It currently feels like I’m adrift in time, with little clear progress or known positive change. On June 24th, I added a page to my art journal about this, commenting “I’m struggling to blog or art journal with little focus–just waiting for news, for decisions–and realized this “drifting” should also be documented.” After looking at the finished page , a friend asked if I thought this was unique to my cancer journey or if it also applies to folks as they age or as they deal with chronic illness. Seems to me it applies to anyone who is adjusting to a new stage of life. But I’m curious–drop a line in the comments and let me know if you have ever felt adrift!
Have you ever felt like you were just drifting through life, things happening as they happened, no control over your future? Most often this type of feeling occurs during transitions–when one thing has finished but the next has not yet begun. Seems to me that positive, exciting times of change don’t feel like drifting because we are so excited to move forward, so full of hope for future possibilities. It becomes much harder when the future is uncertain or not yet clear.
Right now, on my health adventure, it feels like forward progress has stalled. It reminds me of floating on my kayak at sunset, no clear landing site in mind, simply letting myself drift through the water and the changing light. In a similar way, I’m currently adrift in time. I’m continuing to take the same pain and anti-nausea meds. I’m continuing to complete 3-week cycles of chemotherapy. I’m continuing to follow a pattern of feeling blah, feeling horrible, feeling okay, feeling good before starting the next cycle all over again.
It’s increasingly hard to have an answer to the questions of how I’m doing. Ummm… the same? Or maybe one of these: We hope treatments are continuing to shrink tumors. I’m bored. I just wanna whine at lack of clear progress. I’m feeling okay or I’m feeling horrid. I’m stuck drifting forever. What does one answer when it’s the same old, same old, day after day after day??
Since there are no zippers or windows to my abdomen, the only way we can monitor the effectiveness of treatment against these cancerous tumors is to have CT scans every 6 weeks. That’s effective. BUT… it leaves me feeling like we are drifting between scans, uncertain of the “what’s next.” IF the med is working, we will do this. IF the meds are not working, we might try that… or the other thing. As a list-maker and calendar scribbler, I prefer to plan, and set goals, and KNOW what’s going to happen! But that’s apparently not the path I’m currently floating on.
Sigh! Wanna come drift with me awhile? It’s beautiful sometimes…
I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part III in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.)
“Risky Play” versus “Brave Kids” – who cares which words we use? Is there some reason one of these phrases is better than the other? Isn’t this just a matter of personal opinion? I argue that we should all stop using the currently common phrase “risky play.” Words matter – they often invoke significant positive or negative emotional responses. Parents and “experts” around the world are discussing the importance of outdoor play for children. (See bottom of post for list of countries talking this topic.) Let’s explore how our words and actions can support our adventurous kids to better enjoy being outside.
Let’s start by defining what we mean by “Brave Kids.” The words “risky play” imply danger and a need to protect our kids. Obviously, we are not eager to support dangerous behavior. On the other hand, we DO want our children to enjoy adventures, using curiosity and experimentation to explore the world around them. Although this type of discovery-based-learning has the potential for physical injury, it is also a natural and necessary part of children’s play which helps develop many significant skills and attributes.
That’s a fine definition, but let’s go beyond the dictionary. Here are some examples of helpful activities to build adventurous brave kids. Most of us want our children to learn to walk, ride a bicycle, and swim. These are seen as important developmental milestones in our culture even though they involve risks of physical injury. Generally, we accept activities such as climbing, swinging, sliding, balancing, jumping, and hanging, especially if these things are done on a “safe” playground. It’s rarer for parents to encourage making fires, using a knife, or practicing the above behaviors in wild nature places. We need to let our kids roll down hills, climb trees, swing on vines, slide down rocks, balance on logs, jump off boulders and hang upside-down from branches! And we need to teach them how to safely make fires and use a knife.
