The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our second Shinrin-Yoku outing, which happened to be on Valentine’s day (Saturday, February 14). We gathered at beautiful Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park once again, so I had the pleasure of another drive through the wine country. At this time of the year the vines are still bare, but the ground below is teeming with blooming mustard, turning the fields a yellow fairyland.
This time we met at a different parking area, just a little further along and near the observatory that I did not even know was up there. We did not need to wander far to find our “base camp” for the day. It was in a sweet spot where two trails intersect, in partial shade under blossoming trees, with the babbling creek nearby. It was the kind of day where you are never cold and never hot, with a soft breeze keeping things in balance, no mosquitos and no ticks. Even the creek was singing a gentler song at this location, the water flowing just a little slower. Truly perfect conditions, and it made a world of difference in our experience.
As you can see from this set of images, the light was completely different, and therefore the energy of the place was different: warmer and glowing.
Our group had shifted a little, as a few people from the first walk could not be there that day, and new ones joined us instead. There were twelve of us this time, though once again all women except for Amos. Three of them were guides and guides in training who would later meet up with their own Shinrin-Yoku group. I enjoyed seeing familiar faces and welcomed the new ones. Everyone was happy to be there, and I picked up the beginnings of a relaxed friendliness among us.
We began again by heading for the creek in search of a stone. I seem to be called by egg-shaped ones, and ended up picking one similar to my first. We gathered in a circle and Amos invited us to introduce ourselves again and share something about ourselves that others might not guess. The moment was profound but also light and fun as each person revealed bits about themselves that we truly might never have guessed.
The focus was then called back to the present moment and the stones in our hands. We were invited to place whatever issue, burden or request we had into the stone before placing it on the ground, creating the portal from which we would depart on our exploration, and to which we would return.
Let me intersect here a little about these invitations. In Shinrin-Yoku there is nothing that you have to do. Therefore, even these instructions or assignments from the guide are really just suggestions intended to help you better connect within yourself so you can get the most benefit from your immersion in nature. This is why they are called invitations; you can accept or decline them as feels best to you.
The day before I had been surprised by the showing up of an old issue. Out of the blue, it seems – though I am sure it must have been triggered by something I had seen or heard, or possibly energy I had unwittingly picked up – I was overcome by an old sense of despondency. It is a gloomy feeling that starts me off into an unpleasant spin cycle of “what’s the point of what I am doing? why even bother? and blah, blah, blah” and sucks my enthusiasm and my hard-earned well being. Luckily, when these things happen, I have learned to not wallow in them. Instead, I step into an observant role and – even though the depressed feeling remains – I put it on a shelf and just watch it. It went something like this: “Why the heck am I feeling like this again?! Bummer! Well, tomorrow it’s the Shinrin-Yoku, that will give me perspective.”, and then I did sudoku, which prevents me from thinking about anything else.
It was interesting, though, that it should happen the night before the Shinrin-Yoku outing, and trusted that the forest would bring the resolution.
That is what I placed in my stone.
Stepping in and out of the stone circle in turn, we were off on our first gentle meander with an invitation to just be and observe anything that was moving. I got out my camera while the light was still good and went on one of my slow-mo photo strolls. I observed Veena heading out with her flute and soon enough the gentle notes were infusing the air. I felt grateful.
I headed towards the creek as I had noticed a sweet spot where pics might be good and was hoping to find an easy wading spot. There was a makeshift rock passage, but most of the rocks were covered by the cold water. I considered how my shoes and feet would likely stay cold and wet for the rest of the morning, and that did not sound like fun. Besides, the camera in my hands that might get damaged if I slipped and fell. Better wet feet than damaged camera, so I passed on the wading and headed for the foot bridge.
I entered the zone, heading uphill among the trees, my feet scrunching the undergrowth of moss, dead leaves and branches. I saw a bone, clearly an animal bone, part of a leg I think, and considered picking it up and bringing it back to camp, but then I felt it would be disrespectful, even if this was not a burial site, so I left it.
