How do you create joy out of nothing? Take a Joy Walk in nature to unlock the happiness hidden within your body. Joy Walk is a unique experience filled with fun activities that show you how to tap nature and movement to make the invisible, visible.

Our modern lifestyles often fix our body posture into set routines. You follow a daily and weekly schedule with a limited range of activities. As a result, a lot of our actions and emotions become restricted and brittle. The negative effects reveal themselves over time.

The Joy walk releases trapped emotions and hidden stress within the body. Through the creative ideas, you bring fluidity and flexibility not just to your body, but also to your mind.

Joy Walk Guidelines

Here are the simple principles of Joy walk, captured in 3 lines.

When you move, create harmony

When you are still, create awareness

Being in rhythm with nature, create joy

Do not force you body to perform. Let the movements happen naturally. Create a flow and go with it. There is no need to carry any props or music for the walk. The sounds and gifts of nature are enough.

Joy Walk Activities

Typically the duration of the Joy Walk ranges from 60~120 minutes. Take a slow walk through nature and pause at regular intervals to carry out the different activities mentioned below. The design of Joy Walk moves from group engagements to pairs and ends with solo time in nature. Feel free to experiment, modify, and adapt.

Leaf Dance
The group forms a circle and raise their hands up in the air. Pretend the hands are leaves on a tree. A gentle breeze blows, creating a wave that moves along the circle. Slowly the wind starts picking up speed swaying the leaves with increasing gust. And then a storm comes and blows all the leaves away. The leaves dance away in the wind and finally come to rest on the ground.

Who am I dance
Each person introduces themselves as an object from nature. Instead of stating the name, the participant has to depict the nature object through movement or a dance. 

After each introduction the entire group copies the move.

Weather In Your Heart
A variation of the introduction exercise: Participants are asked to introduce themselves through a movement that depicts the weather in their heart. It’s an interesting way to connect with our inner state of being. Also to observe that just like the weather, it keeps changing.

Tiger and Deer (Optional)
In this fun activity, we mimic a play from nature. The group forms a circle. A moderator takes a round outside the circle and secretly taps any one participant on the back. The chosen member is the tiger, while the rest of the group are deer. When the moderator gives the signal, all members start walking around inside the circle.

The deer have to try and guess who the tiger is. If anyone makes a wrong guess they will have to move out. Meanwhile the tiger can kill any deer by looking into their eyes and blinking. Any deer who gets blinked at, has to quietly fall to the ground.

In the next round, moderator can choose more than one tiger without telling the others. Sit back and enjoy the confusion that ensues.

Nature Vistas 
Form small groups. The moderator calls out any landscape or creature from nature. All groups have to arrange themselves in a form that depicts the landscape or creature. The moderator does a reverse countdown: 10, 9, 8,…1

On the count of 1 all groups have to freeze and hold still.

When the moderator points at any group, they add movement to the formation that has been created. For example: If they made a cow, then the cow has to move when the moderator points to them. If they created a rainforest, then the group brings the rainforest to life.

Lake Dance
Form pairs. One person from each pair becomes a silent still lake, and mirrors the actions of the partner. Reflect not just the actions but also the emotions.

Switch roles between the partners after a few minutes.

Prey and Predator
This activity is also done in pairs. Choose any prey and predator from nature.

Each pair has to create a one minute performance – revealing the prey first, then the predator and finally the confrontation between the prey and predator.

Life’s Journey
Create small groups of 4-5 people. One person in each group becomes the sound for the team. Together the group has to pick up any species in nature and depict its entire life-journey in 2 minutes. The performers can move but not speak. The voice person can narrate the story or add sound effects.

Dance of Stillness
End the walk by giving each participant 5 minutes of quiet time in nature. Ask them to observe the dance of nature. Notice not just the things which are moving but also the movement within stillness. Imagine the flow of water pulsing within trees. Imagine the blood coursing in our body. Imagine the Earth moving through space. And imagine the river of time carrying us all. Every atom in the universe is in motion.

At the end of the quiet time, there can be a closing circle for participants to share any insights or experiences from the Joy Walk.

Joy Walk: Movement, Mind, Nature

53 years ago Marian Chace began using dance to help severely disturbed psychiatric patients in a Washington hospital. Her pioneering work and teaching lay the groundwork for the field of movement therapy, which its practitioners define as the guided use of movement to bring about changes in feeling, cognition, physical functioning and behaviour.

“There is a misconception that movement therapists work just with the body. In fact, they work through the body to make the unconscious available.”

~ Jean Seibel

By combining Movement and Nature we are able to amplify the benefits of both. The latest research has shown that connecting with Nature has a wide variety of benefits for our mind, body, and relationship skills. You can learn more about it through the charming Japanese practice of Forest Bathing.

Given the limited time we get to spend outdoors, this Joy walk can help you bring about a range of positive changes. It allows people of different age groups to come together for a joyful experience – creating happiness, wisdom, and growth.

Let us know what you think of the Joy Walk. We rely on you to helps us spread the joy. Please share this page with friends who might find it useful.

END NOTE:
If you haven’t already, you can join our Nature Inspiration Newsletter to get new ideas and inspiration each month. To collect more walks and many other tools, try our Nature Calm course.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Peace walk introduces you to a novel concept that creates calm through nature and images. Learn how to add a few mindful activities to your walk, creating moments of tranquility and peace. It also offers a simple way to grow harmony and understanding between friends and family.

Peace is a strange bird. The more you look for it, the harder it is to find.

As a species we have evolved in nature. Therefore, returning to nature affects our mind, body and mood in many positive ways. For our peace walk, we will utilise the cameras in our smart phone to train our mind as well as create a highly memorable experience.

Our phones are usually the reason for our fragmented attention spans and many people are hooked to their screens. Let’s see if we can turn our device of  distraction into a mode of meditation, and in the process break our screen addictions.

This walk is part of our free Nature Play programme of 12 magical walks. Every month we share new activities to learn highly useful life skills from nature.

