tree with my grandchildren because I encourage them to be in nature as much as possible and to love, honor and respect her as much as I do.


Just for fun, I like to sometimes do a yoga tree pose with my back resting up against her trunk. I can feel my heart beating into her bark as it reverberates back to me. I imagine life moving up and down her vascular tissue and flowing together with mine. We have a symbiotic relationship. I breathe in the oxygen she makes and I breathe out the carbon dioxide she needs for photosynthesis to make the oxygen. I place one foot on my thigh and the other foot planted next to her roots, raise my arms above my head and with my hands in a prayer mudra, I am one with this beautiful tree. I pause, I breathe deeply, I root down and rise up like the tree. I smile for we are one.


This mighty oak is ringed with years of living tethered to the land, rooted to mother earth. I am sure she has weathered much over her lifetime. Her glorious branches reach far out in all directions as an example of having the ability to envelop it all and stand resolute and unwavering in her strength. Someone has nailed small, rustic, boards into her body to gain purchase to climb her. There is also a platform built in her branches. I have climbed her before and rested in her embrace after a heart-wrenching conversation I had with one of my 7 beloved sisters.


My sister Kristy, was five years older than me and we had shared many experiences throughout our lifetime. We had children that were close in age and despite the distance between our homes, mine in Minneapolis, Minnesota and hers in Chicago, Illinois and then Cleveland, Ohio. They had become great friends. She had been battling breast cancer for 12 years. When someone you love has a terminal illness you tend to live in a somewhat suspended state of disbelief. Imagining, when the time comes, what life will be like in their absence.


When she spoke the words, “I am dying,” during a conversation over the phone, it was a moment I will never forget. Time stood still. My world turned upside down and everything went hazy. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I did not want to cry to her on the phone. She had enough to be concerned with at the moment. I was in a state of shock. I lived 13 hours away from her. What did she mean? Is this the last time we will speak? Will I be able to see her one more time? A million thoughts and scenarios running rampant through my mind. I am sure she could hear in my voice the sadness that was building, but I did not want to make her take on the weight of my feelings too. I needed to process this new information. We ended the conversation with, "I love you," and we will talk soon.

When I hung up the phone, I ran out the door as if I could out run her words. I was in pain. I imagined the additional pain that was yet to come. I wasn't ready to hear those words and let her go. I could not wrap my mind around her words. I ran and I ran. I was gulping in what fresh air I could. I had a lump in my throat and I needed to just get as far away from the phone as I could. I was grateful that I did not run into any of my neighbors. I could not bear to utter those words aloud, that were echoing in my head, because that would make it more real. Let alone express the building up of the grief brought on by three little words, "I am dying," spoken from someone I dearly loved and had known my entire life.


Hot tears started to flow down my cheeks. Perhaps mother nature could feel my pain and she, too, wept as it started to rain down upon me from the heavens. I barely noticed the rain. Her raindrops mixed with my tears were in perfect harmony and totally masked my undoing. I just needed to run. To get away for a moment and to breathe. To shed some of the long-held emotions that until that moment in time, I had not really understood how much had been built up and stored over the last 12 years. When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer that has become terminal, you live in a state of what ifs? I needed to be alone to process her words.


All I could think to do at this moment was to be in nature. I ran to this oak tree and climbed up the shabby, unstable boards and I wept and I prayed. I wept and prayed for her, her children, her husband and everything they had endured as a family. I wept and prayed for myself, my family, my siblings, and my parents. Oh my God, my parents. They had already lost 2 sons and 2 sons-in-laws...now a daughter? It was too much. I wept until there was nothing left.


After several minutes, I climbed down the rickety boards with my tear-streaked face and my rain soaked clothes. I felt a little lighter in my heart. This was but one, in many lessons, yet to teach me, about letting go and surrendering to what was unfolding in my life that I had no control over.


She was still alive and I was bound and determined to share as much time together with her as was possible, given the distance between us. I had not lost hope that I would see her or talk with her again. I thanked my beautiful tree for her gentle presence and for holding me in her branches. This tree had become a sanctuary for me. A silent witness to my sorrow and my joy for they are two sides of the same coin. We can feel deep sorrow when we lose what has been a great joy.


I continued to run in the rain through the woods and wetlands feeling connected to all of nature having observed my need for her healing power. While I ran, I felt a grace wash over me and fill me with a loving presence. I truly sensed the spirits of my deceased brothers running alongside me through the woods. They were reassuring me that I would be ok when the time came to say, "goodbye,” to our sister, Kristy. They would be there to greet her with love and open arms and welcome her back home to heaven. They, too, had also been waiting in a suspended state for her return. I know they are all together sending love and healing to each one of us.


In loving memory of Kevin, Brian and Kristy O'Brien my beloved siblings who passed too soon.










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