It is hard to believe that the Seven Walks in Seven Weeks Shinrin-Yoku immersion is complete, the final one having been this past Saturday, March 21st, back where we started at Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park. In this now familiar and beloved place everything was the same, yet everything was also different. Nature had forged ahead into spring lusciousness, and we had also progressed. Individually we had reached a new level of wellness, Self discovery and Lightness of being. As a group, we had reached a deeper connection, a cohesion of friendship, the kind that, if nurtured, can last a lifetime.
Some of us met for breakfast at the I’m-so-happy-I-discovered-it bakery I have been raving about in my previous posts: Crisp Bakeshop in Sonoma, where we chatted over divine lattes and pastries before our drive up to Sugar Loaf. Of course, there are plans to do that again and spend informal time together. Not that Shinrin-Yoku is formal, but it is an (in)activity with a focused intent to defocus.
I am so grateful to the Universe for having slipped this under my nose, nudging me over and over. It is one of the best things I could have done for myself for so many reasons: the pleasure and healing received subliminally, the reconnection with nature in general and the forest in particular, as well as with a territory that has clearly been my ancestral home in many lives. Just as important is the beautiful reconnection with kindred spirits in the group of people that was attracted together by the same calling. And I say reconnection because it has become clear to all of us that we have known each other before. Don’t you just love it when that happens?
Sidebar – Sugar Loaf Ridge currently does not have California poppies in bloom, but on my drive up they were everywhere, so I stopped to take a few quick photos to share here. While parked, I saw a glorious wisteria vine blossoming nearby, so I took a few quick pics of that as well. Aren’t they just beautiful? California poppies are such sunny, happy flowers!
On Saturday, before starting our session, Amos gave us a mini educational on ticks, which was informative and appreciated: what to look out for, how to prevent bites, what to do in case of bites, and all sorts of other useful tips.
For me it was interesting to notice how I had never concerned myself with ticks before – other than checking my dogs after walks, that is, and only if tall grasses were involved. Throughout my life I have hiked in all sorts of places and the possibility of a tick bite and its potential consequences never once entered my mind.
So I decided that that is where I would leave things: in that place of being aware yet not worry about it. The thought kept coming to mind that we were immune to all this anyway, and someone else pitched in how, because of our harmonious intention in going out in nature, nature was in harmony with us.
These are good things to know without the need to get paranoid about them.
We did our drop-in at our usual sweet spot, where the creek sings a gentle song and the trees balance out sunlight and shade. No rocks needed again this time, as Amos guided us into a different visualization that reconnected us with our ancestors. Eyes closed, we picked up a little from the previous week and sent down roots from our feet; roots that would continue growing deeper, branching out, searching for the bones of our ancestors. As I sent down my roots, I could feel a bone, that of a woman, not sure if an ancestor or myself in another life; but is that really all that different?
We did this in a circle first, then Amos had us turn looking for bones in the four directions, which reminded me of the Native American teaching of honoring the four directions, plus up and down (or Father Sky and Mother Earth).
We first turned to the East, where the sound of the creek was strongest, connecting with all the trees of the East, whose roots entangled with the bones of our ancestors from there. I felt a few bones mostly walking towards the West, like nomad Native American tribes might have done, or like the early explorers from Europe did.
We turned to face the South and all the trees from Africa and the rainforest of South America. We then turned to the West, and acknowledged the majestic Redwoods, powerful Sequoias and all trees of the West. And here I felt lots of bones, hundreds of them, whole tribes, a long lineage of them here in the West – which is likely why I have always felt called to this land, and why I am here now. West, to me, includes Hawai’i as well, where I know I have been many times before.
The last turn was to the North, and the trees of Canada, Northern Europe and Asia. In this direction I also felt a few bones, though nothing like in the West.
For this drop-in circle we were joined by John, the park’s managing Ranger. This answered a question I had held about what it would be like to have a male presence in our female group – other than Amos, that is. I was pleased to discover that it felt fine.
Our first invitation was a long, freeform meander of over an hour, during which we were to focus on our inner knowing and our ancestral knowing. We were off, each in our own direction, some overlapping for a while. Camera in hand, pretty soon I found myself alone, following the path across the bridge and up the hill instead of heading to the creek area guarded by the Tree with the Breath of the Earth (see previous post for more on this), which is where I had originally intended to go. I guess my inner knowing wanted me to follow another direction, and I have gotten used to going with the flow lately, which is working really well.