How to create walks that create change.
Nature Play >>

Peace Walk Rules

  • You can only take 1 picture per exercise. It’s not about taking the perfect picture. It’s about capturing the emotion you feel in that moment. Try and carry out the exercise in silence – allowing space for each person to find their special moment.
  • At the end of each exercise, there is a circle of sharing in small groups of 5 or less. Participants share the pictures they have taken as well as any insights or learning that might occur.

Why does the mindful photography walk work? This walk works by engaging the creative side of our mind. Photography helps us bring our attention to the present moment. By restricting the number of photos one can take, we become more mindful of our thoughts and emotions. The different activity themes have been carefully chosen. They help us observe the wonders of nature and find wonderful insights that we can apply to our lives. Finally, the act of sharing after each activity turns individual experience into a collective experience.

Peace Walk Activities

Up Close
In the first round, participants are asked to take a close-up shot of something beautiful in nature. Close-ups help us observe and appreciate the tiny wonders that are often overlooked. They fill our mind with wonder and awe and make us more open to experiencing the many gifts of nature.

Peace-walk-close-up

Slow
In the next section ask people to take a picture that captures the essence of the word ‘Slow’.  The aim is not just to take a picture but also slow down your own pace. Slow down your thoughts. Open your senses so that you can be in sync with the rhythm of nature.

Contrast
In the next round we capture one image that represents ‘Contrast’ in nature. Try to avoid cliche of ‘Life and Death’. Look for an unusual example of contrasts as you will find that nature abounds in contrasts – so does our mind.

Patterns
Look for interesting patterns in nature. Capture a beautiful pattern that calls out to you. Reflect on the patterns in our own life, as we are part of nature too. In the sharing session at the end of this section, participants can also share something about their personal patterns.

The Invisible Photograph
Participants are asked to capture something invisible. It is an open-ended prompt and all interpretations are welcome. This activity lays importance on the idea behind the image and noticing the emotion captured in the photograph. The art of making the invisible visible, is also an unusual way of observing how our mind works.

The Mind Camera
End  your walk by asking participants to put away their phones. Simply walk in silence and create a mental snapshot of the forest in your head. A memorable image that you would like to carry back with you. Participants end the walk with a closing circle and talk about the image in their head. This simple activity will expand your calm to a whole new level.

Peace Walk Take-aways

Some of the key take aways from this walk are that we get to learn the stories behind the images. Through the stories we are able to get a glimpse into our own minds as well as the minds of others.

The peace walk creates a wonderful connection with others when it is done in groups. The peaceful ambience of nature combined with the creative activity brings people closer to each other.

Finally, we understand that the best image one can take is not with a camera, but with the mind. The ability to carry a peaceful image in our mind is a priceless gift. It’s because we can turn to it whenever we need it the most.

Each walk is unique. There are many other interesting insights that your walks will generate. Feel free to share them with us in the comments.

Peace Walk Experiment

Let’s try a learning experiment. Please share this page with friends who might enjoy the exercise but may not be in the same city as you. Ask them to send you 5 pictures from the activities above. As a group you can then create a whatsapp / zoom call for sharing the stories behind your images and theirs.

It’s a great way to see pictures of nature from different parts of the planet, and to create a unique sharing experience where we learn and grow with each other.

You can also post pictures and insights from your Peace Walk on our Facebook group. Use the hash tag #peacewalk and #healingforest. A few lucky contributors will get a surprise gift from us.

END NOTE:
If you haven’t already, do join our Nature Play Walks to get an update on new walks each month. The next walk focuses on how to make better decisions with help from nature.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Story Walk – Creativity Through Nature

Let us learn how to weave stories in nature and grow our creative side. Discover some beautiful ideas to create a story walk in your neighbourhood and make use of those stories to create new connections – with each other as well as with nature.

The Story Walk is part of our Nature Play initiative: a monthly program for parents, teachers, and their tormentors.

In a thought provoking talk by Sir Ken Robinson, he talks about the role of creativity in our lives. He says, “Nobody has a clue despite all the expertise, what the world will look like in the future. And yet, we’re meant to be educating for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

This article has a collection of creative prompts that introduce you to the basic principles of story-telling and show you a simple format for inventing engaging short stories. Tap into your imagination with these ideas and see what stories find their way into your mind.

“Seeds of stories, can create a forest of friends”

~ healingforest.org

Story Walk – Activities

A story walk session typically takes about 60~90 minutes. It is suitable for all age groups and creates more delightful results when people of different ages participate together.

Give around 15 minutes for each activity – 10 minutes for exploring, walking, writing and 5 minutes for sharing the stories. If there are a large number of participants, create smaller groups of 5 or less for sharing. Smaller groups create more meaningful engagements.

Any safe space in nature works for a story walk. Make pairs to create responsibility and manage the group better. At the end of each activity, have pre-decided meeting points for sharing stories from that section. These ideas are mere suggestions. Feel free to make your own. Stay creative.

GROUP STORY: Each person adds a line to create a story. Alternate people add positive and negative twists. E.g: Person a> Boy falls into a ditch  Person b> He finds a diamond… Person c> But a magpie steal it from his hand…..and so on.
* One of the simplest principles of creating good stories is to add twists and turns. A good story is seldom predictable. Just like nature.

HEROES & VILLAINS: Take a short nature walk. Find or create ‘Hero and Villain’ pairs. E.g: Flower and thorn | Light and shadow.
* Creating opposites, creates interesting characters. And all characters are defined by their relationship to each other. Observe nature deeply and you will find struggle and conflict but also co-operation and companionship.

ONE LINE STORY: Create a story in one line. The story should have a hero and a villain. (The villain can even be a challenging situation in life) E.g: The crow liked to sing, but had no audience.
* Sometimes one can feel creatively challenged or stuck. One line stories are like tiny seeds that can grow into a huge tree over time. Learning to create one line stories gives you the ability to understand the heart of a story.

TREE STORY: Find an interesting tree and tell its story. (Maximum 3 lines)
* There is a story hidden in every object of nature. By observing nature through all our senses, we can learn how to bring these invisible stories to life. And telling stories from nature is a wonderful way of deepening our relationship with it.

