As the body changes, what is left is soul.
Conversations with a Peppermint Tree
by Sage Bennett
This week I delighted in a post-COVID, late morning coffee with my friend, Marianne. Sitting on the outdoor patio of a coffee shop, we exchanged stories about how we wound up in Orange County, California.
I had been living in Marina del Rey, California, on a boat, a 35-foot motor yacht named Sophia with my wife and poodle-bichon mix dog. After receiving my Parkinson’s diagnosis, we knew that it would be better to live more stably on land, but I was reluctant to leave the westside. My friend nodded with understanding. “Sure, everybody likes it there. What finally changed so you could make the move?”
I explained my process. Over a few months we looked at properties at a 55 plus senior community in Laguna Woods. With every step I was stuck in resistance. I didn’t want to leave my old life. I didn’t want to accept that I had PD and may need other accommodations in the future. I didn’t want to confront the movie in my mind of a possible dim future because of PD.
“On one visit we had narrowed our house hunt to two properties, but I was still tangled in ambivalence,” I told my friend.
I walked outside to clear my mind and came upon a tall, peppermint tree. Drawn to its sprawling outreach of branches I felt welcomed by its beauty, shade, and peace. I leaned into the tree with an open palm, feeling its striated, dark brown trunk, warm and strong to my touch. Within a few timeless moments I felt assured this was a good place to lay my own roots and that all was well. I felt free to move forward.
I cannot explain my experience with this tree, but I do know I am not alone in recognizing the value of being in nature. In Taoism, intuitively following the flow of nature leads to a life of balance and right action. Native American spirituality offers the wisdom practice: let nature be your teacher; the sacred abides in every rock and leaf. The Japanese suggest forest bathing to attain inner peace and well-being.
I had not thought about that peppermint tree in many years until that recent conversation with my friend over coffee. But I remember that day deeply and it helps me see clearly. I don’t have to live in fear of a dim PD future. Although my future is unknown, a growing body of facts based in research now exist. Studies show that exercise, plant-based eating, and positive social connections have a lot to do with the way PD progresses and many people live active, vital lives, despite having Parkinson’s for fifteen even twenty years. I can help create, and even transcend, my future. No matter how PD uniquely expresses in my life, the enchantment of nature and the secrets of the universe are ever present, waiting to reveal the mystery. As Emerson muses: “We live in the lap of immense intelligence.…”
Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions.