The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Nature & Forest Therapy (page 1 of 4)

International Forest Bathing Day 2019

The first Saturday in September is International Forest Bathing Day. This is a day to celebrate being in nature while accessing the health benefits of immersing oneself in the atmosphere of the forest or other nature locations. A guided Forest Therapy Walk is a way to disconnect from our hectic, stressful lives and connect with the natural world.

“We are a part of nature, not separate from it.”

ANFT

There has been an explosion of interest in this practice that improves well-being. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy provides extensive research-based training which blends new developments in the field of nature connection with ancient traditions of mindfulness and wellness. By the end of 2018, there were more than 700 certified Forest Therapy Guides working in 46 countries—and that number is growing rapidly. I trained with Cohort #29 just one year ago, and Cohort #45 just finished their initial training retreat.

ANFT, certified Forest Therapy Guides, training cohort 29

International Forest Bathing Day

This year on Saturday, September 7th, there will be more than 70 guided walks offered around the world. (Check this map to see if one is being offered near you!) I am guiding a walk from 10:00-12:00 in Mt Vernon, Ohio. To honor this day and encourage more people to experience this simple way of being in nature, this is an any-donation-accepted walk in lieu of my usual fees. You can see more information and register HERE (walk-ins also accepted for this event). If you can’t make it to this walk, check HERE to see what other walks are currently scheduled, or contact me to reserve your own private walk! (Read Things to Know Before Attending a Walk HERE)

Jill Emmelhainz, Certified Forest Therapy Guide, nature selfie, International Forest Bathing Day

JOIN a worldwide celebration on International Forest Bathing Day!

Take a walk with a guide. Or simply find your favorite nature spot and spend time sitting or walking quietly, noticing the sounds and sights around you.

nature, flower garden, 2 generations, Forest Therapy, Shinrin Yoku

Curious about Forest Therapy? Read FAQs HERE, relevant blog posts HERE and a list of other resources HERE Just in case you think this is a bunch of hooey and is of no benefit to you…you need to read THIS POST which gives helpful tips on how to avoid nature connections!

A Forest Therapy Walk: in poems and photos

The practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide begins with an 8-day training intensive which I attended in September 2018. (You can read more about that week HERE and HERE.) On five of the days, we were given a guided Forest Therapy Walk in the surrounding woods and grasslands. These short haiku poems came flowing into my mind during one of those walks. Combined with photos, these poems give a glimpse into what you can expect when you go on a guided Forest Therapy Walk with me. (But don’t worry—no poetry is expected on the walk! Haha)

WELCOME!

Each walk begins with a brief introduction. I welcome participants and let them know what to expect. I share any potential challenges they should be aware of and tell them a little bit about the health benefits of using our senses to connect with Nature. As a guide, I do not give assignments or teach information about nature. Instead, I offer a series of “invitations” which give activity ideas for each participant to use in a way that feels best for them.

Me, Jill Emmelhainz, Certified Forest Therapy Guide

Gather in, welcome
Many words, introductions
Now … let’s get silent

Choosing the right words
Language of invitation
It’s art, not science

BEING PRESENT IN NATURE WITH OUR SENSES

We begin each walk by taking time to notice our surroundings, using one sense at a time. This helps us to focus on our present location, and begin to connect with Nature, quieting our brains that are so often in overdrive.

Get out of your head
Notice what is calling you
Drop in to heart-sense

Heart Sense, Connect with Nature, Forest Therapy Walk

Birds call, crickets sing,
Water burbles a rhythm
Music of nature

My feet, supported
My cheek caressed by light breeze
I am welcome here

WHAT’S in MOTION?

Each walk continues with physically slowing down. We choose to temporarily let go of our hectic schedules and looming to-do lists as we focus on what is around us as we wander. Any time our brains pull us back to daily stresses, we simply notice “What’s in Motion?” in the landscape around us as a way to continue our connection with Nature.

Still quiet waters
Nothing moving til fish…JUMPS!
Circles drift outwards

still waters, fish jump, "What's in Motion?"

Light breezes flutter
Delicate flowers dancing
Hummingbird joins in

PARTNERSHIP INVITATIONS

Our Forest Therapy Walk continues with 2-4 additional invitations. For each walk, I choose these in partnership with the surrounding landscape, taking into consideration the season, the weather, and the participants on this walk. There are hundreds of invitations I could use during this part of the walk. The following are two examples from the training walk when I wrote these little poems.