TURNING POINTS: Divide into pairs. Tell each other two turning points from your own life-story. One bad, one good. 
* Humans are part of nature too. And like everything else, each one of us carries our own unique story. Sharing the turning points of life helps us give a brief window to others about our journey through time.

FUTURE STORY: Use your imagination to travel into the future. Write a story from the future for your present self.
* This closing exercise allows participants to spend some solo time in nature. Reflecting on Time in nature is a humbling and meditative experience. The gift of storytelling helps us connect with our present self and imagine new possibilities for the future.

Here’s a short summary of the story activities in a handy poster that you can save for use later. Feel free to add more ideas for the ‘Story Walk’ in the comments section, so that others can learn and experiment with them later. Do add stories from your walks to our Facebook group and check out some amazing forest stories from around the world.

Story Walk
*Poster download link at the end of the article.

How Story Walks Enhance Creativity

“We know two things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinaesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”
~Sir Ken Robinson

Nature provides space for imaginative play. The focus is on learning through experience. Because all our senses are engaged, learning in nature is more long lasting.The brain gets a boost from the elements of nature, and interactions with others. It leads to increased confidence and creativity, resulting in enhanced problem solving skills. However, the biggest benefit that comes from Story walks is the unhindered flow of ideas. The stories you write are seeds that can create a forest of friends.

Story Walk: Closure + Contest

Our minds have extraordinary capacities, and creativity enables us to face the many challenges of an uncertain future. In fact it is the creative people who will be responsible for shaping the future we step into. 

Earth needs more storytellers and stories from nature, so that we can raise awareness about the unprecedented change that is facing our planet. We hope you will get a chance to try out the story walk. Add your stories to our Facebook group – ‘Art of Nature’ and a few participants will get a surprise gift from us. Download the Story Walk poster here.

Please share this post so it reaches those who will find it useful.

How can we grow our mind with nature? Let us introduce you to Mind Play walks, with activities that boost your attention span, observation, imagination, and emotional intelligence.

Just like we nourish our body with food, we can develop our mind through the play of our senses. It’s because the things we sense affects the things we think, feel, and learn. With the help of nature outside, we get a chance to understand our own inner nature and expand our mind.

This post is part of our Nature Play Walks, where we share some unique ideas each month to grow your mind with nature.

Here’s a wonderful Native American story about an Indian chief and his grandson. The Chief says, “A fight is going on inside my mind. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil – he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, false pride, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, kindness, humility, and compassion. This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thinks about it for a minute and asks his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief replies, “The one you feed.”


Mind Play Walk

UNITS: These activities have the greatest effect when done in small groups. As you head out into nature, it’s best to create pairs and give them responsibility for each other. Furthermore, create small units of 6~8 people (3 or 4 pairs in a unit). This will not only make the walk more manageable, but also create better sharing and bonding between the smaller units.

Start with a short 10 minute walk in nature. Go slow. Talk less. Feel more.

Mind Play: One Thing

Stand in a circle. The group leader shares 1 thing in nature which is bringing them calm. All participants try and sense that 1 thing in silence for 30 seconds. Repeat the process with the next participant, until the circle is complete.

Insight: This exercise helps us calm down,  and be present to nature. Sharing our sense with each other grows our awareness and enriches our experience of nature. 

Mind Play: Who Am I

Participants take a short 10 minute walk in nature. Each person finds something in nature which represents them as a person. Regroup after the walk to share your object and why you chose it.

Insight: This activity helps us get to know each other better and the values we hold dear. It is also a good way of seeing yourself reflected in nature.

Mind Play: Game of Imagination

Place all the objects collected in the last round in the center of a circle. Pick up any object from the pile and ask group members to use their imagination to turn this object into something else. For e.g: A long stick can become a flying broom, or a microphone stand or a paddle for a boat. Participants can’t name the new object but have to enact it out. The others try and guess what the object is being turned into. See how many different things one object can become, before moving on to the next one.

Mind Play: I Spy

This is a game to sharpen your observation, focus, and attention. As the group walks in nature, the leader finds something unique or interesting and calls out its name by saying “I spy a …(name of object – e.g mushroom / owl / blue flower). The first member in the group to spot the object, becomes the lead and gets to call out the next interesting object.

Mind Play: Connections

This is the last activity for the group and is linked to the ‘Who Am I‘ activity. Everyone stands in a circle, with members who chose object that are most similar standing next to each other in a cluster. So people who chose to be some kind of tree or plant will stand next to each other as a small group. In the second stage, those who don’t have any partner will try and find a connection with another person or group that is related to their nature object. For example – birds can join the trees. The clouds can join the rivers. Participants declare their connection before merging into a larger group. The cycle repeats until there is only one big group left. End the activity with a group hug.

Insight: To grow in life, one has to form connections with others. Those who are similar to us as well as those who are different. This activity teaches us about the interconnectedness of life and we learn how to create meaningful connections with others.

All of us are different. But we share the same home – our Earth. And all life is deeply connected to each other. That is the secret. We are all part of Nature’s Play.

These mind play ideas not only help us create meaningful walks, but when the insights gained from the walk are applied to our lives they help us create a meaningful world.

Mind Play Walks: Closure

Keep a small note book or journal where you can pen down your thoughts and insights after the walk. Journaling is a very important part of the learning process. It helps us preserve the experience and strengthens our growth. The notebook allows us to revisit the reflections, so that one can relive the experience of the nature walk. It also gives us a source of ideas and insights that we can turn to, in our time of need. Do share your insights in the comments or on our Facebook group. It will transform your individual learning into our collective learning.

If you haven’t already, do join our Nature Play Walks to get an update on the next walk which focuses on creativity and nature art. Please post pictures and stories from your mind play walk on our  Facebook group. A few lucky winners will get a surprise gift.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal. Please share this post so it reaches those who will find it useful.

Art is fire. Art is water. Art is earth. Here’s a list of 10 amazing nature artists that have immersed their lives in creating art for nature, from nature. Through their work we find new connections to the world outside and new ways of connecting to the nature within.

