Yesterday I guided my first Shinrin-Yoku walk and I am still riding high from the experience. The group I guided came together through one of my dearest friends, Diantha Harris. Diantha, whom you will soon get to meet through this blog, recently published a wonderful book on color, titled Simply Color For Everyday Living, for which she had several guest contributors, among which moi. The book is being printed as I write and will be available in a couple of weeks, which is why yesterday some of us got together to celebrate.
Diantha had been yearning to experience a Shinrin-Yoku walk for months, and the other ladies had also become interested when they read the piece I wrote about it for one of Diantha’s newsletters. Since everyone was coming my way – with Diantha flying in all the way from Florida – I was happy to organize a walk just for them.
We gathered at one of my favorite places, Quarryhill Botanical Garden, just outside Glen Ellen. Quarryhill is quite a special place as it is a kind of Noah’s Ark for endangered Asian species, where each tree, plant and bush has been grown from seed. The garden is quite extensive, yet with easily walkable paths, and full of beautiful little corners. It is the ideal blend of groomed and wilderness that I thought would be perfect for this group. And it was.
There were seven of us total, including myself and my Forest Therapy co-trainee and honorary member of the Faerie realm, Nicole Daspit. The weather, which started out at the cool and foggy end of the spectrum, transitioned to sunny and warm by late morning. We were in the perfect place, with the perfect number of people and now we had perfect weather as well. We were blessed.
We gathered in a circle under the shade of the glorious wisteria covering the arbor and, after saying our names and sharing a little bit about ourselves, we entered Shinrin-Yoku space-time through my favorite Pleasures of Presence invitation, which I will summarize here.
Take a few long, deep breaths.
When you feel ready, close your eyes and feel the elements all around you.
Now bring your focus to your feet,
feel how solidly planted they are on the ground.
really feel the strength and support of the Earth beneath you.
Now imagine you have roots shooting out from the soles of your feet,
growing and grounding deep into the Earth,
and notice what that feels like.
You are like a tree, your legs and torso being the trunk.
Feel the solidity and power of your trunk,
whether lithe with youth or thick and strong with age and wisdom.
Your arms and hands are like branches
reaching up towards the nurturing warmth of the sun,
and swaying in the gentle breeze.
Birds and squirrels are stopping by to visit and tell you the latest stories.
Some of them live in your branches.
A creek is flowing nearby, singing its gentle song to you.
There are many other trees and plants around you,
you are part of a forest, and you are all connected.
There are animals also living in the forest,
deer, bobcats, mountain lions… all sharing space with you.
What does it feel like to be a tree?
When you feel ready,
open your eyes and look around you
as if you were seeing everything for the first time.
I decided to not do a sharing circle after this, as I wanted them to transition into the next invitation without breaking the spell. The second invitation was to meander slowly and quietly along the path, and simply notice what was in motion. I find this invitation to be the perfect beginning of a walk, as it sets the slow pace necessary for a good connection. It not only slows you down physically, but it also relaxes the mind, allowing you to be more present. When I say slow, I mean really slow, excruciatingly slow; but, by slowing down like this, you find yourself noticing things you never would have should you just march through the place.
I walked in front to set the pace. When you guide a group, you participate in your own invitations while also watching the timing, and being alert to everyone else’s comfort and needs. Yesterday, I tended to be a bit more on the alert side, as it was my first solo guided walk and I was also carrying a cooler with extra coconut water for everybody. After the intense heat of the previous weekend, I did not want to risk anyone becoming dehydrated just because they had underestimated the amount of water needed.
As we passed by the stone water fountain, a little brown and yellow bird landed on it and decided to take a bath. I giggled with pleasure, as birds taking baths are a recurring theme in my daily nature connection, and seeing one here doing the same just when we walked by felt serendipitous. I could feel my group’s shared delight, and it enhanced my own a thousandfold.
But the real magic for me happened when we reconvened in our next circle, and the women shared what they had experienced. The words coming out of their mouth, the obvious joy in their faces and the delighted awe I saw in their eyes as each one spoke in turn almost brought me to tears. They felt the happiness of this place, and how all the trees, plants, bushes, grasses, flowers were all connected, supporting each other. The group had really opened up, they were really getting what this was all about, and I could feel a shift inside them, a reconnection – or a deepening of connection – to their true nature inside through the nature around them.
