The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Nature Therapy (page 1 of 2)

Outside–Inside: Getting Started with Forest Therapy

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.

guided forest walk

ENTRANCE:

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.

forest therapy

INVITATIONS:

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…” Forest Therapy

COMPLETION:

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!

7 Ways to Fill Your Soul with NEW LIFE

It has been a long winter. I’m weary and lethargic; life feels stressful. Spring flowers are budding but my soul still needs tending. How about yours? Here are simple ways to fill our souls by connecting with nature:

1 – Spring CLEANING (physical & emotional)

Our physical gardens need pruning, raking, planning, organizing, and planting. Spring is also a good time to clean the “garden” of our soul: release guilt, let go of “should,” choose to forgive to make space for joy.

2—Choose a NEW RITUAL or routine for Spring

Put away candles, cozy blankets, and hot mugs of tea. It’s time for reaching out, for letting Spring into our lives. Buy yourself flowers each week; drive through nature on your way home from errands or work; open windows and doors and let in the fresh air.

3—REST

Winter hibernation is over, but quiet buds still come before blooms. Choose restful ways to relax as you fill your soul: get gentle exercise outdoors; re-read a favorite book; take a soothing bubble bath or relaxed shower.

“Your time here is short…it’s really important to do the stuff that feeds your soul.” – Paul’s Boots, AT Documentary

4—MAKE YOUR OWN Beautiful Things

I know, I know, this one is not a direct connection to Nature. But it IS a way to fill our souls! Don’t be passive but participate actively: make art, make music, try dance or movement, do some writing, re-decorate for spring!

5—CONNECT with others

Spring is the season for birds to migrate in flocks, for mating and raising young ones, for frisky animals chasing each other as they search for food. Spending time with our “flock” brings renewed zest for life!

6—PLAY with the exuberant joy of a child…or a pet

Splash in a puddle or walk in the rain; blow bubbles, explore a wild space. Throw a toy for a 4 legged friend; chase a squirrel; howl at the moon! (I tried to figure out how to get a photo of us howling at the moon…but you couldn’t have figured out what we were doing. We just looked silly!! HAHA)

7—USE EACH SENSE to find “treasure”

One of the best ways to feel fully alive is to experience life through all of your senses. Savor the flavors of the foods you eat; Notice beauty (once you see the obvious, go deeper); Enjoy sniffing a pleasant aroma (piney woods, flowers); Touch interesting things (pet an animal, put your hand in a stream); Listen to nature (birds, insects, spring peeper frogs).

What fills your soul with life? I would love to hear your ideas of what helps YOU to relax when you are worn out or stressed. Please add a comment below!

(For more ideas of simple ways to connect with nature, become a donor to help me become a certified Forest Therapy Guide and receive a week of emails with additional suggestions of how to add nature to your daily life. You can read more about the rewards for donors HERE.) 

It’s About TIME!

This week we changed our clocks in the US. Every spring and fall this seems like such a useless, random practice. I’ve been thinking about “time” this week. We waste time, make time, spend time. Our language makes it sound like we are in control of our time. But is that really true? What is our actual relationship with time?

For millennia, humans informally followed the passage of time as measured by natural events. Their lives were ordered by the movements of the sun, moon and stars and by the changing seasons. They understood the normal ebb and flow of NATURE’S TIME. Life was hard, often living at a survival level, but it was not a stress-filled, guilt-producing, never-ending quest for efficiency and productivity.

Following the rhythms of Nature’s Time changed in the past few centuries. “Progress” was the order of the day. Leaders in government and business felt a need to order time, measure time, and control time. They looked for ways to make workers more efficient. They sought to unify divergent regions of their countries into more-controllable homogenous groups. Accurate time keeping allowed sailors to more safely explore new places without getting lost; small businesses were consolidated into large industrial factories; mass transportation more quickly moved people and ideas across nations. Progress was exciting and new. But with it, the tyranny of CLOCK TIME had arrived.