This list is not a ranking. It is a curation of works of inspiration. We have covered a wide range of nature artists who work with different elements – rocks, ice, sand, sound, forest, flowers, and even light.

10 Nature Artists

Like bees spread pollen from the flowers, we hope you will be captivated by their works and share their art with a wider world. It will go a long way in bringing more people closer to nature. Which in itself is one of the main intentions of these artists for nature. Please feel free to add to the list of nature artists in the comments section below.

Snow

Simon Beck is a British snow artist and a former cartographer. Referred to as the world’s first snow artist, he is primarily known for his landscape drawings and sculptures created from snow and sand.

Colours

Tomás Sánchez is a Cuban painter. Best known for his detailed and idealized nature scenes, his work is characterized by its contemporary interpretation of landscape painting.

Light

Kilian Schönberger is a professional photographer & geographer from Germany. He has a form of colour blindness which he uses as a strength – given the difficulty of distinguishing certain tones, he concentrates on pattern and structure. 

Rocks

Jonna Jinton is a self taught artist based in north Sweden. Her art reflects this dreamlike landscape and its subtle changes during the four seasons. More importantly, it speaks of a unique way of living which is in harmony with nature.

Words

Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. 

Flowers

Montreal-based fashion designer Raku Inoue designs gorgeous life forms with fresh flower petals, blooms, and leaves blending natural inspirations with creative art.

Sand

In a mix of artistry, geometry, and technology, San Francisco-based Earthscape artist Andres Amador creates massive sketches in the beach sand – sometimes geometric, and sometimes more abstract and serendipitous – using rakes and ropes. The designs are temporary; where the waves don’t wash away his work, walking beach visitors and the wind will naturally muddy and dissolve the precise lines.

Leaves

James Brunt is an English artist who creates beautiful land art using natural objects in his home county, Yorkshire. The artist’s works will leave you with a feeling of serenity and calmness and after seeing them, you’ll want to try your hand at it yourself. Here’s his code for creating art with nature.

Forest

Ellie Davies is a London based multimedia artist. She spent 7 years in forests of the UK slightly altering them to give a more fairy tale feel. The layers of meaning that man puts on nature is her passion and her work is supposed to evoke thoughts in that direction.

Sound

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton collects sounds from around the world. He’s recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, and dawn breaking across six continents. An attentive listener, he says silence is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound but an absence of noise.

Artists For Nature

We hope you enjoyed this small collection of nature artists and a glimpse of their art. Feel free to grow the list by adding nature artists that have inspired you in the comments below.

Now more than ever, we need to get people out of their screens and their closed cubes to experience the gifts of our Earth. This will give energy to the action we need, to create a healthy society, and a healthy planet. And artists have a unique role to play in the process. Just as we have a role in spreading their art.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

What can the wisdom of birds teach us about creating a life filled with joy, spontaneity, and song?

The latest research into bird intelligence leads to a fascinating conclusion: birds are thinkers. Not only are they capable of abstract thought, but they can also communicate with humans, solve problems, and experience complex emotions like grief.

In this post we explore remarkable insights from a variety of birds, through the voices of scientists, artists, seekers and bird lovers. You will also find helpful bird games that people of all age groups can enjoy and find enriching. And don’t miss the bird meditation as well as the wonderful forest gift at the very end.

Eat, Play, Nest: Wisdom of Birds

Lower your binoculars. See any bird or person in the full context of their being, feathers or skin. We all share the same air, same water, same earth, and same fate in the end.

~J. Drew Lanham
References for this blog post:

The Bird Way (2020) and The Genius of Birds (2016) by Jennifer Ackerman | Bird Meditation by Helen Macdonald, naturalist and author of H is for Hawk, and Vesper Flights | Bird Activities from Handbook of Bird educators by early-bird.in | Film by ND / healingforest

1. Bird Wisdom: Play is therapeutic

Ravens are highly playful birds. Birdwatchers around the world have seen them flying away with sticks, which they drop and then catch again. They also surf down pebbled river banks, and on roofs with loose tiles. Scientists struggle to explain such behavior. Play, after all, requires energy that could instead be used for growing or hunting. It’s also risky. If you’re surfing on pebbles down a river bank, you’re unlikely to spot predators like wolves or eagles. 

In the late nineteenth century, the German philosopher Karl Groos wrote a book called The Play of Animals. In it, he argued that play allows animals to hone vital life skills like hunting and fighting. Though this assertion is yet to be proven, Groos’s theory is still popular among scientists. 

There may be another explanation for why ravens play. Simply put: it’s pleasurable. When ravens play, their brains release dopamine – a chemical associated with sensations of pleasure. This suggests that, for them, play may well be a reward in itself. And that makes sense, considering the fact that ravens have been observed to forgo food if it means more playtime!

Activity: Bird Charades
Each participant picks a favourite bird or picks up a bird name from a bowl. They then come up one by one and enact the name without speaking, while others try to guess the name. Once guessed the bird name is appended to the participant’s name.
The advanced level of this game is done by trying to guess the bird just by enacting the mannerisms of the bird – the way it flies, eats, or moves on the ground.

2. Bird Wisdom: Learn the songs of life

The way birds learn to sing is similar to the way people learn languages. Just like human babies, birds are highly receptive to any sound and have the capacity to learn and imitate what they hear. But as a bird is exposed to the songs of its own species, it focuses on them and the songs of other species fade away. Well, except for mockingbirds, that is. Mockingbirds rather impressively hold on to this receptivity, which means they can absorb more and more songs over the course of their lives, which they in turn imitate.

As humans, we often limit our hearing to our own species. And even within that, many people tend to focus on words and opinions that match their own beliefs. How can we learn to expand our listening to include those whose voices are different from ours? Perhaps the birds can help.

Bird Activity: An exercise in listening
Different species of birds make different kinds of sounds. The sounds also vary based on the situation and what the birds are communicating. Try this activity to get an idea of how varied vocalisation from a single bird species can be.

Pick a bird and follow it for as long as you can. Listen carefully to the kinds of sounds it makes.Try to represent the sounds in writing (e.g., ‘caw’ and ‘krrr’ are two crow sounds). Describe the situation in which the bird is making this sound (is there a predator around, is it preening itself, is it nesting season, etc ).

