A Nature Bath at Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows is a nature park a short walk from my daughters townhouse in Alexandria. Everyone was excited to take me there knowing how much I love being in nature. I am grateful that they, too, love nature. Not long after my arrival, off we went into the woods.

As we began our walk I became very aware of the specialness of place within the city limits — an opportunity for people to step away from their fast paced lives and connect with nature. Living in the epicenter of our government’s hot spot, nature is a welcome respite. Though I noticed few other visitors. I was grateful for the quiet moments when we walked in silence. I also noticed the majority of others walking along slowly or standing by their cameras on tripods were Asian, which is where Shinrin Yoku or Forest bathing as a healthcare practice began.

With each step into the woods we all relaxed and opened our senses to what surrounded us and what surprises we might witness. We shared in one another’s excitement when we noticed something new and awesome — a Kingfisher which invited us to linger at the end of the boardwalk, a tree whittled down by a beaver, the wet footprints of some forest animal on the boardwalk, the variety of ducks enjoying the water, the deer enjoying the woods and the blue herons which seemed to be everywhere.

We relaxed. We enjoyed being together in quiet (or as quiet as children can be). We paused every few steps to witness our surroundings in awe. Though we were cold, we continued because being outdoors together was more important. So we made light and comical banter about being cold and, in places, numb. We were, indeed, bathing ourselves in nature.

Noticing what happened to each of us, I was reminded of living daily with the woods at my doorstep and why I spend so much time outdoors to walk, to meditate, to garden, and simply be in the presence of birds, wildlife, and the changing weather through the seasons. I noticed that, not only did we relax, our attitudes shifted toward more joy, we laughed more, and enjoyed being part of something greater than ourselves. For me, it was a deeply spiritual experience throughout the walk. I love being in nature where I can feel the presence of spirit in every living thing. Each breath and each step I am bathed in love and expansion.

Having recently moved away from the woods and into a neighborhood in the town where I work, I needed the refreshing rejuvenation of the woods. My daughter and family also recently moved from one city to another for a new job opportunity. We all needed to let go of the boxes both unpacked and still packed, finding new routines, and away from the stresses inherent in a major move. For them, Huntley Meadows is only 1/2 mile away. For me in my new home, I must drive several miles to go into the woods. Fortunately, we all have dogs who love the outdoors. I know that the responsibility of animals makes it easier to get outside.

My dog, Willow, loves the outdoors and the exercise of a good hike in the woods. She is my companion to explore and bathe in nature. Daily (weather permitting) we get in the car to leave people, cars and activity behind. Willow excitedly jumps into the car — she knows when we are going to the woods. As I drive the five minutes to a local state forest, I feel my shoulders relax.

Our first few minutes we walk at a brisk pace as if shaking off the cares and stresses of the day. Then we slow our pace to a meditative exploration — my breath deepens, my senses open to the view over the lake, I notice the scents of pine, wet earth, the breeze on my face, and the occasional campfire smell in the air. Willow puts her nose to the earth to explore who’s been here before us. My mind calms as I notice the song I am humming and I settle into the stories I imagine of this land before me. My imagination wanders into narratives such as my curiosity of the volcano that formed this lake, focus on the giant car-sized rocks left over from the glaciers, or who lived here and left their mark with the stone walls that wind through the woods of New England. I find my center, my connection, and my creative inspiration in nature.

I return home with gratitude and joy every time. Once home I more easily begin again the work that awaits my focused attention. For my daughter and family, our walk after Thanksgiving dinner allowed us to reminisce our gratitude for one another. We returned refreshed from the cold air and our exploration of nature.

Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing

 

Shinrin Yoku is something I’ve done most of my life and it now has a name because its health benefits in an increasingly stressful world are being discovered as important.  About two years ago, I was introduced to forest bathing while reading Florence Williams book, “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative” . While reading about forest bathing, I was reminded of some of my earliest memories (before 4th grade) in communion and relationship with the natural world.

My interest was piqued and I’ve continued to learn more (initially, to deepen and expand my personal love of nature). The more I learn and practice, the more I feel Shinrin Yoku may be an essential part of our self-care.

