Healing Ways

Forest Notes From The Happiest Country In The World

Finland has been named as the happiest country in the world for the last 2 years in a row. Its citizens are relaxed and cheerful and lead generally stress free lives. They live in society with progressive thinking, technological advancement as well as cultural richness.

Over 70% of Finland is covered in forests, and the connection with nature is very important for the Finns. How does this affect their happiness quotient? And what are the different ways Finns use to engage with nature? Let us explore some interesting ideas and initiatives from Finland – the land of a thousand lakes, and see what we can learn to inspire change in our own lives.

FOREST SCHOOLS

The forest school movement is quite popular in Finland. Most of these are pre-schools that cater for 5-6-year-olds. In a forest school you can see the children spending up to 95% of the school day outdoors in the wilderness exploring, playing, and learning about the world around them.
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Forest schools have less of an emphasis on tests and scores, yet still see much better results. They have been proven to improve skills in mathematics, reading, listening, critical thinking, and writing. It is an essential starting point that helps the students when they advance to the next stage of education.

There are may benefits that both parents and teachers see from forest schools. The children are more engaged in their learning. Children’s health and immunity gets a boost. And along with the overall performance, their social skills also improve.

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FOREST LIFE

Did you know that there is a campaign called ‘Rent a Finn’? The project invites people from all over the world to be hosted by a ordinary Finnish citizens so that they can get a taste of an authentic Finnish nature experience.

One of the most important birthplaces of the Finnish identity are the deep green forests, the rolling hills and the glittering lakes that cover most of Finland. There are a total of 188000 lakes in Finland and many families own summer cottages right next to a lake. Spending time out in nature is an integral part of their lifestyle. While active engagement can involve hiking, cycling, horse riding, orienteering and other sports there is also an equally strong movement around slowing down and spending time with oneself in the silence of the woods.
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Finnish people have multiple ways to find their calm in nature. From visiting a national park to spending a weekend fishing at their summer cottage, berry picking in the wilderness, to enjoying a proper Finnish sauna. With such rich abundance of nature everywhere, there is no shortage of options. Many Finns attribute their easygoing stress free demeanour to their connection with nature and their instinct to go outside whenever anxiety rears its ugly head:

“When others go to therapy, Finns put on a pair of rubber boots and head to the woods.”

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FOREST FOOD

While you are in the forest, you will find a plethora of edible treats and not surprisingly they are often completely free of charge. Everyman’s right in the country’s forests guarantees that you are allowed to pick almost anything your heart and mouth desires. The combination of everyman’s rights and naturally grown, nutritious food transforms activities such as hiking into delicious voyages of discovery.

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White summer nights ripen vegetables, fruits and berries making them uniquely tasty. Even though Finnish berries and fruits are smaller than average, they are packed with sweet flavours, healthy vitamins and flavonoids. Finns scour the vast forests for these delicious treasures, as well as the tasty mushrooms and fresh wild herbs.

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SAUNA AND WHISKING

Sauna is a small room used as a hot-air or steam bath for cleaning and refreshing the body. The traditional saunas feature a fireplace where stones are heated to a high temperature. Water is thrown on the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. Majority of homes in Finland have a sauna, but the best experiences are to be had in country saunas which are next to lakes. When the temperature gets too hot to handle inside the sauna, one can move outside into the cool lake for a quick swim.
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Maaria Alén is a natural wellness instructor and chairperson of Finnish folk healer’s society. She specialises in traditional sauna healing, especially whisking. The therapy uses branches and leaves of specific trees to whisk the entire body while you are enjoying a sauna. The whisking creates an overall conscious and therapeutical touch, which enables the healing from within to begin. It improves circulation, opens the energy flow as well as physically cleans and massages the body. The healing power of different tree species and the steam called löyly, gently relaxes and balances the mind, the body and the soul. Some of the other significant benefits of using a sauna are improved heart health, lower stress levels, easing of joint pains and muscle soreness, and relief from asthma.

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FOREST THERAPY EVENTS

For people who are interested in learning more about the emerging field of forest therapy, there is an international event IFTD Days held in Finland every summer. It brings together individuals engaging in forest therapy in different types of forests around the world. The aim is to share ideas, experiences, practices and research, to advance our thinking and learn from each other. The gathering represents a variety of disciplines from science and practice.

IFTDays is a movement for sustainable health in which all partners come together to promote change in the way health is experienced in their own cultures. The event is focused around forest therapy for health promotion and disease prevention. The founders Riina and Heidi believe that by bringing people together they can build communities’ collective resiliency and hope for the future, supporting the well-being of individuals and fostering a sense of true belonging in nature.

You can read more about their mission or attend their event through this link: http://foresttherapydays.com/

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Every country in the world has it’s own unique customs to connect with Nature. Let us know some special ways about your country in the comments section below. It will add to our collective learning.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link.  We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Writing In Nature To Find Healing

The way we find solace, release the energy of excitement, slow down our anger is through a sense of connection and a relationship that is fostered, nurtured, embraced, and sought. A relationship with the land.

Excerpt from the book
Writing on the Landscape: Essays and Practices to Write, Roam, Renew
By Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D. LifeRich Publishing 2017 • © Copyright Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D. (Published with permission from the author)

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When we want to write something, we need balance of self and other. We first look within ourselves to see what is there (the wisdom, the beauty, even the pain) and to discover what we need. We reach into the depths of our stories and knowing, and do the inner research to arrive at the page with all that we can possibly know in a moment. We look outside of ourselves to remember that we are cared for, that something bigger than us exists to help meet our needs. We can also turn outside of ourselves—to the safety of nature—to find energy and insight when we can’t find it easily within. We gather from our journeys into natural places the ability to see expansively. We also simply remember how our very breath is dependent upon the natural world; this roots us in collective knowing and creative inspiration that far surpass our individual knowledge. We then turn to our writing—with the resources we’ve gathered from inside and outside of us—equipped with the tools we need to endure.