BRIDGES: From Here to There

In much of life, we are faced with frequent choices of where to go and what to do next. Walking across a physical bridge can help us consider other moments in life where we are balancing two different positions, activities, decisions or needs. Often, neither side of the “bridge” is right or wrong, but it is beneficial to be mindful of such transitions.

dock in trees, leafy path, choose

Possibilities
From head to heart, here to there
Stay or move, your choice

Forest behind me
Man-made lake in front of me
Satoyama zone

water's edge, on the banks, Forest Therapy Walk

Birds squawk, airplane drones
Quiet trees, mothers calling Juxtaposition

“FOREST RECIPROCI-TREE”

At the simplest physical level, we live in reciprocity with trees on this earth. We breath out carbon dioxide and exchange it for the oxygen which is exhaled by trees. In this invitation, participants are invited to wander and notice any part of the landscape which they are drawn toward. Perhaps they will choose to simply relax and find peace in this place. Or perhaps they will find other ways to share with Nature around them.

Mighty forest tree
Big branch leans, reaching t’ward me
Pregnant with walnuts

Forest Therapy Walk, Touch the tree, Reciprocity

I reach for the tree
Gently caressing the bark
Hand-shaped space for me

Red bird flits closer
With a flip and a flutter
Creative muse comes

Forest Therapy Walk, Connect with Trees, Nature's Peace

We sit together.
Tree gives me words, songs to share
Reciproci-tree!

CIRCLES OF SHARING

Throughout our walk together, we occasionally stop and gather in a circle. Each participant is offered time to briefly share what they are noticing or to simply stand in silence for a moment before passing the “talking piece” to the next person. Most of the time, we finish a guided Forest Therapy Walk with a Tea Ceremony, to celebrate our time with Nature and share any last words with the forest and with each other. (One of the things I greatly appreciate about these guided walks is that no one is ever pressured or expected to talk. This is truly a time for everyone to interact with Nature and with each other in ways that feel most comfortable to them.)

Nature shares with me
We gather to share heart-sense
Eternal circle

Forest Therapy Walk, Tea Ceremony, Celebrate the Forest

Tiny cup of warmth
The forest enters into me
Tea ceremony

One last word to share
With Forest and companions
The walk is complete

(photos of man with hand on heart and of me by tree were take by Annabel O’Neill)

Finding the Bright Sunshine of Summer

We all love the excitement of mountaintop experiences, don’t we?! We shout to the world about the beautiful views and bask in the bright sunshine of praise and congratulations given for our accomplishments. Far less often do we talk about endless winter, about getting stuck in swamps down in the valleys or about the hard slog of climbing those endless dark mountains. It has been a long, long winter for me, filled with struggles and challenges. I’ve been emotionally climbing up and down endless hills. But it feels like I’m finally emerging into summer. I’m so ready to celebrate the bright sunshine of SUMMER (both physically and emotionally)!

Celebrating Bright Sunshine at the Beach

Looking back over the past six months, it has been a season of inward work. I’ve started many blog posts but got lost in the forest of words and never finished any of them. At some point (perhaps) I will go back and share more details but for now, here is a summary of my long, dark winter and times I found hints of sunshine along the way.

Finishing the second half of the mentored practicum to earn my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide offered many lessons—material to be learned, skills to be practiced, and experiences to be processed. All of this, of course, led to deeper personal growth. During regular sit-spot time (which you can read more about HERE), I mapped the interconnections of the creatures and plants around me. To show those relationships, I made a colorful clock. And I gathered photos and poetry into a little book.

Rustic Clock of Connections between Beings

I spent a long winter day at a nearby park on a “pilgrimage” from sunrise to sunset. It was a time to take my questions with me onto the land, asking God for a clear vision of my calling. Of course, the day I had scheduled for this ended up being one of the coldest days of the winter, with hard winds blowing and fresh snow falling. I alternated walking under the trees with wrapping up in a zero-degree sleeping bag to warm up. I found beauty in the frozen land and I soaked up moments of bright sunshine breaking through dark storm clouds.

Sunset between the trees over frozen lake

During these months, I was swimming in a sea of grief, trying to keep from sinking under the waves. There was new grief at watching a beloved “son of my heart”/friend destroy himself with addiction. There were more waves of grief at missing our son who died 11 years ago. There was recognition of struggles and challenges some of my kids are walking through…and resulting grief that I can’t “fix” things for them and make it all better. (Where in the world is that magic wand when you need it?! I must have put it in a “safe place” which means it will never be found! HA!)