Shinrin Yoku (aka. forest bathing) is a guided service available in Japan, South Korea, and, now, in some parts of the United States. In Japan, there are a growing number of designated forest bathing parks & paths. Scientists are beginning to study the health benefits of forest bathing and, as a result, the practice is gaining momentum as a health and well-being  practice. 

What is forest bathing? It is a slow walk and exploration of nature with our senses wide open. It is not exercise. It is a consciously mindful practice with the intention of relieving stress, balancing blood pressure, and improving the functioning of our immune systems as well as build a beneficial relationship with this home we call earth. Forest bathing is using all of your senses — touch, see, smell, hear, and more — to fill yourself with the healing energies of the natural world around us.

We’ve all had the experience of breathing in negative ions (that fresh smell) when near a flowing brook or river or after a rainstorm. In nature there are a multitude of healing properties that we can ‘bathe’ in for our health and to relieve stress. There is a sensuality to our experience when we use our senses to see, smell, hear, touch. I find being in nature in a slow and deliberate way is also a spiritual experience as I remember and nurture relationships with all living and non-living elements while acknowledging that I am part of a larger web of living and being. When out in nature and away from the busyness of cities, highways, and the shops along Main street we connect with our primal selves who, not so long ago, lived in harmony with the natural world. Forest bathing is an opportunity to reconnect to the energies of the earth (especially if you go barefoot) — the  ground, the trees, grasses, wildlife, and flowers.

Forest bathing as a guided experience is about slowing down enough to listen with all of your senses while breathing in the healing found in nature. Your Shinrin Yoku guide will offer exercises or invitations to lead you into a deep experience as well as opportunities to write and/or share your experience with others (when done in a group). A forest bathing experience often lasts an hour or more while exploring less than 1/2 mile in the woods. Even though the word ‘bathing’ is used, in a forest bathing experience you are fully clothed (unless you choose to remove your shoes so you can go barefoot). The bathing is what happens when our senses are open and receptive to the natural world. 

Note: Interested in knowing more or having your own experience of Forest Bathing? If you live in New England, I would be happy to be your guide. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at: LJ5250@aol.com.

 

Meditation Monday: On Opening Your Heart

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Today’s meditation is all about loving yourself. Most of us know what it means to love another — our partner, our children, our parents, friends, even our pets. How often do we offer love to ourselves?

Today, we’ll focus on using the breath to expand our heart and deepen our relationship with this miraculous inner organ that beats continuously throughout our lives. We will take time to appreciate our heart. Then, we’ll use our imagination to breathe in and out of our heart center which is all about love and joy.

In our fast paced world, settling into our heart energy and extending love to ourselves is an important piece of self-care that we rarely consider. 

I hope you enjoy this meditation and return to it more than once — you deserve your own self love! Consider sharing this meditation with someone you know so they, too, can experience their heart opening to self-love.

Meditation Monday on Self-Compassion

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Do you treat yourself as you treat others? Are you kind, caring, and encouraging toward yourself? 

We tend to be our own worst critics. We easily see ourselves as “not good enough”; “not worthy enough”; “lazy”; etc. What are the judgements you lay on yourself? What is the standard you hold for yourself? Is it lower or higher than the standard you hold for others?

Compassion is an inner strength and a resource for building resilience. Compassion is caring, respect, and encouragement within the awareness of feeling and wanting to help make things right. For many of us, it is easy to offer compassion to others while, too often, it is awkward to be compassionate toward ourselves. 

Self-compassion builds our ability to cope with stress and to ride the waves of adversity or challenge. Todays meditation is a practice in self-compassion. Let’s give ourselves permission to be human during our sitting. As your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to return to your breath and your relaxed body. Let go of judgement toward yourself for wandering away from the breath or the silence of sitting.

Honor this time for offering yourself caring, kindness, and respect. When we practice self-compassion we are caring toward our feelings, we treat ourselves with respect, and we are encouraging. Through self-compassion we bring out our best and can better advocate for ourselves and our needs. 

