I want to share a story with you from my book The Magical Forest of Aliveness. This story is our story – all of us were like the child in the story when we were very young, and we all gradually lost our trust-filled connection with the joy and wonder of just being as we grew up. As Rose does in the book, however, we can rediscover our connection with life and with the joy of simply being. The following excerpt is from the first chapter.
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Rose who was born in a village surrounded by a magical forest. The village where Rose lived in a little cottage with her parents was called Mind. When she learned to crawl, Rose loved to explore every nook and cranny of the cottage. There was no past or future in her mind, so every moment was full and rich and fascinating.
As she grew older, Rose started to explore her neighborhood, and one day she noticed the wall surrounding the village. Following a faint path, she discovered a secret garden tucked in the shadow of the wall. As she entered this special place, she saw trees and flowers and grass and bugs and birds. She felt such joy, for none of these things existed in the village. She became enthralled with the wonder of it all—dewdrops clinging to spider webs, tiny flowers with iridescent petals, and soft green grass. She came back every day and spent hours lying on her tummy, watching ants going about their work, raindrops trickling down leaves, and flowers opening and closing.
Then one day behind all the lush plants in this garden, she discovered a tiny hidden door in the wall, only big enough for a young child to pass through. She stepped through the door, and there before her was the Magical Forest of Aliveness. Delightedly she ran across the field and entered this unknown but somehow familiar world. After that, every day, as soon as she woke up, she went to the secret garden and out through the hidden door, spending all her time exploring the forest. There were paths to follow, fields of grass to lie down in, little streams to dip her hands and feet into, and trees to climb. She glowed with the joy of it all.
Because she was fully present for life, when she sat by a brook, she knew that it was singing to her. The birds flitting through the forest were her friends. Rather than just seeing trees, she was able to feel them, each one expressing a different essence. Everything was an important and necessary part of this Magical Forest of Aliveness, and she wanted to get to know it all. Rose felt completely at home here, for she knew that she was safe and that she was an important and necessary part of the forest too.
Every night she went back through the hidden door into the village of Mind, but the longer she stayed in the village, the more her head filled with thoughts. At first they were as fascinating as the sound of the wind in the trees. They hadn’t yet completely filled up the space within her, so she could still be fully awake to her life in the village.
Of course she experienced anger, sadness, and fear, but she didn’t hold onto these feelings or resist them, so they moved through her like the clouds in the sky, barely leaving a trace. No experience was rejected or held onto. It was just life flowing through her, and it was all good. Sometimes her mother would come to the secret garden, and Rose felt that in the garden her mother could see and feel the aliveness and the joy that Rose knew so well. But her mother never stayed very long, and she never even noticed the door in the wall that opened into the Magical Forest. Rose longed for more of this kind of connection with her mother, but it rarely happened. In time, she began to see that all the adults around her were too busy to really be with life.
Late one night she heard her parents talking, and in curiosity she crawled out of bed and crept up to their door. She heard her mother saying, “I think Rose has found a way out of the village and is exploring the forest of Aliveness, for she is gone for long periods, and I can’t find her anywhere in the village. We cannot let little Rose out of the confines of the village anymore. She doesn’t understand that there are dangerous creatures like lions, tigers, and bears in the forest and that they can hurt her.”
As her father agreed, Rose’s chest began to constrict, and for the first time in her life fear got stuck inside her. As she crawled back into bed, rather than feeling safe and warm under its cozy covers, she felt afraid. She didn’t quite understand why she should be afraid of the lions, tigers, and bears. Whenever she had come across them in the forest they had looked at her with recognition and then continued on their way. But she could remember the fear in her mother’s voice, and she knew that she too was supposed to be afraid.
The next time she went through the door into the forest, still felt the joy of connecting with the birds and the flowers, with the sunlight as it filtered through the trees, and with the wind as it played in the grass, but somehow it was different. She didn’t feel it all quite as deeply as she used to. One day she was startled by a loud and unfamiliar sound, and suddenly she remembered what her mother had said about the creatures in the forest—that they were not safe. Her breath became shallow, and her belly tightened, for she was sure it was a lion, tiger, or bear coming to get her. She ran back through the hidden door and into the cottage, where she locked her bedroom door and hid under her bed.
The memories of being completely connected to life began to fade as the thoughts in Rose’s head became stronger, especially the ones telling her that she should be afraid of life because it could hurt her. Without even noticing it, the free-flowing aliveness in her body began to dim. Much to her dismay, when Rose did find the courage to go out into the forest, she discovered that it was becoming harder and harder to squeeze herself through the hidden door. And when she did, rather than being open to the Magical Forest, she was on guard because she now had to watch out for the lions, tigers, and bears.
One evening, after hearing another scary sound in the forest and running back to her bedroom, she finally decided that it was time to be done with secret gardens, hidden doors, and magical forests. At first she felt great relief. She had become so confused and frightened that she began to feel safe and at home behind the walls of the village of Mind. Her parents lived here too, and because they were adults, they must know what was true. They didn’t visit the Magical Forest at all. Everyone else she saw seemed to feel that the village was their home, so she figured it must be hers too. And all that nonsense about trusting life and feeling like everything was her friend was just her childish imagination, and she was too big for that now.
So Rose settled into the rhythm of life in the village of Mind, and even though it didn’t truly feel like her home, she became fascinated with it. She was sent to a thing called school, and she was enthralled. She began to make sense of the squiggles in things called books, and much to her amazement she found some fairy tales about the magical forest! It was both wonderful and painful to revisit the memories of the place where she had been so happy and at home. Though she felt a twinge of homesickness as she remembered the forest, she would bury that feeling deep inside her, for she had learned in the village that feelings are not okay. Then she would remind herself, “I like being involved in all the thoughts in my head.”
She would still visit the secret garden at times, but she could no longer get through the door to the forest. Because the gates into the village were always locked and guarded, she was now completely caught in the village of Mind. One day, much to her despair, she could no longer find the secret garden. And eventually, as more and more thoughts filled her head, she found herself forgetting about the secret garden, the hidden door, and even the Magical Forest.
As she lost her connection with the aliveness of the forest, she found the maze of the village of Mind more and more compelling. Gradually her head became completely filled with thoughts, and Rose spent more and more time thinking about life rather than truly experiencing it.
One day while exploring the farthest reaches of the village, she came across a little hill. She was intrigued because the rest of the village was mostly flat, so she had never gotten a chance to look at it all at the same time. This hill was barely high enough to allow her to see over the rooftops, but as she sat there quietly drinking in the browns and reds and golds of the roof tiles, she noticed something that she hasn’t recognized before—there were no trees in the village! Along with that realization, a faint memory of the magical forest of aliveness came to her and she thought, “I have not only never noticed that there are no trees, but there are also no flowers or butterflies or even spiders!”
Another memory of the magical forest of aliveness floated into her mind and she remembered what it was like to be there—to be open to life, to feel the trees, to be moved by the stars, to play in the rivers, and to be held by the earth. In a moment of clarity, she suddenly understood that in the Magical Forest she truly saw life as it unfolded around her and that she was also seen by everything. This epiphany brought forth the feeling of belonging she knew so well in the forest. As this wonderful memory began to fade, she realized that she felt the opposite in the village of Mind. Instead of a sense of belonging, she experienced a sense of being separate and alone.
Excerpted from The Magical Forest of Aliveness: A Tale of Awakening by Mary O’Malley. If you want to read the rest of the story, it is available by following this link.