Things went even deeper after the next invitation, which was to head in a direction that called to them and connect with a tree, or bush, flower or rock, critter or cloud. I invited them to just be with it (she/he as was), maybe introduce themselves and see what might come from it. Maybe the being would have something to say and communication might ensue on any level. They were not to worry about looking at their watch, as I would be coyote-calling them back when the time was up.
If any of my Forest Therapy trainee friends are reading this, they are probably giggling at the memory of all the coyote-calling we did. I must confess, I was not much of a coyote, and my call needs some practice. It might be back to the flute for me.
The council sharing after this invitation was even more magical than the first.
Nearly all of these women have a creative background, either as artists, or writers, or healers, or all of the above wrapped together, so it is maybe easier for them than others to open up to the more-than-human world. All, except one, who called herself a corporate-world survivor, having only recently quit that world. I watched her maybe more carefully than the others as she allowed herself to relax and explore unfamiliar territory. Her hesitant sharings turned out to be the ones that awed me the most, not because they were better than everyone else’s, but just because they were so much more than even she had expected from herself.
I felt so happy I thought I could guide Shinrin-Yoku walks every day. These women were having just the experience I hoped they would, which is the best experience that they can have, and not the one I think they should have. It is not easy to put into words the joy I was feeling at their joy. The closest I can come is to compare it to a creative high, as I usually feel like this when I am in a creative flow of painting, writing or photography, or nesting in a tree. It was wonderful, and the best was yet to come.
I had a further reason for my choice of Quarryhill Botanical Garden as my setting for yesterday’s walk. Back in February, during my third walk of the seven Shinrin-Yoku immersion series, one of the invitations Amos offered us turned out to be one of the most wonderful, and I wanted to offer the same opportunity to my group.
I led the way along a little meandering path that took us deeper into the canopy and to a sweet spot by the creek, where a magnolia bush is circled by a moss-covered path. Here, I offered my invitation. If they felt up to it, they were to remove their shoes and slowly walk on the soft mossy path barefoot, circling the magnolia three times: the first time with their eyes open, the second time with their eyes semi-closed, and the third time – if they felt comfortable doing that – with their eyes closed, or as closed as possible without tripping and falling.
I had worn flip-flops on purpose, so I could easily remove them. I was first on the path, leading the way and enjoying the feel of the soft moss and damp soil underneath my feet. There was no hesitation, and, with the help of a nearby bench, they all removed their shoes and followed me.
My experience was one of both new enjoyment and remembrance of my previous time, while also wondering how the others were doing behind me. I was so delighted to have been able to include this invitation, and especially that Nicole would get to experience it. We had spent one of our training days at Quarryhill last May, but had not had the time to include this invitation in our very full schedule, and I knew she would love it.
She did, and so did everyone else. There were a lot of comments about how luxurious it felt, in water-deprived California, to feel such moisture and coolness, and, just like me, most in the group yearned for more barefoot-walking time.
Thank you Amos for finding this place and sharing this invitation with our group.
This was my final invitation for the day. Usually, at this point in a Shinrin-Yoku walk we gather in a suitable place to hold a closing tea ceremony and council. But since our group was going to gather for lunch in Sonoma as part of our celebratory day, I decided to close in a different way. I asked them to take positions along the mossy path, and circle up around the tree that had kindly hosted us. Then I invited everyone to share what they felt grateful for in that moment.
I was grateful for my dear friend Diantha having flown in for this, especially since I had not seen her in eleven years, and for all these women coming together for this walk. I was grateful for their experiences and their open sharing as they had so enhanced mine, allowing me to discover the true purpose and deeper joy of guiding these walks. I was grateful that Nicole had been able to come, and for her energy presence which I had felt would be perfect for this group. Yet another perfect aspect of this day.
We stepped out of Shinrin-Yoku space-time by throwing our arms up in the air and hooting with joy, before gathering our things and taking the long way back to base so they could all see the beautiful pond and waterfalls.
A delicious celebratory lunch followed at one of my favorite restaurants: The Girl and The Fig in Sonoma.
As our guide and teacher Amos would say: Shinkan-Shoyu! Back to normal time.
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