The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Ponderings (page 1 of 6)

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. (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.

Weeping Willow — Tree of Comfort

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.

drooping tree branches, willow fronds

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.

serenity, tree planted by the water

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.

Ending…and New Beginnings

Are graduations epic adventures? No…probably not. They are simply the transition point marking the ending of one adventure and the uncertainty of what comes next. Is the time spent as a student an adventure? That’s harder. If those years are merely a slog of fulfilling responsibilities, taking required courses, and surviving in a fog until “real life” begins after graduation, then, NO, student days are nothing epic. On the other hand, if the student makes new friends, explores new interests (via classes or clubs), and gains new skills, it is possible that university days could be called an adventure…

I went back to university a few years ago and finally finished a Bachelor’s degree in 2015. That was certainly a season of new things! Finishing that loose end with a graduation but finding myself still “stuck” in life just made my mid-life crisis stronger. The uncertainty of that transition time was a big reason why I headed to the Appalachian Trail (with youngest daughter in tow). (Read about the start of this ongoing adventure HERE. Read about WHY we started backpacking HERE. )

Why am I writing about graduations today? Because as a proud mom I wanna brag. (Humor me, okay?!) Because that has been the focus of the past few weeks. Because one graduation became the excuse for an epic road trip adventure. And because all of us teeter on the brink of endings and new beginnings at least a few times in our lives.

Sometimes, even as one stage is ending, we already know what comes next. My daughter Nettie just graduated with a Doctorate in Pharmacy a few weeks ago. She is headed to a 1 year residency in another city where she and her husband have already found an apartment. (He is still job-hunting—wish him well!) All the hard work required to earn this degree is certainly something to be celebrated. In addition, there is some level of comfort in having navigated similar transitions many times in the past. Now it is off to the next adventure in life…

For most of us, uncertainty is draining. Facing the ending of familiar roles and expectations is hard, especially when the “what’s-next” is not yet visible. Youngest son, Jakob, is in this situation. He is happy to have finished his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. He and his wife know they are moving back to Ohio to job hunt and set up their next home. Right now, life feels less like an adventure and more like an ordeal. Hopefully, both of them can remember the perseverance and the life-skills they have gained from past adventures to give them confidence as they move forward toward this current unknown.

Like I said above, I’m a proud mama to these hard-working kids we have raised. I can’t wait to see where life takes them. And I will be cheering them on all the way…

Is YOUR life an adventure right now? Or are you in the transition time between endings and new beginnings? Do you have any words of wisdom from your experiences in these in-between-places of life? I’d love to read your stories in the comments below…

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.) 

BEWARE! Steep Roller Coaster Ahead…

Are you a roller coaster lover? Or are you like me—terrified of those torture devices? It doesn’t matter which kind of roller coaster it is, from kiddie ride to mega-coaster, I hate them all the same!

Along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, there is a 13.5 mile section called the Roller Coaster. This series of a dozen short steep hills comes with a “warning” sign at each end. We reached this area a few weeks into our first backpacking trip on the AT. It was intimidating, but we survived.

In the past few weeks, I have been on a different type of Roller Coaster. There has been an unending path of steep emotional ups and downs: bittersweet memories while sorting family photos, my parents first anniversary after my dad died last year, approaching the 10th anniversary of our son’s death (how in the world has it been that long?!), the upcoming first anniversary of my dad’s death, my dad’s birthday, my birthday that I share with my son…plus family gatherings, a daughter graduating from Pharmacy school, a son graduating with a bachelor’s degree, both kids and their spouses moving to new locations, a cross-country road trip and more. So many mixed up emotions hitting me all at once!

I know I’m not the only one walking a challenging path right now. Daughter and I conquered the AT Roller Coaster. Here are some lessons we learned that can help me (and you?!) more easily navigate other times of turmoil in our lives…

RECOGNIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING: It is much easier to handle difficult times when we anticipate the struggles. We can give ourselves grace, not expecting too much of ourselves in the midst of steep ups and downs. At the same time, we can make preparations to (somewhat) ease the challenges of grief and stress. The warning signs in the guidebooks and on the AT itself were daunting. But these warnings helped set our expectations. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as we feared.

LIGHTEN the LOAD: When chaos hits, it’s time to take a look at what we are carrying and lighten the load wherever possible. Eliminating unnecessary things allows us to have more energy to deal with the burden(s) we can’t avoid carrying. Which things can be rearranged in our schedules? Which chores and responsibilities can be left for later or delegated to others? This is a never-ending quest in backpacking—determining actual *NEEDS* versus heavy *shoulds* or little luxuries that quickly add up to draining burdens.

SET YOUR OWN PACE: Don’t compare yourself to others walking a similar path. Don’t let others dictate what (they think) you should do. Some folks best deal with challenges by keeping busy, not wallowing in messy emotions. Others need to step back and plan for times to rest, allowing themselves space to ponder what is happening. In the case of the AT Roller Coaster, we chose to stop in the middle at a pretty campsite and get good rest to finish the ups and downs the next day.

LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: In the middle of the Roller Coaster it sometimes feels like things are out of our control and the upheaval will never end. It helps to step back and realize this turbulence is temporary…it will not last forever. And even in the chaos, we can find moments of beauty and rest. It was helpful when we were weary of endless ups and downs to stop at an overlook for a few minutes. Rest, a beautiful view, and some nutritious snacks gave us energy to continue down the trail.

LET OTHERS HELP: When we feel overwhelmed, there are often people around us who want to encourage us. We have to be willing to talk with them and accept their offers of assistance. Stubborn independence makes our own burdens heavier and prevents others from experiencing the joy of helping someone else. Often little things become huge encouragements! A simple granola bar offered by one day hiker, a brief conversation with some young kids walking with their dad, and the juicy sweetness of fresh fruit handed to us  gave us energy to keep going until we finished the Roller Coaster. (Thanks, Trail Angels!)

I still hate roller coasters, but looking back at our successful hike through the Roller Coaster on the Appalachian Trail reminds me that I can also successfully navigate the turbulent ups and downs  of grief and stress I’m experiencing right now. I’m off to listen to some soothing music while re-reading a favorite book. I can face these challenges again tomorrow…

(You can read more about my “adventures” with grief HERE and 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…)

Lessons from my Mama

In January, I participated in a snail mail group. Each week, we were given a topic to exchange notes with our assigned partner. The final assignment was to summarize life lessons we have learned from our mothers (or other women/mentors in our lives). Here is some good advice for anyone dreaming of living a life filled with “Big Epic” adventures:

Never Travel Without Your SwimsuitBe prepared to say yes to unexpected opportunities!

If needs be, Travel Cheap! There’s always a way to reach for dreams, even if you have to adjust your expectations to make it happen.

Spread the Love—Invite Friends to Join YouOne year even the mailman came to Thanksgiving dinner! … yes, really! (It’s a long story… )

Here’s the summary of Big Epic Advice I have learned from my mama: Be ready for unexpected opportunities to reach for your dreams—and invite others to join you along the way. THANKS, MOM!

(Click HERE to read another post about my adventuresome Mama! And click HERE to read about my family’s heritage of women who love to wander.)

Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

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