Humans measure something to control it. (We do this with land ownership, recipe amounts for cooking, and time, among other things.) We are told to carefully manage our days, hours, and even minutes . We place a high value on being productive, on finding more time in our day. This feeling of CONTROLLING TIME makes us feel in charge of our lives. Too often, we fail to notice that we have actually become slaves to our planners and our to-do lists. Even worse is what happens when institutions control time—eventually, masters control workers and teachers control students. When we become drones, following schedules and expectations set by others, life becomes a plodding, joyless drudgery. And the cycle continues as we try to more tightly control our schedules to find more time for elusive pleasure in our days.

We must fight back. It is time to recognize and change the deadening effects of being controlled by our planners or by the institutions we live under. Let’s regain control of our daily lives by focusing on PERSONAL RHYTHMS based on balancing individual needs with the work that must be completed. When we follow natural rhythms, allowing an ebb and flow to our activities, we are actually more creative and more productive.

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”  — Richard Louv

ASSIGNMENT: Look at your calendar and choose a day to experience Nature’s Time: eat when you are hungry, work hard at tasks, take short breaks to walk around or rest before going back to work, talk with others, spend a few minutes alone, alternate work with your hands and brain-intensive work. Steeped in a culture of Clock Time, it is important to regularly reset our expectations of how we use our time. It is possible to follow Personal Rhythms in our workplaces. It is easier to find these rhythms when we are outdoors, surrounded by Nature’s Time.

Isn’t it ABOUT TIME to let go of controlling every moment of our days?! Let’s choose to live in Nature’s Time!

(I’m excited to be starting training and certification as a Forest Therapy Guide this fall. A large part of this practice is helping others get free from Clock Time and experience Nature’s Time, at least for an hour or two. Read more about this opportunity HERE and learn how YOU can help me reach this goal!)

One Gray Week_Two Stories (Part 2)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. You can read the first story HERE. Today, I share the second story…)

On Monday, my hubby and daughter were out of town for the day. I had the house to myself. It was a great opportunity to do things just for me, things I somehow never get around to doing. Perhaps get ahead on writing blog posts. Or teach myself how to make videos to share. Or go out to lunch at a real restaurant (rather than getting McTaco fast food). But, with nothing on my schedule that HAD to be done and with no daughter needing oversight for her work, I couldn’t find motivation to do anything. I sat on the couch, nursed a mug of yet another coffee and mindlessly filled in crossword puzzles.

Finally, I got myself off that couch and out the door into the drizzly, gray day. When I got to the forest walking trail in a local park, I felt somewhat lost. No-one was with me to turn my grumpy attitude around with a song, no-one to enjoy the surprising beauty of dead flowers with me. Hmmm…usually I enjoy time to myself!

And, then I took that oopsy-daisy sliding fall on the slick leaves, flowing water, hilly trail. Getting covered with mud made me laugh! But…I realized I also missed my daughter who would have given me a hand up, laughed with me, and teased me the rest of the day…

As I explained in the previous story, I got to travel with middle daughter to Virginia for a few days. While she went to interviews, I found my happy place in a quiet, beautiful, peaceful cave. And I ended up in tears…no-one to enjoy the beauty with me, no-one for me to point out little details I noticed. Ugh… “empty nest” hits with a vengeance—even before the youngest “birdie” actually leaves!

After the cave tour, I wandered the trail beside a peaceful river. I sat on a rock and pondered this second story. Yes, Nature is healing. Yes, I love to be outdoors, soaking up the beauty and the peace. BUT…the sense of loss I was feeling on these solo adventures reminded me how much I also enjoy helping others make their own connections with Nature and find their own healing and peace.

Thinking about both of these stories, affirms for me that training to become a Forest Therapy Guide is the perfect next step for me. It will allow me to continue helping others in ways I have been practicing with my own children for decades!

(Please check out my go-fund-me campaign and consider how YOU can help me get to training to become a Forest Therapy Guide! You can read about different ways to help me HERE. You will be helping me find purpose out of upcoming “empty nest” and, at the same time, help me help so many others find peace in stressful daily living.)

(elephant photo from Strange Travel dot Com)

One Gray Week–Two Stories (Part 1)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. Today I share the first part…)

Last Monday was a gray day; a dismal, dreary, drizzly day. It was a stay-on-the-couch-with-a-mug-of-coffee sort of day. I used to easily find color-filled activities to turn days like this one upside-down. But after the death of a son ten years ago, I just wanna crawl in a hole on gloomy days.