When we let writing carry us away and when we immerse ourselves in the miracle of a single moment in the natural world (wilderness or not), we tap into something that transcends the material, the tangible, the trite. We find a depth to ourselves and to our writing that occupies the one distinct internal landscape: our inner wilderness. Allowing ourselves to become unfettered (e.g. by time, goods, responsibilities) and accountable only to that which resides in the depths of spontaneity and grace is where we find our writing souls.

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Life happens and sometimes it is sad and lonely, or fear inciting, or very exhilarating. Writing can also evoke emotions. Even the really exciting, happy, blissful emotions can hamper our writing. We have the ample, supportive mother of Earth to quietly receive whatever it is we need to let go. Some of us are not going to initially feel comfortable going out into the natural world for a calming experience. Many have lost the tender connection that affords a facile embrace of the beauty and support that the living nonhuman world has to offer. The way we find solace, release the energy of excitement, slow down our anger is through a sense of connection and a relationship that is fostered, nurtured, embraced, and sought. A relationship with the land.

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Some of my favorite places are forests, as well as individual trees. Rainforests. The Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert. Ancient bristlecone pines. The ponderosa pines whose fragrant sap is still a touchstone back to my childhood summer days, the respite I’d find in their shade, lying on the thick needle beds at the base of their trunks on glaringly hot days. The maples and oaks in my relatives’ humid, east coast yard. My grandpa’s instructions about how to identify each tree’s leaf shape. The alders that fall each year in the Pacific Northwest, shallow root bases that loosen their hold in windy winters. The red, soft, intriguing bottlebrush blossoms; the “poky ball” seeds of the liquidambar; or the slender, lavender, “milk”-releasing jacaranda flowers that my little girl self created stories about during long hours alone with these trees in my backyard. Too, the sycamore in the front yard of my childhood home whose roots cracked and displaced the cement walkway that needed to be smooth in order for my brother’s wheelchair to safely pass; it was my sentinel outside my bedroom window until we had to have it cut down—an act which caused my strong mother to cry the only time that I can remember during my entire growing up years. The hardwood forests of New England, shockingly short in stature by my west coast standards, shockingly brilliant during my first east coast autumn.

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I am walking in a forest healing from the ravages of a wildfire. On this day it mirrors a particularly burned out place in the landscape of my soul. Writing onto the page is an act of sheer compulsion and all begotten willpower unless I am rooted in the part of myself that remembers beauty in death, destruction and loss in transformation, fear in the calm of day. My body moves up the path, once a road, deeper toward the rock sharp mountains in the west. I see snow and a glacier up on the topmost peak, but down here the thick air is stagnant and breathes hot gasps onto my cheeks which now burn with shame. Slowly is my sole mantra, toward the burn site which holds within it the promise and hope amidst gray silty powder. As I move deeper into the site, my uncovered legs begin to darken with the ash. I can reverse-tattoo myself by putting a spit-wet fingertip onto my ashy skin; yet there is something deeply sacred, too, in just allowing my legs to become baptized in the residue of wildfire. I hear a spring but can only see a small seep running along the edge of the baby new grass that has to be this year’s birth. The fire was last year.

As I move closer to the center of the small once-grove that not so long ago offered shade in the middle of this near-Death-Valley wild place, I feel my heart rate increasing, my heartbeat’s powerful tenacity. It takes courage to see what lies in the middle of the burned-out places of our inner wilderness. There are tiny drops of moisture forming in my eyebrows, along my upper lip, on the back of my bare-naked neck; it feels as much like nerves as my body’s cooling response to the increasing noon heat. Each step is a labor and journey. Each few inches I mark as shoe prints on this dusty trail are leaves in a memory book of my history. When I finally reach the center, where I can see the charcoal black remains of what once lived, I feel a sudden ease wash over me. I realize that everything that lives, dies. I see that even after death, there is rebirth. And whatever I was worried about before I set out on this small walk is but a distant memory.
I sit down atop the gray ash and pull out my journal. I write.

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Jennifer J. Wilhoit, PhD is a published author, spiritual ecologist, editor, writing mentor, hospice/bereavement volunteer, life and nature guide, consultant, and peacemaker; she founded TEALarbor stories through which she compassionately supports people’s deep storying processes. Her books, articles, and blogs focus on the human/nature relationship – what she calls “the inner/outer landscape.” Jennifer also offers presentations, workshops, and retreats. When she is not writing or working, she spends time hiking and making beauty in natural landscapes, reading, traveling (internationally, as often as possible), and dabbling in creative arts. Jennifer’s soul thrives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape where she lives. www.tealarborstories.com

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You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link.  We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Forest Therapy in Japan and its Possibility for the World

 In this month’s guest post we explore the Japanese concept of Shinrin-ryoho 森林療法 which translates as Forest Therapy.

This introductory note is contributed by Prof. Dr. Iwao Uehara. Iwao UEHARA means “A big rock on the upper field”. Dr. Iwao is a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and president of The Society of Forest Amenity and Human Health Promotion in Japan. He is also the founder of Forest Therapy (Shinrin-ryoho) in Japan since 1999. Prof. Iwao’s goal is to promote health of forests as well as human beings. 

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What is Forest Therapy and its Healing Effects?

Forest Therapy (Shinrin-ryoho) is promoting the health of both forests and human beings! Forests and the trees within them have many healing properties. They promote our health, prevent illness, provide relaxation opportunities, and a rehabilitation environment, can be a treatment place for disabilities, peaceful counseling space, and so forth. When we arrive in the forest, we sometimes pay more attention to oneself and one’s life. Walking and exercise in the forest also change our attitudes and perspectives. Trees also have many fascinating aspects for medical, art, and care utilization.