It was not long before I found myself at our sit-spot location of two weeks before, under the tree with the bench that in my head I call Joyce’s Bench because that is where she did her sit-spot, looking very peaceful. I felt called to sit there, so that is what I did, taking out my notebook and pen where I jotted down a little about our session so far, as well as whatever thoughts floated through my mind.
When Amos had talked about ticks and other critters, one of the topics quickly covered were mountain lions and other potential dangers like rattlesnakes. I looked around and had the thought that, for as much as it used to be ours as well, this is now their home first and foremost. Amos had mentioned how we might be sitting somewhere by the path and a mountain lion might be nearby and we would never know it. They do not wish to be seen by us, so choose to stay hidden. I scanned the grasses and bushes, not really expecting to see eyes peering at me, but at the same time wondering about the possibility of nearby wild life when here comes this black furry thing, slinking and sniffing along the path in my direction.
A dog, soon followed by another, both all reveling in their sniff-about hiking freedom, so busy picking up their pee-mail they hardly noticed I was there. They were service dogs, so allowed on the trail. Soon their humans followed, along with three more smaller doggies, and after a lot of “Oops, sorry! Come on boys, come over here!” the group continued on up the hill. Thus ended my (not so) wild creature encounter.
The hikers were on a different rhythm than I was, and as I followed them shortly after at my own observant pace, I felt really happy to not have a target to reach or a schedule to keep, or even just have to keep up with anybody else’s rhythm, faster or slower as that might be. This felt so refreshing! Shinrin-Yoku was giving me permission to slow down and just be, take my time and observe, perceive at a deeper level, expanding the breadth of my experience.
Following the yet unexplored (by me) path up the hill gave me different perspectives on the now familiar area, each curve bringing something new. I started noticing various wild plants and herbs growing in the grass, like thistles and dandelion, while abundant brambles lined the sides of the path. There would be a lot of blackberries in a couple of months for anyone daring to stick their arms into the thorny bushes.
The scrunching of my feet over the dirt almost covered the screech of a red tail hawk. At least that is what Jeanna later told me it must have been. In the moment, for me it was the sound you hear in certain Western movie scenes when they edit an eagle paired with a hawk screech into a scene in order to add extra drama. The screech was so much part of where I was that my ears almost nullified it. That is when I stopped in my tracks, realizing that I needed to hush my feet in order to hear the subtle sounds I was missing. I did this several times on my walk, and at one point, while under some trees, I heard the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the wings of a turkey vulture as he climbed higher to ride the currents. Before that, I had never been somewhere so completely quiet to allow me to hear such a subtle sound.
Related sidebar – This morning, just as I was getting out of the house and walking to my car, two birds flew above me, one a crow and the other a turkey vulture. Again, I heard the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the bigger bird’s wings as it picked up height. They were much lower this time, but it stunned me as it is only the second time in my entire life I hear this sound, and it has happened twice in a few days. Ok, back to last Saturday now.
Oops, what was that? Scurry, scurry, scurry, here he comes again, the tiniest squirrel I have ever seen. A chipmunk, Jeanna clarified as she came along from the opposite direction. I really need to get updated on my California wild life, as my first thought had defaulted to the mongoose that abound in Hawai’i and, apparently, like scrambled eggs for breakfast. The little guy, or girl, crossed the path several times, going about his business of gathering goodies, apparently undisturbed by my presence, at least until I got too close for comfort.
Jeanna was my first encounter since the group had split off. Besides straightening me out on local wildlife, she told me about a sweet little three-generation family that was having a picnic just further up the hill. I carried on, and went to have a peek: father, son and young grandson quietly sharing a meal at one of the picnic tables. It was an endearing scene, and I did not take a photo only because it felt like an intrusion. They waved at me and I waved back.
On my way back down towards our meeting point by Joyce’s bench, I saw another wild thing sprawled like a lion over a fallen tree, comfortably embraced in the nook of its branches, limbs dangling. It was Susan, thoroughly at one with nature in her moment of repose.
Later, in our circle sharing, this sparked a story from Carole about her time in Tanzania, when a group of lions that had been lazily hanging out on a knoll near their encampment for a few days, one day chose to wander into camp, peacefully walk through the tent where they were having lunch, and continue out the other side. Some people reacted by freaking out, while others remained completely calm, as if a group of house cats had paid them a visit instead of a pride.