So I burrowed under the blankets on the couch, feeling sorry for myself. As I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I glanced at a friend’s post. Mariah described a very difficult day including a trip to the ER. Then she said “One plus, it’s raining! I love rain!!! It’s calming, slows the world down a bit, and gives you an excuse to stop and enjoy life.” That stopped me in my tracks.

I was alone in the house for 24 hours. That should have been an opportunity for doing things just for me—whether writing, making art, or pampering myself. But instead I was having a pity party. My friend’s words woke me up. I forced myself off the couch and out the door into the rain.

By the time I got to the local park, the rain had turned to mist. I started down the leaf-covered, mud-smeared trail. I noticed this jumble of dead branches. I took a photo since it was a good illustration of my day.

But then, Nature started its healing therapy. When I looked beyond the mess, I noticed a beautiful tree with golden leaves dancing in the breeze. And when I looked more closely into the pile, I discovered the quiet colors of lichens on the bark.

I kept walking, following the sounds of a rushing stream at the bottom of the hilly path. It was invigorating to find that the heavy rain had turned the trail into its own unexpected waterfall.

You can, of course, guess what happened next…mud, slick leaves, flowing water, hillside path… Yep, I slipped and ended up covered with mud! Now, you might guess that would have made my day worse, right? But somehow, I started laughing. That muddy fall turned my day around! I felt alive again, back to my usual “Susie-Sunshine” self.

Later in the week, I had a last-minute opportunity to travel with my middle daughter for a few days in Virginia. While she went to interviews, I was free to explore the area. The dismal, gray weather continued, but I had learned a lesson. Instead of hanging out at a coffee shop, working on writing projects (or feeling sorry for myself), I decided to get outside. I didn’t have energy for a full hike, but found a nearby cave tour. Ahhh… Since I was a little girl, I have always loved being in a cave. Beauty, peaceful quiet, a sense of timelessness… somehow, I fully relax in a cave.

I finished that day by sitting beside a quiet river. This dreary week held an important reminder. Nature brings peace and contentment when I make the effort to get outside!

(You can read the second story HERE…)

“Lovey-Dovey Day” — a Different Way

It’s “Lovey-Dovey Day.” Hallmark wants you to believe that on this day everyone has a soul-mate, someone who deeply loves them, someone to lavish affection on with chocolates and expensive cards. But what about all the folks who feel like their lives are a frozen wasteland? The ones who feel lonely, left out, or left behind? Aren’t they worthy of love?

To write or not to write? I’ve pondered whether to post anything today. Seems like everyone out there in internet-land is spouting lovey-dovey platitudes. Blergh! That’s not reality for most of us!

Some (like me) have a solid marriage with kids and grandbabies we dearly love. But we don’t really see the point of obligatory only-on-this-one-day declarations of grand love accompanied by fancy dinner or a huge box of chocolates. (Well, I never say no to good chocolates…HA!) We are a “not-so-picture-perfect” family. Love for us is a quieter long-term commitment to each other. It is day-in day-out supporting each other, encouraging each other, getting irritated with each other, challenging each other. It is having fun together and fighting together, cooking together and crying together.

Some (like me) have a broken heart. This day feels like a mockery when someone we love has died or a relationship is over or we come from a hurtful, harmful family. We are often paralyzed on holidays with their images of picture-perfect couples and families. We stare inside at our dry, desert-like hearts that have been ripped apart while life seemingly goes on for people around us.

Let’s choose a different perspective! Let’s find “love” in new ways and places. First, take time to see and acknowledge how our current realities are different from the Hollywood/Hallmark versions of “lovey-dovey lives.” We need to grieve the losses we have experienced, including lost dreams. Then we are ready to look around us, searching for little bits of pleasure, hunting for hidden beauty. Try some “Nature Therapy” to reconnect with love. Enjoy being outdoors. Pick flowers, find treasures on the beach. Go fishing or hiking or simply sit and soak up some sun. These simple things are a way to love ourselves. And, once we are at peace, we will better love those around us.

