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:
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
OHIO Friends—let me know via the below contact form if you would like to be a “guinea pig” on one of the guided walks I need to lead to complete the practicum process. The first few walks are free in exchange for giving me feedback!
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!)
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.)
Day 1 (Saturday Sept 8) – Arrival Afternoon – Introductions and Orientation to the Training Schedule and Curriculum Goals.
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
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
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.
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
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. You can help support me to reach my full certification HERE.
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 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 have taken out loans for this training, and would greatly appreciate donations to help with costs. You can learn more about supporting me HERE.
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
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
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
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.
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.
We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks.
We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City.
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.
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.
We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches).
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.
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.
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?
Seems like everyone these days is urging us to get outside, disconnect from our electronics, and connect with the non-human world. But what if we LIKE our indoor, multi-media, virtual world? Here are 5 ways to avoid the risk of nature connection. (On the other hand, if you want to access the enjoyment and the health benefits of time in nature, just do the opposite of these suggestions!)
(Learn more ways to connect with nature HERE. Read about how nature connection helps my daughter manager her anxiety HERE. Consider ways to be an advocate for others HERE. )
When I describe the practice of Forest Therapy, many folks assume it is merely doing meditation in an outdoors location. There are actually three different practices which look very similar to each other. Traditional Meditation, Forest Meditation, and Forest Therapy all have the goal of balancing life, resetting priorities, and bringing inner calm. However, the actual practices are different. Let me explain…
Meditation focuses the mind inwards; Forest Therapy focuses the senses outwards to Nature…
In Traditional Meditation, we are taught to withdraw our senses and focus inward. We work to find peace inside of self. As part of the process, we need to resist multiple thoughts, coming back over and over to an inward focus.
Forest Meditation is a blend of traditional meditation with the health benefits of being outdoors. In this practice, we are taught to open our senses to our surroundings as we observe the world around us. We connect with nature in order to make outside peace become part of our inner being. With this practice, we allow our thoughts to just “go with the flow.”
If meditation works well for you, that’s great! Personally, no matter how many times I have tried to meditate, I end up either agitated or bored. My mind usually jumps from thought to thought to thought. Plus, emotion plays a big role in how I perceive the world and interact with it. Doing meditation outside is a help, but it is still difficult for me to find calm when I’m focused on the hard work of clearing my mind.
Forest Therapy is a perfect fit for me! In this practice, our goal is to reawaken the senses as we immerse ourselves in the forest. Noticing what we are feeling in the outer world (physically) and inside ourselves (emotionally/spiritually) is a much more intuitive practice for me. Often with the help of a guide, we learn how to allow a focus on nature to clear the mind and lessen negative emotions. In addition to reducing stress and bringing peace, Forest Therapy is a gentle way to rejuvenate energy and add strength to inner healing.
I am excited to find a calming practice that fits well with my personality and passions. Traditional meditation feels like a difficult task to master. But Forest Therapy simply brings new dimensions to spending time in nature, an activity I always enjoy. I am intrigued to explore this practice in my personal life. And I’m excited to help others learn this method of connecting with nature. I have been accepted into the 6 month training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. My cohort begins our mentoring program with a week-long intensive in September. (You can read more about this HERE )
I invite you to join me in exploring Forest Therapy practices. If you make a donation to my Go-Fund-Me Campaign, one of the rewards for donors is a week of daily emails giving mini-invitations to try on one’s own. (Find more info about rewards HERE and donate HERE). Late this fall and through the winter, after I complete my initial training camp, I will need local “guinea pigs” to take on practice Forest Therapy explorations. And by this time next year, I will be offering 7 week sessions to help stressed-out folks experience Nature’s healing via guided Forest Therapy walks.
What do you think of when you see a weeping willow tree? For many people, these drooping trees remind them of grief and crying. For me, these graceful trees bring a feeling of comfort and contentment. Why the difference? I have happy memories of spending many hours under giant, peaceful willow trees.
When I was growing up, we visited my grandparents in rural Minnesota every summer. The house filled up with cousins, aunts, and uncles. Sometimes I loved the chaos and the fun. Other times I needed an escape. The giant weeping willow tree behind their house provided both enjoyment and respite.
The tree was so large that its drooping branches swept the ground. The quiet, green grotto around the trunk was a perfect place to hide for a raucous game of hide-n-seek amongst the cousins. Other times it made a quiet hideaway to sprawl on the ground and read a book. For that matter, it was a calming place to just lay there and stare up into the branches that were softly dancing in the wind.
Eventually, the family farm was sold and my grandparents moved to town. I could no longer go outside and stand under that venerable tree when I visited them. It felt like something was missing from the family gatherings.
Many decades later, my husband and I moved to our own little farm. The bank of the pond was a perfect place to establish my own weeping willow tree. It was ironic that only days after the sapling was planted, my grandma passed away. The new willow tree has grown and spread. Its drooping branches now sweep the ground. It still transports me back to those days of fun and comfort for a young girl amid the chaos of gathered family.