Write down a library of sounds made by that species (scientists called this a ‘repertoire’). Remember that males and females (if you can distinguish them) may have different repertoires. From your observations, are different sounds made in different situations? What could they mean?

Why do birds sing most at dawn? It happens universally, but even after thousands of years of witnessing this phenomenon we don’t know why. We cannot ask other species to explain themselves, since it is not language we share with the birds. It is music. Music does not exist to be decoded. We and the birds exist to make it. Make it together and the whole world feels its power, its joy.

~ David Rothenberg, Musician and philosopher

3. Bird Wisdom: Add a little art to life

A 1995 study on pigeons, conducted by Shigeru Watanabe, found that the birds could pick out a Monet and a Picasso from a group of similar paintings.

If someone told you that birds are capable of making art, you’d probably laugh. But some male birds actually do create beautiful displays to attract mates. For instance, while all birds make nests, some of them make far more elaborate structures. Just take the satin bowerbird, which, rather than merely building a nest, makes a bower. He begins by building walls with twigs of the appropriate size, placed in the correct places. Then he decorates the newly constructed walls with a variety of objects and flowers.

 A female, when she arrives, examines the male’s bower and, if she’s interested, sticks around while the male dances to win her affection. This is a high-stakes situation because most males fail and only a small number of them mate with many different females. As a result, only the most impressive bower will do.

Bird Activity: Design a Nest
The nests of birds are vital to their persistence. Yet bird nests are sometimes directly targeted by people (e.g. through hunting) or are indirectly destroyed when tree branches are cut or entire trees brought down. This activity involves trying to build a bird nest on your own. You can start by noticing different kinds of nests, and begin to appreciate the hard work involved in nest building.

Collect natural materials like grass, twigs, and leaves that you think birds use to build nests. Then, using these materials in any way you choose, construct nests that could hold eggs. The resultant nests should be strong and intact. You can test it out by putting some pebbles in it.

4. Bird Wisdom: Wisdom grows when you work in groups

Lots of birds use found objects in a variety of useful ways. For instance, burrowing owls scatter dung around their nests to attract tasty dung beetles, while African gray parrots use sticks to scratch their backs. And if it wasn’t impressive enough that some birds use tools, the New Caledonian crow actually makes them. This species of crow trims the branches off twigs to make long, straight sticks that they use to access hard-to-reach places. They even make hooked tools to catch insect larvae. This is a big deal because humans are the only other species that makes hooked tools; even chimps don’t make such sophisticated implements. But their greatest intelligence comes from social interactions.

Birds have social intelligence showing signs of empathy. For example, geese often fly in v-shaped formations which helps the younger and weaker members of the flock in flight. Rooks console each other after a fight with what strongly resembles kissing. And western scrub jays often flock to the place where their group members die.

So, birds are socially aware as well as smart, and social interaction might actually be the reason for their intelligence. After all, living in and maintaining a society requires intelligence and effort, as a brief glance at our own social problems makes clear. Some scientists think that social interactions are a primary reason for intelligence among animals – birds included.

Activity: Bird Orchestra
The group is divided into 4 or 5 teams. Each team thinks of the call of a bird that they are able to sing themselves. One of the participants acts as the conductor of the orchestra. When the conductor points at a team, that team sings the bird call that they had chosen. The conductor can designate both start and stop gestures, and by gesturing at different groups in turn, can create a ‘symphony’ of bird songs. Participants take it in turn to act as the conductor.

5. Bird Wisdom: Every bird holds a message.

The beauty of the human mind lies in our ability to learn through observation. Mediation is the practice of fixing our attention on something that can help us grow our awareness and understanding of life.

Here is a beautiful meditative insight by Helen Macdonald on the vesper flight of swifts.

Swifts mate on the wing. And while young martins and swallows return to their nests after their first flights, young swifts do not. As soon as they tip themselves free of the nest hole, they start flying, and they will not stop flying for two or three years, bathing in rain, feeding on airborne insects, winnowing fast and low to scoop fat mouthfuls of water from lakes and rivers.

Swifts have, of late, become my fable of community, teaching us about how to make right decisions in the face of oncoming bad weather. They aren’t always cresting the atmospheric boundary layer at dizzying heights; most of the time they are living below it in thick and complicated air. That’s where they feed and mate and bathe and drink and are. But to find out about the important things that will affect their lives, they must go higher to survey the wider scene, and there communicate with others about the larger forces impinging on their realm.

Not all of us need to make that climb, just as many swifts eschew their vesper flights because they are occupied with eggs and young — but surely some of us are required, by dint of flourishing life and the well-being of us all, to look clearly at the things that are so easily obscured by the everyday. To take time to see the things we need to set our courses toward or against; the things we need to think about to know what we should do next. To trust in careful observation and expertise, in its sharing for the common good.

When I read the news and grieve, my mind has more than once turned to vesper flights, to the strength and purpose that can arise from the collaboration of numberless frail and multitudinous souls. If only we could have seen the clouds that sat like dark rubble on our own horizon for what they were; if only we could have worked together to communicate the urgency of what they would become.
(Source)

Activity: Bird Meditation
Which is your favourite bird? What life lesson have you learnt from them? Add your thoughts in the comments section, so that individual learning can turn into a collective one.

6. Bird Wisdom: Don’t forget to dance

A Forest Gift:

The wonderful folks at early-bird.in have just released a free handbook for bird enthusiasts and educators. It is a curation of multiple ideas, activities, projects, games and overall best practices that can be carried out by one or few educators, over short durations of time, and at little or no cost. It has been conceived especially for those who feel limited by their lack of knowledge, or do not know where to begin in connecting children with nature and the endlessly fascinating world of birds. You can download a pdf version of the book at this link on their website.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Request: Please share this post so it reaches those who might find it helpful. 

Forest Bathing is not only about connecting to the nature that is beyond us, it is also about recognising that we are fully enmeshed in and as nature” ~ Ben Page.

