A few weeks back I led my first Forest Bathing 101 class for the city of Middletown. I had been leading regular forest meditations for more than a year but this was a chance to see how I would create something that might appeal to the broader public—not necessarily a spiritually-inclined environmentalist but anyone who was curious about forest bathing or simply wanted an excuse to spend a bit more time in nature.
I decided to structure it in four parts:
- A breath exercise drawing on all that I’ve learned about breathing over the past few years;
- A body exercise that draws on what I’ve learned from martial arts, body mechanics, and my many years learning informally about osteopathy;
- A nature connection exercise, based on the many great suggestions in books like Your Guide to Forest Bathing by M. Amos Clifford;
- And a sit-spot to help quiet the mind and refocus it beyond the internal chatter of the smaller self to connect instead to the external larger whole (or Gaian self).
The funny thing was that I included an exercise that I hadn’t even done before. The nature exercise I chose for the inaugural class was a “Conversation with a Tree.”* Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’ve developed a nice rapport with the tree in my backyard but I’ve never chatted with it.
I asked people—and myself—to be open to taking themselves a bit less seriously during this one hour and try this. But not before first gently asking the group what makes for a good conversation; I was happily surprised that someone immediately answered that it’s two directional. It’s not just about downloading your problems or funny stories but about giving your conversation partner space and time to truly respond.
Long story short, I had a nice conversation with a tree. He didn’t tell me his name (Latin or otherwise), but I can describe him.** He was very tall, stood very straight, and was clearly on the older side. But in great shape. And he looked to be in a nice community of older healthy trees, peppered with some younger ones.
After asking if he’d like to talk I sat with him and somehow, what popped in my head to ask him was whether he was happy.
And while he didn’t say, he certainly seemed to be. He had a great spot by the stream with a large branch reaching out into the field on the other side of the stream. He had water, soil, and ample sun. It dawned on me that he probably was happy and that his happiness didn’t take much. He drew everything he needed from a small area of the forest. And I realized, he gave back to the forest and the world far more than he took.
He was happy while doing absolutely no harm to the world. In fact, while doing good. Now I guess this could have invoked envy in me but it just made me quiet. It was like meeting a wise elder, a priest or nun that you know serves the community tirelessly and receives this not as a burden but as a joy.
Contrast that to me. Always taking more, more, more from the land. Always excusable—I need to drive, I need to warm my home, I need to…. We do feel (and in many ways are) locked into this voracious consuming cycle. But for just a brief moment, I saw that a different way was possible. Where just by being, this tree-friend was cooling the area; stabilizing the local and global climate; providing homes and food for birds, animals, and insects; building soil; and so much more. And he was only asking for the right to be in this little spot.
Then the conversation was over. But like a good conversation does, it’s stuck with me. Perhaps over time it’ll even change me. In fact, it already has. I know now that being a bit playful with nature connection exercises isn’t silly, but can be quite rewarding.
*From page 117-119 of Your Guide to Forest Bathing. This book has many great exercises and advice on starting a forest bathing practice.
**As this was an imaginal exercise, the tree manifested to me as a he.