However, some forests are also ill, depressed, and having stress like us human beings. So, forest therapy is attempting to heal forest and human beings together. Working in the forest to improve it’s health, can be a very therapeutic experience.

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Examples of Forest Therapy and Forest Amenity Programs

There have been many examples of forest therapy and forest amenity programs in Japan.

First of all, Forest Walking. Walking is the simplest rehabilitation method and whole body exercise. Walking can prevent lifestyle related disease. In addition, individuals walking in the forest enjoy the landscape, fresh air, and natural environment.

Next, relaxation. It is quiet and peaceful in the forest. Relaxation in the forest inspires natural peace in our body and mind. It adjusts our nervous system balance too.

Third, rehabilitation. For clients after an operation, accident, and preparing to reintegrate with society, forest walking & working is one possible rehabilitation program.

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Fourth, treatment and occupational activities in the forest. Carrying logs & branches, clipping trees & clearing weeds, and planting trees are typical examples of occupational therapy.

Fifth, counseling. Counseling in the forest makes clients relax and sensitive. Forest amenities like landscape aesthetics, wind, fragrance, birds singing sometimes give useful hints to solve our problems and provide an ideal setting for traditional counseling approaches.

I hope you will design your own healing or health promoting programs using forests and trees as a setting and as inspiration.

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Case Studies of Forest Amenities

There have been already many invaluable case studies utilising forest amenities in Japan.

By experiencing forest activities for a long term and repeatedly, some clients with mental, psychological, and physical disabilities showed positive treatment effects! Their communication has also changed positively. Some experimental studies suggest that forest walking can reduce stress hormone, enhance immune function, and balance nervous system. Recently, some case studies of patients with Dementia found that they improved their communication ability greatly.

Occupational activities such as carrying logs or planting trees with teamwork are also used as one of the forest therapy exercises. Especially, for people with mental disabilities or memory disabilities, these activities are proving to be effective and restorative.

In addition, trees and forest have been sometimes worshipped as natural gods in Japanese culture. Such forests always provides counseling space for the people who have psychological problems.

Trees also have great possibilities for healing. For example, some trees provide medicine, herb tea, and fragrance which have certain healing effects. Forest therapy includes drinking and eating natural amenities, too. Cherry blossom tea is used for celebration in Japan. Berry tea is effective for decreasing high blood pressure.

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Possibilities of Forest and Tree Amenities in the world

Many people recently prefer to enjoy and exercise in the nature. There are beautiful green parks, mountains, and forests all over the world. Also, there are many fairy tales and local folk culture concerned with trees or forests. Therefore, world forests have a big potential for forest therapy programs everywhere. Let’s reconsider your familiar forests and develop the possibilities together!

In case you have any questions for Prof. Iwao Uehara, please add them in the comments section. Your questions and answers by Prof. Iwao will add to our collective knowledge.

For more information on his work please visit.
研究室HP www.geocities.jp/ueharaiwao/
みんなの森ブログ http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/ueharaiwao
日本森林保健学会 http://forest-and-human-health.jp/

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You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link.  We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Forest Wisdom from North America

Across the world in space and time, indigenous communities have lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. Their daily sustenance on the resources of the landscape – be it the forests or grasslands, the mountains or the valleys, the lakes or the oceans – are intricately intertwined with their traditional practices, religious beliefs, oral as well as cultural histories. This dependence on their surrounding natural environment has led almost all indigenous cultures to form an intangible bond with Gaia, Mother Earth, which moves beyond a solely materialistic interaction towards a deeper spiritual connection.

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In this post we catch a glimpse into some examples of the wisdom of indigenous people from the continent of North America.

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CANADA

People of the Moose Cree First Nation & Tla-o-qui-aht people of Clayoquot Sound

“Listening to the wind and to the river, it brings some calmness and serenity into your being. When I need healing, I go to the land.” Sophia Rabliauskas, Poplar River First Nation on the eastern shores of Lake Winnipeg

In the boreal forest ecosystems of Canada have lived and thrived hundreds of distinct Aboriginal and Metis communities (also referred to as the First Nations peoples) over many millennia. It is estimated that at least 600 indigenous communities are located in Canada’s forests today, communities whose culture and traditional practices are intimately twined with that of the land, the water and the forest creatures. Even as they engage in activities like hunting, gathering and fishing for themselves and their community, the relationship of the indigenous peoples is based upon their profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guides them to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity.

“Keeping our cultural alive is all about being part of the land, being part of the wildlife, the fish and the birds.” Stephen Kakfwi, Dene Nation

One of the interesting events for the people of Cree First Nation on James Bay is the annual spring goose hunt that corresponds to the migration of these birds. This is an important time for the community whereby the excitement of the hunt also corresponds to the passing down of cultural values.

Geese are a main staple food for the people of James Bay…This is one of the peoples’ most important seasonal cultural events. It’s a time for gathering, sharing, learning, and reconnecting ourselves to the land. Knowledge of values and morals are passed on and the traditional teachings associated with the hunt are shared. These include respect, patience, honour and gratefulness to name a few… The goose hunt is not just a goose hunt. There is so much more as it is a lifestyle from our ancestors and for future generations as well.” – Lilian Trapper, Land Use Planning Coordinator for the Moose Cree First Nation on James Bay

For the Tla-o-qui-aht peoples, who are the original inhabitants of Clayoquot Sound, usage of the forest resources were always based on certain laws and teachings, and this included the protection of intact rainforest and waters. In their system of tribal governance, the Hereditary Chiefs (known collectively as Ha`wiih) would be responsible for their Ha`huulthii (traditional territory), the people of their community and all matters pertaining to the forests, rivers, food, medicines, songs, dances, and ceremonies. In recent times, due to the threats of logging and modern developmental activities, the Tla-o-qui-aht have incorporated a watershed-by-watershed management system with the intent of conserving the resources within these areas for future generations. They have categorized the areas broadly as qwa siin hap (which loosely translates to “leave as it is”) and uuya thluk nish (which means “we take care of”). The latter category of land is meant to integrate human activities into the ecosystem while also taking care of its well-being.

