A couple of weeks ago, a group of the Hey, Boomer community went on a Forest Bathing experience. I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect. All we knew was that we liked being out in nature, we were intrigued with the idea of mindfulness, and we were open to a new experience.
Forest Bathing, under the expert guidance of Wayfarer Angie Stegall, is a series of invitations to experience nature in ways that most of us never thought to experience it.
When I have gone hiking in the past, I would notice the wildflowers, enjoy the sound of a stream or cascading waterfall, or feel the majesty of the tall trees and gigantic boulders. And yet, a hike was generally getting from point A to point B, stop for a rest or a snack and then return to point A.
Forest Bathing is much slower and more deliberate. As the headline says, it is an exercise in mindfulness, not a physical exercise. Off we went.
Our first invitation was to listen, listen for all the sounds we could hear around us. At first there were birds, then they stopped their singing. We heard a dog and some noise from road work nearby. Listen longer and you recognized that you could hear your own breathing. Maybe you heard the leaves rustle or a critter scamper across the forest floor. There was no talking, until you asked for the talking stick at the end of each invitation. We shared what we experienced as we sat quietly and listened.
Another invitation was to find as many colors as possible around us. At first glance, everything appeared green or brown. But stop and look more closely. Take a few steps and look again. There were purples and reds and oranges and whites and yellows. Colors I know I would never have noticed if I had not slowed down enough to look and really see.
And smells, have you ever thought about stopping and actually smelling what is around you. Smell a leaf, and then crush it gently between your fingers and smell it again. It is so much more fragrant. And leaves from different plants have their own distinct smells. Smell the bark of a tree. Sounds weird, I know, but when you stop to experience the earthy scent of those magnificent oxygen-producing trees, it gives you a new appreciation of all that is around us. How about leaning up against a tree, or even wrapping your arms around its trunk, and sensing the life in the tree.
Some of us even experienced fox walking. Taking off our shoes and socks and walking toe to heal gingerly feeling for stones or obstacles with our toes before fully putting our feet down for the next step. With a fox walk you feel the coolness of the earth and the roughness of the stones and roots and your senses are heightened as you adjust your footing so as not to step solidly on something that could hurt you.
We lead such busy lives, always being distracted by our computers, our phones, traffic, noise, endless interruptions and responsibilities. Next time you get the chance, slow down, get out in nature, feel, listen, smell, sense and find the serenity that is waiting for you there.