The Forest Vision

In 1975 I was married to a Vietnam veteran and raising a young daughter. Stories of the atrocities that had taken place in Vietnam came home with the physically and psychologically wounded young men and took a toll on my generation. In the aftermath of the war we struggled with our inner battles, trying yet failing to reconcile the atrocities of war with a deeper sense that humankind was intended for something better.

I found myself longing for something deeper, more meaningful than the material things we had acquired. Our family was complete with one child yet we lived in a four bedroom house, somehow a measurement of success. A dog and two cats helped fill up the space and other cats would wander in through a cat door off the back of the house. One might be found under a couch or in some other cozy corner in the morning. The “visitors” never stayed permanently and no doubt had primary homes. They were welcome to come and go.

I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the material abundance around me with the inner void inside. There was a nagging sense that humankind – and I personally – were intended for something more. I felt like a rudderless ship tossing about on vast ocean currents. Where was my direction? The answer evaded me, until it came in a completely unexpected and pivotal experience.

My husband and daughter and I had driven to Samuel P. Taylor State Park in northern California one morning to meet my husband’s co-workers and their families for a Fourth of July picnic celebration. We arrived early to take a hike in the hills before the gathering. As we drove into the park in the early morning I noticed a halo-like radiance around the bushes at the entrance and even the bird fluttering alongside the car seemed to be emanating light. I was in a day-dreaming state, just assuming it was a reflection of the morning sun. But as we got out and started walking along a shaded path underneath the giant trees I was aware that everything around me was emanating light.

As we walked my senses became extraordinarily keen. Sounds were translated into images in my mind's eye. It might be the hooves of a deer or a squirrel or a bird hopping through dense brush. Whatever it was, I could see it clearly in my inner vision. I was drawn into the rhythm around me. It seemed that the trees and even the air swelled and emptied with my breath. I was connected to everything..

As my consciousness shifted it was like walking into another dimension. I was not aware of my physical body or surroundings but at the same time mindful of many impressions. The on-going spiritual nature of reality was clear, as though this awareness had been tucked behind some curtain that had been pulled open. I had identified my personhood and personality in my current life as the sum total of who I am. I perceived this life as the beginning and the end. Now memories of previous lifetimes, something I had never considered, were awakening. Spiritual principles I had not been exposed to in this life were seen in a broad context of the soul’s ongoing growth and learning.

When the images receded I was back in the forest with a lingering sensation of that altered state. It felt like awakening from a bout of amnesia with forgotten memories flooding in. The impressions had come without drama or emotion. I had no idea how much time had passes or if it had stood still. Now here I was, walking quietly with my husband and daughter.

When I walked out of the woods that day my perception of the world and myself had changed. I could never go back to the unconscious level of functioning that had been my life. I did not speak about what I had experienced.

Samuel P. Taylor Park
Samuel P. Taylor Park

Rapid Changes

When we returned to the picnic area twenty or so people had gathered. In the afternoon a half dozen barbecue pits were lit. Hot dogs and hamburgers and steaks were thrown on the grills. As the aroma filled the air I was startled to find that the formerly appealing smell was clearly roasting flesh. I knew without a thought that I would never again eat an animal or a bird or a fish. I felt remorse that I had contributed to the killing of these sentient life forms by eating them with no awareness of how they had come to be on my plate. In repentance, I silently vowed not to consume any product that had come from these sources. Being vegetarian or vegan was not widely popularized at that time. I had become a vegan before even being aware of what it meant. I didn’t know any vegetarians and had considered it a fad. I had no idea what I would eat.

On the way home that day I asked my husband what he thought about being a vegetarian. He said he could do that. Since his return from Vietnam he struggled with the transition from what he had experienced as a marine to how to be in civilian life. He called me his window to the world. Without another word, we were now vegan. As I began to do research I was delighted to find that it was actually healthy to eat a diet based on grains and legumes and vegetables and fruit. Not long afterward, at 11 years old, my daughter made the choice to become vegetarian.

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023