Ready For Forest Therapy
What the heck is Forest Therapy?! That’s what I was wondering the first time I tried it. I felt lucky to have Haida Bolton‘s beautiful spirit all to myself on a day when no other patrons were available. Although she mentioned there would be invitations to try new ways of being in a forested environment, I thought I had no expectations.
I showed up at the forest ready for a speedy hike through it. Hiking shoes, water bottle, muscles stretched—let’s go! The first thing I noticed was how painfully slow Haida walked ahead of me across the small wood bridge that led from the parking lot. My whole being felt a sense of uh oh … looks like I really have to slow down here. Being in a hyperactive state of activity in my life at that time, I found it difficult to follow Haida at what felt like a sloth’s pace across that bridge. But that became the persistent message for me on that first day as we carried on through the two-hour experience. Slow down.
Managing Expectations, Accepting the Forest’s Gifts
I arrived at my second session with Haida with an expectation that I needed to slow down before we even began the walk. That session included other participants, and each one of us shared a reflection of what we felt after following through with a forest invitation. I started to get a better understanding of the process of experiencing the forest through my own unique lens.
At my third session, there was a larger group of participants. I wasn’t feeling very interested in therapy that particular day. I was open to whatever might unfold, but it was a resistant kind of open. My expectations were low. I was tired. I didn’t feel like the universe had anything monumental to share with me. But still, I showed up.
My body had slowed down, but my head hadn’t. A mosquito kept buzzing past my ear, and I couldn’t stop thinking of all my exposed skin at risk during the first forest invitation Haida offered. Next, we went on a slow walk looking for movement of any kind in the forest. But the forest was incredibly still. It seemed to me that the only thing offering movement was dead. A dead leaf rocking. A dead branch gently swaying. I shared with the group that I felt the forest had offered me a gift; my head had been so full, I felt like I couldn’t take in any more movement with my senses. It was a gift for me to walk through a completely still forest. I didn’t mention how those dead branches had unsettled me just a wee bit.
Which Tree Was a Reflection of Me?
The final invitation was the doozy. We were to find a tree and connect with it. Everyone spread out and started looking for the tree that spoke to them the most. I looked at a huge old Douglas fir near me. Am I an old soul like this tree? I couldn’t feel a connection. I looked at a tall tree a little further off that went way up and split into two before carrying on up to the sky. Did I feel divided? Nope. I looked around. Crap. Everyone else has a tree that they are connecting with. Is there no tree for me? Am I all alone? Nope again. Deep breath. I know I am supported and … look, there’s my tree just over there. I hurried over.
I felt like I knew this tree. Like maybe I’d stopped there before. It was a small hemlock, just a little taller than me. It had a broken branch and a scuff or two, but mainly it looked young and healthy with new growth appearing at its tips. That seemed like a pretty good reflection of my life. It was growing on top of a nurse log, well supported. I tried to feel even closer to the tree. I tasted its needles; I touched its branches and bark. I looked up and noticed another dead branch, and I thought about self-care for this tree. I reached out to remove the dead branch, but then I saw …
… the dead branch actually belonged to another tree. A tree that I hadn’t even noticed. A dead tree, which at first alarmed me. Was death calling me? All of its branches were wizened and black. Its base was several feet away but it was leaning, leaning, leaning all the way over to place a caring branch on the top of this tree, my tree. And then I recalled a knowledge that I am never alone in this life, and I felt more supported and cared for than ever. Thank you, wise tree. Thank you.
Haida Bolton is offering a 3-day retreat at Ruby Lake Resort on September 22-25. Includes meals, accommodation, forest therapy, yoga, reflexology and more. I’ll be there!