Healing in the Forest – An Invitation

Three years ago, I moved to British Columbia from the Dharug nation in Sydney, Australia, feeling anxious, lost and burnt out. I had just resigned from my government position supporting science, innovation and industry. I had joined government fresh out of university and brimming with optimism, but over the course of five years, you are probably unsurprised to hear that disillusionment and despair had set in. Meaningful action and change were continually sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. Despite working in a department dedicated to supporting science, the looming threat of climate change to life on this planet was systemically ignored.

In the face of this existential despair, my partner and I decided to build a life prioritizing joy, and, like so many here, we chose to pursue that which brought us the most joy: snowboarding. The changing climate meant chasing snow in Australia was probably a short-term prospect and we both felt a strong pull to British Columbia, the land of misty forests and snow-capped peaks.

After a brief exploration of the province in our camper, we settled in Whistler, on the shared unceded territory of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations,  our hearts captured by the incredible lush ecosystem of the Coastal Mountain range.

A year later, the pandemic hit. I lost my job and suddenly found myself with vast stretches of time to fill. Grappling with the pervasive fear and uncertainty that characterized those early days of the pandemic, I took myself to the forest behind where I lived, and, just like in my childhood in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, I explored.

Coming from the other side of the world, it was a great opportunity to acquaint myself with the abundant plant and animal life around me. Armed with field guides, I began by sitting beneath the trees and learning the name of everything I could see around me. With time, I put away the books and simply sat and breathed, listening to the sounds of the earth blossoming into Spring.

As I deepened my connection with the natural world, I noticed remarkable changes in my health and outlook. Anxious, repetitive thoughts dissipated, and I felt more at ease and settled in my body. Worry, panic and concern gave way to a gentle calm that accepted everything as it arrived.

The power of these experiences led me to investigate the impact of forests on our health. I discovered Forest Therapy, a ‘new and ancient’ practice rooted in the healing power of the woods. Forest Therapy was developed in its current form in Japan, where it is known as ‘Shinrin-Yoku’. However, it also draws from, and is inspired by, Indigenous peoples from around the world and their connections to place.

Forest Therapy is one antidote to the disconnection, loneliness, and despair of modern times. The benefits of this practice are extensive and have been scientifically validated by a robust body of research. Spending time in the forest reduces inflammation, blood pressure and fatigue while boosting immunity, creativity, focus and mood.

Not only did these effects resonate with my own experience, but I realized that rekindling our love and connection to the natural world was the medicine we needed as a species. Our gradual disconnection from nature had created the climate disaster through the illusion that nature was something external that we could, and should, control.

I committed to learning and sharing this practice with others. In 2021, I became certified as a Forest Therapy Guide and established my business, Society of Trees. I expressed to the Universe my innermost desire to help reconcile our relationship with the planet and with ourselves, and, here I am, gifted with the opportunity to spend a week exploring this relationship through the Wellness Almanac.

Over the coming week, I will be blogging daily on the Wellness Almanac on the theme of relating with Nature. In addition to each blog post, I will be including a prompt – or an ‘invitation’ as it is called in Forest Therapy – that is designed to encourage a felt experience of Nature connection.

This week, gift yourself the permission to slow down and make space for your relationship with Nature.

In the interests of uniting community and nature, I encourage you to share your nature connection moments or your experience of the ‘Daily Invitation’. You can share via the comments section under each blog or by tagging the Wellness Almanac Instagram page, @thewellnessalamanac. Whatever you feel called to share is welcome: it can be a picture, a thought, a poem – heck, even a whole essay! I will document these with the intention of sharing our community experience at the end of the week (with your permission!). Healing happens in community.

To this end, I will also be leading a free Forest Therapy walk in the Pemberton community this coming Saturday, 19 March. You can sign up via the Event Brite registration here. Numbers are limited to 12 people, however, if there is enough interest, another walk can be arranged.

I look forward to going on this journey together.

Monica meets a Cedar.

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