In fact, the Tla-o-qui-aht declared Meares Island (Wah-nah-jus – Hilth-hoo-is) as a Tribal Park in 1984 – thus becoming the first indigenous community in Canada that actively took control over management of their tribal lands. Till date they have declared three additional Tribal Parks as a means to protect their forests, waters, and resources.

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Karuk people of California

The Karuk people live in the north-western corner of the state of California. ‘Karuk‘ means ‘upriver people’ referring to their proximity to the Klamath river, one of the important river ecosystems of North America. Like many other indigenous cultures around the world, the Karuks have used fire as an essential tool for land- and forest-management in order to convert the organic matter into fertilizers, cleanse the soil of pathogens, and increase the species richness of an area. Therefore, an essential link has been forged between the element of fire, the health of the land and the well-being of the Karuk community.

By way of prescribed burning i.e. using fire at the right time for the right reasons, the Karuks could grow traditional foods like huckleberries, acorns, salmon and elk, medicinal herbs like wormwood, willow, bear grass, and encourage hazel trees to produce straight shoots needed for basket-making. In riverine ecosystems, fire reduced invasive weeds and brush along the sides of the stream and improved water quality, thus boosting salmon population.

Before it was deemed an illegal practice in 1911 by the federal government, the traditional fire-management system of the Karuks protected the communities scattered in the hills along the Klamath river from wildfires. Now decades later there is a growing consensus among forest ecologists to incorporate the fire management practices of the Karuks into the modern framework so as to aid in the prevention of California’s notorious wildfires.

“If we’re going to restore fish, we have to use fire. If we’re going to restore acorns and huckleberries, we have to use fire. It’s not just waiting for lightning to strike.” – Frank Lake, the Forest Service ecologist

Pic by: Isabella Juskova

 

END Note: The healing of our society is intricately linked to the healing of our land. It’s because the environment we live in is not separate from us. What we learn from the wisdom of the land, helps us create a deeper understanding of our own interlinked lives.

This article was contributed by Romila Sil, a wandering soul who is on a journey to study the role of forests in the fostering of traditional and cultural ties in communities. Please add your insights in the comments section to grow our collective knowledge.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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Sharpening the 6th Sense

All the birds have flown away. The dogs in the village are showing signs of distress. The beach is eerily quiet.

This scene was taking place on Dec. 26, 2004 in many coastal habitats across the Indian ocean. Some time later the 3rd largest earthquake on record broke out in Indonesia. Following the earthquake, killer waves radiating from the epicentre slammed into the coastlines of 11 countries, causing massive damages from east Africa to Thailand.
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The world communicates with us through our senses.

Our perception of life is based on what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch. These senses help us navigate through life and create experiences which shape who we are, forming our concept of Self.

Other than the traditional five senses, humans have multiple other senses which are less talked about. Some of these additional senses include: ability to sense pain; sense of balance and orientation; sense of time; Ability to sense changes in temperature; and a sense of direction.

Is there something beyond these known sense perceptions? A hidden part of ourselves which can help us grow as individuals.

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THEN AND NOW

All across time, humans have relied on their senses to survive and thrive in the natural world. Trackers and indigenous tribes still use techniques that have been honed over centuries. For example, a small group of native American Indians known as ‘Shadow Wolves’ work on the US-Mexico border and use their skills to catch illegal drug traffickers.

In the modern age, our connection with the natural world has reduced drastically. Majority of our time is spent indoors and increasingly in front of screens. It is changing how we use and develop our senses. The two major outcomes are underutilisation of certain senses and a sensory overload of others.

Sensory overload occurs due to multiple reasons like city noise, overuse of electronic media, unhealthy diet and habits, etc. It impacts our mind and body and has a big effect on how we react to life or learn from it. Aggression, addiction, impulsivity, loneliness, stress are all linked intricately to our sense stimulation or lack of it.

Reconnecting with nature is a great antidote for restoring our wavering attention and rebalancing our emotions. Ample research findings now point to the various health benefits of spending time outdoors. However, at the edge of science lies one of the greatest gifts that nature has bestowed upon all living creatures in varying degrees.

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THE SIXTH SENSE

Science is interested in the diversity of life. And intuition is much more aware of the unity of life. ~ Joseph Bharat Cornell. Author of Sharing Nature.

The sixth sense is generally used as a metaphor for sensing something beyond our known physical senses. In the dictionary – ‘intuition’ is defined as a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

However a simpler and more relevant understanding of this term is linked to heightened awareness. Awareness of the self, of others around us and of the environment we live in.

A classic example comes from the many reports of certain animals and birds behaving radically, much before a natural disaster like an earthquake or a tsunami strikes. This reaction is attributed to the greater development of their senses which allows them to perceive subtle changes in nature.

People may have different interpretations for the sixth sense, but ultimately it is the ability to feel rather than think. So it is more about sensitivity rather than some special sense. By working on our own senses we can sharpen our awareness levels to be conscious of our own feelings in the present moment and make wiser choices for our future.

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SENSE EXERCISES

Here are some exercises to sharpen your sense experiences. Try them out in a natural setting, in pairs or small groups.