But why should we allow “risky play” when it makes us anxious? What are the benefits of raising “Brave Kids”? I discussed this in more detail in Part I of this series (found HERE). In addition to the many physical, emotional, social, and academic benefits of encouraging outside time for our children, raising kids who enjoy adventure helps them appropriately judge risks, learn to try new things, and strengthens their self-confidence. It may be counter-intuitive but allowing our children to engage in exploratory play can even reduce their risk of injury!
That’s nice…but I don’t want my son or daughter to get hurt! How can I raise brave kids but still keep them safe? Like many aspects of parenting, this is a balancing act. We need to determine what is actually “dangerous” versus things that have an acceptable level of manageable risk. Then we need to train our children in how to make these judgements for themselves.
First, we need to look at ourselves. What are our own fears? What activities did we grow up doing? What things were we stopped from doing when we were kids? All of this plays into what we consider to be “dangerous.”
Here’s an example of how our own childhoods affect our beliefs and actions: my family grew up snow skiing in Vermont every year. We loved this special time together (and, of course, did not consider it to be dangerous.) In the summers, we sometimes went canoeing. That, too, was considered safe, but ONLY if we knew how to swim and wore effective life jackets. And then we grew up. My brother-in-law eventually joined us on family ski trips. We were quite surprised to find out that his family considered downhill skiing to be quite dangerous. After all, celebrities had died on the slopes! On the other hand, he and his dad and brothers went fishing in Canada each year—out on the water with no life vests even though they didn’t know how to swim. Now THAT was dangerous (in our opinion!)
Once we clearly see who we are and how our own upbringing has shaped us, we need to take time to consider the individual personalities of each of our children. This one is a risk taker, that one hates to try anything new. This one seems to always get hurt, that one is very aware of what her body can do. This one loves to be outdoors, that one hates the bugs and the cold or the hot sun. This one thrives on experiential learning, the other one prefers to learn from books or to watch others for awhile before trying things for himself.
What is our role as caregivers? We start by affirming our responsibilities as parents. Our job in all arenas of life is to give our children freedom to pursue their interests and build needed skills for healthy adulthood. This requires our support, encouragement and training/discipline to help them learn new things, make good decisions and manage risks and difficulties. As parents, we, of course, must protect our children from dangerous things which are genuine threats to their health and safety while still teaching them how to manage appropriate risks.
We need to find a balance in raising adventurous brave kids—not being overprotective nor negligent; not limiting necessary exploration nor pushing children into things they aren’t ready for; not making them fearful nor allowing them to be in genuine danger. This is where we need to remember what we learned about our tendencies and about our children’s personalities. Like most other areas of parenting, how we best support our children varies depending on individual strengths, fears, and personal preferences (theirs and ours!)
We also need to remember that getting bumps, bruises or scratches is not imminent danger. Nor is getting dirty or wet something to be avoided at all costs. When we head outdoors, we can plan ahead and bring a change of clothes, some towels, and a small first-aid kit. Learning to overcome small difficulties builds resilience to handle bigger challenges later in life!
Now that we know ourselves, and we know our kids, we can find the best ways to support each child in trying new adventures!
As stated at the beginning, words matter! Let’s guard our tongues and limit phrases such as “Stop!” “That’s dangerous!” or “Be careful!” These statements might make us feel better, but they are too general to actually teach our children safe practices. In addition, when we express our anxiety, we teach our children that we do not trust them, that they can’t handle challenges, or that we are the only ones capable of making good decisions. Instead, we need to use positive language to help our children consider what might happen next. (This article gives excellent suggestions of specific phrases and questions which help build confident kids.)
