Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing
Picture not taken while forest bathing, as cameras/phones are rightfully not allowed. 

Hello, and happy Monday, all. Fight your inner Garfield, and enjoy what's left of the day. Or don't–the world needs Garfields too.

I am writing to you a few hours after having gone "forest bathing." According to the Global Wellness Institute, Forest bathing, "broadly means taking in, in all of one's senses, the forest atmosphere." My forest bathing excursion was, as you may be able to guess, arranged and led by Hartman Reserve staff. Hartman's website narrows the definition down a little further: "Forest bathing is a slow-paced, therapeutic experience in nature that promotes wellness through a series of gentle, sensory-opening invitations."

Essentially, forest bathing is a way to become more connected to your body, and in turn, find your body's connection to nature, as opposed to staying too much in your head, dreading Mondays and getting mad at Odie for no real reason. Connie Svoboda, a Hartman Staff member and Certified Forest Therapy Guide, led Sunday's session. She explained how forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is a practice of Japanese origin that emerged in the 1980s as a potential remedy to the stress of fast-paced, industrious lives.

If you have read any or all of my past few newsletters, you may be aware that a large focus of my project as Visiting Artist is how people can develop and/or maintain their relationship with nature while enduring the stress of fast-paced, industrious lives. As such, the idea of forest bathing, of really trying to momentarily shut down any and all outside stressors and simply appreciate my natural surroundings, sounded like, and proved to be, an essential experience.

I don't want to exhaustively detail what exactly the excursion consisted of; I want you to experience that fresh for yourself if/when you get the chance to forest bathe. But I do want to talk quickly about a highlight involving trees.

When forest bathing, your senses are placed at the forefront of the experience. As I mentioned, you do not want to be in your head worrying about where your next lasagna will come from, but instead tasting the remnants of your last lasagna on your tongue. In the moment, in your body, focused simply on being exactly where you are. One of the first exercises, or "invitations," Connie gave the group involved sitting, breathing deeply and purposefully, closing your eyes, and cycling through the senses of touch, smell, taste, and sound. Upon reflection, I realize I do not remember a whole lot of how this went, though I know it went well, which, I think, is a good thing. I was present in that moment enough to have the grace to let it live in that moment forever.

However, when we were slowly breaking out of the exercise by way of slowly opening our eyes back up, there was an additional request: to look deeply at whatever first catches your gaze, until you feel that whatever you are seeing also sees you. The first thing to catch my gaze was a tree. A tree without any particularly remarkable features. It was a fairly skinny tree, not the shortest in the woods, but certainly not the tallest. Its bark held ridges like any other trees' bark, had a healthy gray color to it. But in the context of the forest bathing exercise, that tree looked more alive to me than a tree had ever looked. I hesitate to say that it had a face, but the ridges in the bark almost seemed to be expressing emotion–a sense of tiredness, but also, of contentment. Like it was simply just there, with an intrinsic knowledge of where there is, feeling glad to be there.

Its' green diamond leaves fluttered about on its branches, and I took a step back to get more of the woods in frame, so-to-speak. Connie mentioned that people often come out of this particular exercise feeling that their surroundings feel "new" or or it seems like they are seeing everything again for the first time. This was the experience I had. I expanded out from the look of contentment on my aforementioned tree friend's face to discover that look present across the whole scope of the woods. I could see that look on each individual tree, but also across entire groups, all melding into the one full encapsulating look the entire forest shared. The ants and spiders crawl over leaves, the leaves bind themselves in vines around trees, the trees lean into other trees, spindly branches curling around each other, holding whatever needs to be held, doing whatever it takes to support the shared goal of simply being. It was symbiosis. It was togetherness. It simply was.

And so I took that feeling with me. We hold what needs to be held.

Before I wrap things up with a poem, I want to sincerely thank Connie Svoboda, the forest bathing guide at Hartman, for having me on this excursion this Sunday. If you are in the Cedar Valley, I cannot recommend forest bathing with Connie enough–find out how to do so here.

And as a testament to the effectiveness of the Hartman Forest Bathing Program, I want to share a poem I wrote while trying to de-stress and connect with my body and with nature prior to being imparted with the knowledge it gave me. It is tentatively titled "Stimulation."

Blue sky/ green tree///black pen/red bull/// breeze topples over/aluminum can clanks against wood bench///push notification chirp/this month's amex bill due///Blue sky, everything is fine/ chest is sun-fried prairie grass///cattails on creek/ Water collects their dead///zelda theme stuck in my head/ melody floats a hum, floats in a dandelion wisp/// mechanic bill on this month's statement/ I may not have locked my car door/// Fly works its way down my neck/ muddy ground, twisted ankle/// Doctor visit necessary?/ Extra work hours available?///Canker sore a spinning screw/Can I breathe while eating dirt?///Dandruff smudge on glasses lense/ atm receipt is a cataract///can the wind dry out my eyes?/ am i whitman or simpson?///tree bark severed/ my misaligned spine///blue sky/ green tree///blue sky/green tree///blue sky///green tree