Refreshed, Centered and Peaceful. These 3 words only scratch the surface of how I feel reentering from my recent Forest Bathing Retreat. I recently spent 7 days in Hendersonville, NC at the Kanuga Retreat Center attending Forest Bathing workshop.
What is Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku? It’s like a form of eco therapy which emerged in Japan in the 80s. Forest bathing is not just for the wilderness-lover; the practice can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you.
When you hear forest or wilderness, what floats up for you? Is it trees, and leaves and pinecones or do you think about the animals, bugs and critters that live there too. Do you feel comfort and calm or do you have worry and anticipation?
The forest is a multiverse of beings, cooperation, connection, sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings. There is opportunity to see death in a new light, to experience the forest by looking beyond trees as wood or inanimate. Each day I spent 3-4 hours in the forest experiencing it; creating an emotional connection to the forest and all that lives in it.
The time in the Kanuga forest was not about hiking, although in the afternoons, that was an option. It was about slowing down and opening our hearts and senses to what the forest was sharing. After 3 hours in the woods, often we had not traveled more than 1/2 a mile. But what lay beyond the threshold of each day was heart changing.
I learned to share my worry with a stone and leave it at the entrance, later to return and find that what was on my heart was lighter. Having found answers to bring home or to leave the worry behind as there was no reason to carry it back. I asked the moving water for clarity with a specific question, sometimes to find that answer at the bottom. Awakening my senses, moving into my heart and out of my thinking brain, allowed for much clarity!
I found a giant old oak in the Kanuga Woods, just down the path and not far from the most serene outdoor chapel I have ever experienced. I chatted with him and asked permission to sit. I sat with that oak for some time, just being with him, and everything around him. The leaves from the last season, the small river water that flowed off the mountain from somewhere, rhododendrons, lanky, and tangled and small white pines just getting there start in the world. I began to see forest through a different lens. What I had previous seen as dead leaves and branches and rotting stumps, I was now seeing as an integral part of the living breathing multiverse of companionship, support, and connection. All my senses were activated in a way that I had not experienced before, and the more I sensed in the forest, the calmer I became.
Every day that I stepped back into the forest, I found the calm quicker. I was able to shut off my thinking mind and fall into my sensing self. There is so much freedom to be found in the moments of calm. I found a way to tap into the effects of meditation by immersing myself in the forest.
I am still experiencing the creativity and inner intuition and mental calm days after my last experience into the forest. The profound effect the entire week has had on me will keep me wandering back into the forest often. The woods at Kanuga are special. Those woods are Cherokee and many say that Kanuga is a “thin place”. The rare place in the world, said to be in Celtic Tradition where heaven and earth may meet. Similar to my experience when I visited IONA, but different, in the way of the wooded beings.
As I find my way back into everyday, I am imagining the wooded pathways being developed at Limina. The area on the Penobscot Bay was home to the Penobscot Tribe and the connection to the land is profound. As we look to honor those that have come before us, and those yet to arrive, keeping areas of the land as natural as possible is so important.
I look forward to my spirit finding a place at Limina where I can sit with the beings of the forest to appreciate their multiverse and share experience of companionship and connection, where I am now, where I have come from and where I am going. My hope is that you too can experience Shinrin-yoku whether at Limina or in your community.
I wrote this poem on my last day, for my friend the Oak. I went back to that same Oak on two additional occasions to sit. I hope I find an Oak friend at home to sit with too.
An Ode to A Grande Ole Oak
Your cold hard trunk, you support my sit
Crows caw, birds chirp, water hums a cacophony of sound
Listen close, I hear you drink
soft wind, and your limbs abide
sun shines and your buds open wide
soon your branches will be dressed for summer
shelter, cover and a place to slumber
visitors will come and go
will they stop and see the Show?
A Grande Oak will be
I will always remember thee.