Be on your own side. Be kind and sympathetic when you feel fear. Be warm when you are getting sick or sad. Be encouraging when you are embarking on a new venture or goal. All these are simple ways of practicing self-compassion. 

We can also ask, “How would I be with another if they are feeling afraid, insecure, or sick?” Place the same standard on yourself as you would another.  

Make this a week of practicing self-compassion and become your best. Give yourself permission to be magnificent!

**At the end of this meditation you will hear my dog barking. I left it in as it was my fourth attempt to record without external noises. A barking dog, a child, cars passing by, outdoor noises, or a cat is part of our everyday life. My own practice of self-compassion is being kind with my own desire to be perfect.**

Meditation Monday: On Light

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Welcome to Meditation Monday. Thank you for joining me in this weeks meditation. We will focus on breathing light within and beyond our body in a protective cocoon of breath and light.

Through todays meditation we will consider what positive energy we can build and share through creating our personal bubble of light. Our energy field extends beyond our bodies — we know this through research, especially, done through the Heartmath Institute. Many of you may have also seen photo’s of aura photography taken to show the extent and the various colors of energy fields. Through meditation and/or focus on breath we can change our aura into brightness.

We live in a time when more light is essential for our well-being. Focusing on our fields of light leave us with feeling protected from the chaos surrounding us in daily life. Who couldn’t use a bit more light and protection (no matter your beliefs).

My wish is that you enjoy this meditation and that you feel protected and safe in your own light.

Meditation Monday – On Loving Kindness

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May you be safe

May you be healthy

May you be happy

May you know peace

Welcome to Meditation Monday. This weeks meditation, Loving Kindness, is a meditation on mindfulness and offering peace, healing, happiness, and safety to yourself, people you know, and people everywhere. 

Often referred to as Metta meditation, Loving Kindness, is a Buddhist practice that has been extensively studied for its many benefits such as increased health, inner peace, lower blood pressure, decreased stress, and mindfulness. I use this meditation almost daily and especially when my heart is deeply affected by the plight of others. 

This week I have been deeply saddened and outraged by what is happening to people crossing our borders seeking asylum. I can only imagine the fear, helplessness, and despair as over 2000 children have been separated from their mothers and fathers as part of some ridiculous zero tolerance immigration law. And then they are being housed in tent cities in southern Texas where the temperatures are in the hundreds with no way to find one another. Why? is a question I am asking daily. I, too, feel my own helplessness in not knowing what to do or how to help.

Meditation is one thing I can do and invite others to join me. I have renewed my commitment to Loving Kindness meditation practice morning and night. This Metta practice opens my heart while offering myself and others positive healing, safety, and peace. 

If you wish to learn more of Loving Kindness meditation, both Jon Kabat Zinn and Sharon Salzburg have written about this practice that they have practiced and taught to hundreds for many years. 

My hope is that you will find this practice as meaningful as I do and that maybe, just maybe, we can create a more humane and peaceful world through extending loving kindness rather than fear. Please feel free to pass this meditation onto others so that our reach ripples toward those in need. 

May I be safe

May I be healthy

May I be happy

May I know peace

Meditation Monday: Let’s Go On A Journey

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This weeks meditation is a bit different from what we have been doing. I love to go on journeys and this meditation is a few minutes journeying to our personal and inner place of peace. Often we hear of people going to their happy place — this meditation is a simple journey to our inner place of peace, quiet, and rejuvenation which, for me, is similar to my happy place.

Every day we experience stresses, change, busy-ness, and activity. For many of us our days are quite full. I find that taking the time to sit and go to my quiet place of peace is healing and rejuvenating as well as stress reducing. Todays meditation is focused on going to our inner place of peace and quiet.

I hope you enjoy the meditation and the journey.

Books — Portals to The World and The Human Condition

Books: Inspire, teach, inform, travel, transform, perspectives, joy, love, growth, tragedy, drama, mystery, beauty, words, photographs, what’s possible, past, future, history, science, other worlds, rich characters, imagination, magic, resilience, strength, happiness, health, meaning, fear, anger, sadness, joy, laughter, adventure, ideas, creativity, connection.

and, so much more….

