Living in the woods, I experience its healing benefits daily. When things get hairy, I go for a walk in the woods. I will string my stress among the thickets and unburden my anxiety on the tree limbs. Always, I will notice something---the humidity, an animal, moss, or an unusual bird call. I undoubtedly feel better after my walk even if it is a short one. But, a couple weeks ago, I was so fortunate to be able to join the Wild Mind group in experiencing a Forest Therapy walk led by a trained guide, Kim Ruffin.
The Wild Mind group of women has been meeting monthly at Spring Bird for the last couple of years. One of the group's members participated in a Forest Therapy walk that Kim led at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL and thought that the group would enjoy the experience. Luckily, I was able to tag along.
In a preparatory walk to assess the trails, I told Kim that increasingly see a "to-do" list when I walk and was eager to reacquaint myself with my environment. She said that Forest Therapy was just what I needed since it is designed to slow down, to walk purposely, to engage the senses, and to ultimately develop a relationship with nature. In fact, at one point, we literally introduced ourselves to a tree, a flower, or whatever we felt called to connect with. I picked an oak but was drawn to the absence generated by a fallen limb and began to dialog with its hole, which contained the remnants of somebody's jaw. The hole had been a place to die.
Outfitted with mosquito nets and walking sticks, we followed Kim along a predetermined path stopping to accept her "invitations" to see, smell, feel, hear, and taste the natural worlds around us, and to notice our impact there. The total walk was under a mile and was completed in about 2 hours. Despite humidity and relentless mosquitoes, I emerged from the experience feeling renewed, playful, and child-like. I had been able to reconnect with my woods in new and deeper ways and to make observations that I might not have had I not been invited to do so. For instance, I noticed how sunlight can transform a shadowy place, how water feels right before I plunge my hand into it, how a particular tree across the creek is decaying and what it smells like, and how a woodpecker neatly punched patterns in the bark of a tree.
Kim so patiently and calmly guided us, gave us space to be, and gently pulled us into a more engaged way of walking in the forest. She also thought of everything regarding our comfort-- from mosquito nets, to camping stools, and even surprised us with fans when we needed them most. Perhaps most joyful was the closing tea ceremony complete with tea brewed from fresh herbs. We celebrated and shared our experiences along with our lunches. It was a remarkable experience and I'd recommend it to everyone.
In fact, if you are interested in a Forest Therapy walk, please contact Kim Ruffin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kim is willing to trek from her Oak Park home to Spring Bird again --if other groups are interested, but she is also able to lead walks in Chicagoland forests near you. I encourage you to experience Forest Therapy for yourself. It's healing and life giving in so many ways!
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.