Lessons From the Forest

Before I share the lessons that I learned from the forest, let me tell you that I grew up with saltwater in my veins; however, I went ballistic if my big toe so much as touched the sand. While my sister was rolling around like a sugar-covered donut, eating sand with her crackers, I was tucked neatly away in the center of the beach blanket, happy only when I was immersed in the ocean. After raising two children of my own who had no problem with sand, I’ve come to accept it as part of life at the beach. I still don’t love sand between my toes. Or dirt on my feet. Or grass stuck to my heels. (I’m particular that way, and the list is probably endless.)

The Forest is Calling

With all that saltwater in my veins, you would think I’d always feel the pull to the ocean. Okay, that’s true, but over the weekend, I found myself driving to the forest in search of some tangible shift towards autumn. We have rainy and dry seasons in the tropics, but I think it’s important to somehow mark the change from summer to fall, subtle though it may be.

It was late morning on a Sunday, and the parking area was full of cars. I was dragging my feet – I didn’t want to talk to anyone, let alone see anyone, but I had taken the time to drive up the mountain, and I was determined to find some fresh, cool air. I sat in my truck deep breathing for a few minutes and set an intention for my hike: to open up to what the forest had to teach me today. Ah, that’s better.

Modus Operandi (My M.O.)

My sneakers hit the forest floor, and before I knew it, I was giving and receiving friendly “good mornings”, recognizing that we were all there for the same solitude a forest can offer. But somehow, my mind had hijacked my intention of finding fall and listening for the lessons. I found myself jumping from thought to thought while my body relentlessly powered forward in search of some morning exercise.

Fortunately, the forest had other plans for me. As my heart rate increased and my breathing became heavier, I was forced to slow down. My thoughts came to a screeching halt to analyze what was happening, and in that split second, I was able to hear, “Take off your shoes and socks.”

Ugh, did I hear that correctly? Refer back to how my feet feel about sand and dirt and grass clippings…and in the forest, my mind wanted to add critters and knobby roots and sticks. But in the autumnal spirit of letting go, I took off my shoes and socks and proceeded with the hike. I was ready for the lessons, which as you will see, are all interrelated just like we are.

Lesson 1: Slow Down

When we slow down and bring attention to our bodies, we have a chance to calm the mind, a chance to let go of guilt from the past and anxiety about the future. When we shift into our parasympathetic nervous system, our “rest and digest” state, we experience lower blood pressure and better digestion.

The forest is in no rush to grow its trees or compost its plants or hurry the singing bird along. In qigong practice, we are reminded that the body is always in the present moment. Invite the mind to join you in this moment and observe how tranquility envelopes you.

Lesson 2: Connect with Nature

Thich Nhat Hanh says it best in his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation:

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in the air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Walk barefoot in the grass, admire a plant in your, even meditate on a photo of your favorite scenery. Numerous studies show that being in nature has stress reduction effects and gives us a sense of something larger than ourselves. But you don’t need studies to prove that, try it for yourself!

Lesson 3: Notice the Beauty

If you’ve ever been to a forest, you know the immense beauty available on both the macroscopic and microscopic levels. As you slow down, your attention shifts to the small details, allowing time to appreciate the complexity and simplicity, the yin and yang ever present within and around us.

Remember your high school reading of The Color Purple by Alice Walker: “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Everything wants to be loved. There is so much beauty all around us; take the time to slow down, notice, and spread the love.

Lesson 4: Appreciate the Knobby Roots

When I first went barefoot, I found myself avoiding the knobby roots. Eventually I heard myself asking, “I wonder what it would feel like if I stepped on the roots?” It turns out, the forest can give a nice foot massage.

Life is hard sometimes. When knobby roots cross your path, relax into the flow and look for the lessons. You may not get a foot massage, but there’s bound to be a silver lining.

Lesson 5: We ARE Nature

The Chinese ideogram for human being depicts a figure rooted like a tree in the Earth with hands outstretched like branches towards the heavens. We are a result of the union between Heaven and Earth, receiving power from above and below.

All life occurs within the circle of nature; the cycles and processes that exist in a forest can also be observed in the life of a human being. We are a microcosm of nature. Love nature, love yourself.

Need help with self-love? Let’s connect with a free discovery call, qigong, or a private healing session

Now excuse me while I go wash the dirt off my feet.

Love and light,