Many years ago, when I lived in a low-income city neighborhood, I got to know one of those cheeky kids who hang around on the streets because home isn’t a good place to be. He already had a defensive attitude, even though he was only seven, but we got friendly. One day while gardening, I showed him an earthworm. Gradually, he stopped pulling disgusted faces, and shyly held out his hand to gently hold it. I will never forget the look of awe on his face as he beamed up to me: “Wow, this morning I thought worms were gross, and now I think they’re great!” That experience touched my heart and has inspired my work since.
I am passionate about Forest Bathing as a way for all of us to rediscover our sense of belonging in nature, wherever we live.
Forest Bathing is a way to practice mindfulness through the senses, in nature. We explore nature through our sight, hearing, touch and smell, and this has a fascinating way of switching off our inner chatter and bringing us effortlessly to the present, here and now. Because it is such a practical art, it is perfect for people who yearn for a sense of calm and peace, but who struggle with meditation or mindfulness
It goes beyond simply appreciating the beauty, and feeling more relaxed. It is an intriguing set of tools, or games, which trick our busy mind into dropping its habitual thought patterns. And just like my little back-street friend, we are often amazed at what we find when we truly see our world as it is, rather than as we think it is.
For me, there is not a lot we can learn about Forest Bathing; it is something that needs to be experienced. It is a state of mind, calm, open and alert, and a sense of the world that is so different to our daily thought-based experience.
So let’s try that right now. I invite you to read this section, then go to the window, and find some Nature to look at. If you are lucky there is a garden, a street tree, or some birds. If not, you may see clouds, puddles of water, or small plants growing in cracks. If you cannot see any Nature, then you can practise on a houseplant or a vegetable for now.
I invite you to gently look at your chosen Nature, and allow your gaze to soften. Paying no attention to what the thing is, it’s name, how you feel about it, or any other “thought”. Simply look at it as if you have never seen one of these things before in your life. As if you have just landed from another planet, and you’re amazed to encounter this exotic being.
I invite you to look at your Nature purely in terms of colour, nothing else. At first we tend to label, to think “yes, it’s green”. Continue to gaze softly, and seek different tones and shades, subtleties that you didn’t at first notice. Taking plenty of time, explore with childlike curiosity, patiently bringing your mind back when it wants to think about what you’re seeing. Sit with that for a while, and when you are done, come back.
Before you begin to read again, take a moment to notice how you are feeling now.
If you took the time, and immersed yourself in the process, you may be able to sense that your breathing has slowed, your shoulders have dropped, your face has relaxed, and that you are feeling refreshed even from that short activity. Other changes have also begun: dropping stress hormone levels, pulse-rate, blood-sugar and blood-pressure, and heightening immune system, focus and creativity.
Just like my young friend’s delighted smile as he held his earthworm friend, when we really connect with Nature there is a cascade of physical effects in our bodies which deeply affect our humanity. Research shows we become more resilient to stress, feel gratitude, more abundance of time and resources, behave towards others with more kindness and compassion, and make more responsible environmental decisions in our daily life. And these effects can last for weeks afterwards.
I am constantly humbled by the feedback from people who experience Forest Bathing. I have seen that everyone, even people who have lived their whole life in a city, have this joyful spark of recognition and belonging within them. It is never too late: we each have that inbuilt nugget of calm and clarity, and Forest Bathing is a means to unearth it.
I have come to believe that finding our connection with Nature is not only very beneficial for our personal health and wellbeing. It is also a powerful step towards social and environmental justice. What we love, we protect. If instead of stress, we all felt that open state where we can make decisions based on wisdom and compassion, just think how quickly society could change for the better!
Best of all, Forest Bathing is lot’s of fun. Come and join us to find out!