The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Less Stress

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)

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!

 

8 Discoveries in a Children’s Garden

When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)

Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”

“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)

Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:

Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)

(gates and hidden spaces at the Children's Garden)

Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.

(oversized adirondack chair is a fun climber)

Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.

(Oversized tools are wacky at the Children's Garden)

Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.

(Wander the paths and find the Covered Bridge)

Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.

(Tepee play area at the Children's Garden)

Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.

(Tepee reflecting in a tiny pond)

Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.

(Whimsical playground climber)

Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”

(Little girl closely inspecting flowers in the garden)

See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE

Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE  Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE

We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well! (Drop a line in the comments–what is one thing you do for fun outside?)

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!

Meditation vs. Forest Therapy: What’s the Difference?

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.

Sitting Pose, Meditation

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.”

Meditation, Standing Pose, Outdoors

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. (I describe the initial training HERE. I talk about establishing a sit spot HERE. )

I’m very much looking forward to bringing this practice to my local area once I finish my training. You can read more about what I’m doing and what I’m offering HERE.

An Epic Plan for Self-Care

We’ve all heard the list of suggested wellness practices a million times: Maintain proper sleep/nutrition/exercise. Practice self-care. Choose a good attitude/positive thoughts/thankfulness. Pursue a passion. Find life/work balance. Build a spiritual practice. Get outside. Find supportive friends. Challenge oneself.

…an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation.

Check! Check! Check! I’ve generally got the basics down. Isn’t that good enough? And if I wanted to make changes, an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation. Just give me a detailed list with bullet points to follow and I’ll try to implement it all immediately—at least for a day or a week until I slide back into comfortable old routines. Ugh! This large-scale self-improvement thing too often becomes a guilt-producing merry-go-round.

A few years ago, I heard a seemingly simple phrase that changed everything for me. “Just do the next, best thing.” By following these little words, I’m happier and healthier today than I was as a young adult. These words help me filter the large amounts of information swirling in my head from all of the books and blogs and articles I read. This phrase helps me focus on tiny steps that eventually form better habits, without causing the self-care to come to a screeching halt because I’m overwhelmed.

hiking, walking, glacier national park

I try to be aware of decision points throughout the day: what to eat, what to do with my time, what to do with emotions, how to respond to frustrations. I take a moment to ask myself “what is the next best thing in this situation?” Then I do that little thing—no stress, no fuss, no angsty inner debates. Devour a rich piece of chocolate cake? Sure, have one or two bites. Make a difficult phone call or read a junk book? Get the call out of the way, and then savor the story. Need some milk or toilet paper? Forget the car—walk the few blocks to the store. Spend time on creativity or chores? Okay…this one gets messy (pun intended)! My house unfortunately shows that I much prefer enjoyable hobbies to cleaning or organizing. There is freedom in this routine: if I make a bad choice, it is easy to get back on track for self-care with the next decision I make, or the next one after that.

Next Steps, Barefoot, Grass

The point is that improving self-development and personal wellness practices is most effective by focusing on taking small, incremental steps in a few areas at a time. Currently, I try to walk for local errands. I choose to spend time outdoors every day—noticing beauty and savoring the changing seasons. And I focus on looking for God in the mundane details of daily living. Hopefully, as I become more consistent in these small life changes, they will eventually become epic transformations!

(Read about how “Ta-Dah” lists are changing my life HERE. Find 7 suggested ways to add calm to your life HERE.)

“Ta-Dah!” — Choose to Thrive (don’t merely survive)

Some weeks are bright, colorful, productive, full-of-life times. Other days are dark, only-managing-the-basics, blah times. Last week was one of the latter: supporting two friends who were suicidal, “holding space” for a family saying goodbye in a loved-one’s last days, listening to a friend facing a difficult divorce, hardly having time to cook or deal with laundry and dishes, and let’s not even talk about time to spend with my family! I’ve shared before how much I crave the BIG EPIC! But how in the world can I find any hints of adventure when I’m in survival mode?

Gray days. Blustery, windy, freezing cold days. Huddle under the blankets on the couch days. Days like this sap my energy and bury my motivation to accomplish anything. What about you?

winter tree

Dead flowers rattling through the winter. Brown leaves rustling in a cold spring breeze. Sometimes it feels like I’m in constant motion but am hardly living. What about you?

weary, survival

I don’t know about you, but all-too-often the to-do lists in my planner make me feel blah and gray, just like these photos. All I can see are rushing, busy days and zillions of things I might never get done. Staring at these foggy should-do lists buries my motivation to actually work on anything.  Where’s the life? Where’s the enjoyment? How in the world does a to-do list help me THRIVE??