I recently saw a post on Facebook, a video clip that has gone viral where young people are asked to name a book. Most of them struggled to name even one. I was shocked that Dr. Zeus was the only book an adult could remember while others admit they don’t read. Was the clip made up to  encourage reading? I’m not at all sure, though if it was made up, how brilliant! It certainly left me thinking about the books I’ve read and wish to read. I was inspired to visit the library and make a stop at a local bookstore — stocking up on this month’s reading.

Books! From novels to text books, I love to read. Over the course of a year, I easily read 2 – 3 books each month. At any give time I am deep into at least two books. Always a novel that I read before bed, quiet afternoons, or rainy days. Then, there is something inspiring, like poetry or a book on nature — being inspired keeps me positively focused. I also like Informative books on positive psychology, living a better life, or a book on herbs that will inform my work.

Books allow me to travel to far off places — I am especially fond of historical fiction. Some places I’ll never get to see, some places I’ve already traveled to, and other places are on my bucket list of must see. Reading invites me to dream and plan. Of course, other stories are about places that don’t exist except in the author’s imagination which then spark my own imagination. Through reading I’ve learned about the romantic lure of Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy. I’ve learned about the rich landscapes of India, Egypt, and Africa. I’ve also learned about the brief history of the US and the many beautiful places between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Books make my day-to-day richer. If I am in the middle of a novel, my imagination is carried into my life off the page — hikes become fantasy wanderings in the woods, people become characters in my story, and I am more open to creative thinking and being. Many things I make in fiber remind me of a novel I am reading or have recently read. I’ll often change my style with the next absorbing story. For example, reading the entire Outlander series came with a wealth of creative ideas — sweaters, shawls, blankets, cowls, and fingerless gloves.

Through reading I learn about other points of view on living, thinking, and being. Reading also informs my own writing whether creative writing, articles, or blog posts.

I can’t imagine life without books and a good story. We are wired for story — it is our ancestral way of ‘recording’ history and passing on what we need to know in order to survive, live a good life, and make informed decisions for change. Books also present stories with positive messages that open us to make more empowering decisions to bring more meaning and purpose into our lives. 

I am saddened to think reading is falling out of favor. Where is the richness of a good story if books aren’t part of life? Do you read? What do you like to read? Would you like to read more but don’t know where to begin? Check out goodreads.com where you can see what others are reading.

Hey folks! Reading is essential. Go out to your local bookstore or library and wrap your hands around a good story. 

Memorial Day Meditation

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Many people think of Memorial Day as a celebratory three day weekend of picnics (and, sometimes, fireworks), parades, and the unofficial start to the summer season.

Did you know?

~ Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, began after the Civil War (1864) by women who placed flowers on the graves of loved ones who died in the war.

~ Over 600,000 died during the Civil War which means that nearly everyone knew someone who had died fighting.

~ Originally, Memorial Day was on May 30th.

~ In 1971, it was moved to the last Monday in May and now includes those who have fallen in all wars.

~ In 2000, President Bill Clinton established a moment of silence at 3 pm. to remember and reflect on the sacrifices of our military personal in order to provide freedom for all.

Now, no matter what your beliefs and points of view, Memorial Day is a day of remembering, honoring, and reflecting on young women and men who have chosen to be in our military and have lost their lives while in service.

Today’s meditation is in honor of all soldiers who have fallen in war. 

Meditation Monday & More on Mindfulness

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Take a mindful moment and appreciate these two baby chipmunks!

Mindfulness is a quietly active process of noticing, of heightened awareness.

Through mindfulness we learn how connected we are to the world around us. Through mindfulness we become more present in the moment. Through mindfulness we learn to let go of stress and tension in our body and mind.

This weeks meditation is continuing with the theme of mindfulness. Taking a few minutes to follow our attention in and around our body. We follow the breath. We explore the sensations both inside and around our body. Through actively noticing we expand our subtle awareness and become more present in the process.

I am glad you are here. Enjoy your meditation.