I reached our shaded oasis and noticed Sanam sitting on Joyce’s bench, doing what I had been doing a little earlier. I gave her space and camped on the grass a few feet away, joining her in the writing.
Not long after the others started arriving and, along with them, this woman hiker who was smiling at us so much I thought she had made friends with one of the group who had invited her to join us. Instead she kept on walking, the smile still broad on her lips, her eyes holding a longing to be part of whatever we were doing. I smiled and said hello. She said “Helleew!” back in an Aussie accent. I looked at the others to see if they had noticed any of this, wondering if I should ask her to join us, but the moment passed. In any case, this was the last part of our immersion, so there really was not much point.
Sidebar – See this branch in the image above? I had photographed the exact same branch from the exact same spot two weeks ago, so I did it again on Saturday just to show the difference in progression. Two weeks ago there were barely a few young red sprouts, and look at it now. If you would like to see the comparison you can scroll down in my Shinrin-Yoku day 5 post.
It was tea time, which Amos made with usnea (a lichen), nettle, yarrow, mugwort and our friends from the Mount Tam walk, fir tips. The tea was stronger this time and tasted as if it had ginger in it, or at least that is what the prickling in our throats would have us believe. Amos explained it was the usnea. Well, if I am to become a guide, which I have pretty much made up my mind to, I need to upgrade my knowledge not just of wildlife but of herbs. So on Sunday night I went on Amazon and ordered the Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, which arrived today, fast as lighting. It looks like a tome, but at least it has photos and details of everything. One has to start somewhere. I also need to get to my storage unit and see if I can dig out my copy of Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, as it is time I actually read it.
It was council time and stories were shared around tea, some quite personal, so I cannot go into too many details. Some had to do with the ancestors and their connection, some were about learning to deal with deep wounds and pain, and others about going deeper and having the courage to work through the fears in order to heal and live the best life that is on the other side of that fear.
For me, this meander had been mostly about reconnecting with a place I had obviously known before and observing, noticing with full focus all the little details that presented themselves to my attention.
Then someone shared a dream she had had recently that had held a powerful message and which she was able to interpret the next day, understanding its full meaning. It instantly reminded me of a powerful dream of my own I had several years ago which, once understood, sparked the big change in my life that brought me to Hawai’i and now here.
I still remember it as clear as if I had just woken up from it.
It was evening and I had gone to a gathering at someone’s house. As I walked in, the room was softly lit by ambiance lamp and everyone was sitting wherever they could, their full attention on this man who was sitting on a sofa talking to them. It was Jesus, which is interesting as I am not into organized religion. But he does transcend all of that, doesn’t he? As he talked he called me over and had me sit next to him. Then, as he put his arm around my shoulder he continued with what he had been talking about and said: ‘For example, Monica here is going to die in November.’ Totally stunned, I turn to look at him and say: ‘I am?’
He continues: ‘Yes. You are going to be practicing a dance move and you will fall. In appearance it will seem like nothing, but you will die later at the hospital of an injury.’ There I am, nodding matter-of-factly but still stunned. ‘Ok, as long as you come and get me.’ I say. And he resumes talking to the group, all the while what is going through my mind is: ‘OMG! I need to let my mom know. And I need to cancel my credit cards.’
Always practical me.
As you can imagine, the next morning I was in a panic, until a psychic friend managed to calm me down by explaining that the message of the dream was not a literal one, but a metaphor. It was clear that something needed to give in my life, I needed to make a change because I was not happy. And that I did know. But what kind of change? Of course, I knew. It’s just that it was such a multi-layered and difficult one that I was hoping it was not that one.
In the month that followed I made the onerous decision to leave the restaurant that had become a source of such intense stress for me. It took all my courage to do this, and more. Things did not happen overnight, as it was a complex disentanglement, but it was soon clear I had made the right decision, and not only because I did not die that November, but because I came alive again.