Instead of hovering over our children (which exhausts us and them), we can build their skills and their confidence by offering our help without being pushy. As they demonstrate good decision-making and appropriate actions, we gradually give them more freedom. To support them as adventurous explorers, we can:
Model behaviors/attitudes about being outdoors and trying new things
Teach skills incrementally with supervision and grant greater freedoms gradually
Stay close enough to monitor their behavior but only step in if necessary
When we are uncomfortable with what our children are doing, take a 17 second pause to determine if this activity is an immediate danger or has manageable risks
Choose skill-building words (as discussed above) to support our kids
Let’s close with a step-by-step example: even though I’m terrified of simply lighting a match, my daughter Andowen became an expert campfire-maker while we were on our first long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Her mentor was a fellow hiker named “Blaze.” Each evening when we met up at a shelter, Blaze took Andowen with him to find appropriate tinder, kindling, and larger fuel in the surrounding woods. He had her sort it into piles near the fire-pit. He showed her how to stack the wood and how to light it without firestarters. Eventually, he had her try it under his supervision. And, of course, he taught her about keeping a safe distance from open flames and how to fully dowse the embers at the end of the evening. After many days of practicing with Blaze, the time came that we were alone at a shelter. Andowen was quite proud when she made us a campfire all by herself. (I quietly kept a close eye on her safety from a few feet away.) We took a photo of that fire, and when we showed it to Blaze later, he dubbed her the “Mistress of the Flame.” I’m still fearful of lighting birthday candles, but my daughter has the skills, confidence, and good judgment to make campfires for everyone to enjoy!
Now it’s your turn! What will you try from this post as you work to raise your own “Brave Kids” who pursue adventures?
(When I did research for this post, I found significant discussion from multiple countries about how to support children while they safely and independently explore the outdoors. Articles were posted from Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, UK, and the USA. Books about similar parenting choices include “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather” in Sweden, and “Achtung Baby” in Germany.)
I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part II in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part III.)
By now, you’ve heard all the reasons you should get your kids outside on a regular basis. (If you need more convincing, read my recent blog post about the many benefits of nature connection for children.) You want to do things that are good for your family, but you might have no clue how to make it fun for your kids. Some of us loved being outdoors in our own childhood, but the complete freedom to wander that we experienced doesn’t feel possible today. Others may never have been comfortable outside. So how in the world can you begin to add enjoyable nature time to the life of your family?
Let’s start with a little humor. Take a moment and read the infographic in this blog post to learn how to “Work Hard to Avoid Nature Connection!”(Shhh! Don’t let your kids read this one. It might give them ammo for their arguments to just stay inside…) Your first steps to getting kids outside can be simply to do the OPPOSITE of everything listed in that chart! Haha!
Let your children have time to FREE PLAY outside. No worries! This idea doesn’t require skill or (much) planning. Simply find a local park, forest trail, or nature area and let your kids play freely with what they discover. More and more parks are including a “natural playground” area with logs to build with and rocks to climb. Stay near them if you are worried for their safety; but try to resist a constant chorus of “oh be careful!” “Johnny, stop that!” “Suzie, you might get hurt!” Let them climb on rocks, splash in a shallow stream, jump in a mud puddle, pick up sticks, and use their imagination in an outdoor setting. (To allow more freedom, you might want to bring towels and a change of clothes and shoes for when they are finished playing!)
All of you might enjoy the opportunity to EXPLORE NEW TRAILS. Ask around and find a local park that has walking trail(s). Bonus points for no pavement! Ask your kids to stay within your eyesight, even when the route is fairly even and flat. Often, they will be more excited about exploring if they can be in the lead. This might be less worrisome for you if you find a simple loop trail with no intersections that might be confusing. (You and your kids might enjoy joining our Lego Tiny-Mes as they explore the woods and go on a bear hunt!)
Consider whether or not you and your kids would find it fun to LEARN about NATURE. For some of us, more information is a good thing. For others, simply being free to experience the outdoor setting is more enticing. There are many resources for identifying trees, wildflowers, and animals/tracks. If you want broader background knowledge of the outdoors, consider one of the many free Jr. Ranger booklets from the National Park Service. (I’ve written about our daughter’s quest to collect Jr. Ranger badges HERE. This post also includes links and resources for this program. It’s fun to visit the parks in person. But many general booklets are available to download online. Plus most parks will mail you a booklet if you request one. Your child can mail the completed book back to the park to receive a shiny badge!)
