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Written by Sharon Boyles, LCR Member

Last November, I was gifted with the opportunity to experience Forest Therapy for the first time.

I’m a nature girl, and you can often find me in the woods, but I was curious to try a new way of being in nature and see how it would be different from my own time among trees. When I arrived at Stanbery Park, I met up with our guide, Christina Benz of Nature Your Way, Sean Mette, and Christina’s husband and pup. It was a small group, but I felt like I was heading into a big adventure.

Forest Therapy is inspired by the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.”

It’s facilitated by trained guides who set an intentionally slow pace that invites people to experience nature through all of their senses. The thought behind this is to discover an inner stillness and to have time and space out in nature to release and heal some of the pressures of modern living. How often do any of us get the chance to do that?!

I was hopeful about what this experience would bring.

We began our walk in the woods, and the pace was a slow one. I have a habit of always being in overdrive, so it was really hard for me to slow my steps. I kept trying to gallop ahead and get ‘er done! But that is not the way of Forest Therapy.

We rambled and ambled along the path, and then Christina stopped near a tall pine and invited us to leave our to-do lists in the care of this tree. 

Okay, beautiful friend, here are the 50 things I’ve got to get done RIGHT NOW! I thought, and I gave that list to the tree. When I did, an amazing thing happened. A burden lifted from me, and for the first time since we started walking, I saw the sky. Then I saw that there were trees around me. Then I noticed a certain stillness, even in a city park.

My mind clicked out of overdrive mode and went into artist mode, and suddenly I could enjoy the sunlight playfully filtering through the tree branches and the beauty of a mandala of pinecones on the ground. I got a big insight: In focusing only on your to-do list, you are missing the tiny gifts and everyday blessings all around you.

So maybe that to-do list isn’t as important as I thought it was!

Farther along the trail, Christina invited us to pause and connect with our five senses. What do we see? What do we smell? What do we hear? Then, best of all, we opened up the sense of the whole body…encountering, experiencing the Divine among the trees. 

The pace of our walk continued to be a very slow one, but somehow, I didn’t feel the need to gallop ahead anymore. In breathing deeply and slowing down my body, my mind naturally settled into rest mode, and I could finally open up to notice and receive the gifts of this walk in the woods.

I noticed tiny mushrooms saying hello to me from their nest of autumn leaves. I watched the play of light and shadow over a tree trunk and was inspired to take a photo. I observed a tiny nature spirit peeking out from a tree root. I discovered that clouds are in motion—did you know that?

I contemplated a fallen tree in the process of surrendering itself back to the earth so that others can live. All around, there was a dance of joy, abundance, and deep peace. 

After giving us some time for contemplation, Christina invited us to make a giveaway offering to the earth by releasing the things in our lives that no longer serve us. We did this, and then we were invited to embrace the joys and blessings in our lives and release them back to the earth by making an offering of gratitude.

I had a sudden deep insight that the earth is longing to give herself away to us, to nurture us, to receive our sorrows and embrace our joys. All we have to do is cultivate a heart that is willing to stand still and be present.

We began our journey back into the world (already???), and I noticed how my body, mind, and spirit felt rested, relaxed, and centered. When we passed the pine tree guarding our to-do lists, I had no desire to pick mine up again. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I know that I am taken care of, with or without the dreaded list. 

This wonderful experience was done with so much insight, compassion, grace, and sensitivity that I felt safe enough to let go and let myself simply be.

I am appreciative of Christina’s gentle presence as she guided us into a place of Mystery and back again. I am appreciative of Pastor Nicole and Marty Kochevar for making this experience possible. This is something I’ll never forget and a gift I’ll always cherish!