For as metaphorical as it might have seemed at the time, I think that there was a real possibility that I might have either died or been involved in some serious illness or accident that November if I had not made the change. In the years before that, I had often had the feeling that I might not live past my early thirties. I did not know why, I just felt that way. Back then I thought that maybe some cataclysmic event would be triggered by some idiots in power that would destroy us all – a rather justified scenario, considering. Later on, I often had the feeling that I had lived this life before, at least up to that point, and that by making the decision to change course, I had saved myself from the necessity of dying and coming back to do it all over again – which would have been a serious drag. And I don’t mean come back in another life with a similar scenario, but the exact same one, even though I am not quite sure how that would work. By making the change, I redirected everything onto the flight path the Universe and my Gang (angels, archangels, guides, masters et all) had been nudging me towards and waiting patiently for me to choose. From that moment on, my life was no longer scripted, but an unwritten book, as I switched timeline. Does this make any sense? I know it does to me, but I hope I have expressed it clearly enough for you as well.
Anyway, here I am, several other more or less dramatic changes later, sitting in a circle on the grass in the California hills, participating in something that I feel is marking another one of those changes, though much smoother now because I am in a good flow. I did not share this with the group at the time because I had already spoken my piece and it was someone else’s turn to speak. I hope that by sharing it now, even just one other person will know that, even if change and letting go of what is familiar but does not work can be scary at, it usually directs us on the path that is best for us, the one that will lead to true happiness and peace, the kind that can only come from within.
The Seven Walks in Seven Weeks Shinrin-Yoku immersion was brought to a close by first a circle bow to each other and then one to the mountains, forest and nature that had hosted us so lovingly. Just before that, Carole had handed Amos a gift as a thank you for his gentle and masterful guidance of our group, for which we were all grateful. The gift included a poem by Wendell Berry which brought tears to his eyes. It is such a beautiful poem, so I asked for a copy so I could share it here:
The Peace of Wild Things – by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
None of us were willing to let go and all yearned for more of the same. “When can we do another series of seven?” In response Amos acknowledged that these series of walks with the same group had turned out to be what he really enjoyed doing, much more than the ‘show up for one and disappear’ types. I feel that those one-time walks are wonderful and give people a taste of how good it can be. But had I done this only one time, I would not have achieved the same depth of healing and connection I did with the series and the group.
And for all of you still sitting on the fence, here is a bit more left brained information about this right brained activity called Shinrin-Yoku. You can find more on this in the Shinrin-Yoku website.
“Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish Shinrin-Yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.
Many trees give off organic compounds that support our NK (Natural Killer) cells that are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer.
Scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-Yoku include:
– boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s NK cells;
– reduced blood pressure;
– reduced stress;
– improved mood;
– increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD;
– accelerated recovery from surgery or illness;
– increased energy level;
– improved sleep.”
I do not need to read any scientific papers filled with research to know this, as I have experienced all of it and more personally. I think everyone should do Shinrin-Yoku, and everyone can, as it is as gentle and easy as breathing. All together now, breathe in… breathe out. There, wasn’t that easy?
By accepting this invitation from the Universe – or from my Higher Self, which is the same, really – I have entered a new dimensional bubble, set a new course that had been waiting for me. I could have taken it or left it, but the call was too strong for me to ignore. I have entered a new Earth, and now I live there.
Until the next Shinrin-Yoku. Because this series may be over, but there will be more.
Read about the other walks in this series by clicking on the links below:
I think you might also enjoy these other posts:
Thank you so much for this Monica. It is very moving to me to read how this experience has affected you. And it brings up some grief that it is over. But maybe the end of the 7/7 is just “dying in November”— opening the way for something new. I’m looking forward to more trail time with you and with our other friends. The forest will bring us all together again…
You are welcome, Amos. Thank you for guiding us with such grace and wisdom. I really don’t see an end, just a going to the next step. We will gather in the forest again sooner than you think, whether for one walk here and one there, or another series of seven. 🙂
I have so enjoyed your Shinrin-Yoku-Forest Bathing-experiences. Thank you for sharing your photos and honest words. I had known about Forest Bathing before but did not know it was being practiced in the States. I hope to someday soon be able to participate in one of these experiences.
I am so glad you enjoyed my Shinrin-Yoku posts, Linda. Writing them was like stepping back into the experience of the day and reliving it. It was like getting the benefit twice through a time warp.
I am actually looking forward to the day when you, Sharon, Diantha and I can experience it together. I am sure that you already do in your garden and whenever you create a garden for someone else. You have such strong connection with nature. I have decided to train as a guide and am participating in the weeklong training in Sonoma in May.