Read about special trees HERE and HERE. Do you have a childhood memory of a favorite tree? I would love to hear it! Please tell me about it in the comments below.
On our Epic Road-trip, we have enjoyed seeing the poetry of the Psalms illustrated as we travel through this Wildly Wonderful World! Here are some examples from our wanderings:
God, my God, how great you are! Beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent.
You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.
You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters; Then you roared and the water ran away—your thunder crash put it to flight.
Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded.
You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills.
All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. Along the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard.
You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water.
You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground.
Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy, Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty.
God’s trees are well-watered—the Lebanon cedars he planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop.
Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks.
The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper. When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens.
Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening.
What a wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Oh look, the deep, wide sea brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. Ship plow those waters, and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.
All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it.
If you turned your back, they’d die in a minute—Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud; Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.
The glory of God—let it last forever! Let God enjoy his creation! (Ps 104: 1-31)
You can see more poetry illustrated by photos from our wanderings through this Wildly Wonderful World by clicking HERE or HERE
On the inside, each of us may be weary, overwhelmed, or stressed out. On the outside, Nature goes on like it always does: changing, moving, cycling through the seasons but feeling like a constant, reliable presence in the world. We need to move the outside perspective inside. Throughout history, humans have found relaxation and calm when they connect with Nature. This is the premise behind Forest Therapy: nature itself provides therapeutic healing and wholeness for humans.
In the practice of Forest Therapy Guiding, clients learn how to make personal connections with the natural world. By doing this, they access the health benefits of woods and flowing water, including gaining more energy, feeling relaxed, and regaining a calm balance for daily living. The guide (that will be me!) facilitates this process by offering “invitations” for clients to interact and connect with Nature.
“At the heart of every invitation is a simple encouragement to play.” –Amos Clifford
Forest Therapy focuses on experiencing nature and noticing what is found in the non-human world. Guides take individuals or small groups of clients outdoors for sessions that often last 1-2 hours but cover less than one mile of walking trails. This is ideal…but sometimes we need mini-refreshers in our everyday lives. The rest of this blog post offers simple connection steps that can be used any place where one can interact with nature—even in our yards or in busy city parks.
Going through a doorway into a new place, gets us ready to experience what we find there. In a similar way, it helps us to more quickly connect with the non-human world if we take time to acknowledge a similar threshold.
1—Start with “Presence.” As you step outside, close your eyes and take five slow, deep breaths. Then stand quietly for a few moments. What do you feel around you? What nature sounds can you hear? What do you smell? Open your eyes, and look carefully at the natural world. As we interact and connect with the non-human world, we focus on being present rather than on doing.
2—Set Aside Distractions. Silence your cell phone. Find a small rock. Hold it in your hand. Imagine giving the rock your worries, stresses, and hectic to-do lists to be held until you come back. Set the rock back down. You can choose to pick up these things again at the end of your nature time, if you still want them.
3—Move Slowly. Notice what natural things are in motion around you. If your thoughts wander or if you find yourself walking fast, STOP! Take a few slow, deep breaths. While standing still, focus again on what natural things are in motion. Resume moving slowly.
All invitations in Forest Therapy are based on one of these two focuses: physical senses or emotional senses. In an in-person session, specific applications of these invitations are offered, carefully tailored for the individual clients and the actual location where the guided walk occurs. These examples give you general ways to interact and connect with Nature.
1—Focus on the Outside World. As you walk, notice the sensory experiences: temperature, texture, motion, sound, smells, taste, sights. Pay attention to details such as individual trees, tiny plants, critters, moving water. Stop regularly to notice how you would complete this sentence: “Outside I see…..”
2—Acknowledge the Inside World. As you interact with different aspects of Nature, notice the sensual experiences. What emotional responses are you experiencing? Possibly joy, delight or playfulness. Sometimes sadness or anger. There are no “right” or “wrong” responses to the non-human world. Just like we do for the outside world, stop regularly to focus on how you would complete this sentence: “Inside I feel…”
At the end of your time in nature, whether you spent 10 minutes or 2 hours, it is helpful to acknowledge crossing a threshold back to daily life. Repeat the first rituals: close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Remind yourself of the outside and the inside ways you experienced Nature. Choose one thought or feeling to take with you. If you feel a need to carry your distractions and worries again, retrieve them from the rock where you left them. (Perhaps you will feel enough calm to let the rock hold those stresses for a while longer…)
If you are interested in learning more about Forest Therapy, read more on my website HERE. Consider signing up for email notification each time I publish a new blog post—which will be about the many different ways my daughter and I connect with nature. (Right side bar on computer, scroll to bottom of page on mobile phone.) If you would like specific mini-invitations to try during lunch break or for a short walk in a park, consider making a donation to my go-fund-me campaign to help me become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. At the $17 donation level or above, you will receive a daily email for one week which gives you “invitations” to interact with trees, the sky, moving water, and more. You can learn more HERE.
May you take some of the peaceful presence of Nature back with you into your daily life!