In the spring, I figured out a way to incorporate Forest Therapy into my Tree of Life experiences. And I completed the training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. YAY! That was a bright sunny moment! Now I am working to make some long-term connections for ongoing Forest Therapy walks. And I have guided my first few paid walks. (If you live in central Ohio, contact me for more information about how YOU can schedule a walk with me!)

certification, Forest Therapy, Forest Bathing GUIDE

This spring, I was sad to face realities after two surgeries last fall. (If you haven’t heard about my medical adventures, read about them HERE.) Daughter and I had hoped to make another trip to the Appalachian Trail this spring. We tried a few days of camping and day hiking in southern Ohio…and realized I’m not yet recovered enough for the rigors of a full backpacking adventure. Maybe in the fall… (At least we still had fun together in the woods and Daughter is still the “Mistress of the Flame!”)

campfire, roasting hotdogs, camping

As the season changed, the good moments started outweighing the heavy ones. I still wasn’t ready to write about life, but I found many more moments of bright sunshine to celebrate. Our oldest son is engaged. (Can’t wait to welcome his beautiful gal into our family next spring…) Our youngest daughter discovered a college that is a perfect fit for her interests and her challenges. She is also gaining life skills with a summer job at the library. We got to “babysit” our grand-dog and our grand-dragon. (Isn’t that a delightful word? Pablo is a bearded dragon-lizard.) And our newest grandbaby was born, giving me 5 days to visit and spoil his big sisters. Welcome to the world, little Wilder!

New Baby, Big sisters

I’m finally back to spending more time outdoors again. I’m sleeping each night on my screened porch—waking up to bird song. For my birthday, I bought a sit-on-top kayak. I still enjoy wandering in the woods, but have discovered the joys of contemplative time, slowly paddling around a lake or down a river. And the wild colors of my kayak still make me smile every time I look at it!

kayaking at Ariel Park, water and clouds

After searching for over a year, we finally found the perfect-for-us piece of land to purchase. We plan to park our RV there and use it as a getaway. Soon we will own 33 acres of steep hills, ravines, and woods. It has a pond and a running stream. Hubby discovered it also has a slick clay mud-pit…but that’s a story for another day! HA!

tractor pulling stuck car

I finally found the bright sunshine of summer (physically and emotionally) on a current trip to California. Soon I will write about the adventures of multi-day train travel across the USA. Our lego Tiny-Me figures have discovered new places to explore. I found more imaginary places that don’t really exist (a quest started with Daughter in NYC last summer). I have enjoyed spending time with oldest daughter and her husband. When my knees rebelled against the exertion, I thought I might be stuck forever atop the steep hills of San Francisco but I finally tottered my way back down to the ferry. And I am excited to be currently attending a professional conference about Forest Therapy. I’m even leading a workshop here tomorrow!

Workshop Leader, professional conference, Forest Therapy Guide

It’s been a long, cold winter. But I’m finally emerging into summer…and it sure feels good!

6 Gifts Found in a Sit-Spot

Life is uncertain. Life is sometimes chaotic. And we make it worse by over-filling our calendar and our to-do lists which makes life hectic and draining. I’m now two months into the mentored practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. It is exciting to discover new skills and activities that can counteract all of this craziness of modern Western life! “Sit-Spot” is one of these practices I am now using regularly.

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver–

Each week during training, we are expected to spend 2-3 sessions with the practice of “Sit-Spot.” This simply means finding a place outdoors where we can sit quietly for 20+ minutes. It could be a beautiful hidden place deep in the woods. But to be most effective in building a regular habit, a Sit-Spot should be somewhere close to work or home, where you can sneak outside for 10-20 minutes each day. My most used sit-spot is on a corner of an unused porch that faces into the neighborhood backyards. I can’t manage to focus my mind enough to be successful with meditation. But I enjoy this form of being quiet and present in Nature. (I compare Meditation, Forest Meditation and Forest Therapy HERE.)

wellness practice, just be

Now that I regularly spend time in a tiny corner of my outdoor world, I am noticing that Sit-Spot gives me 6 specific gifts:

  1. It is an opportunity to PRACTICE STILLNESS of both body and mind. I rarely take time to let my body relax at the same time as allowing my mind to also rest (until I fall exhausted into bed each night.) This is an opportunity to let go of my busy-ness and notice what is around me. No making lists, updating my calendar, or scrolling through fb and emails. Simply allowing myself to “be.” (Yes, I admit, this is hugely challenging for me at times. Please assure me I’m not the only one!)
  2. It is a gift to EXPERIENCE SILENCE—no talking to others, no demands from others, no droning background noise to life. (Even extroverted chatty me benefits from silence occasionally!) At Christmas, we often sing about a “Silent Night” – but how often do we actually experience one?! Studies have shown that human-made noise pollution adds significant amounts of unrecognized stress to our daily lives. It’s hard to completely avoid human-sounds, but we can try!

dramatic sky, storm clouds

  1. Sit-Spot is another way to form DEEP CONNECTIONS WITH THE NATURAL WORLD. People have lived closely intertwined with nature since the beginning of time. Today’s loss of connection is at the root of many of the maladies affecting us in our current chaotic culture. (You can explore some of the scientific studies and other resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) The practice of Sit-Spot helps us return to our roots—literally!
  2. One of the most significant benefits of forming deep nature connections is it LOWERS STRESS & ANXIETY. There is something freeing about just allowing life to flow around me. It takes a few minutes of sitting still, but eventually my breathing slows, my blood pressure lowers, and I relax into the calm of simply being outside. This type of calming effect is certainly a gift! (I wrote HERE about how outdoor time is a game changer for my daughter who has huge challenges in these areas.)

reflections, floating leaf

  1. By returning to the same place on a regular basis, I NOTICE SMALL CHANGES. I enjoy watching the tall grasses “dance” in a breeze. I see plants changing through the seasons. I feel subtle differences as weather systems approach. I hear insects and birds and begin to notice their patterns. When I sit regularly, Nature is no longer merely a backdrop for daily life, but becomes something to enjoy in and of itself.

notice changes, blue skies, fairy grass

  1. Sit-Spot GIVES ME A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. The troubles and trials (and even celebrations) of my life are not the center of history or of the universe (much as I might want to believe otherwise! HA!) I laugh at the cheeky squirrels—stealing nuts from each other, stuffing themselves for winter hibernation, and wobbling their chubby way along the fence top. I mourn the deaths of birds and beasts. I enjoy the brilliant colors of fall leaves. As I connect with the natural world, I am reminded that everyone and everything is doing the best they can with their one wild and precious life…and that’s enough.

I invite you to join me in discovering the gifts found through a simple Sit-Spot outside. I would love to hear YOUR favorite things from connecting with the natural world. Please drop me a comment below!

 

Please Don’t Screech!

Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…

As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)

Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:

We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)

photo by Susan Heino

Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!

please don't screech and scare the bear!

When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!

sorry, I have to screech!

Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!

biggest hiking hazard

So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!

(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)

PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.

A Contradictory Week — Forest Therapy Training Intensive

I just finished the initial 8 day training intensive to start the 6 month long process of becoming a certified Forest Therapy Guide. There were 20 students and 5 mentors at the training. It was a wonderful, exhausting, energizing, stretching, amazing, contradictory week. I’m still processing all we learned…and will share more details in the next few months.

One of the mentors put together this video to give an overview of the people, place, and activities of the week. (Keep an eye out for me–I’m in a number of the shots!) This training was held at Oak Openings Metro Park in the Toledo area. If you ever get a chance to visit, it is an amazingly diverse location!

I decided the fastest way to summarize this contradictory week jam-packed-full of learning and stretching was to make a chart:

Contradictory Week

Thanks SO much to family and friends who continue to encourage me and support me. That was hugely important to keep me at the training when I was exhausted and emotionally wrung out. (Shhh! I was even ready to quit a few times when I was overwhelmed!)

The most important thing I learned during this training is that I AM RIGHT WHERE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE! Now I KNOW this is the right path for me to pursue…a knowing that is not just head knowledge but deep certainty in my heart.

If you missed it, you can see our training schedule and some of my own photos HERE

To learn more about the practice of Forest Therapy and what a Guide does, click HERE

Training Schedule for Forest Therapy Guide Residential Retreat

My residential training has finally started! Wondering what I’m doing each day on this Intensive Retreat? Here is a peek at the Training Schedule for this 8 day course which kicks off the 6 month certification program to become a Forest Therapy Guide. (This week started off with the extra challenge of heavy rains for the first 3 days and 2 nights of training … much of which is outdoors!)

they didn't list dealing with rain in the training schedule!