This month we have a guest post by Ben Page, author of the recently published book ‘Healing Trees – A Pocket Guide to Forest Bathing‘. In this post Ben offers mindful insights to connect with the nature within. Also included are 3 meditative invitations based on the elements of nature. These ideas serve as useful pointers to navigate the complexity of our inner world through simple walks wearing the shoes of our imagination.

Ben’s Journey into Forest Bathing

There are many stories I can tell about the beginning of this journey. Somehow, they are all interrelated. But today I’d like to tell you about the time when I was invited to train as a forest therapy guide.

I had just finished a 24 hour solo fast in the Inyo mountains as part of a program I was doing with the School of Lost Borders. It was a beautiful experience, laying beneath an ocean of stars that yielded to a brilliant sunrise and a slow wander among ancient bristlecone pines. Thinking back on it now, it almost feels like a dream.

When the group returned across the threshold, we descended the mountain to break the fast and it was there that a man tapped me on the should and said, “I want to show you something.” He invited me to close my eyes, took me by the shoulders, and lead me about 20 steps before inviting me to open my eyes again.

When I did, my nose was about a centimeter from a large tree that stood not far from where I had been sitting. I had been aware it was there, of course, but in that moment, I saw the tree in a new way. I remember the details of the bark being somehow arresting, like when you spot a rainbow and you just have to stop and watch and everything else in life seems to melt away. It was so simple and yet it was anything but simple. It was a paradox. How could I have missed something so sublime, only 20 steps away?

Next thing I know, this man who tapped me on the shoulder, Amos Clifford, asked me to take this training he’s offering. It sounds strange and I’ve never heard of what he called ‘Forest Therapy’ but there was something about the moment of opening my eyes and seeing that tree that lingered in me, called to me, spoke to me in a language that was familiar but I couldn’t remember. Perhaps the tree woke me up?

Forest of Calm – Pic by Dan A Cardoza

Our Inner Nature

Lately I’ve been quite captivated by the nature that is my body. As I deepen into witnessing it, I become aware that this body is not my own but is truly an ecosystem that houses many elements and beings. Furthermore, it is a porous ecosystem. Matter comes in, matter transforms and matter comes out; this is quite literally happening all the time. What is happening below the surface of my skin is a dynamic ecology that exists whether I am aware of it or not. It does not require me to know that it is there, nor does it care what I think of it. It’s fascinating to dig down into this strange relationship with myself, understanding that I am not simply me, this ‘Ben Page’ character, but I am also fully identified as Earth itself.

When I speak to people about this, we invariably arrive at this question of defining what we refer to as ‘inner nature.’ Most people hear these words and think that their inner nature has something to do with their character, with their psychological experience of being. They think that their inner nature has something to do with who they are. But in my experience, the inner nature has absolutely nothing to do with who I am, and everything to do with what I am. I wrote the following passage for the course I am currently teaching:

‘The inner nature that lives within us is difficult (if not impossible) to describe. It is something that can only be felt, something that can only be understood in the moment that it is animated within our hearts. It is a part of us that does not need to prove anything, nor does it need to compete for love. It is a part of us that is always at home in the world, that always belongs and cannot be separated. It is a part of us that is not properly “ours” but exists as a vast interconnecting energy that moves through all things. Perhaps we do not have individual, unique, personal “inner natures,” but instead experience the inner nature as an expression of our belongingness in and to the world. It is specifically because our inner nature cannot be possessed or contained individually that it can exist completely outside the ego.

One way of understanding our inner nature is that it is our sense of aliveness. It is something as humble and ordinary as breathing or gazing at the stars or holding a child in your arms. It is not abstractly meaningful in such a way that it could impress someone who was interested only in becoming heroic. Our aliveness is new in every moment and it defines our interconnectedness with the world. It blurs the lines between what we think of as “ourselves” and what we think of as “the world.” It is the art of simply being.

We embody this aliveness whenever we experience reality beyond the story of the ego, beyond the desire to make such a feeling “about us”. Such aliveness represents our most unapologetic, spontaneous, and ordinary selves and it is what we might call our ecological identity. Unlike our egoic identity, it is not built of ideas, but of the instantaneous, emergent experience of being alive. It is this part of ourselves that participates in the moment, the part of us that is enmeshed in relationships beyond our stories about them. It is the part of us that loves with such force that we forget who we are. Whenever we experience such aliveness immediately and directly, it is through our inner nature, not through our egos.

Among the beings of nature, the clouds, the waterfalls, the stones, animals and fungi, there is no need to become special. Everything knows that it has its place, with no compulsion to be anything more than what it is. In nature, there is no striving. Everything relaxes into simply being ordinary. In nature, all beings belong by the grace of their interconnectedness and not because they have done something heroic to earn it. In this aesthetic experience, we are called to remember that we can be like this as well.’

I wonder about this a lot. What does it mean to be nature, to be ecological? I find that my ego, the character of Ben-Page, really wants being ecological to be a story about it. But the more I sit in nature, just simply being, the more I am convinced that being nature isn’t a story about me. The inner nature is not mine; it is everything. So being ecological is not a process of self-discovery, it’s a process of letting go of the need to define myself only in human terms. Instead of seeing my nature as being about my individuality, I am learning to see my ecological identity as something intersubjective, a sense of selfhood that is informed by an infinite web of relationships. And it’s scary at first, because one worries that having this kind of experience might destroy the ego or that one could fall down the rabbit hole and never come back. There’s a sense of fear that makes us want to cling to ourselves more tightly than before. Yet, if we employ a gentle approach, we can always come back. The point is not to destroy the story of who we are, there is no destination that we strive to reach which would confer the inner nature upon us.

This destination is reached before a single step is ever taken. All we must do is remember how to relax into being a part of the places we find ourselves in. It’s happening all the time, this unfolding ecological experience; we are just too preoccupied with what it means or how it relates to our ego stories to see it spontaneously emerge. The inner nature is an aesthetic experience; what it looks like here, what it sounds like, what it tastes like, what it feels like, what it smells like and what it evokes in us. That’s the thing about living art. It’s not about grasping it; it is about experiencing it in full immediacy and then letting go just as quickly because there’s always something new in every single moment. Perhaps that is the expression of aliveness that is only possible through the inner nature?

