Forest Bathing. Shinrin Yoku. Nature and Forest Therapy.
Letting Go. November, 2020.
Dr. Mattie Decker writes about her forest bathing sessions, available through this winter.
“By letting go, it all is done. But when we try and try, the world is then beyond salvation.” – Lao Tzu (575-? B.C.E.)
Autumn does it to me every year. Every fall as I watch before me the earth where I live shift from verdant lush abundance into golden harvests in my little kitchen garden and all through the wilderness of the Hickory Nut Gorge, my home, I feel in my body, the truth of these words: “By letting go, it all is done, but when we try and try, the world is then, beyond salvation.”
I remember exactly where I was when I was first heard this. I was 25 years old, sitting in a log cabin chapel in an “Art of Living” course in British Columbia, Canada. I felt this is true! and at the same time, wondered, what in the world it means! These words of Lao Tzu had to reside inside me over years to work their magic as a koan can, “crack open” our thinking, encouraging a change in outlook, returning to us to our true “nature” which is, nature! Over decades I have shared this with my graduate students who like me, felt the truth of it, and were propelled into….not knowing. “Not knowing mind” is what I experience in the relaxed, open space I am in amidst nature, and it is what I was trained to assist others to relax into, during my training in Norway as an ANFT Nature and Forest Therapy guide.
Since that time, I have led many walks with many participants. Each is as varied as their thumb prints and always remind me how unique we really are, just as each snowflake is. EVERYTHING IS. We say: “the forest is the therapist; the guide opens the door.” Yes, indeed, only the forest knows what medicine each one is here to receive, and, it is always personal. The “doors” are the senses which are opened as we relax into the “invitations” of the walk, and actually have opportunity to really slow down, see, hear, smell, touch and move in nature. I have watched, over and over again, how simple time spent in nature can open us to newfound joy and a sense of well being.
Since that time, I have led many walks with many participants. Each is as varied as their thumb prints and always remind me how unique we really are, just as each snowflake is.
My work as a guide is to get out of the way, and to simply hold the space for each person to experience what is needed, and then to bear witness as I do my best to provide conditions that are safe and open. “Everything is welcome here” is always acknowledged. Sometimes it is a couple or a family, or more often it is with strangers who have never seen each other before and yet come together in nature to “let go.”
For this very real time of COVID-19 it has been a kind of salvation, I have observed, as individuals are freed up to be outdoors in the wild and be at home in themselves. I am more committed than ever to making this available for anyone who is interested.
The science and research back of “forest bathing” is robust and will be the subject of my next article, which I intend to offer here at least monthly. It is clear that the response is overwhelming—after the last announcement of this being offered through Conserving Carolina I had limited to 8 persons, there were 35 people who wanted to sign up. In answer to this immediacy, I opened another walk on the following Saturday, October 31st, and now a new walk is being offered here on Saturday, November 14th at 10:00 a.m. I will continue as long as there is interest! I have also learned to love Winter Walks and intend to do this year-round, through all seasons and all weather. I have spent part of every year in Finland, since my sabbatical there in 2015 and know that when we dress for it and prepare for it, nature welcomes us into an exquisite stillness and peace in this time too.