The Intensive Class is always located close to a Nature area with good trails to experience guided Forest Therapy walks. I chose to apply for the course which is being held at a metro-park in NW Ohio. This is only a few hours’ drive from my home. To save money, I am tent-camping at a nearby campground. (You can see a list of course locations HERE.)

camping for training intensive

Day 1 (Saturday Sept 8) – Arrival Afternoon – Introductions and Orientation to the Training Schedule and Curriculum Goals.

training schedule begins

Days 2-3 (Sun/Mon) – First Experiences

  • Mornings: Teacher led Forest Therapy Walk and Tea Ceremony
  • Afternoons: Debrief the walk experience, using a mapping process
  • After Break: Content Session (Lecture, Q&A, Discussion, Experiential Activities)
  • Evening: More content

training schedule includes walks less by instructors

Days 4-5 (Tues/Wed) – Practicing Skills

  • Mornings: Participants guide each other on a Forest Therapy Walk & Tea Ceremony
  • Afternoon Sessions: Same training schedule as above, learn more “invitations” and guide skills
  • Evening 4: Group campfire to share personal nature stories

training schedule includes a campfire for storytelling

Day 6 (Thurs) – Honing Skills

  • Learn more Forest Therapy techniques and skills
  • Prepare to guide a public FT walk with 1-2 other participants
  • Prepare for our 6-month practicum, completed locally via Skype under the guidance of an instructor/mentor.

many instructional content sessions in the training schedule

Day 7 (Fri) – Put It All Together!

  • Morning: 2-3 Participants work together to lead public Forest Therapy walks (My piece is to make the forest tea and guide the closing Tea Ceremony for our group.)
  • Afternoon Sessions: Debrief and more content sessions

we learn about, practice, and experience closing tea ceremonies

Day 8 (Sat) – Conclusions

  • Morning: Structured solo experience with time to reflect on the week and to consider personal goals
  • Afternoon: Content Session/Q& A time
  • Closing Ceremony (and group photo, of course!)

THANKS SO MUCH TO SUPPORTERS!

I very much appreciate the encouragement and the donations from family and friends to get me to this point. I am excited to finally move forward toward being a certified Forest Therapy Guide and starting a practice of my own to help others connect with Nature.

Don’t worry! I will continue sharing what I learn in future blog posts. You can read more about Nature/Forest Therapy HERE.

Growing into a Forest Therapy Guide

I admit it. I have a zillion interests to pursue and not enough time to chase them all. (Please tell me this happens to you also?!) As I’ve begun to talk about becoming a Forest Therapy Guide, I’ve gotten push-back from some family and friends. Over the years they have often asked if I’ve gotten “it” out of my system yet. They question how long I will stick with THIS interest. They mock me for never finishing things. This has been a challenge all the way back to my growing up years. (To be clear—I have other supportive family and friends who always cheer me on and love to hear about my latest adventures…)

For some reason, this latest round of criticism made me sit back and ponder. Is there truth in what they throw at me? Am I failing at the task of “growing up”? Do I NEED to pick one interest and pursue it single-mindedly? I know that is a common path for many people…but is it the right path for me?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy –

I had an “aha” moment while reading a book by Amos Clifford, the founder of the organization that certifies Forest Therapy Guides.  He writes about different stages in his life being part of the whole of who he is. This helped me realize that the various interests I have explored over the years are all related. They are parts of my unique tree of life. Let me explain:

I am growing up from strong roots and a sturdy trunk into a forest therapy guide

I look back and see that foundational to everything I have pursued is a deep curiosity about the world. This began in young childhood when I wanted to know more about the people I met, the places we went, and the things I saw. (I probably drove my parents crazy by asking so many questions!) I have had a lifelong passion for exploring and learning.

When I was growing up, I became a Story Seeker. (I have written more about this HERE) I want to hear people’s stories. At first this story gathering was a way of feeding my own curiosity about the world. Gradually, I used what I was hearing to support my personal growth. Today, I know that sharing bits of those stories can be of great encouragement to others I meet. This has been a strong “trunk”—supporting everything else I do in life.

From the roots of curiosity and the trunk of gathering stories, I became a teacher. Sometimes this is a formal role (such as teaching cello to young students, becoming an instructor for National Ski Patrol or being a paid tutor in a Native American school). Other times this has been an informal role. Over the years, I continue to have a deep need to share what I learn with others.

