A Meditation into the Ancient Forests of Britain

A Meditation into the Ancient Forests of Britain

Thunder echoes on the cusp of midnight. The low rumble rolls across a valley pierced only by a sliver of moon low in the sky. Silence falls. Then a wolf responds, her howl rising into the inky clouds. There the final tones are greeted by a flash of light. For a brief moment everything is illuminated. Trees spread their arms in every direction, reaching for the heavens. Their leaves shiver ever so slightly with a new crack of thunder. The wolf inhales. All the forest holds its breath. Time stands still. And then, the rains begin to fall.

Here you find yourself rooted beneath trees undulating with the wind of a summer storm. You close your eyes and see the darkness all around. Lightning mimics the thoughts scattering upon your mind. They emerge, then they disappear, turning into new thoughts. Yet the rain forms a rhythmic melody drawing you in. Drawing you in to center. Breathe with the rain.

You open your eyes to see the wolf sitting before you. Soulful eyes ask a question. What is the wolf asking you?

Where am I? A voice whispers, maybe your own.

Rain slides down your cheeks. They are 10,000 year-old raindrops.

You are in the time of your ancestors, the first human to witness Britain’s ancient woodland. Only now, it is a young forest. The last glaciation has receded and the climate welcomes an abundant growth of new species to these lands. Over thousands of years trees took root along with animals and grasslands to form a tapestry of biodiverse wilderness.

The wolf stands, beckoning you to follow. Walk now through these woodlands, spanning a time from 10,000 years to 5,000 years ago.

Bare feet glide over mossy stones and rivulets of rainfall flowing among the trees. Thunder has quieted as time moves around you, but you are untouched by the wind and all of Nature’s forces shaping these lands.

Following the wolf you feel the layers of time fall from your shoulders.

Tall oak trees stretch on either side, their canopies home to birds and insects you’ve never seen before. Within this space a shimmer of light begins to glow. There, on the horizon ahead, beyond the wolf, a dusting of pale orange. Though the dawn is still dark, birdsong blossoms from all sides. Robins, blackbirds and thrushes bid the owl good night as darkness fades to day.

Plants breathe into the morning air, surrounding your senses with the Earthy promise of paradise. As all of life sheds its nightly cloak, so you too begin to shed the storm.

Memories flood your mind, or perhaps they are unwelcome thoughts weighing you down.

Imagine them now, each thought or memory you wish to release. Here in the ancient forest you can let go of what no longer serves you.

Allow the forest to transform your thoughts, receiving the energy you give and creating radiance from it.

Focus on a single thought or memory. See it as part of your skin. Thank it for being here with you, for teaching you something. Love this part of you. Give it love, in whatever way you imagine. Maybe stroke your skin, or allow the wolf to come and nuzzle the thought gently.

By giving love and gratitude to every part of ourselves, including our troubled thoughts, we begin to love ourselves wholly. We do not ignore, or hide, or feel shame for what we are feeling. Instead, give love. Give attention to the shadow. Allow it to come out into the light of day.

Love it to let it go.

Feel the warmth of this release in your heart as you love the thought or memory.

What a transformation! To no longer carry heaviness for what you feel or for what you’ve experienced.

Breathe in this light, breathe out this light. Imagine a snake shedding his skin. The thought or memory becomes this skin leaving your body, exposing a whole new layer of healthy, vibrant you. The old is taken up by the breeze and just as promised, Nature transforms it into a burst of butterflies. In this ancient forest, insects flourish. The butterflies flutter to wildflowers and sit upon young branches. You move forward peacefully, lighter in your step, perhaps wishing to repeat this practice of release once again. You may do so at any time.

You’ve now journeyed deeper into the forest, crossing open grasslands where elk, aurochs (or, wild cattle), and red deer roam. The wolf has led you to a rise above a valley where birch, sallow, pine, aspen, oak, holly, ash, beech lime and hornbeam trees unfurl in every direction. The sun is shining high and you perch upon a rock covered in lichen. The wolf lays by your side.

The trees of ancient Britain do not form one uniform forest. Much of the west coast from modern Cornwall up to northern Scotland is temperate rainforest, meaning the moisture level from the ocean is so high that plants flourish in growth. Mosses hang from trees and many species of plants and lichen grow atop of one another.

What do you hear, here in the ancient forest?

Red squirrels dart about. Wings paint the skies. An eagle owl disappears into a cluster of branches. A young willow tree falls under the labor of a beaver. Two brown bear cubs play near their napping mother. Bees collect pollen around them. The lynx lets out a cry.

This chorus of wildness plants a seed in your heart. As the years continue to pass around you, the forest lives its life largely undisturbed by human activity. Animals have crisscrossed the land bridge from Europe, all the way until 5,500 years ago when Britain became the island it is today.

Ancient humans have come and gone from this land too, mostly hunter and gatherers who did not settle the land at a massive scale. Predecessors of Homo-sapiens migrated here throughout the last 850,000 years, but climactic shifts, and maybe giant bears, kept them on the move. They came and went as the climate permitted. Trees grew and died with the climate, forming peatlands in some part of the island.

A new stable environment has brought on thousands of years of forest growth and soon a familiar species will discover the rock you are sitting upon.

It’s about 4,500 years ago and the Neolithic settlers have descended from Central Europe, bringing with them their practice of farming and domesticated animals. Britain’s modern ancestors have arrived.

The landscape is about to change drastically, and you are here to witness it all.

This is the beginning of the end of the ancient wood.

This post is a visual meditation combining a self-healing practice with an imagined wander through some of the ancient woodlands of the UK. Sources for this content listed below. The ancient forests have been affected by both climate and human development. While there's various debate around how much impact early humans had on these forests, there's no denying that we've cut and burned trees for thousands of years to fuel civilization. In future posts we'll explore the next chapters of the story, how trees were used by ancient humans, cleared for farmland, sold as commodities, burned for charcoal, and their various uses throughout the last few hundred years.

We only need to cycle across the UK to see clearly. Vast expanses of land are used for mono-crop agriculture and animal grazing, the majority of crop raised for feeding farmed animals.

Sources for this post:

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller