6 months ago, I accepted an invitation to be a guest slash guinea pig on a forest therapy guided walk, led by Monica Sander Burns, who works as a research associate at Clear Course Consulting here in Pemberton.
Monica was completing her certification as a forest therapy guide, and hosting a couple of groups through the experience as the final steps of her program.
I was keen, curious and a little sceptical. I mean, I talk to trees. I’ve got Suzanne Simard’s book on my bedside table. I walked in the forest behind my house for mental medicine on the regular though the pandemic. (A small part of me thought it was only sad people who need an actual “guide” to help them access the magic of the forest, in the same judgey way I used to think that only people who don’t have friends need a therapist, because can’t you just talk to your buddies about your problems? Right? File under arrogant and ignorant. Judge me back, I deserve it… but you can’t exorcise what you can’t name, so there it is.)
A small group of us met by the train bridge, and Monica guided us for about 90 minutes, clarifying off-the-top that this was not a hike or a nature march. We actually probably only walked about 500 metres of the Riverside Trail, responding to a host of different “invitations” or prompts, that were designed to engage our senses, and land us more deeply in our bodies, and the experience of being in the forest.
I was shocked to realize how inattentive my typical forest time is… how much I miss, how fast I move… to realize how fulfilling it can be to just be still in one place. You’d think, 18 months into pandemic life, I’d have mastered the art of being still in one place… but, here’s the thing… it’s hard to get there on your own. It’s hard to realize what might be tripping you up, using the same brain and perspective that is tripping you up. (Hence, benefit of a therapist!) It’s hard to alter your experience of being, by being the same person you always are. It’s hard to see things differently, if you’re still wearing your usual lens on the world. (Hence, the benefit of a guide.)
I came away from the experience feeling deeply relaxed and energized at the same time.
And now I’m a huge fan of the transformative benefits of forest bathing… and especially when facilitated well, and shared in a small group.
Monica and I have remained in conversation since that day, and I’m utterly inspired by her thinking and energy. She’s a poli-sci major and a data scientist who came to a realization that no amount of meaningful political and environmental change will be possible until we remember that we’re part of, and in relationship with, nature. And this internal shift requires experiences – experiences that invite our senses and what Mary Oliver beautifully calls our “soft animal bodies” to take part.
As Einstein wonderfully said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Monica’s work helps us remember the gift.
I’m excited to introduce her to the Wellness Almanac community, as she takes over this channel for the coming week. I invite you to follow along, and then, join us, at the end of the takeover, on a guided forest walk, so you can experience the magic for yourself.