Would you like to know about the Hidden Life of Trees? Did you know that they communicate, they have a “wood-wide-web” and they take care of their children and their elders? (I know! Crazy…right?! Read more about this HERE.) A brand new book I just discovered (and love) is “Can You Hear the Trees Talking?. The author explains secrets of forests with simple language and beautiful illustrations. In addition, he offers fun activities to try when you have your kids outside in the woods. (Link to book on Amazon HERE. Even better, buy it from your local book seller.)
For fun and games outside, challenge your kids to a SCAVENGER HUNT. You can search for fairies or other imaginary creatures. (Read about our long-term quest of “Finding Fairy Houses” on my blog.) Look for a certain color or search for animal tracks if the trail is soft. Take along a favorite small toy. The toy(s) can go on an imaginary adventure (like our lego Tiny-Mes did in this post) or you can hide the toy(s) for your child(ren) to find. (Check out my Instagram account @legotinyadventures to see all the wonderful places our lego Tiny-Mes have wandered!) WARNINGS: If you wander off the edge of the trail, please be aware of poison ivy or bramble bushes. And if your child might be upset when their favorite toy gets dirty, choose a different toy to hide.
Finally, when you get your kids outside, have everyone USE THEIR SENSES to connect more deeply with nature. Find a place where everyone can relax. If possible, close eyes (our usual sense through which we process the world.) What can you hear? How does the air feel against your skin or in your hair? What can you smell? Is there any direction that is “calling” you? Open your eyes again and notice what new things you see. (For more ideas or “invitations” to use your senses outside or from a window, check out my nature Instagram @jecolorfulheart_thebigepic.) Consider returning to the same place every week or two and notice what is different! This can be interesting to do even in your own backyard or from a balcony at home! (Returning to sit quietly in the same place over and over is called “Sit Spot.” I’ve written more about this practice HERE.)
I hope these ideas help you to let go of the dreaded “shoulds” of getting your kids outside and help you actually get out there and have FUN together! I would love to hear about other ways you and your family enjoy nature together. Please share your ideas in the comments…
A few additional resources you might find useful:
This website has free activity ideas and printables. There is also an active facebook group. https://wilderchild.com
I absolutely love Susan, a friend I discovered online who is passionate about helping families get their kids outside. She offers free monthly challenges on her website https://mountainmomandtots.com And as one of her patreon supporters, I have won some really cool things in her monthly gear giveaways.
I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part I in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part II and Part III.)
In today’s culture, there are few “Nature Kids” to be found. (This is a big change from past generations. Read about my informal poll of favorite childhood activities HERE.) Most families today have busy schedules. We participate in school and work, lessons and sports, family gatherings and community groups. We pursue connection, entertainment, and knowledge through our electronic screens, often while we are on the go. We feel like we have no time to add anything else to our hectic to-do lists. When we add fears about safety and being uncomfortable with the unknowns of being outdoors (in ourselves or in our kids), it can be a hassle (or even an all-out battle) to get our kids outside. Why in the world should we bother?
The NEGATIVES: Study after study in the past decades show this indoor, hectic lifestyle is not merely neutral. Our children are actually harmed by the lack of being “Nature Kids.” In his ground-breaking book “Last Child in the Woods,”(written in 2005) author Richard Louv challenged that the exploding rates of ADHD are actually symptoms of “Nature-Deficit-Disorder.” The same can be said for the current rise in sensory processing disorders, delays in the development of fine and gross motor skills, childhood obesity, and even pediatric mental health diagnoses. (There are an overwhelming number of articles and studies online which discuss this problem. Here are two I recommend: “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature” and “Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good.”)
The POSITIVES: Okay, so those are the negative ways that too much inside time might harm our children. But why should we actively fight to help our children be “Nature Kids”? I have summarized the benefits of spending regular time outdoors in the following infographic:
Since childhood I have always preferred to get outside as often as possible. Once we had a family, because our kids were (mostly) homeschooled, we had plenty of opportunity for them to experience being “Nature Kids.” I admit that some of my now adult children prefer to spend most of their time indoors—but they still occasionally go for walks or drive to a park or a beach for some outdoor time. A few of my adult kids get outside regularly. And in the past five years, we have realized that our youngest daughter NEEDS extended nature time to be healthy. (Read more about this in “Outdoor Girl” and “Child in the Woods.”)
