For as long as I can remember I have had a deep connection and love of nature. When I was a young girl my favourite place to be was in the woods hanging out with the trees or playing in a nearby creek. Often I would stay outside until it was so dark that I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Nature has always brought me peace and solace, and it was to her that I would retreat when I needed support. However, as time passed I went away to college, got married, had a son and created my own wellness business. Like most people I got caught up in the busy day-to-day lifestyle that our culture encourages, and eventually lost part of this connection. It was still there, and my heart could feel it, I just needed to know how to reignite it. I had to relearn and remember how magical it felt to just simply be in nature, with no agenda, and nothing to do. My monkey mind had been so conditioned to “doing” and accomplishing, that I had forgotten that I was a human being, not a human doer. Over the years I had studied and practiced holistic nutrition, yoga and meditation and I even taught Reiki and energy healing, thinking this was my answer to well being and wholeness.
However, it was not until I learned how to forest bathe that my life really began to change. It is simple, yet very powerful. After regular practice my energy slowly came back, and my overall health improved. Years of anxiety disappeared, I left an unhealthy relationship, found the partner of my dreams (now husband to be whom I met in the trees), and I began to paint and be creative again after making excuses for twenty years. I believe that this happened to me because I went back to my nature connection. It didn’t change overnight however, and required some dedication.
After my forest therapy training in 2018 with the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, I returned home to complete a six-month practicum. This was a part of our requirement to receive the certification, and I believe it saved my life. I began a regular practice of just sitting outside and doing nothing. We call this a sit spot. I would return regularly to my sit spot out in front of my house on Salt Spring Island and just be. Some days my mind raced, and I wondered if it would turn off. Some days I even cried. However, as each sit passed, I began to soften, and I found myself connecting with my senses instead. Perhaps listening to the sound of the ocean waves or watching the ducks gather along the shoreline. Some days it was cold, and my attention would go to the temperature on my skin or the moisture from my breath. In the warmer months I enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face or the sound of the hummingbirds diving behind me. With every sit I experienced more peace and instead of thinking, I would easily drop into my senses. Time would fly by. This mindful immersion in nature brought me so much calm and healing. Nature became my therapist and friend.
Some of the many benefits that sitting brought to me was that when my mind was quiet I could hear its inner wisdom and guidance. I could breathe more deeply, and I felt washed in peace and relaxation. Sitting in nature brought me joy and inspired my creativity and she encouraged me to keep going and to make healthy changes in my life.
Now wherever I go in nature, even if I am out for a hike or sharing nature photography with my guy, I always take the time to look for the perfect spot to sit, and enjoy doing nothing.
I love to forest bathe with my dogs, especially sitting with them in a "sit spot" near the end of our walk. I have a favourite place that I like to go, in a secluded neighborhood park, that has a bench and is surrounded by beautiful cedar, chestnut, and fruit trees. Today we sat together for about fifteen minutes, just using our senses to notice. I have found that my dogs do best after they have walked awhile, burnt off some energy, done some sniffing and of course, done their "business". If you decide to do a "sit spot" just find a place in nature that calls to you, sit, and do nothing, just relax. You might find that the first five minutes or so they are impatient, or whiny, and your own mind begins to wander, however in time this will dissipate for all. I notice that the longer I sit, the more patient and calmer we all become.
Today the songbirds were out and we were sitting near a magnificent chestnut tree. When I entered the park, I felt her beckoning to me, to come and be near her. I have walked to this beautiful sanctuary for many years, and she has become like an old friend knowing the stories in my heart. Everything is okay she said, just come sit with me awhile, and be still. So we all sat together my dogs, and I. My oldest girl is twelve (photo above), loves to whine, and can be very impatient. It took her about five minutes to settle and join me in the sit spot. As I sat I quietly noticed my body as it too started to calm, my breathing became softer, and my mind relaxed. Then my second girl joined us, sitting motionless and just noticing.
Together we forest bathed --in the distance I could hear the sound of water from a nearby creek, the ocean waves, the songbirds singing and feeling a gentle breeze on my face and skin. My girls were looking up, and I wondered, what are they seeing? So, I followed their lead, looking up and noticing the slow movement of clouds and some sunlight trying to come through. The little bit of sun felt good, and I experienced joy in that moment. The branches on the tops of the cedar trees were swaying in the wind, and a flock of songbirds flew quickly by, scattering from the sound of a moving vehicle. Together they moved on, finding shelter in some distant trees. There must have been at least fifty hiding in the tops of the cedar trees today. My girls were quiet now, just being in that moment in time, as though nothing else mattered.
The wind picked up. I love the sound of the wind; it is music to my heart. Silence in nature, is music to my ears.
I discovered this beautiful poem through the mindfulness teacher Tara Brach. I feel that it embodies with beautiful words, the importance of slowing down, noticing the little things, and letting life live through us. Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was an important Japanese artist.
"Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you."
by Roger Keyes
How I go to the Woods by Mary Oliver
"Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.” ~Mary Oliver
Forest & Nature Therapy
with Kelly Kiss.
Come walk with me...
Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) on Salt Spring Island,
the Gulf Islands &
Vancouver Island, BC.
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I would like to acknowledge the land where I am living ~the unceded territory and ancestors of the Coast Salish Peoples of Salt Spring Island and surrounding areas who continue to use and steward the lands and waters of the Salish Sea. These include the traditional land of the local Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group (Cowichan, Halalt, Lyackson, Cowichan Lake, Penelakut), and Saanich First Nations
(Tsartlip, Tseycum, and Tswaout).