Before you start the walk, stand in silence and pay attention to your senses individually for a minute each. Observe your surroundings with intention and take in the various sights colours and patterns. Move on to hearing attentively. Close your eyes and listen to all the sounds around you for a minute. Then focus on your breath and try to notice the smell of the forest. Finally, feel the earth beneath your feet and be aware of the sun and wind on your skin.

During the walk, move slowly and in silence. Find an appropriate place in nature to pause and try out one of the exercises given below. Share your insights with each other before resuming the walk and then repeat the process.

Eyes: Take time to identify at-least 5 different colours present in your surrounding. Pay attention to each colour separately and as you spend some time with a particular colour notice how it makes you feel.

Ears: Keep your eyes closed and gradually rotate yourself in a circle to capture sounds coming from different parts of the environment. Feel the mood of the forest, from the sounds you hear.

Touch: Find a unique tree and feel it with your hands to memorise it’s shape, texture and contours. Then have your partner blindfold you and lead you to different trees to see whether you can recognise your tree with just the memory of your touch.

Nose: The sense of smell is our oldest sense. For the exercise, collect leaves or flowers from different plants around you. Choose any one and memorise it’s smell by keeping it close to your nose for a few seconds. Place it back in a disordered pile with other leaves and flowers. With your eyes closed, use your nose to pick out your chosen object.

Taste: Carry a fruit with you on your walk. Find a scenic spot to sit quietly and eat the fruit slowly. The aim is to create a memory of the experience. Notice the affect of the ambience on the taste of the fruit.
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Working on our senses opens the doors to having a richer experience of life and more importantly fosters a feeling of being alive.

We hope this article has given you some interesting ideas to think about. Our intuition says that the next time you are in nature and pay attention to your senses, you will discover something new about yourself.

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END NOTE: If you have any other sense exercises to share, please add them in the comments section to grow our collective learning. The Earth needs more sensitivity from humans, so that we can hear what it is saying and take actions to shape where we are going.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Depression Vs Nature

This week we explore how nature affects our mental health and some interesting ways to restore our mental balance.  Research says that one in six people will experience depression at some point in their life. Depression is a prolonged state of sadness which severely affects how one feels, thinks and acts. It can strike anyone, anytime and leads to a variety of physical and emotional problems that can affect one’s ability to function at work and home. In today’s stressful world it is important to become aware of how the environment we live in affects us and actively seek out ways to take care of our mental health. Let us take a journey into our mind, through nature.

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Note: This article covers tips to take care of our mental well being through nature. It is meant as a preventive plan of action and is beneficial for most people . Nature therapy is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment. People with serious psychiatric disorders should consult qualified medical practitioners and seek a balanced approach to treatment.

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ADVICE FROM A PSYCHOLOGIST

By 2020, mental health disorders, depression in particular, are projected to be overwhelming health-care concerns, and cities are far from a panacea for depression. Indeed, rates of depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are consistently reported to be much higher among urban residents. Here’s some good advice from Anita R., a clinical psychologist.

“Mental health remains one of the most problematic areas because it is least understood and yet the most stigmatised. People are still hesitant to ask for help. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everybody needs to go for help. There are a lot of things that we can do to prevent at least some of the seriousness of suffering.  I personally believe that it’s a balance that we are not able to bring about in our lives.

Things like looking after your wellness which includes physical fitness, eating the right kind of diet, avoiding certain kinds of unhealthy habits, getting on your nature walks, just spending time outside and, definitely working on your own self, your interests, your hobbies because that kind of all-around wellness gives you a much better safety net to manage mental health issues.

When we reconnect with nature I think the most important part for me is that you start reconnecting with yourself and for me that is a huge, huge way to improve your mental health because even if nobody else in the world tells you that you are a good person or a person of some worth, just reconnecting with yourself and helping yourself to see what you truly are can make you a much happier person.”

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WALK IN THE WOODS

Here’s a list of some simple forest meditations to try out in nature.

Sense walk – Walk or sit silently in the forest. Focus on any one sense at a time for a short period of 5 to 10 minutes. Make a note of all the unique things you can observe and sense. Repeat the exercise with another of your senses. Notice how each sense reveals something new about the nature around us. The aim of this exercise is to bring us into the present moment and stop our thoughts from leaping into the past or future.

Gratitude tree – The aim of this exercise is to create a picture of a tree on the ground with things you find fallen around you. Every branch of the tree you create should be decorated with something you are grateful for. Find things to be grateful for in nature, in people around you and in your self.

Soaking in the forest – Find a place in the woods that calls out to you. Sit silently and observe the peace in nature around you. Imagine every pore in your skin is soaking in this tranquility and absorbing the calm of the forest like a sponge. Carry the calm of the forest back with you and return to it anytime you need it.

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SCIENCE

A group of researchers from Stanford University thought the nature effect might have something to do with reducing rumination. Rumination is what happens when you get really sad, and you can’t stop thinking about your glumness and what’s causing it: the breakup, the layoff, that biting remark. Rumination shows up as increased activity in a brain region called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a narrow band in the lower part of the brain that regulates negative emotions. If rumination continues for too long unabated, depression can set it.

In general, decreases in rumination are linked to so-called “positive distractions,” like taking part in a hobby or enjoying a long chat with a friend. You’d think that walking in uninterrupted nature wouldn’t provide many diversions from a whorl of dark thoughts. Surprisingly, the opposite seemed to be true: Natural environments are more restorative, the authors write, and thus confer greater psychological benefits. (article link)

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Almost all antidepressant medications are thought to work by enhancing the availability of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone used in nerve cell communication hence it is also called “the happy chemical.”

There are many ways we can enhance the production of serotonin in our brain, naturally. Exercise is one of them, so is sunlight and spending time in nature. After a nature session, brain scans showed a sizeable reduction of blood flow to the region of our brain linked to sadness, withdrawal and general grumpiness.