“To benefit your family, you do NOT need to commit to big adventures in the wilderness!”
The GOOD NEWS: With further research and through my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide, I found some good news for all of us. The many benefits of connecting with nature do not require large sacrifices in our normal schedules. Yes, my daughter and I enjoy living in the woods for weeks at a time as we backpack on the Appalachian Trail. BUT—you do not need to commit to big adventures in the wilderness! Studies show that even just 30 minutes of outside time each week bring long-lasting benefits. Surely, we can find that much time to improve our families’ health and well-being!
Let’s head outdoors and begin to raise “Nature Kids.” Will you join me?
(many times?) nature beings are smarter than humans. Seasons change but the
natural world just flows along with the changes. Trees don’t look back and wish
they still had their bright colored fall leaves. Porcupines don’t look forward
and wish it were already warm summer. Squirrels don’t look around and worry if
they do or don’t have enough nuts stashed in their surroundings to get them
through the winter. Too often, we humans find ourselves stuck, wishing for something
that isn’t current reality. I know I struggle with this…what about you?
year ago, I was finishing my training and practicum to become a certified
forest therapy guide. I spent an entire day on the land, from Sunrise to
Sunset, noticing what was happening in my surroundings, looking back at how I
had reached that point, pondering what the future might look like as I worked
to more deeply connect humans with the healing benefits of nature. (In the
next few weeks, I will share some of the photos and lessons I found on that beautiful
of that pondering and visioning did not prepare me for where I now find myself:
in a difficult, winter season of dealing with a diagnosis of chronic cancer. I’m
resting, grieving, and trying to accept this new reality. I find myself looking
back, wishing forward, worrying about today, none of which is particularly
helpful. I am aware that I need to find a larger framework in which to place
this current difficult time. Changing seasons and swiftly flowing years tell me
again and again to relax into the now, remembering that none of these
challenges are forever…
training as a forest therapy guide is personally beneficial. It reminds me to
take time to sit with the land, to consider the lessons I can learn from nature
beings. (For myself personally, I am grateful for a loving Creator who
speaks to me through the nature I love!) As I look around me in one of my
favorite places, I am encouraged to remember that seasons change. Unlike the lush
green landscape of last summer, I now see dead grasses and thorny underbrush. I
notice a few brown leaves still attached to branches and dancing in the wind. I
sit beside the stream and listen to the flowing water. I see where banks have
been more deeply carved by floodwaters. I notice water flowing through new paths
in the jumbled rocks. These changes aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just ARE.
I realize I can choose to follow the natural world and flow along with the
changes in my own life. I can look for the lessons and support for THIS day, in
the middle of THIS season.
the past few days, I have been singing the chorus to “Sunrise, Sunset” from a favorite
musical, Fiddler on the Roof.
“Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”
from “Fiddler on the Roof”
it is helpful to look back toward “sunrise” – not wishing I were back in those
days, but simply noting how swiftly the years have flown by. (My oh my we
were babies when this song was sung at our wedding 38 years ago!) I think
back on different seasons of life—preparing for a different career overseas;
staying here in the same-old, same-old instead; homeschooling a large chaotic
family; living on a tiny farm; travel and adventure on my own and with family; mentoring
and encouraging folks on the margins; a son’s death and other children happily
married. Heartbreak and celebration. Happiness and tears.
like the experience of nature beings, my life moves forward, day after day,
year after year. Seasons change, bringing new challenges, new surprises, and
new beauty. And I realize: I’m going to be okay. Sunset is coming…but not yet.
autumn in Ohio and we all know what that means. The changing season brings
leaves in bright red and yellow, cold blustery winds, humans wearing warm hoodies
or jean-jackets and savoring mugs of hot cocoa and pots of spicy chili. It’s a
time that writers talk about “letting go” or getting ready for winter or
letting one’s true colors shine brightly. This year I’ve been thinking about
different aspects of how seasons come and go. As I share my ponderings, I
wonder where YOU might find yourself right now in life?
