Soul School took our first field trip to the Kol Hai sukkah overlooking the Shawangunk Ridge in peak foliage. After saying the blessings for sitting and eating there, we said the shehechiyanu blessing — expressing out gratitude for arriving at this very moment.
Each of us shared one word of something we were grateful for... it was hard to contain in just one word! Many expressions of gratitude for the land, the warmth, the colors, the breeze, the friends, the sukkah...
We looked at the etrog and lulav and hadas and aravah — the traditional Four Species of plants that are brought together and shaken in six directions during Sukkot.
We smelled, touched, and deeply engaged with what these particular plants might have to teach us. And asked ourselves, what did it mean to shake them in six directions?
Shir Yaakov shared an idea that these four species represent different parts of the body. What shapes or places did they conjure for you?
One midrash teaches: “Etrog refers to the heart, the place of understanding and wisdom. Lulav refers to the backbone, uprightness. Myrtle corresponds to the eyes, enlightenment. Willow represents the lips, the service of the lips (prayer).”
We asked the Soul Schoolers, "What parts of yourself can you find in nature, here?" And they ran off into the meadow and wildflower fields to collect local expressions of their bodies, compiling Four Species of their own.
As we regrouped, our hands held leaves, stems, flowers and seeds. Colors of brown, purple, green, red, tan and grey filled our circle.
These tall long seeded plants are fingers, because I am happy with what my hands do. I think I make pretty decent art."
"And these are eyes because the seeds look like a bunch of eyes."
"And this is my heart. I think that hearts are really pretty, so I picked something with the most color."
"And this is my tongue, for my taste."
"This long blade of cattail grass is my spine."
"This minty many leafed plant is my mind."
"This ball of cattail fluff is my heart, soft and big."
"This purple flower is my heart because it's pretty. Just like my face."
After sharing and appreciating one another's four local species, we asked students to think of other fruits that grow in our area that could replace the etrog. What local fruits are fragrant and could represent the heart?
"Apples!" "Lemons?" "Corn," the students shared.
Then we invited students to close their eyes and to smell the fruits that we had collected. Smells of citrus and musk filled their senses. When they opened their eyes they exclaimed, "walnut!"
The group quickly burst into play, moving freely across the grassy hillside we were meeting on.
Simon brought the students back together to introduce a new exercise. "For as long as our ancestors have been able to share stories we have gone out into the landscape alone to listen and to see, to think and to feel."
Some of the students exclaimed, "we've done that at Wild Earth, Sit Spot!"
Simon pointed out that our Jewish ancestors have a similar practice called Hitbodedut (literally "self-seclusion"). Soon students and teachers spread out across the meadow, forest and grass to find our solitude and quiet, to see and to listen with our inner and outer senses.
Shir Yaakov and Simon