Using nature to bring back awe, wonder and fascination in our lives can help short-circuit the spiralling cycle of depressive thoughts.

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END NOTE: Ultimately each one of us has to take the responsibility for our own mental health and well being. Reconnecting with nature is a simple and effective way. If you have any personal stories of healing to share, please add them in the comments section to inspire others.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Photos of Peace

Is it possible to capture calm? So that we may return to it when we need it. Can we freeze a moment of serenity and save it? So that it can be shared to spread some peace in turbulent times.

This month we explore some engaging games and activities in nature, based on the art of photography. Almost all smartphones carry a camera now. While we are often caught up in it’s web of apps, there are simple ways to use this tool for helping us find our calm and creativity.

Let’s see how we can turn our device of distraction into a mode of meditation.

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SCIENCE

Our visual sense is the strongest sense. We are influenced by the quality of light, the colour of light and also the source it comes from. It affects our mood as well as energy levels. The colours of nature soothe our mind and the play of light in the forest helps to break our pattern of thoughts. Certain fractals, the geometric self-repeating patterns present abundantly in nature activate the parts in our brain, which are involved with regulating emotions. It is the same region, which is active while listening to music.

Being out in nature has multiple benefits for our mental, physical and emotional health. Check out some interesting links, films and articles on our resources page. Large scale research from UK, found fewer cases of disease amongst people who lived near parks or open green spaces. Studies also showed that people with no windows or unattractive views took longer to recover when compared to those who could see trees and grass from their hospital windows. Similarly classrooms with windows revealed better performance by students and lesser incidents of violent behaviour.

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ACTIVITIES

Here’s a set of creative exercises in nature that use the camera to create some calm. You can try them on your own, but it’s more fun when you go out with a group of friends. It’s a great way to get new insights and create new bonds.

Directions: The only points to note are – move in silence and go slow. Think less and feel more.  Spend 10-15 minutes for each activity in a particular area. Group together to share your pictures and thoughts for a few minutes. Walk in silence for 10-15 min to another area before continuing the next activity.Cone-web

Close-up
Take a close-up shot of something in nature that represents a part of you. Look closely, open your senses and start observing. Connections will begin to appear. Notice the things that you connect to.

Library of Textures and Patterns
Become aware of the myriad textures and patterns that are present in nature. In the bark of tree, among rocks by the river, in the wings of a butterfly…and so much more. Try and capture some calming textures and patterns on your walk.

Visual Story
Create a story through a set of images. No words required. Build a relationship between your images and your imagination. When doing this activity in a group, you can either choose a theme for the story before you start or share your pictures in a circle and see what story emerges.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
~Ansel Adams

Snapshot of silence
Take a few minutes to compose a picture in your head that evokes peace and stillness. As you walk in nature try to recreate a frame which comes close to the picture in your mind or click a picture that echoes the same emotions.

Portrait of a tree
Get to know a tree. Look at it from different angles. Try to find out it’s story. Once you have spent some time with the tree, capture the essence of the tree in a portrait shot. If you’d like to know more about your tree later, you can download the plantsnap app.

* If you have a group size larger than 10 people, it is advisable to break into smaller groups of 5 or 6 for sharing and discussion at the end of each activity. It will save time. Remember, conversations with nature should take priority over conversations with people in this walk.

Photos-of-peace-poster-webDownload a free poster to create an event. You can easily add details in the blank space using sites like Canva.com | Download link

FILM

We are creating a collaborative short film to explain this concept and spread it to a larger audience. If you would like to join in, simply send us a set of your pictures based on the games mentioned above. We will make a selection from all the entries and create a montage film.

Please note: Only share pictures that have been taken by you or those for which you have permission. You may post your pictures on our Facebook group. Or send it by email : healingforest(dot)org(at)gmail(dot) com
Last date for submission of pictures is 15th October 2018. Please use #photosofpeace when posting the pictures on our fb group or in the subject line of your email.

This film is being created in the giving spirit of the trees. There will be no names, no sponsors and no logos in the film. All people will be free to use the film as they please. A download link to the film will be available to all participants by 31st October 2018.

* List of people and cities participating. Join our Facebook group or add your name and city in the comments to show your support in case you plan to participate and we’ll update our list.

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“A photo is not just a memory of a moment, it is also an expression of You”

END NOTE: Let us know your experience when you get a chance to try out these wonderful games and activities.  If you have more recommendations for some fun nature based activities with the camera, please add them in the comments below to grow our collective knowledge.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

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India’s Healing Forests

Explore some fascinating forests across India and find out the remarkable ways in which forests can heal our body, mind and spirit.
Film Duration: 51 minutes | Language: English

TRAILER

REVIEWS

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India’s Healing Forests is a remarkable and enlightening exploration of the many ways that the well-being of people is deeply interwoven with forests. The film demonstrates that at all times on our life’s journey — from childhood to death — our relationships with trees and other forest creatures are vital parts of our lives. This is a reciprocal relationship: in our modern world we need forests and forests need our care.” ~ David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and Pulitzer finalist, The Forest Unseen. Professor, University of the South.”

To be the first to catch the film when it comes to your city / know when it is telecast / get the youtube link when it is uploaded simply fill in this google form:
https://goo.gl/forms/6236h6wJDSIua94G3

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DIRECTOR’S NOTE

All our knowledge comes from nature and yet nature is a source of many mysteries.

Travel with us on a journey through lush rainforests, sacred groves, cloud forests, city forests, food forests and deep valleys of the Himalayas to unravel some of these mysteries.

India is a country of breathtaking natural beauty. What is less known is India’s wealth of ancient knowledge about connecting with nature to create a more meaningful life. New science as well as ancient wisdom is telling us something of great importance. The environment we live in is linked to our health. It affects us. It alters us. It is not separate from us.