live in a small town surrounded by hills and woods and rolling farm fields. Multiple
times per week, I’m driving down country roads, taking daughter to lessons and
youth groups in the city, creative classes and volunteer barn chores in the surrounding
countryside. This year, in particular, I found myself taking photos of the
fields, noticing the seasonal changes of planting through harvest for the
soybean crop. As the noisy combines currently drive the rows up and down the
hills, I realize there were changes all year long in the march toward harvest
season. Let’s look back and consider the journey!
year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:
The dry land shows no signs of life, yet it is filled with possibilities. Winter is a time for farmers to stay inside, to dream of future harvests. Decisions are eventually made: this field will hold corn, that one timothy for hay, the other one soybeans. Soil is analyzed; equipment is serviced. Seeds are ordered; plans are made.
farmer was in the fields with his equipment a few times, getting the land ready
for future use. She cleared the field: using discs to get rid of remnants of
past crops and to smooth the dirt, breaking up clumps. He might spread manure over
the fields during the winter to allow it time to build up the nutrient levels
in the soil. As the weather begins to warm, the farmer starts walking the
fields, eager for the land to thaw and dry out enough to get equipment in the
fields to plow one more time before spring planting.
brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):
the waiting and planning and preparing is ended. This changing season is a
hectic time of starting and stopping, waiting and watching for weather to
cooperate, the freeze date to pass, the fields to dry out. After days and weeks
of work, the various crops are planted. A faint haze of pale green appears
across the empty fields.
challenges to new growth can be overcome by the farmer: adding appropriate
fertilizer, taking care of pest control. Winter was the time to consider these
potential problems and make plans based on research and experience. Now the
farmer simply carries out the plans already made. However, there are challenges
the farmer knows may occur, but that are out of her control. When the weather
is capricious, even the best preparations may not help. Drought or flooding
destroy crops and stunt growth. Sometimes the farmer must start over and
replant entire fields.
for LUSH GROWTH:
the weather cooperates, the plants are strong, the pests are controlled, and
lush growth occurs. The fields on my country drives are dark, brilliant green, crops
thicker and taller each week when I drive past. The farmer no longer has a
single focus on getting fields planted. Summer is a time for multi-tasking: paying
attention to fertilizing, controlling weeds, prepping equipment for the next seasons.
There is extra time for occasional fun with family and friends.
this changing season, there is still waiting, but it is an expectant time. Growth
is visible and plants are ripening with the promise of future bounty. It is a
time to maintain what has been set in motion, to monitor how things are
AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:
summer brings another changing season to farmers. The soybean fields are
beautiful—with colorful contrast of bright yellows and greens. It is exhilarating
for me to drive past this beauty, savoring the colors, looking forward to hot
summer days soon changing to cool fall nights.
this is not yet time to celebrate. Look closer at those fields. This is a
transition time: from lush growth to letting go of what is no longer sustainable
or needed. The golden leaves that look so beautiful from a distance are filled
with holes and tears. If the farmer focused only on those leaves, she would be
disappointed at the apparent decline. But when he looks instead at the seed
pods, he realizes a good harvest is coming.
it’s time for a PAUSE:
slowly, the bright colors fade, the plants dry out, the leaves wither and fall
off. The countryside gradually turns from green to yellow to rusty brown. As
eager as he is for harvest, the farmer must pause.
farmer needs to wait for the seeds to be optimum for a good harvest—fully dry
but still firm and plump in their pods. If she walks into the field on a windy
day and listens, the seeds should rattle in the pods. After nine months of
waiting and dreaming and planning and working, it is almost time…
& NOISE are not always bad!
time! It’s time! The farmer gives a final push—coordinating support and
helpers, working round the clock, doing whatever it takes to finally gather the
crops. No time to celebrate now! This is loud, messy, chaotic work. The
neighbors might not be happy, but the farmer knows this apparent disorder is
actually the culmination of the changing seasons of farming: it’s harvest time!
year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:
the harvest is over, the once lush, colorful, thriving fields are left with
bits and pieces of stubble. There is a sadness that the growing season is over.