The allotted time for these meanders is about twenty minutes. It may sound like a long time, but I think time gets bent out of shape in the forest, and it felt as if I had only been gone five minutes when I heard Amos’ bell calling us in. As I turned back towards camp I saw piece of thin branch on the ground with two little tufts of Spanish moss, one at each end. It made me think of a mini baton, so I picked it up, thinking it might be our new speaking piece for the day.
And so it was. One by one we all stepped back into the circle and, passing the little nature-made baton around as our speaking piece, we shared what we had noticed, felt and discovered during our first meander. For me it was simply about the delights of our location: the softer sounding creek, the game of light and shadows the sun and trees were creating, the light breeze, the turkey-voltures floating high in the currents, and the changes noticed since the previous week. Nope, no squirrels here, even if we were only a few hundred yards up the same stream. But then no picnic tables either, and possibly no nut-bearing trees.
For the second meander, we were invited to do what is called a “sit-spot”. That is, walk to an area that calls to us, then sit quietly there for the rest of the time, observing how the trees, birds and other critters, first quiet at the disturbance, resume their normal activities once they know us and accept us as a non-threatening part of their environment.
Before heading out, we were invited to pick a scroll for the day, which was to be opened once we had found our spot.
I headed back towards the area I had seen previously, walking off trail towards the top of the glowing hill. You could say I was heading towards the light, because that is what it felt like. All of this sounds very inspirational and delightful until I realized I really, really needed to pee, and the nearest restroom or port-a-potty was in the opposite direction and at least a twenty-minutes-walk away. There was no way I could wait another twenty minutes. I found what I felt was a tree large enough to sort-of hide me, looked around to make sure nobody was in sight and …. well, let’s skip over that. Of course, in the middle of my ablution I realized that I might have been hidden from one direction, but not from the other, which is exactly when I heard light crunching-over-dead-leaves sounds, and they were coming from right up ahead, towards the non-hidden part of me.
Relief! Just a cute young deer, who came to peek down at me from the top of the hill, not at all concerned about my presence, pee or no pee. I stood up and gingerly took a few steps towards him. He slowly stepped towards my right, sniffing the air, checking me out, then continued on in the direction he had been headed. The mother soon followed, just as slowly and unconcerned. The light was coming from behind them, creating a bit of surreal scene. Of course, because of the pee situation, my camera was in my backpack. By the time I had it out, they had gone. Note to self: next time, Monica, wake up an hour earlier and come out here to capture some images while the light is good and the critters are out exploring.
I remembered my scroll and took it out of my pocket. It said: “What words of praise wish to be spoken here? What gesture of reciprocity?” Again, I knew instantly. I had been yearning for the forest for so long and now I was here, for the second time, benefiting immensely from the beauty and harmony of the wild. I expressed my appreciation and gratitude, acknowledging the precious gift from the Spirit of Place, and trusting that I was receiving just what I needed. I was musing about how many fairies must live in this place when the gentle chime of Amos’ bell reached me. It was time to head back.
This time the circle gathering was more relaxed, as one by one we homed into the stone circle to mark our official re-entry and visibility, then shared our story.
I talked about the beauty of the place and how the deer had not minded my presence. I omitted the needing-to-pee episode as I did not want to break the spell, but I have inserted it in here because a little touch of reality makes for a nice grounding balance in the middle of all our mystical pursuits – wink, wink!
The session lazily came to a close, with the new invitation for the week being to do sit-spot sessions when we could, where we could. As I lingered, reluctant to leave this magical place and time, I noticed how the despondency of the night before had simply dissipated, and the realization came that the value in what I do is, first and foremost, in the fact that I enjoy doing it, and it makes me happy. That is good reason enough.
Until the next Shinrin-Yoku.
Read about the other walks in this series by clicking on the links below:
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For more information about the practice of Shinrin-Yoku click here.
If you are interested in becoming a guide you can find more information here.