The Gifts of Awakening To My Body

For as long as I can remember, I have sought respite from life’s difficulties in nature. Growing up in an unstable home environment, I assumed a parental role when my mother could not due to her struggles with poor mental health and alcoholism. At nine years old, I was in charge of family safety, getting my brother and I fed and off to school, and many other parenting responsibilities. No time for play and certainly no time for being in the present moment and being in my body. My job was to stay in thinking mode ignoring any sensory feelings as a means to stay hypervigilant.

During that year, when I could, I sat against my favorite tree whose roots dangled in the small creek in front of our house, and I somehow began to let my guard down enough to feel the cool water on my feet as my toes wiggled in the sand and stones. I watched with awe how the minnows swam beneath the water’s surface and the skate bugs flittered on top of the water. I breathed with the tree and the creek and discovered a bit of joy and connection that were not available to me elsewhere. This place became my sit spot, something I would learn much later in life is an intentional practice in the world of forest therapy. These were times I could let go and slip into my body.

In the fall of 1970, my brother and I along with our father and stepmother moved to Crested Butte, Colorado, a very small town at the time of a mere 300 people. And Nature was everywhere. Living at nearly 9000 feet elevation with emerald alpine lakes, unending aspen and evergreen forests, crystal clear water in the rivers of summer snow melt, all kinds of wildlife and a glorious abundance of wildflowers, the opportunities for connecting with Mother Earth were available to me anytime I wanted. And I took them any chance I could. 

Some of my favorite memories from my years there are of many winter nights standing in heavily falling snow beneath a street lamp not far from my home. When there was no wind, the snow fell straight from the sky landing ever so gently on the earth below. Mesmerized by each flake, I got lost in trying to follow them from the clouds to the ground. Turning my face toward the clouds, I welcomed the feather light snow flakes as they landed on my face and melted. Once again, I felt the deepest peace and joy finding myself out of my head and connecting with my inner self by being in my body. 

During the summers in Crested Butte, my body and soul was soothed as I sat on the banks of the Slate River dangling my feet in running water that was once snow. There is something about snow and cold water that gently cool the fires of stress and anxiety that so often burn within my being. This is how I discovered where real respite and relief came from…being in my body, giving my mind some rest by just being in nature…allowing myself to do nothing but just BE… with nowhere to go.

Fast forward to 2019, on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, a deeply profound encounter with the ancient beings of Redwood National Forest in Northern California brought me into my body so fast… making it impossible for me to think about what was happening. The intense stirrings in the deepest part of my inner being as tears rolled down my face and my voice was silenced took over my whole experience. To be honest, there are no words to describe what happened to me in the forest that day. Those bodily sensations remain to this day, reminding me of the deepest soul connection I had ever experienced to that point in my life. 

These experiences of being in my body create a thread common to all eras of my life. They became gifts I still need that provide grounding as life gets chaotic and is hard to make sense of.

I have learned that I can intentionally create time and space to quiet myself by moving away from the noise of the world and of my oft, overthinking mind, and into my feeling body. I do not have to wait for those times to happen to me by some random chance. The practice of forest bathing/therapy, when I connect with the natural world through each of my physical senses opening me to my body, allows me to reconnect with my inner, more spiritual senses of empathy, peace, kindness, and joy.