Here’s a reminder: each one of us are on a Countdown to Eternity. While we are still living, we get to choose our attitudes and responses. We can focus on all of the pain and woundings we have experienced. Or we can remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. We can pay attention to the special moments and make a collection of treasured memories.

Savoring special moments and treasured memories is how I choose to celebrate “Lovey-Dovey Day.” How about you?!

(PS—if you want to know more about these two paintings I made a few years ago, you can read HERE about the process of making them  and read about my excitement at helping to illustrate a book for a favorite inspirational author HERE)

I Need YOUR Help!

As many of you know, I was accepted into the training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. This training begins in September with a week-long intensive experience in NW Ohio, followed by six months of weekly mentoring calls and practical experience. By next spring I will complete my certification and will begin offering Forest Therapy sessions as a coaching business. (You can read more about this in the Nature Therapy tab on this website…)

I Need YOUR Help to get to this training. Will you CHEER ME ON? Will you DONATE? Will you SHARE my story with others?

Normally, our family figures out ways to personally pay for whatever projects we decide to take on. In this case, I have a one-time opportunity to complete training in my own state, rather than paying significantly higher transportation costs for a program in Northern California (or overseas!) at a later date. Unfortunately, this means we can’t just save money for a year or two to be able to cover the costs with cash up front. In addition, one son is finishing his final year of college plus hubby was unemployed last year. The time feels right to jump into this business opportunity that fits my passions…but the personal finances just aren’t available.

Thank You for your support!

The direct link to my Go-Fund-Me campaign is https://www.gofundme.com/ForestTherapyJill  From that page you can read a summary of my story (and find links back to this website and blog). You can make donations there and see the list of unique perks I am offering for donors. To share with friends, you can email them this direct link or you can click the fb button on my campaign page to share via Facebook.

Don’t miss the really awesome perks for DONORS. Check out the list HERE (or directly on the fundraising campaign page above). I know many of us are very tight financially right now. THAT’S OKAY! I also need folks to SHARE my campaign with their own friends who might be interested in helping me. And this “putting myself out there” to ask for support is an uncomfortable stretch for me. I need folks to CHEER ME ON (in comments, Facebook responses, and emails) as I start this new adventure! Please consider how you might best support me.

Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give me!

The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail

So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!

B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy

There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.

Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire

Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills

C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature

There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.

Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods

Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”

What’s Next?

Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!

Become a Warrior Woman

My daughter, Andowen, spends much of her time as a Warrior. At first glance, folks might think she is just a quirky teen. If they bother to spend time talking with her, they discover this is more than childish costume play. Here are some of the reasons that each one of us should be like her and choose to become a Warrior (Man or Woman) this year.

We have always had a big box of dress-ups around our house. Some of our kids rarely used them, others spent years wearing costumes. As a mid-teen, Andowen still loves imagination play accompanied by appropriate outfits and accessories. We figured out a few years ago that spending time in costume helps Andowen lower crippling anxiety levels. As she explains, “when I’m in my own world, I choose the rules, I always know how to respond, and no one picks on me.” Even when she and I take long backpacking trips (which also lessens anxiety), she still wants time most days to retreat into her imagination. The woods are a fabulous setting to make her pretend worlds feel more real!

Recently, she and I had a deeper discussion about what she gains by becoming a Warrior Woman. She described how acting as a particular character helps her practice the positive traits they have. In many ways, those imaginary humans, elves, and time-jumpers have become her mentors for how to handle real-life. Andowen described the following characteristics of a true Hero-Warrior:

A Warrior Woman must be STRONG, physically and mentally. It is good to be physically fit. But when you aren’t, it is even more important to become strong in your thinking and decision-making. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming who you want to be! Andowen spends time making weapons out of sticks and string, then becoming an “expert” by using them in imaginary battle and hunting scenarios. She practices being focused, ignoring any outside distractions.

To become a true LEADER, it is not enough for a Warrior Woman to be brave or to step out in front of her companions. She must also know how to encourage others. She finds ways to bring out their best in both actions and attitudes. She leads by example.