Sunset Sky – Pic by Nick Sheerbart

Nature Embodiment Invitations

These invitations are crafted to invite you into a world without separation. Allow them to move through your body without effort; relaxation is the key.

Exploring ourselves as sky

As you stand, notice what it feels like to breathe. Notice the sensations in each moment as you inhale and exhale. Perhaps hold your hands against your rib cage or your stomach; what does this relationship between body, breath and air feel like? I wonder where this air has been before it has met you here in this moment? I wonder what beings this air has been a part of before it was a part of you? I wonder where you begin and the world ends? As you sit, notice what it feels like to breathe.

Loving ourselves as water

As you sit, notice what it feels like to have a heart. Perhaps placing your hands upon your chest, simply noticing that an ocean is always running through you. With each beat of your heart, the waves recede and advance upon every shore. Where has this water been before it was in your body? What other forms has it taken along its journey? Perhaps clouds, or glaciers or tidepools at the edge of the sea? As you sit, notice what it is like to have a beating heart.

Moving ourselves as earth

As you wander, notice what it feels like to be in your body. Notice that you are made up of interconnected bones and muscles and tendons. With every step, notice what it feels like to be in motion, how every movement ripples through the body. As you move, perhaps also notice that every moment you make is connected to the movement of the world around you; nothing moves in isolation and you are a always a participant in the dance of the world. As you wander, notice what it feels like to be in your body.

Ben Page Bio:

Ben Page is a Forest Therapy Guide, global advocate for the practice and the author of Healing Trees: A Pocket Guide to Forest Bathing. He is the founder of Shinrin Yoku LA and Integral Forest Bathing and has been guiding Forest Therapy walks since 2015. During his tenure as a trainer and mentor of guides, Ben has trained hundreds of guides around the world. From 2017-2020, he also served as the Director of Training for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, specializing in curriculum and pedagogical design. Since his practice began, Ben has been featured in such publications as Women’s Health, USA TODAY, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, and WebMD. Ben is also a co-founder of The Open School, Southern California’s only free democratic school. He holds a B.A. in religious studies from Carleton College and an M.A. in human development and social change from Pacific Oaks College.

A note about the book:
This book is intended as an easy approach to forest bathing, a concept that is now making its way into health and wellness practices. Part spiritual guide and part practitioner’s handbook, this accessible, practical, positivity-rich book is designed to be taken on every walk to encourage mindfulness, contentedness, and presence in the moment.

For information on Ben’s work, including books, courses and audio meditations, check out his website. Get a free gift when you sign up for the mailing list! https://www.integralforestbathing.com
Link to the book: Healing Trees – A pocket guide to forest bathing.

All relationships in life go through cycles and seasons. Whether we are creating new relationships or nurturing the ones we have. Whether we are mending them or ending them, we need a reliable way to navigate through the ups and downs.

Empathy is the glue for all relationships. By definition empathy is the ability to understand the emotion in others and to be able to imagine how they are feeling. But if we look deeper, we understand this quality of empathy is one of the critical factors that gives shape to the nature our relationships.

Empathy promotes helpful behavior in times of need and encourages us to expand our concept of self. Empathizing with others is also a way of managing our own emotions and training our mind to prepare itself for challenges.

So how do you learn and teach empathy through nature? In this article we will show you an engaging way, by taking a mindful walk through nature. All you need is a notebook to pen down your observations or a camera to capture your findings. We will also take nature’s help to answer some important questions – Why is empathy important for us? What role did it play in our evolution? How do we expand our empathy to influence our lives as individuals, as a community and finally as a species?

EMPATHY WALK

The 3 key values of a mindful nature walk are  going slow, being silent, and using our senses to connect with nature. Through these simple rules we can tap into the wisdom of nature outside by observing its intricate workings. This leads to deep insights which create a new understanding in our mind and helps us grow our inner nature.

The empathy walk is divided into 10-minute sections and each section starts with a simple ask. You are supposed to look for something specific in nature while you are walking. Once you find it, you can take a photograph or write about it. At the end of the 10-minute walk, participants gather in a circle and share their findings and any specific memory or insight that was triggered by their observation.

*For larger groups, the sharing circle can be divided into smaller groups of 3 or 4 participants each. Each person gets a minute or 2 to share. After the short sharing session, the next task is disclosed and the group continues its walk. At the end of the walk, after the final task there is a closing circle, where all the participants can share their insights and experiences if they wish. This is a nice way to turn individual learning into a collective learning.

EMPATHY LISTENING:

When people are sharing we must learn to listen like a tree – silently and without any judgements. Often when people are sharing a difficult experience, what they are seeking is for someone to be present to their experience. The intention is to feel less alone in it, and thus lessen the intensity of it. When you listen to someone and assure them of your non-judgmental presence, you are communicating to them that they are not alone, that we are in this together, that this experience is shared and they do not have to suffer alone.

REFERENCES:
The Eight Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson | The Age of Empathy by Frans De Waal

TEACHING EMPATHY WITH NATURE

Given below are the list of asks that we recommend. Also included are some nature insights that can add value and new learning to your walks. Feel free to  add / edit / modify these asks to suit your environment as well as group interests.

This empathy walk is suitable for all age groups. It can be especially helpful for teaching the concept to kids and to younger audience. However, it is equally effective for folks who wish to deepen their enquiry of the Self.

1. STRUGGLE: Find an example of struggle in nature.

From the moment we’re born, we need nurturing, human connection and empathy in order to survive. It’s simply a biological imperative. As mammals, it’s critical that we receive maternal care. This initial bond is so important that it continues to reverberate through our lives as we get older.

In many species, the eldest creatures in a community are responsible for showing younger members crucial skills for survival. A wonderful example of this can be seen in the African Elephants. The elephants in the savannah are led by the eldest females of the herd. They protect the young with their large tusks and tap their impressive memories to locate hidden watering holes. In larger groups of elephants, when one dies, its herd gathers together, gently touching trunks in what appears to be a grieving ritual.