gray day, blah

A few months ago, a wise friend of mine shared a happy secret. She chooses to celebrate her accomplishments with a “Ta-Dah” list. This is the place to write down all of the jobs completed each day. These are little bits of joy, even if not big adventures. I still keep a boring list of “Get ‘em Done” tasks in my planner. But, since I don’t want to just joylessly zombie-walk through my days, I also record Ta-Dah lists to remind me to celebrate the significant things accomplished each day. On productive, high-energy days this list will be filled with projects, business tasks, phone calls completed, and emails sent. On gray days when I’m struggling, I choose to celebrate different significant accomplishments–planning our next adventure, spoiling the dog, fixing daughter’s favorite meal, or simply making a friend smile. I’m choosing to THRIVE by celebrating the little and big things found in the ups and downs of life. What about you? Ta-Dah not to-do

I would love to celebrate your “Ta-dahs” with you! Please add a comment below to share the little ways you are currently thriving in daily life…

On the Trail Again…

Daughter and I are back in the woods, backpacking for another five weeks on the Appalachian Trail.

Ahhhh…it’s good to be back!

Putting on the packs

Saying goodbyes

Ready to go

Steeping into the woods

After our first week, we have settled into routines. Daughter had no hesitation this time to take the lead, even over challenging rocky areas. We both are hiking strong, finishing our daily miles at a faster pace than last fall and still having energy at the end of the day. As always, we enjoy meeting other hikers and sharing bits of our stories with each other.

We find great peace and contentment in the combination of simplicity and being outdoors. There are few decisions to make (put on the same clothes every morning and walk until reaching that evening’s campsite or shelter). There are few distractions or interruptions (beautiful views, wildflowers, birdsong, and little critters are treasures not challenges). And nature itself is soothing.

We are so blessed to be able to be out here for an extended hike. And when we are done for this trip, we will be ready to head home and reconnect with family and friends again.

Thanks for encouraging us…and for following our adventures!

(Touches of Home encourage us while on the trail. Read about that HERE. Read about the things we miss from home HERE. Read about what we lose and what we find while hiking HERE. )

Life is So Much Simpler in the Woods

True Confession Time: daughter and I are experiencing culture shock. We didn’t expect it to be such a challenge to readjust to life at home. Everything here moves so fast. And there are so many choices. Although many folks have commented that they can’t imagine living in the woods and doing without so many amenities, while hiking on the Appalachian Trail for six weeks we discovered that life is so much simpler in the woods.

This is because travel by its very nature demands simplicity. If you don’t believe this, just go home and try stuffing everything you own into a backpack. This will never work, because no matter how meagerly you live at home, you can’t match the scaled-down minimalism that travel requires.” – Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

There is no set daily schedule in the woods. We paid attention to what our bodies were saying: eating when we were hungry and taking breaks when we were tired. Each day we simply covered the miles needed to reach the next shelter or campsite without needing to organize where to go in what order to accomplish a long to-do list of errands and appointments. By choosing a long-distance hike, we were also choosing to avoid the tyranny of an external calendar or schedule. rest break

Even the days of the weeks began to blur together while hiking. Weekends were no different than weekdays (other than a sudden influx of a zillion dayhikers on Saturdays and Sundays!) Although church defines the weekend for our family when living in town, while on the trail we sang worship songs and enjoyed God’s creation every day. It became a joke between us—when someone asked “what day is it?” we could always tell the section hiker from the long-distance hiker. The former wanted to know the date while the latter was curious about the day of the week. (Daughter’s watch included both which kept us from getting confused.) The biggest difference between one day and the next was the weather.

There are fewer choices in the woods. We wore either our hiking clothes or our camp clothes (with extra layers for warmth as needed.) Each morning we put that day’s snacks in an outer pocket of our packs, merely choosing throughout the day which snack we wanted to eat during each rest break. We ate the same basic meals for dinner every night—based on either instant potatoes or dehydrated rice. Our choice was limited to which flavor meal we wanted to eat each evening. I’m still not back to cooking a widely varied menu of meals at home—there are entirely too many choices to overwhelm me when I enter a huge grocery store and can fill the cart to the brim with food that will not have to be carried on my back until it is ready to be cooked and eaten!

meal time

Finally, we lived from sun-up to sun-down in the woods. Occasionally, we used our headlamps to read a few more chapters of a favorite book on the kindle before going to sleep. But most hikers went off to dreamland shortly after the sun went down. Very occasionally a few hikers would stay up past “hiker midnight” (8 or 9 pm) to enjoy telling a few more stories around a campfire. Here at home? The lights are on for hours after dark before we finally wander off to bed. But then we are tired when the alarm goes off the next morning.  Life is ruled by clocks and schedules.

sunset

As we readjust to life off the trail, we are trying to lessen the number of choices we have to make each day–getting rid of extra clothes, shortening our to-do lists, making a master list of meals. We look forward to returning to the woods in early summer—happy to live once more with fewer choices. That’s not a hardship but a gift! Life really IS much simpler in the woods…

(Read another post about enjoying life in the woods HERE.)

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