Forest Bathing and Finding the Divine.
I live surrounded by trees. The great boreal forest stretches out endlessly, covering the landscape with tall aspen, broad sweeping evergreens, and graceful willows.
Farther south and west toward the coast, the scenery changes and massive cedars and firs tower above in ancient forests. These trees dwarf the varieties of home.
People have long watched the trees, knowing they are heralds of the changing of the seasons. Subtle changes in the color of the bark tell us when the sap is beginning to rise in the earliest days of spring. The dark greens of summer foliage gently give way to the reds and golds of autumn, signaling the need to make our winter preparations. The trees speak to those who care to listen.
I spend time on the coast each summer. It is a place where I find myself settling into a slower, more relaxed pace. I adopt the easygoing attitude of the locals. I walk along beaches watching the tide go in and out, changing the shape of the sandy shore with each wave that washes in and then recedes.
And while I enjoy the fresh salt air and the sound of the water lapping at the beach, my favorite pastime is to walk among the trees.
I love trees!
I love to walk through the forest. It soothes me, renews me. Being surrounded by trees clears my mind in a way not many other things can.
I’ll tell you a secret: I’m a tree-hugger, literally.
It’s not something I do in front of other people — hugging trees. It is something that for me is personal, spiritual really.
There is something about laying my hands on the bark, feeling the texture of it; listening to the sound of the breeze moving through the leaves or making the boughs of a tall spruce swish against each other.
At home, as I walk, I reach out my hands and let them slide across the cool, white bark of the aspens. I brush my hands against the needles of the spruce and pine trees as I pass by. I touch the frilled edges of peeling birch bark as soft as feathers against my skin.
But on the coast far from home, it is Douglas-fir and cedars which soar above me. The trunks of these ancient and majestic trees are so thick that my arms barely reach a quarter of the way around their circumference. Here I quietly walk to the hidden side of a tree, out of sight, and I lay my cheek against the rough bark and place my hands gently on either side of the trunk. Here I am a tree-hugger.
Connecting with the Divine
I close my eyes as I lean against the tree, quieting my mind in silent meditation. I breathe deeply, inhaling the soft, earthy fragrance of the forest. And I listen.
I offer a Thank you, although I don’t often know what I’m thanking the tree for, but I’m grateful it is there and that is enough to be thankful for. I can’t imagine a world without trees.
I remember my Nepalese friends who offer Namaste in greeting of recognition and respect — a word which means the Divine in me bows to the Divine in you. I think that anything created by God must, by virtue of its place in creation, have something of the Divine in it.
And sometimes, when my heart and mind are in sync, and perhaps when my hands are on the right tree, I can feel the space between my heart and my throat begin to swell with unspoken words and feelings.
It’s okay if you think that’s a little kooky. I kind of do too, but I’m probably not going to stop doing it either, because it feels good and I like it.
Just so you know, I’m not the only one out in the forest hugging trees.
Have you heard of forest bathing? It is a way of mindfully experiencing nature using all of our senses. This article from Time magazine explores the amazing benefits of forest bathing, and here’s a link to the scientific study that talks about the amazing physical health benefits derived from practicing forest bathing.
Read the above if you have time, but in truth, everything I described is exactly what forest bathing is. It is, in fact, a Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku. The author of the Time article, Dr. Qing Li, calls forest bathing a bridge that allows us to close the gap between ourselves and the natural world.
We are spending more and more of our time indoors and we have become so — dare I say it — addicted to technology that we are forgetting how to disconnect from the busy-ness of our lives. We are losing (or have we given up?) the ability to connect with nature and appreciate the peacefulness that it brings to us.
We spend more time clicking Like on photos of nature on Instagram or Facebook than we do walking through a garden and admiring the sights with our own eyes. Cities are growing larger and spaces are being maximized for housing developments.
Green spaces, parks, and community gardens are shrinking along with our understanding that time spent in nature is critical to the quality of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
As we struggle to find balance between work and family and all of our other commitments, perhaps we would be wise to find some time to focus our attention on a tree. Maybe we would be more engaged and connected to our lives and our relationships if we cultivated our connection to the natural world. It might just be that we would be better people, healthier people, if we spent a little more time hugging trees.
Writer and blogger, Cathy Tubb, is on a search to find the deeper meaning and lessons hidden in everyday moments. Sometimes she feels like she’s entirely too honest about her shortcomings and the ensuing lessons about how she’s becoming a better human being, but she hasn’t let a little humiliation stop her from sharing yet. A storyteller from her earliest days, she now focuses on the end of the story as a Funeral Celebrant combining compassion and creativity to honor the dead and encourage the living. Her hope is to provoke a little thought and shed a little light. You can read more from Cathy at her website or you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.