How Forest Therapy Has Changed Me

I met with a new client recently who asked me, “How has your life changed since you have started practicing forest therapy?” I had not directly encountered that question before. The irony of this is that I have been able to recite the research that describes the changes that comes to others who practice forest therapy, but I had rarely shared what happens within me after spending time in this practice.

Ancient wisdom tells us that spending time outdoors is good for everyone. And when we slow down enough to allow our senses to act as portals to our physical bodies, we can invite in the goodness that Nature has to offer our bodies and minds, and in that we can allow ourselves to give something to Mother Nature in return…things like gratitude and intentions of taking care of her.

Recently, I guided a walk on a lovely, cool, and eventually warming morning after the rain and snow we received in the earlier part of the weekend. As a guide, I have one foot in the guiding practice and the other foot participating alongside my guests giving me the opportunity to slow way down and fully experience the medicine of the forest as well.

I arrived home from that walk feeling content and full of joy as I always do. I was energized with a deep sense of gratitude in my heart and for the connections made during the sharing circles as I listened to everyone’s reflections. I felt gratitude for their gratitude, their sense of belonging and newfound sense of who they are in relationship to the forest. I feel my own gratitude for a deepening connection to the land and to those with whom I shared the experience.

After having been home for a few hours, the sense of calm continued, as did the peacefulness and joy. I moseyed about my home activities feeling relaxed and well outside of my usual, “Serena Go Mode” as I have been described when in my oft flurry of activities. I noticed that I listened in conversations more effectively, I felt more patient than usual, and best of all, a whole lot less anxiety.

I am naturally wired toward worrying, but when I intentionally spend slow-time outdoors, much of that “worry wiring” gets short circuited giving my brain an opportunity to rewire itself to seek out and feel the good stuff of the day. Over the last 24 years, my meditation practice coupled with my more recent Nature contemplative practices have increased my ability to remain in the present moment which means I am worrying less. Being in a place called here at a time called now means I cannot be off wandering in the future which is where worry likes to live.

Another important side effect of opening my senses to invite in Nature’s bounty, is a reduction in pain sensation. Now in my 6th decade of rotating around the sun, many changes in my body cause pain.  But time spent meditating and exploring the beings of the more-than-human-world serve as an antidote to my aches and pains by offering not only some distraction from it, but also releasing chemicals in my brain that offer genuine relief.

My spiritual life continues to come alive and evolve in ways I never imagined possible. Connecting with the Universe and Mother Earth is a very spiritual experience especially as I have come to understand that I am actually part of both. Discovering this connection has created a much needed and deep sense of belonging that I never had before. Thich Nhat Hanh referred to this as Interbeing…the idea that everyone and everything is connected in some way.  

Growing up in a culture that separates humans from the natural world causes great confusion and alienation, and I have had to do a lot of work to unravel myself from that belief system. I have come to believe all beings are sentient and can be in a reciprocal relationship with humans. The spirituality I embrace, has nothing to worship, no being told I must earn my worthiness, or earn my way to a higher way of being or an afterlife. Mother Nature welcomes me as I am and offers me ideas for growth as I listen to her.

Writing this post has been a heart-opening experience and has given me the opportunity to take a bird’s eye view of how my body, mind and spirit are different because of my time spent in Nature. What I write about here is by no means an exhaustive list of the changes I experience. Some of the changes I feel cannot be described with vocabulary, for they are simply outside of language. I do know I am different after each contemplative time in the natural world and in many ways, this practice offers me opportunities to lean into my authentic self and live more within my values and intentions.