As an adult, I have put out many branches. Some were tiny shoots that withered or broke off. Others have become solid parts of who I am. I am creative and express that originality through photography and art and painting and writing. I am a mentor, reaching behind me from whatever season of life I am in, and taking the hands of others to encourage them as they walk a similar path. And I am a peer counselor, listening and asking questions to help folks untie knots, climb over obstacles, and pursue their own wellness and passion.

Counter to the accusations of the nay-sayers, I am not constantly changing directions. I am not a small boat being thrown this way and that as I am buffeted by winds of “new” and “different” interests. I am a unique tree. All of the seemingly unrelated passions I have pursued are actually solid branches growing from strong roots and a sturdy trunk. I am growing up and maturing. And I have discovered that becoming a Forest Therapy Guide is a way to use all these parts of me to help others.

“I am not afraid of my truth anymore. I will not omit pieces of me to make you comfortable.”

This weekend I start the six month training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. I will write more about that process in the next few weeks and months. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about, I have written a FAQ you can read HERE.

I would love to hear 1-2 “branches” on your Tree of Life. Please share your passion(s) in the comments below!

 

Childhood Fun!

Recently I saw a fascinating video on Facebook. In this ad for Nature Valley, 3 generations in families were asked what they did for Childhood Fun. Consistent with current research, the grandparents talked about unstructured outdoor play, the parents enjoyed playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, and current kids apparently spend most of their time indoors on electronics. The ad finishes by challenging us to provide opportunities and nurture our children’s connections with Nature.

VIDEO: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun? 3 Generations answer. (Nature Valley Ad) 

I have read many articles and books which bemoan this progression. (See list of some of my favorite resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) I know my friends and I often talk about how to get our kids (and ourselves) outside more often. I was curious to try my own (very informal) survey. I asked friends to share lists of childhood fun from their own families. I received 23 responses out of 31 people I asked about. Here is a summary of the results:

Active Play (mostly outside):

54% of all responses, #1 category for all adults

Active outside play used to be a fun part of childhood

It was interesting to notice that the mentioned activities were not organized or run by adults: swimming, playground, playing in barn, making scarecrows with family, wrestling with siblings, riding bike/scooter (often all over town), roller skating, ice skating, informal backyard sports with neighbor kids, sledding, hiking, tag and team games with friends. I also included active indoor hobbies/classes in this category: gymnastics, dance, ballet, Tae-Kwon-do, and rock climbing.

Imagination Play (mostly inside):

25% of all responses, #1 category for children & teens

Playing with little toys and collectibles hones the imagination

This category includes both solo and group activities: dress-ups, Legos, small toys (hot wheels, figurines, Littlest Pet-Shop animals), collections of objects, puzzles, board games, and raising butterflies. A number of respondents wondered what happened to these objects after they grew up. (I have written before about our youngest daughter’s love of imagination play and costumes. You can read about it HERE.)

Other Childhood Fun Activities:

  • Reading: 8%, not mentioned by children or teens
  • Arts & Crafts: 7%, scattered across all ages
  • Screen Time: 6%, up through young 30s

Reading and relaxing used to be significant parts of childhood play

For decades, Childhood fun has included Crayola!

Childhood Fun today raises fears of too many video games, movies and electronics

Obviously this was a very informal survey of a handful of family members and friends. It was interesting to me to notice that the results do NOT match experts’ concerns about rampant growth of uncontrolled screen time as the primary form of Childhood Fun in the past 20 years. (Read a typical article HERE.) This discrepancy could be explained by a number of variables: My personal friends and family tend to be biased toward outdoor, active pursuits. Participants may have self-censored, not reporting screen-time which is considered “bad” today. Wording of the survey question was too broad to elicit accurate responses regarding entertainment. For example, I did not ask how much time was spent on various activities but merely asked what the participants remembered as fun when they were young. In addition, by asking for a list of what the participants did for “fun,” the question filtered for activities that were perceived as enjoyable or special, not just routine everyday activities.

“When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?”

I’m very curious how YOU would respond to this question…and what your own friends and family members would list. Many of us had an enjoyable time sharing stories as we reminisced about childhood days. Join us in discussing this question with others and let me know YOUR answers—either in the comments on this blog or on facebook.

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there? Drop your suggestion(s) in the comments below!

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