Reflecting Mindfulness in Nature

by Jonathan Wright

Stella's Path helps us tune into nature, offering a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Allow yourself, for the next few moments, to become very still, peaceful and relaxed. Give yourself permission to go to a place where your mind is quiet, your body is deeply resting, and your spirit is light and free. Give yourself permission to simply breathe in and breathe out...breathe in and breathe out...

You are exactly where you need to be.

The Modern Predicament
"All man's miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone." If this insight, expressed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, was true of 17th-century France, it may well be even truer of our world today.

Constant distractions, endless obligations, information overload—the pace of life is ever accelerating. Disconnected from nature, our days are perpetual whirlwinds of action. Even on the rare occasions that we are able to get away, our idle moments are swallowed up by a cacophony of electronic devices. In the concrete jungle, we’re always on, 24/7.

Modern life is stressful. We all know it, but few of us know how to handle it well.

We all need to slow down for a moment, and simply breathe…

The Power of Now
Stella O’Hanlon understood the modern predicament as well as anyone. In her time on this earth, she taught others to use the simple tools of mindfulness meditation—attunement and awareness in the present moment—to reclaim our rightful connection to nature and experience its healing qualities.

Stella was a professional counselor who specialized in grief and loss, an active community volunteer and a cofounder of the Cancer Center for Healthy Living. In 2007, she passed away at the age of 63, two decades after her first cancer diagnosis.

Stella devoted her energies to creating therapeutic experiences that treat the whole person—mind, body and spirit. Spending quiet time in nature was key to her sense of holistic healing.

A Healing Walk
Less than .07 of one percent of Illinois land remains as its earliest settlers found it. Forest Park Nature Center comprises some of that disappearing land, its bluffs and valleys carved out by the same glacial meltwaters that formed the Illinois River more than 15,000 years ago. This was one of Stella’s favorite places.

After her death—and inspired by her life—Stella O’Hanlon’s close friends and colleagues conceived of a guidebook that would help others connect with the gifts of nature that she so treasured. The creation of Stella’s Path and its guidebook companion was a fitting tribute to her earthly legacy, but more importantly, a way to carry her work into the future.

Guidebooks for Stella’s Path are available at Forest Park Nature Center, open from 9am to 5pm, Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 to 5pm on Sundays. The trails at Forest Park are open year-round from dawn to dusk. Call (309) 686-3360 for more information.

Stella’s Path is not itself a physical trail, but an interpretative tool that overlays the Valley Trail at Forest Park. It’s a half-mile stretch that winds through the woods and loops briefly out into the prairie, encircling the home of deer and other wildlife and serving as a living model of biodiversity. There are 13 markers along the way, each one an opportunity to pause for a moment of reflection and soak up the connection between nature and our daily lives.

So let’s put the BlackBerries down, leave behind the daily grind, pick up a guidebook and take a walk along Stella’s Path. And don’t forget to breathe…a&s

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