Reflections on a Forest Therapy Excursion
Written by Phil Beaudoin for The Egret – Issue 35 – Number 2
A healthy ecosystem is a powerful place for people to congregate.
The experiences that occur within a human being when immersed in biologically diverse places hold a world of health that needs to be investigated for our personal awareness of the various meanings we carry in relation to the landscape.
Jessica Middleton understands this very well.
At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, while a fading rain was making its last mark upon Brunet Park, Jessica guided a group of 10 participants using her recently acquired training from the Global Institute of Forest Therapy (GIFT).
GIFT is a non-profit organization that seeks to create a healthy relationship between people and the environment by teaching and providing excursions into green spaces that improve our sense of connection and relationship to nature.
For everyone present, it was their first time taking a tour with a guide from GIFT, making it a new notch in the local repertoire of ecological awareness. The session started with group orientation, followed by an overview of basic considerations when navigating wild spaces.
Using a calming and sonorous voice, Jessica guided us into the first activity of the evening, known as an “invitation.” Closing our eyes, we were encouraged to slowly turn around in silence to search for a direction that most appealed to us. Scanning north, east, south and west, we felt the significance of each trajectory and landed upon an orientation in which we wanted to stay.
This was one of the multiple subtly mind-altering experiences that we would participate in throughout the night. To close one’s eyes and slowly turn, while the dimming sun dampens a singing spring landscape, is a very eye-opening means of finding new spaces within one’s perception while interacting with the outdoors. I became distinctly aware that our bodies wholeheartedly sense the magnetic forces in our surroundings, perhaps with similar emotions experienced by migrating birds. Opening our eyes, we could see where each person in the group was now oriented. Each of us had a unique direction we were facing.
Gathering us into a quiet sharing circle, Jessica produced a talking stick from the ground to be passed around to whoever wished to speak about what they sensed. In hushed and subtle awe, each person expressed how they felt, creating a type of mildly mystical space, for it is
not often that one closes their eyes to slowly spin within a group of people under the wash of winds and natural sounds of an Essex County landscape.
The next activity involved a very slow-paced walk in silence as a loose group around the park’s open hilly interior. We were to sensorially take in the surroundings by any means we saw fit and reflect on how the various sensations made us feel: seeing the season’s new plants forming; breathing in complex aromas; watching the ground below our feet slowly go by as each element of the scape slid and created an internalized animation of the local green-space aesthetics within us.
This very simple task gradually turned into a dilation in each person’s sense of connection to the fresh life around them. Jessica’s words about these moments of observation are ones of innocence, gratitude, playfulness and calmed investigation. Although she is an accredited scientist, she does not use scientific terminology for these circumstances. This emphasizes the very subtle, yet potent, effects of what being immersed an ecosystem does to people in the most philosophical of respects, magnifying what we know about ourselves and how a human being feels when altered by the natural elements.
Twenty minutes into this portion of the evening, our group was scattered across the south line of the park’s interior, lurking in and out of the underbrush, obtaining various perspectives and moments of appreciation, to be brought back to the sharing circle to follow momentarily. I had veered off into the bush at this point, fascinated by theorizing about the plethora of life forms there, when a barefooted man and his companion, fellow group members, appeared behind me, drawn by some mutual magnetism to this part of the terrain, him barefoot, walking through thick muck by choice and reveling in each step. A couple of toads began to bound about us, like the culmination of all things stone and inanimate, brought to life by years of camouflage and study of the forest floor. We observed one of the toads for a short while, seeing all its visual qualities; a subtle summary of the forest’s characteristics. Releasing it, we meandered uphill to reconnect with the group.
Here we passed around a pine cone and shared our experiences, having grown noticeably more trustworthy of our environs, not using extensive amounts of speech, but still sharing the signs and symbols we felt to be important to share. At this point, a tapestry of naturalistic intelligence and inspiration continued to expand between us, maintaining our respect for the energetics of the ecosystem, while affirming the bond that exists between people who seek to learn from these qualities. A sense of the landscape’s personality and power seemed to increasingly manifest in these times, as if our group became progressively inspired and intelligent from the environment’s forces.
The next invitation activity involved finding a tree of our own choice, and spending time with it in reflection of what types of thought manifest in our minds while interacting with it. This is indeed a classic means of bonding with the landscape — an oldie but a goodie. We were encouraged to ask a question in the presence of the tree, to put our hand upon it, and feel its effects.
Perhaps there are certain questions that cannot be answered without the presence of trees or are more easily resolved by their presence. Whatever it may be, like socializing with fellow human beings, a tactile relationship with a tree seems to produce a state of unique awareness, like an intelligence service provided by any faculty of civilization, not unlike a handshake without words, in which we derive intuition and data that helps to provide meaning in our lives, informing the betterment of our general speech and representation of life’s forces.
Following another convening as a group, we meandered toward the southwest and landed upon the roaring silence of two streams intersecting, where we took time to quietly reflect on what came to mind in that moment. Not surprisingly, our group was highly inspired by the circumstances, as if the cascading waters caused a heightened state of osmosis between ourselves and the surrounding forest, wherein the loud fluidity with which the water was expressed transferred its complexity into our emotions, creating a great satisfaction. Here the forest seemed generally happier, and so were we, giving me the impression of our proceeding dialogue to be something like prophecy, reinforcing my belief that the sound of water somehow provides a significant stream of consciousness for the forest as well as people, like some profound music that has been translated and transcribed since time immemorial, only to be reaffirmed in its significance upon being heard once again.
Following another walk, we gathered to relate subtle revelations of what we had been observing, from the sounds of toads, the appearance of deer, to the sounds of the trees. A sense of identity and strength had manifested in the group, as if a greater sense of ecological relationship was conjured and present, like we now belonged to the majesty of Brunet Park, one of our many wild spaces that are the gateway to all things non-human, containing a vast book of the earth’s physiological history that must be read and internalized to properly digest our sense of place.
The evening closed with a short time of personal meditation, followed by drinking tea made from lemon balm and stinging nettle. A group of coyotes howled in the distance as we shared parting reflections of gratitude, emphasizing a sense of recognition for the landscape as an entity unto itself and leaving us with a ringing sensation that only quality time spent socializing with the outdoor environs can produce.
For more information about forest therapy sessions, contact Jessica Middleton through the Ojibway Nature Centre.
Another Participant’s Gratitude
I have been reading about forest therapy for the past three years and am very interested in both the experience and the process. The May 15 experience with Jessica was so energizing while also calming and rejuvenating. Part of that experience was a gift from the beautiful forest area of Brunet Park, with its majestic tress, flora and fauna all doing what nature does best, but the other part of the experience was due to the mindful and gentle relationship that our guide Jessica created with all of us.
She created an atmosphere of acceptance and welcoming through the seven invitations, reflections and tea ceremony — all of which celebrated our relationship with the earth and its beings.
I as one of many, am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such an experience and look forward to doing so again in the future.
— Deb Albonaimi