The fields look desolate with no crops or movement. But in the farming
community, this apparent barrenness is a time for celebration! The harvest is gathered.
The hard work has been rewarded. Later it will be time to look back and analyze
what went well with this year’s changing seasons of farming and how things can
be improved for next year’s projects.
What about YOU? What changing season are you in? Where are you in the process of moving out of the old ways, stepping into new things, fostering a new stage of life?
I ponder these seasons in a farmer’s year, I realize there are similarities to
my own life. These micro-cycles of changing seasons apply to child-raising,
finishing college, starting a new business, embarking on adventures… I wonder
how they might apply in your life?
Over and over, I have empty times which eventually lead to considering future possibilities, dreaming and planning. There are the early stages of any new endeavor, plans which were so exciting but always seem to move so slowly in real life, challenges that cause me to reevaluate. Once I get through those roadblocks, life often flourishes, with growth and promise of success. I love the colorful season, so fun and quirky! (But it’s hard for me to remember this, too, is transient.) Then pausing, waiting, watching to see final results. (I HATE this stage!!) Finally, the goal is fully met, the “harvest” occurs! (the kid is “launched,” the degree is completed, the business is gaining recognition, the epic adventure is completed…) YAY! Success! But then…a down time, wondering if it was worth all the hassles, pondering what might possibly come next.
helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives.
Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…
first Saturday in September is International Forest Bathing Day. This is a day
to celebrate being in nature while accessing the health benefits of immersing
oneself in the atmosphere of the forest or other nature locations. A guided
Forest Therapy Walk is a way to disconnect from our hectic, stressful lives and
connect with the natural world.
“We are a part of nature, not separate from it.”
There has been an explosion of interest in this practice that improves well-being. Forest Therapy (or Forest Bathing or Nature Immersion) is based on extensive research and blends new developments in the field of nature connection with ancient traditions of mindfulness and wellness. I did my initial training with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. By the end of 2018, this organization had more than 700 Forest Therapy Guides working in 46 countries—and that number is growing rapidly. I trained with Cohort #29 just one year ago, and Cohort #45 just finished their initial training retreat. UPDATE: In 2020, I am going through the process to build a long-term association with the Global Institute of Forest Therapy for accountability, support, and continuing education. You can learn more about this international organization HERE.)
Forest Bathing Day
This year on Saturday, September 7th, there will be more than 70 guided walks offered around the world. (Check this map to see if one is being offered near you!) I am guiding a walk from 10:00-12:00 in Mt Vernon, Ohio. To honor this day and encourage more people to experience this simple way of being in nature, this is an any-donation-accepted walk in lieu of my usual fees. You can see more information and register HERE (walk-ins also accepted for this event). If you can’t make it to this walk, check HERE to see what other walks are currently scheduled, or contact me to reserve your own private walk! (Read Things to Know Before Attending a Walk HERE)
a worldwide celebration on International Forest Bathing Day!
a walk with a guide. Or simply find your favorite nature spot and spend time
sitting or walking quietly, noticing the sounds and sights around you.
Curious about Forest Therapy? Read FAQs HERE, relevant blog posts HERE and a list of other resources HERE Just in case you think this is a bunch of hooey and is of no benefit to you…you need to read THIS POST which gives helpful tips on how to avoid nature connections!
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)
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.
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
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
Light breezes flutter Delicate flowers dancing Hummingbird joins in
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
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.
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
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
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
We sit together. Tree gives me words, songs to share Reciproci-tree!
CIRCLES OF SHARING
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
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)
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.)
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:
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!)
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!
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!
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.)
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.
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!
Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…
As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.
However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)
Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:
We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)
Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!
When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!
Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!
Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!
So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!
(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)
PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.