Guest post by Sarah Holle
It has been a year of grief.
It has been a year of death, abuse, depression, and anxiety; of deception, unjust legal and political systems, mysterious health problems, and financial uncertainty.
Throughout this year I have felt isolation set in as I try to make sense of it all. I have drawn away at times, crippled by the overwhelming amount of suffering experienced at once. Yet I have found rest in the vast beauty of nature and comfort in the non-judgmental spirits of plants. They create a restorative atmosphere, content to simply exist and sit with you and those around you.
The flowers do not have an agenda and do not try to change who you are, yet you walk away a changed person after experiencing their patience and ease through life.
This fall I was at work on the urban farm doing a final harvest and clean up for the season. My body was exhausted from weeks of strenuous labor. I find time and time again that Mother Earth humbly puts us in our place every day we work with her, reminding us of her capability to give and take.
I sat on the ground to spare my hurting back and began individually pulling each collard green leaf from the stem, carefully inspecting each one for bug damage, as well as admiring the intricacies of how each leaf had formed.
The farm is a beautiful space for meditation and I began reflecting on the yoga sutra 2.46, which loosely translates to “practice each posture with grace and ease.” I believe this applies to all parts of life, being mindful in how we move, think, and react. So as I sat in the farm, I harvested each plant with grace and ease, feeling a connection to each one and acknowledging its life and vitality. The plants had endured the harsh Minnesota weather, taking a beating from the summer heat and autumn cold, still they remain beautiful and resilient—not to mention delicious and nourishing.
Just days before, I was sitting in a forest outside of Portland grieving the unexpected loss of my cousin Andy. Sage and lavender incenses burned as the river gently flowed and the trees rustled in the wind, reminding me that Andy’s spirit is here and can’t be erased.
Andy had lavender growing outside his house; an herb that has calming properties and multifaceted use, and one that I use to calm the increasingly frequent anxiety attacks that wash over me. As I approached Andy’s house, it was as if his lavender plants were guarding the entrance, marking his home as a place of peace, tranquility, and mindfulness.
His home was minimalistic and mindfully arranged. There were books of wisdom lying around, a small Buddha on the mantel, and wholesome food still fresh in the pantry. I know Andy was on a journey of finding peace within himself and with the earth, but I will no longer be able to ask of the enlightenment he discovered.
However, I can follow the way Andy lived and find enlightenment of my own. In this season of grief, I have realized each moment is worth recognizing and living with grace and ease, since we don’t know what the next moment will bring.
Nature has been my teacher in this. Plants—whether collard greens or lavender—have trained me in mindfulness and brought me healing and rest during a year of grief.
As I have experienced this for myself, I’ve also realized the troubling disconnect between our society and the natural world today. We have forgotten how to listen to the instincts that our ancestors used to live by. Our world has become so cluttered with noise and distraction, and yet we wonder why we feel overwhelmed and experience such staggering levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
I became more aware of our present disconnect with nature while living in Kona, Hawaii. There, the land is everything—it is a place of healing and spiritual encounter, it is a central part of Hawaii’s history and native culture, and it shapes the way people live. Witnessing the central role of nature in Hawaiian life grew my fascination with plants and deepened my own sense of connection to the earth.
The earth holds many mysteries we have tried to understand through religion, as well as the beliefs, traditions, and sacred texts passed down from our ancestors. But if we mindfully studied the living organisms around us, how they exist and interact in their complex ecosystems, we can glimpse these mysteries and gain a further understanding of how we are so deeply intertwined.
I’ve found throughout this challenging year that returning to nature, resting in the beauty of a sunset or an immeasurable mountain range, brings perspective to the suffering we experience. It doesn’t discredit our thoughts or feelings, rather the vastness of the earth as well as the small intricacies of nature reminds us that we are not alone.
I challenge you to engage with the natural world and discover this for yourself. Whether it is examining the intricate patterns of your wood table or the leaves of a houseplant, or taking a walk outside, notice how welcoming the earth is to your soul—and let that transform you.
Sarah Holle is an urban farmer and yoga instructor from Minneapolis, MN.
She studied Food Systems and Horticulture at the University of Minnesota and is passionate about stewarding sustainable landscapes and communities. If you don’t see her biking around Minneapolis with coffee in hand, you can probably find her on a hike out West—referencing her favorite Western Wild Flowers Guide Book.
This post is part of a series on belonging, in which I'm exploring the idea of belonging as well as sharing stories, expressions, and experiences of belonging from my life and others. Please email me if you’d like to share your story, discuss this topic, or be notified when new blogs are posted.