Hello dear reader,
I am thrilled to be able to offer Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing in Niagara where we have a crazy abundance of natural beauty in forests, lakes, vineyards, streams and waterfalls. Common questions I receive about Forest Bathing:
What is Forest Bathing?
Essentially it’s slowing down in nature; being fully present with where we are versus trying to get somewhere else. And in slowing down, it opens us to the full benefits of being in a forest environment. It’s a lot more than a mere “walk in the woods” but it is hard to describe. And in trying to describe it I run the risk of putting expectations out there of what it is supposed to be. I can say a couple things Forest Bathing is not: It is not a hike or exercise in nature. Your fitbit will be thoroughly unimpressed. We don’t cover a great distance. It is also not a naturalist walk. You are not going to learn about nature. Sometimes when we’re busy naming and classifying and identifying we are right back into our analytical minds and have lost access to a deeper way of knowing someone. It’s just like me at a party (ok, I’m rarely at parties anymore, but let’s just pretend a sec, OK?). If a stranger comes up to me and asks me what my name is, I will say, “Melissa.” Can that person now say, “I know Melissa”? Of course not. To know anyone takes time. It takes a lot more than knowing a name. It takes mutual listening. It takes letting go of posturing and masks and just showing up as we are. It takes vulnerability. It takes golden silence spent together. It takes soft gaze fascination with each other. As we slow down in nature you may find that you have a chance to enter into a different kind of conversation, a different kind of knowing, and that this kind of knowing restores your connection to nature, yourself and others.
Will anyone be naked and getting in actual water?
No, you will not be naked. I feel like this needs to be said again: No one will be naked! Whether this news comes to you as a relief or disappointment is your journey to manage. Will we get in water? Sometimes, yes, but only if you want to. There are times when we are near a stream and it’s a hot summer day and I might do a water invitation. You might surprise yourself by wanting to take your socks and shoes off and feel the water with your feet, or you may play in the water in whatever way you want. You might remember the many ways water is wonderful, wise and fun.
Why do I need a guide? Can’t I just do this myself?
First of all, you might not need a guide! If you can already go into a forest and rest and slow down and listen deep and open yourself to the experience…if you can turn that nattering brain off and be fully present, then by all means, do it! However, for many people, myself included, we may go to the forest with the express intent to slow down, to take ourselves forest bathing and sink into simple presence only to find ourselves easily distracted. Speaking for myself, I can go to the forest with this intent and two seconds on the trail my brain is on old, familiar hamster wheels. Or I try to multi-task by taking my two dogs to the forest so they get their jeebies out and I get to forest bathe. Nice try! My brain then focuses on their movements, their antics (adorable or naughty as they are!), their adventures in nature and I am again lost to my own experience. Plus I’m walking way too fast when I’m with the dogs. There is no way I am present when I’m going at that speed. I was there on that trail, but I wasn’t really there at all. I missed so much. I didn’t really see/hear/smell/taste/feel anything at all. Or I feel the familiar pull to be with my family or friends and so I tell myself that I can sort of forest bathe while hiking with them. Nope. Wrong again. The activity of interacting (the talking!) takes me away from the present moment. And forest bathing is not hiking. It isn’t even a walk. So it often makes sense that when we commit ourselves to a set time to meet with a group who is going forest bathing, we can fully engage. I liken it to yoga. I could easily say, why on earth do I need to go to a yoga studio and be led by a yoga teacher, when I can easily do it at home in my own living room, and follow a yoga instructor on youtube? The answer: I don’t do it. I could do it. I don’t. I need that group and that facilitator taking me through the process.
There is a facebook group for forest therapy guides where a woman recently noted painful feedback she got from staff at a state park in the U.S. who bluntly stated the following about us forest bathers:
“They don’t go far. They don’t learn anything. They just sit in the forest and drink tea!”
The very thought! An atrocity! Not doing anything?! Not going anywhere?! Not learning anything?! The community responded with love and encouragement (us forest therapy guides may tend to be the softie/tender types), but I had to have a laugh. It’s an understandable critique. We are an action-oriented culture. And it’s seen as suspect to openly go against going/doing/learning/accomplishing and move toward being/stillness/answerlessness (my own word – you’re welcome). For many it is downright uncomfortable to practice being, versus striving toward goals, toward a destination. It reminded me of Mary Oliver’s poem:
Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
I think forest bathing is about letting the voodoos of ambition sleep. And as we hardly move, we cover a terrific distance. Poetry can step in when description fails.
Do you have to be a mega-hippie to do this?
No, you do not. But I would take you up on the use of this word. Why is “hippie” used in such a derogatory way? Hippies went against the grain and being counter-cultural, now in 2019, is a pathway to greater health if you ask this humble social worker. Hyper-productivity, managing the onslaught of information that comes at us through the internet and social media, being glued to habit-forming smartphones (it’s an addiction giving us dopamine hits and the whole bit – don’t get me started!), our obsession with being busy, where has that led us? Research now shows us that teen suicide is up and the only factor leading to the spike is the access to smartphones. It is now proven that social media use is co-related to increased anxiety and depression. And of course it is! We compare our crumby lives with the shiny, happy people holding hands on Instagram. Who wouldn’t feel miserable? Forest bathers put their phones away; or even (hopefully) turn them off. They slow down. They may even lay down and breathe and listen to what nature has to say. I guess that is indeed going against generally accepted values and beliefs of our society! Go ahead, call me a hippie, but I don’t look like it. I don’t have the gear. When I was being trained to be a guide, by The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, which is based out of …. wait for it…. California, I may have had a passing inkling to try to play the part - get the festival gear, short shorts with boots, and complicated tank tops - but I can’t. And I think all of us can be glad to be spared that charade. You just show up as you. And I will show up as me. And the forest always shows up for us as it is. We belong.
I can’t wait to see you on the trail.
Melissa Bollinger Seiling and Jonathan Seiling share their updates, reflections and ponderings about various aspects of nature connection.