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!
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.
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.)
You already know how much daughter and I love to spend time in the woods. After all, that’s the reason I started this blog to tell stories about our adventures! I discovered that “our holiday” was yesterday. On March 21, 2012 the United Nations declared an annual International Day of Forests. This day is a global acknowledgement of the importance of forests and a celebration of the ways in which woodlands and trees sustain and protect us. Woohoo! Folks around the world enjoy the woods as much as we do.
I just discovered a fascinating book: “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. The author, a forester from Germany, makes audacious claims about life in the forests. Even better, these assertions are supported by new research being done by scientists around the world. Here are a few of the most intriguing facts I’ve read so far:
We have all heard about the interconnectedness of life. There is actually fierce competition between species—plants, insects, birds and mammals. But in fully functioning woods, deciduous trees of the same species are connected at the root level by soil fungi. This network allows sharing of both information and goods. These interconnected trees support young seedlings and saplings, share nutrients with other trees that are sick or struggling, and warn each other of impending danger from insect invasion or grazing critters. Occasionally, different species of trees network in similar ways for mutual benefit. Individual trees or man-made forests do not have these types of connections, and they live much shorter, sicklier lives.
Scientists have discovered that trees learn from experience and change their later activity based on what they have learned. This was so unbelievable that I read the chapters more than once! One example: younger trees tend to slurp up huge amounts of water every day and in every season. However, after experiencing the trauma of a significant summer drought, in future years, these now more experienced trees take up less water in the spring which leaves more water available for use in the summer months when there might be another drought. In addition, they stockpile extra water during the winter months to be used in drier months.
3-It’s COOL to Walk in the Woods
It is literally cool to walk in the woods…research shows that on a hot summer day it can be up to 50 degrees cooler on the forest floor that has full, undisturbed bio-mass! Natural woods create their own micro-climates. Thick tree cover keeps the forest floor in deep shade. (This is one reason “parent trees” share nutrients with young trees, as mentioned above.) Masses of tall trees also slow down winds. Calmer air means less evaporation, keeping more moisture in the local area. Higher moisture levels in deep shade lower temperatures which keep the cycle going. Again, individual trees and man-made woods with carefully spaced trees do not benefit from the microclimate effects of a healthy natural forest.
Let’s CELEBRATE the forests!
Trees are far more amazing than we ever imagined. Next time Daughter and I go to the woods, we will take time to stop, listen, ponder, and imagine what is actually going on around us. Will you join us?
(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.)
(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!
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”
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!