We guide Beauty Walks most weeks near our home base in Portland Maine. So far in 2017 we have led free walks in our city's natural areas for hundreds of community members.
Our local guided walks are for humans trying to make the world a decent place to live, and who sometimes get burnt out by their efforts. It's about coming together with other justice-oriented souls to share some wilderness wisdom. It's about coming together with other world-weary souls for some solidarity to keep burning bright.
We meet at a rotating location in and around Portland each week to reflect on a selection of natural wisdom from wilderness literature. You will move, meditate, converse... then return with a renewed spirit to your important work in the world.
See our Calendar for information about opportunities to join.
If you aren't near enough to join our guided Beauty Walks we've got you covered. Read on to get some guidance in how to experience the natural wisdom in your local neighborhood and in the world around you.
The Beauty Walk is a practice for you no matter where you are in relation to untrammeled wilderness. It is designed to help you make the familiar strange and in so doing get a hearty dose of wilderness renewal whether on city sidewalks, on a forest trail, a mountain trek, or a stroll by the surf.
This practice of the Beauty Walk came to Renewal in the Wilderness from a member of our Board of Directors, Sharon Welch, who has used this practice with her students. Sharon shaped the following with inspiration from Animal, Vegetable, & Mineral: The Sacred Connection, an article by Carol Lee Sanchez.
Making the familiar strange
First, think of an outdoor site in your community to explore. Many of us find ourselves observing the world around us through the windshield of our cars. In order to get a real sense of your environment you’ll have to resist the temptation to do a drive-by analysis. Instead, think of a place where you can explore the terrain and its community carefully, slowly. Set aside a good chunk of time (two hours if possible) for exploring your site. It might be a block, a district (e. g. an arts district), a several block radius, or a park.
Your choice should be practical for you. Perhaps you can sit down with a local map and draw out a pattern of a square, or triangle, or something else. Does the site take on different qualities at different times of the day? If so, walk the area during those times, being careful to observe similarities and differences.
If issues of personal safety are present, take a pal along with you on your walk, being careful not to get so involved in your friendship that you fail to notice the subtleties of the surroundings.
If you have not already done so, do a bit of homework about the history of the area you are exploring. When was it formed? Who were the original residents? What were the demographics then and now? What changes have taken place through the past decades? Jot down what you learn.
Dress for the weather, stay hydrated, put on your comfortable shoes and walk! Engage this as a spiritual exercise, as a walking meditation or time for reflection and imagination.
How do animals experience the area? What can you learn about the place from the plants? How are minerals present?
Who lives here? Do people live differently in different zones? How do they work or play? To what extent do those living here also work here? Where do inhabitants shop or otherwise meet their daily needs? How do they relate to the natural world? Where and how do animals live? How are animals, vegetables and minerals interrelated, if at all?
Take a bag along with you to collect artifacts from your walk – found objects, litter, brochures, community magazines or newsletters, and so forth. If you're in a more natural setting you might consider taking some photos to capture scenes, natural artifacts and other people you encounter (with your subject’s permission, of course!).
When you get back home, spread your artifacts out on a table and notice what they say. What story is being told via the artifacts?
With the understanding that the beauty way is a way of being in the world, and that beauty walks are a form of spiritual exercise, to what extent has this beauty walk opened your spirit to the spirit of this place?