The film unfolds through inspiring stories of people whose lives are intricately woven with forests. Through their insights as well as scientific findings we explore the remarkable healing powers of nature.

We hope to leave you with a feeling of calm and clarity, and some important clues to help you solve one of the greatest mysteries of your life – How to create a healthier, happier life for yourself and your loved ones.

The forests are waiting.
Come home.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Here’s a link to some of the groups and initiatives featured in the film:

Chirag School, Kumaon | Prakriya Green Wisdom School, Bangalore | Pravah, New Delhi | New Delhi Nature Society | Sadhana Forest, Auroville | Green Hub | Hindustan Kalarisangam, Kerala | Journeys with Meaning | Mawphlang Sacred Forest, Meghalaya | Foundation for Contemplation of Nature | Aranyaani Natural Food Forest | Sehat Van | Lung Care Foundation | I am Gurgaon | Anita Rajah, Clinical Psychologist | Alaap, Kumaon | Navdarshanam, Tamil Nadu | Institute of Palliative Medicine, Kerala | Aranyaka Upanishad, Uttarakhand || Healing Forest Walks

Film Credits:
Film: Nitin Das | Producer & Commissioning Editor: Rajiv Mehrotra | Executive Producers: Tulika Srivastava and Ridhima Mehra | Music: Borrtex | Voice: Mina Lepps | Assistant: Arghadeep Barua | Advice on Sound: Asheesh Pandya | Constructive feedback: Sudhir Tandon, Sunil Chauhan, Neelam Ahluwalia

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FORESTS AND YOU

In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, we are spending lesser time in nature. Signs of this rapid change are showing up not just in our own health but also the health of our society and our planet.

This film is a great tool to reconnect people with nature because it shows the multiple benefits of nature across different age groups. Perhaps you may see a little bit of your own life reflected in parts of this film. What you may also find are some simple ideas to overcome challenges that appear at different stages of our life.

We hope you will join us to hear what the forests have to tell you.

 

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Please fill this google form to know when the film is telecast or when it is available to watch online for free or when a screening + nature walk is organised in your city.

https://goo.gl/forms/6236h6wJDSIua94G3

Beyond the film, the idea is also to introduce the concept of healing forest walks to you. Along with the film details, we’ll send you an excellent collection of forest games and activities. For more information on healing forests you can visit our resources page.

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Children of Nature

In this month’s guest post Monique from USA shares an excellent collection of nature activities that help in building and shaping the inner nature of children.

Monique is a mother of three children and was an Early Childhood Educator and an Early Intervention Specialist. She has an educational background in Psychology and currently runs a blog called Green Acorns.

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Let’s take a look at some ways we can spark children’s curiosity, ignite their enthusiasm, and guide their interests into meaningful experiences…

Start Small

It can be hard to know where to begin when introducing nature activities. Try starting small right in your own yard (or schoolyard, closest park, etc.) In fact, all it takes is one square foot of space.

Create a 12-inch square frame out of string or cardboard or any other available material and lay it on the ground. Have your child get right down on his belly and observe. At first it may seem like there’s not much to notice but be patient… things will come into view. Perhaps he’ll notice insect activity or different types of plants or different colors of dirt. Try it again in a different spot. Did he notice any similarities? Anything different? Do it with him, side by side. Share what you notice and then switch places. Did either of you notice anything that the other hadn’t? Notice even more details using a magnifying glass.

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Listen Closely

This activity comes from Joseph Cornell’s ‘Sharing Nature with Children’.

You will need a sheet of paper, a clipboard or other firm surface, and a pencil. Have your child mark an ‘X’ in the center of the paper to indicate her location. Your child then sits quietly and whenever she hears a sound, marks the approximate location with a simple representative symbol or word. She can listen with her eyes closed to help focus better on just the sounds.

When she is done review the map with her. Ask some questions. Were there more sounds from nature than man-made noise? Were there any sounds she hadn’t noticed before? Did she find some pleasant? Some not pleasant? Could she identify all the sounds?

You may be surprised at how long a child can sit quietly for this activity and may find that she wants to do it again. My children enjoy this activity and like to compare their sound maps with each other. They often find that one noticed a sound that the other didn’t or noticed more nuances about a certain sound. It’s quite an engaging activity that really heightens one’s awareness.

Taking it further: This can be expanded into the practice of “sit spots” and I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful way for anyone to develop an intimate relationship with nearby nature. Check out Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature to learn more.

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Wonder Together

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel carson

When you are out in nature with your child, role model curiosity. Point out what you are noticing, from the smallest flower to the tallest tree. Wonder aloud. Ask your child what they hear, see, smell, feel and notice. Be intentional about it doing it regularly. Soon it

will become habit for you and your child whenever you are outside, wherever that may be.

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Record It

Create a personal record of the nature around you by keeping a nature journal. What is a nature journal? Simply put, it is “the regular recording of observation, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world”. (Clare Walker Leslie, Keeping a Nature Journal)

The act of nature journaling encourages us to become keen observers of details and seasonal rhythms and deepens our understanding of the natural world. It reinforces our nature connections and it stimulates reflection on experiences, thoughts and emotions. It helps us remember what has been observed and learned, cultivates on-going curiosity and contributes to establishing a sense of place.

Developing the habit of nature journal can be tricky. Make it inviting. Keep it simple. Encourage it but let it be optional. Let your child record in whatever way he would like (sketches, poems, photos, brief descriptions, pressed plant samples, etc.). Do it together. Review and reflect on past entries occasionally.

