Glistening in tiny raindrops that resemble silver balls of dew, Arachne sits queen of her web, which has appeared overnight across my doorway. Usually i wouldn’t turn an outdoor light on before dawn, as i am comfortable in the darkness and keen to take in as much of the night sky as possible before Aurora shimmers silver across the horizon from the east. But i’m not at home. I’m staying in a rustic retreat centre in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, south east Queensland, leading an intensive for ecopsychotherapy students. There’s no sunshine, though. The rain of our Australian La Nina continues. Hopefully there’ll be no more flooding, although Mullumbimby residents are meeting again, in preparation for ‘Severe Weather’.  

The light goes on and i step out, carefully, mindful that each step is a moment in time, not rushing to see if there is any chance of glimpsing the sunrise through the clouds. And there she is; i see her just in time, so that the door doesn’t take out her web, she doesn’t feel panicked as her airy world is shaken apart, and doesn’t end up crawling across my face.

Because i was moving slowly, i don’t have to clear silky strands from my face and help her back into her broken web. Instead, i take the time to stop in awe of her beauty. I know i should go and help my co-facilitator set up the hall for our morning yoga session, but i can’t drag myself away from this stunningly beautiful vision. Tiny crystalline balls of water glisten in the electric light, across her body and web, which is a spiralling cage of death to smaller insects, but a geometric pattern of wonder to me. My door has broken one long strand, which connects the web to the ground, so when i finally walk away, she is working on repairs. 

There is no dawn glimmering today, so i can’t perform my Sunrise Ceremony, and the heavy cloud cover means no Venus, Jupiter, Mars or Saturn (or Aphrodite, Zeus, Ares and Kronos) either. I’ve been tracking this predawn planetary alignment for weeks, as i perform my morning prayers at home. It is good to be visited by the gods and goddesses, occasionally. 

Back inside for yoga just after dawn, then out on Country after breakfast. What do we find when we reconnect with nature? Participants speak lovingly of rediscovering childlike delight in little things, of the watercourses they visit when they are stressed and how much calmer they feel after some time there, or of a rock in a special place that recreates a feeling of stability and confidence that has been eroded by modern reality. We speak of encounters with butterflies and ducks, of when we sense a grander scheme of things, when facing the ocean or the sky, or how we get our breath back with a walk in the bush. 

We start with reality. Where are we at today? We probably shouldn’t have to work to find solace in nature, but we do. So, we create that space, sharpen our ears, make time and allow ourselves to sink back into connection. Many find deeper rest here, some feel more enlivened. All note the way their sense of separation from nature is dissolved, how they return to a feeling of being in relationship with the land, other animals, the elements. The rain has its magical rhythm, even for those who have been traumatised by the recent floods. Tears flow, wounds are reopened and healed over again, genuine smiles come easy … the earth sings and we tune in. 

We sit in the Temenos, the sacred and safe space where all sharing is valid, where our vulnerable, soft, sometimes broken animal selves can peep out and find comfort in others. We practise walking therapy, deep listening to each other as well as nature, not talking over or waiting to respond, but being there, offering authenticity and the ‘unconditional positive regard’ recommended by person-centred counselling godfather Carl Rogers. 

We choose Sit Spots, where we can become more aware of changes in the natural landscape from day to day, moment to moment. We open up the doors of perception and come back to our senses in the moment. We draw the mind back from its monkey-like grasping and from the machine that captures us all, all too often. Guided meditations draw our awareness down into the earth’s hum, into our unique being and our universal flow at the same time, into animal totems old and new. We learn from nature, like we always did. It provides endless metaphors of healing, empowerment and flow; the grass bounces back after being trodden down, a river flows around the rocks that seemed like barriers at first, a gentle breeze brings us back to our bodies in the here and now. 

We let nature tell our life story for once, and sing around the campfire, like people have always done. It is all so easy, smooth and natural, we wonder how we ever lost this feeling in the first place. 

*NB: boundless thanks to the participants and my co-facilitator Charlotte Brown. All photos by the author. If you feel moved by these words, please consider Subscribing, Sharing or Liking this post.