Andowen is learning how to be SMART as a Warrior Woman. This includes knowledge—learning the wood-lore and skills needed for survival. But it goes beyond facts. Being truly smart means knowing how to choose your battles. As she says, “you must know when to do what, and what to do when!” Because Andowen sometimes struggles with navigating human culture and relationships, it helps her to practice being an elf. Because this lessens her anxiety, she better remembers expected behavior and responses!

As always, becoming the expert at something takes PERSEVERANCE. Andowen has learned this on long distance hiking adventures—never give up on a bad day. She also practices this trait when making “weapons.” Sometimes she creates the look she envisions. Other times she has to try over and over until she gets it “just right.” At home she uses cardboard, duct tape, wood, and cut-up clothes. (As seen in this year’s Halloween costume when she dressed up as Link from her favorite video game.) While on the AT, Andowen practiced how to safely use a pocket knife to smooth and shape sticks into desired “weapons.”

A real Warrior Woman moves through her world with CONFIDENCE. She knows what she needs to do and knows she has the skills capable of fulfilling her responsibilities. She faces new situations with courage. She builds on her strengths and past successes, knowing she can conquer any challenges that come against her. (Andowen was quite excited to meet a thru-hiker who was carrying a “real” sword! She claims owning a similar one would give her even more confidence…..)

Apparently an effective Warrior Woman is never surprised. She KEEPS CALM and thinks clearly no matter what she encounters. She studies each character she meets to determine if it might become an ally or if it is an enemy to be vanquished. In addition to regularly dressing up as a Warrior character, Andowen sometimes uses her creativity to experience life as other imaginary creatures. She decided it is awkward having a huge weighty horn on one’s head as a unicorn! Haha!

At the start of this New Year, as we set intentions and make resolutions for positive change, perhaps more of us need to consider how we would benefit from becoming Warrior (Men and Women)! Let’s listen to my quirky, costumed teen…and choose to pursue becoming better people.

Here’s to the WARRIORS—may we see them, may we raise them, may we be them!

Christmas Gifts–All Year Long!

The presents are opened; the food is eaten; the relatives have gone home. The Christmas holidays are over. But the very best gifts of Christmas don’t have to be packed away until next year. We can enjoy them all year long—especially by spending time outdoors!

May HOPE, LOVE, JOY and PEACE be yours, all the year through!

Some families and churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week an additional candle is lit on the wreath, reminding us to focus on the true gifts offered to us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Even for folks who follow other religions (or no religion at all), each one of us longs to experience these qualities in our personal lives. Daughter and I have discovered that being in Nature gets us away from the hectic schedules and to-do lists of daily living. Time in the woods brings us  these simple gifts:

HOPE: Anything feels possible when we head outdoors for adventure. Even when the trail is difficult and we have a bad day, we comfort ourselves that tomorrow will bring new beauty and fresh challenges. Out here there are always reminders that nothing is so dark that light cannot shine into the shadows…

LOVE: Being outdoors helps us experience different facets of this gift. We better love the earth itself when we spend time in Nature. For us personally, our love for the Creator God grows when we experience the beauty around us. We deepen our connections with others as we overcome challenges together. (Yes, even when we want to kill each other…we are still building relationship! Haha!)

JOY:  We are often reminded of this verse while we are hiking on the Appalachian Trail: “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; (Let the sea roar and all that fills it); Let the field exult and everything in it; Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” (Psalm 96:11-12) One particular morning, we were in awe to find this tree, singing for joy with arms raised toward the sunlight!

PEACE: Even science affirms that we need time in the woods to lower stress and counter the noisy, hectic world in which we live. It is never completely silent in the woods, but the sounds of birds singing, insects buzzing, wind blowing, and water flowing are calming, soothing noises. Sometimes we talk or sing while we hike together, other times we savor the peace that surrounds us when we walk in Nature.

As we put away the decorations of the Christmas season and look toward the beginning of a New Year, let’s make more time to get outdoors. Let’s celebrate the real gifts of Christmas all year long.

(I would love to hear which gift you want more of in the coming year. Please share your plans for spending time in Nature in the coming year by commenting on this post!)

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