Feeling good again

Puffed-up daffodils are already trumpeting that spring is here. You’re contemplating tossing your boots and digging out those sandals and short-shorts. But how will you look when you uncover yourself?

Uh-oh … it’s time to fight your way through the winter-flabby crowds at the gym — or at least rev up your guilt over not going. On the other hand, maybe this spring you’ll decide to get in shape from the inside out.

Asheville’s overflowing spiritual smorgasbord offers countless opportunities for spiritual renewal — the biggest problem may be deciding which one best suits you. In sacred geometry, five denotes renewal, so I elected to investigate five spirit-linked paths.

Reconnect with nature

A hike through these beautiful mountains (with, perhaps, a glimpse of any of the several thousand varieties of wildflowers found hereabouts) is enough to thaw out even the most frozen soul. “All of these mountains are nurturing, filled with wisdom, folklore, information,” says Donna Stetser of the Labyrinth Center. “Any of us can access it, and walking anywhere here is one way to connect with your own inner wisdom.”

And don’t forget the N.C. Arboretum. If you’re not taking one of its whimsically named classes (how about “Getting Stuffed — Working with Portable Topiary Shapes”?), just a stroll through the gardens will pleasure your spirit. Your dog is welcome, too, if you keep her on a leash.

But I was craving symbols of soaring spirituality in my own back yard, so I checked out the avian treasures at the Wild Bird Center. “You can’t just lay out the feeder and expect the birds to come,” says owner Cathy Shadrick. (You can’t?) “You need patience with birds,” she explains.

Shadrick has found the ideal feeder to fit the lifestyle of a Type A primate: It’s a nifty, tubelike contraption that she swears is easy to clean and attractive to all kinds of birds. “The most important thing for beginning backyard birders to remember is that you want to place your bird feeder where you can see it. And get those cats a bell,” she advises. For further birding inspiration, try the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary on North Merrimon, just past Ingles.

An aquarium filled with what the folks at Everything Fishy call a “freshwater peaceful community” is an even more intimate way to savor nature without leaving home.

“They’re not just fish,” cautions owner Steve Shrader. “Every living thing has a spirit, a pulse — they’re connected to same life force we are.” In other words, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or independently wealthy) to have an aquarium, but playing God to your own little bubbling world does carry some unique pressures. And Shrader doesn’t sugar-coat them: “If you mess up, the fish are going to die. When you get an aquarium, you create an aquatic ecosystem. You’re an ecosystem caretaker.”

Rediscover childhood passions

One of the most effective paths toward spiritual renewal involves reviving latent artistic talent. Post-9/11, people are staying home more, and arts and crafts have become phenomenally popular. Naturally, artsy Asheville has classes of all kinds, ranging from simple Saturday-afternoon craft workshops — such as those held at Michael’s art-supply store — to weeklong intensives at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, where broom-making, blacksmithing and quilting are among the options offered.

Rediscovering childhood passions is another key to re-stoking those creative fires. Even if it’s years since you renounced that ballerina dream, “Take a leap of faith,” advises Ann Dunn, director of the Fletcher School of Dance. “Believe in the self you were when you were young,” she urges. I’m not sure I’d want a bevy of nubile beauties hearing my knees crack during my plies — but Fletcher also offers adults-only classes. In fact, says Dunn, older dancers have the most fun, because, “You’re not in competition, as many young dancers are … you’re dancing purely for the sheer joy of it.”

Drumming, a truly Ashevillean pastime, is another creative endeavor that’s gaining popularity.

“Drumming is one of the most spiritual connections we have,” says Cheri Lunn of Drum Love. “We’re rhythmical creatures — our breath, our heartbeat — it’s eternal cycles that connect us to the pulse of life and our own body.” And she won’t hear protests about not having any rhythm.

“Nonsense,” says Lunn. “People say that all the time. I’ll set you down in front of the drum and get you to take a couple breaths, and within minutes you’ll lock into a rhythm. It’s natural.”

Simplify, simplify, simplify

“It’s hard to see what direction to go in, hard to be clear, when there’s so much clutter — internal or external,” says Sandra Smith, director of Holy Ground feminist retreat center in downtown Asheville. That’s why, for many people, spring cleaning is the most tangible act of spiritual renewal.

Gary Cor, known as Mr. Organization, performs “home healings,” helping bring balance and order to people who live in chaos. “When I look at a room and all that it has in there, I create lines, like an artist — I create space,” he says. “We go through the clutter and I put everything in its place by sectioning it off into categories.”

According to Mr. Organization, the number-one de-cluttering rule is, “Put things back where you got them.”

Nurture and be nurtured

Loving someone doesn’t mean you’re always in tune with each other. Jody Held, owner of Relax and Rejuvenate massage center at Westgate Plaza, leads popular group classes in (fully clothed) couples massage.

“How a couple touches one another is a microcosm of the relationship — the class is all about reconnecting with the relationship,” she says.

“Part of giving a good massage is listening,” continues Held. “People are shy about coming right out and telling you what they like — but they will answer you if you ask.”

Open up

Donna Stetser and Betty McKay of Fairview have provided one of the most impressive (and perhaps the most uniquely Ashevillean) spiritual contributions to this community: the labyrinth they made out of Tennessee River stone.

Walking a labyrinth is a meditation; the circular movement of the walk and the impact of the structure itself often bring about heightened awareness. I’d walked an indoor labyrinth and was eager to relive the experience in the open air.

“The labyrinth is an archetypal pattern,” Stetser explains. It “allows some kind of connection between the person using it and itself as an entity — and that connection gives you whatever is helpful to you in that moment.”

In other words, when you walk the labyrinth, it connects with you.

“Sometimes I think what happens to people,” says Stetser, “is that just the act of taking the time to walk the labyrinth is a gift, and the land recognizes the person’s willingness to do that, and so the connection between them is made.

“Shortly after the labyrinth came to be here,” she continues, “we got that it was supposed to be a tool for the community to use, so we just opened up our land (that we had held very protectively for many years) and said anybody who wants to come, just come. All you have to do is show up and put one foot in front of the other and walk — or not.

“The biggest gift the labyrinth gave us in opening the land to everyone was that it blew us open, too, as people.”

You’ll find brochures about the Labyrinth Center at Malaprop’s, Earth Fare and Relax and Rejuvenate. Call (828) 628-1706 or check out www.labyrinthcenter.com for more information.

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