Check out these resources for inspiration and how-to’s:

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Invite Nature Inside

“Children become interested in natural history because they are natural collectors.” -Sir David Attenborough

This suggestion may be controversial as many people firmly believe that the “leave what you find” principle is always best practice. I agree with Sir David Attenborough and here’s why…

While collecting, your child is gathering information about the natural world through his senses. He is looking, touching, smelling, listening, maybe even tasting. He may also be utilizing his vestibular (movement and balance) and proprioception (body awareness) systems as he navigates the landscape. Combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more connections made within the brain and the result is a more thorough, meaningful learning experience. Just as importantly, allowing your child to collect the nature that excites him is an affirmation of his interest. It nurtures his natural sense of curiosity and sparks further exploration and inquiry.

If you don’t already have a designated area in your home for displaying nature finds, this is the perfect time to create one. A low table or shelf will do. Display appropriate items within your child’s reach so that he may explore them at any time. Add magnifying glasses, reference books or materials for play to the area. Change the items seasonally.

You may find some inspiration here and here.

Note: never collect from private land, parks or preserves. Only collect what is found on the ground or in abundance. Know the relevant laws in your state/ country on what is considered protected. Minimize your impact and always respect nature.

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BENEFITS OF NATURE ACTIVITIES

I had a childhood like many of my generation and before – long stretches of time spent outside engaged in unstructured play, free to roam and interact with nature, no gadgets or tools except my imagination and ingenuity. My husband and I were intentional in providing similar opportunities for our children. Making personal nature connections and having the freedom to explore and discover one’s own place in it is not just nostalgia of a bygone time. Nor is it a privilege of a select group. It should be considered a basic right of childhood and is a necessity for a healthy life.

Increasing science-based evidence tells us that time spent in nature is good for us. A quick online search will lead you to some of the studies in a promising, growing collection. Benefits being reported include:

  • reduced stress and anxiety and lower risk of depression
  • improved blood pressure and cholesterol
  • better able to direct attention / focus
  • feeling more positive emotions and outlook on life
  • an increase in compassion, generosity and other prosocial behaviors.

For children who play in nature, some additional benefits have been noted including:

  • reduced risk of obesity and diabetes
  • decreased risk of developing near-sightedness and requiring glasses
  • reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorder
  • increased likeliness of engaging in imaginative / creative play & improvedcollaborative skills
  • enhancement of motor skills (balance & stability, coordination, agility)
  • improved awareness, reasoning and observational skills
  • increased autonomy and decision-making skills.

Why all the research? Because unstructured time in nature has become rarer and the natural places which children can claim for their own to become intimate with, to create new worlds in, to observe the ways of nature and just be are harder to find. Because we have become disconnected humans and our children are following suit. With a few basic tools, however, we can set children on the path to life-long nature connections. In the words of Richard Louv, it is up to us “to restore the broken bond between children and nature” and in the process we may just restore our own.

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END NOTE

I hope these activities will set you well on your way to nurturing your child’s nature connections.

You can find additional activity ideas, monthly nature prompts and more on my blog, Green Acorns. I also host Noticing Nature on Facebook – a free, private, family-friendly group where you will find inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year.

Fondly, Monique

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animal-Deer-smallLet us know your experience when you get a chance to try out these wonderful games and activities.  If you have more recommendations for some fun nature based activities, please add them in the comments below to grow our collective knowledge.

You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

 

Words that heal

CREATIVE WRITING IN NATURE

Writing is therapeutic. Writing in nature – meditative.

Writing helps to give direction to our thoughts. From clouds of voluminous chatter in the mind, words drop on to paper like gentle rain, turning into streams of sentences. These streams follow their own path to uncover what is hidden and discover what is waiting to be discovered. It is a way to ignite creativity, curiosity and a deeper enquiry into the self.

Writing about nature leads to an increased awareness of our surroundings. This simple activity is an exercise to enhance our attention and also become aware of our own state of being. Nature is a place where one can observe our outer and inner landscape. Every person has a unique way of perceiving life and things around them. You begin to discover this uniqueness when you channelise your memories and imagination in a creative way.

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Writing in nature is a also a way to reconnect to a calmer self. Putting words on paper brings us back into the present moment and by paying attention to our senses and breath we can reach a state of relaxed ease. When one is relaxed and calm, it is easier to get creative insights about the questions in our mind.

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WRITING GAMES IN NATURE

Our mind is a forest of memories, ideas and observations. Let us explore the power of words to rediscover the nature around us and the nature within us.

Given below is a list of simple writing games which can be incorporated into an engaging walk for all age groups. The aim of these games is to build your awareness and curiosity. We hope this practise leads you to calm, creativity and clarity.

  • Senses: Pick any one of the senses. Describe your surroundings keeping that sense in focus.
  • Objects: Choose any object in nature, create a puzzle around it. Let others in the group guess what object you picked.
  • Emotions: Take an emotion that you are feeling. Include it in a 3 line poem.
  • Characters: Pick the oldest tree around or a tree that is special to you. Spend time with it and write the story of its life.

If you send your poems, puzzles, stories or reflections from the nature walk to us, we will curate them into a meditative collection called ‘Nature Notes

Please share it with friends who may find it of interest. Here’s a link to download some posters, in case you’d like to create an event for people in your city.

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NATURE NOTES

Fewer people are spending time in nature these days. This distance is affecting our health – as individuals, as a society and also as a planet. To counter this unhealthy trend we’d like to invite you to participate in a collaborative project.

Please send us you writing on nature and join our collective of like minded nature loving friends. You can submit your writing on our Facebook group .

The intention of this idea is to bring nature back into conversations and inspire more people to connect with forests in creative ways. Let’s do this as a collective.

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END NOTE:
Please subscribe to our free monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and suggestions for more writing games. Please add them in the comments section below to grow our collective learning.

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