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Monk in the World Guest Post: CJ Shelton

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for CJ Shelton’s reflection Matching the Beat of the Universe.

In the simple delights of Nature’s repeating cycles there is much comfort and clarity to be found, a reassurance that life will always continue, despite so much uncertainty in our human world. Quietly observing the flora and fauna of the local fields and forests has taught me to pay attention to the wonders and magic nature offers. For me, her reliable rhythms and instinctual patterns can always be counted on, as can her extraordinary ability to adapt to change.

Deep within one of my favourite parks in Ontario, Canada is a grand giant of a White Pine who has weathered many a year with grace and dignity. Although at some point in her long life a lightning strike or fierce windstorm truncated her crown, it is easy to imagine her once towering high above the rest of the forest in her complete and mighty form.

I refer to this tree as a “her” because of the distinct maternal aura she exudes and the fact that many of the younger, smaller pines in the surrounding area are likely her offspring. Under her enormous boughs, of which she seems to lose a few every year, you can look up – way up – and marvel at how much she has seen come and go in these woods. 

Whenever I visit, I take a moment and attempt to wrap my impossibly short arms around her massive girth or align my back with her strong trunk. In doing so I am reminded to stand strong myself yet yield more. To flow with the movement of life rather than against it. To trust that things will work out, regardless of whatever it is I may be struggling with that brought me to seek the counsel of this wise old soul.

As Cheryl Richardson writes, “Nature is like a book we can read, filled with simple wisdom about what it takes to live well. Howling winds that remove dead limbs from trees, waterways that carve new paths through earth and stone, or tiny hummingbirds who return to feast on favorite flowers become fierce and fragile messengers. Clear out the old, says the wind. Stay the course, declares the river, especially when something is hard but important. Return to what feeds you say the hummingbirds … and enjoy every drop.”

Along a similar vein, writer Maria Popova observes that “In a world pocked by cynicism and pummeled by devastating news, to find joy for oneself and spark it in others, to find hope for oneself and spark it in others, is nothing less than a countercultural act of courage and resistance. This is not a matter of denying reality — it is a matter of discovering a parallel reality where joy and hope are equally valid ways of being. To live there is to live enchanted with the underlying wonder of reality, beneath the frightful stories we tell ourselves and are told about it.”

With the many “frightful stories” we are subject to these days, it is getting harder and harder to tune negativity out and access that parallel reality where joy and hope reside. But if we look to nature, many doorways into that other world are readily available. To trust in that is to trust that nature is a reflection and a vehicle for the Higher Power that permeates every aspect of it. And to trust that the same Higher Power permeates us as well.

As a quote from Joseph Campbell wisely states, “the goal of our lives is to make our heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match our nature with Nature”. Only then can we, like the trees and the birds, be a trusted and honourable vehicle for something higher to move through us and do good in the world.

My giant White Pine is filled with the honourable essence of “something higher”, something sacred. As is every other aspect of nature where her sacred rhythms are present, from the determined pace of a snapping turtle, to the swooping and fluttering of starlings, to a stream that quickens suddenly to rapids, to the quiet stalwartness of a mighty tree and her offspring. These are what we can tune into to and sync up our own pace with as we seek to counteract fear and uncertainty.

As the mighty pine demonstrates, life is not a race to see who finishes first; it is the cultivation of a slow and steady awareness. The White Pine knows this. She knows her purpose. She finds joy in being stationary and slow; steadfast and true. And she sparks a similar joy in others, which is a truly a “countercultural act of courage and resistance” in a world that must be overwhelmingly frightening in its potential threats to herself and to her children.

In the mighty tree’s reliable rhythms is a panacea for the difficulties she and humans face. She continues to “live enchanted with the underlying wonder of reality”, matching her heartbeat with that of a universe she knows she is an essential part of. She knows her reason for being just as the birds, and the flowers and the rivers do. And as she continues to stand strong, I can take a page from her book of wisdom. I can strive to follow her example, finding joy and hope in a parallel reality, for myself and for others.

CJ Shelton is an Artist and Educator who inspires and guides others on their creative and spiritual journeys. Through her art, teaching and shamanic practices, CJ helps reveal the meaning, magic and mystery of the Great Wheel of Life. To learn more about CJ and view her work visit

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