Poachers hunting mature elephants leave many herds without any elder leadership. Scientists have observed that these packs with no grandparents are often less cohesive, more aggressive, and generally less able to thrive.

By observing different examples of struggle in nature, we can reflect on how in the journey of our own life, we have encountered different struggles. It is also a moment to observe that no life in nature is free from challenges and struggles. And in some ways we can say that struggle is the mother of empathy.

Pic By: Nam Anh
2. GRATITUDE: Find an example of something that creates gratitude in you.

While empathy is generally associated with feeling the other’s hurt or loss, it can be an equally powerful bond in expressions of fulfilment and gratitude. After a dry spell, when the first rain arrives the entire forest celebrates. Creating small moments of gratitude provides encouragement and support to move through difficult times.

The Work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I only have gratitude, I may become saccharine and not develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.

~ Francis Weller

Imagine a mighty oak tree – how does it survive? It relies on soil and sunlight and also on other organisms. Deep underground, its roots are entangled with mycorrhizal fungi. The tree provides the fungi nutrients and in return, it receives essential elements like nitrogen and phosphorus. But the connections don’t end there. Through the rhizomatic network of fungi underground, a whole forest of trees can actually communicate with each other. Trees struggling to grow can send chemical signals asking for help and, through the fungi, thriving oaks can deliver needed nourishment.

Humans are not separate from this web of life. Trees emit antimicrobial compounds called phytoncides. Walk through the forest and you’ll inhale these beneficial compounds which can boost your immune system. This rich system of mutual support recalls the concept of ubuntu. This notion, from the Nguni people of southern Africa, describes how humans can only flourish through sharing and empathy. No one is truly a “rugged individual,” we only survive when we all care for each other.

3. INTERCONNECTEDNESS: Find an example of unity in diversity.

Hike through the unspoiled wilderness in the springtime and you’ll come upon an amazing sight. In the fertile valleys between the peaks are meadows brimming with wildflowers. Importantly, there’s not just one species. The colorful display can include many different species. In our wilderness, we find geraniums, buttercups, paintbrushes, bluebells, and dozens of other blossoms. Why such a wide array? Well, each has its own strength. If there’s a drought, those with deep roots will endure. If there’s a blight, those with immunity will pull through. The surviving species will in turn keep the ecosystem going until the others have a chance to recover when conditions change. Essentially, variety is nature’s safety net.

As humans we have the ability to extend our empathy to encompass a large variety of beings. By learning to expand our level of awareness and circle of observation we become aware of different people and creatures in our lives that may be in need.

Empathy also plays a role in cooperation. One needs to pay close attention to the activities and goals of others to cooperate effectively. A lioness needs to notice quickly when other lionesses go into hunting mode, so that she can join them and contribute to the pride’s success. A male chimpanzee needs to pay attention to his buddy’s rivalries and skirmishes with others so that he can help out whenever needed, thus ensuring the political success of their partnership. Effective cooperation requires being exquisitely in tune with the emotional states and goals of others.

4. KINDNESS: Find an example of support and kindness in nature.

Empathy helps to create more effective teams. As a whole, the team is only as strong as our weakest team member. When one of our team members faces a setback, it is important that the team works to reach out, support and care for them until they are ready to fly again. By supporting the weaker members, the teams set a culture of belonging and strong sense of community. The herd instinct plays a vital role in the bonding experienced by both humans and animals.

Empathy in action: If you look up at the birds flying in the sky, you might notice that many flocks fly in a V-shape formation. There is an interesting reason for this formation.

Flying takes a lot of energy. The strong flapping of wings creates an updraft in the air around the bird’s wingtips. Birds which fly slightly behind the first bird take advantage of this updraft and have to spend lesser energy to fly. When the leading bird gets tired, it drops back in formation and another bird moves to the front. For long migratory flights the youngest and weakest birds are put at the back of the V formation to make the flights easier for them. In fact, one study found that geese can increase their range by 70% on long migratory flights using this technique.

Pic by Nicole Geri
5. HEALING: Find an example of something that is healing for you.

Empaths are highly tuned in and sensitive to the emotions of others, they often have a natural ability to absorb emotional energies around them and transform them into more healthy, positive forms through their expression of love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding. Feeling other people’s pain and anguish compels us to alleviate it – not just for the other person, but also for ourselves, so that we no longer feel its torment.

This process of transformation is frequently exhausting and depleting for the empath. When we spend too much emotional, mental and physical energy while caring for someone else, it results in an empathy burn-out. During this experience, we tend to suddenly withdraw our attention and become dispirited towards the ones we care about the most. Under the weight of our own exhaustion, we feel numb or unaffected, emptied of all energy, vitality and feelings.

In order for us to preserve our capacity for empathy for others, we need to establish healthy boundaries for ourselves, so that we can continue to respond to the feelings of others without being engulfed by them.

AVOIDING EMPATHY FATIGUE

Some simple things to keep in mind are:

  1. Set aside time to recharge yourself. During this time, you allow yourself to walk away from your caregiving task, and instead engage in activities of self-care that you find replenishing. An excellent idea is to go for a Healing Forest walk or try Forest Bathing.
  2. Understand that you do not have all the answers. If you put on yourself the burden of having a solution to every problem that arises, you will burn out quickly. Be confident that you will help where you can, but when you don’t know how, that’s okay. Someone else can step in with those answers.
  3. Tell yourself that whatever you are doing is good enough. You do not need to be great. An acceptance of your capacity and its limits is more healthy than setting up unrealistic expectations from yourself which lead to a sense of failure and guilt.
  4. You might feel that setting boundaries for showing empathy may seem selfish. However, it is important to bear in mind that in wanting people to heal, ultimately we want to foster their ability to do so on their own. Setting boundaries while being lovingly available to the other helps not just in recovery but also in building their sense of self-reliance.

Reference 1, 2

Download link for the empathy walk poster.

WHY EMPATHY IS IMPORTANT

Empathy is one of the fundamental life skills that needs to be mastered in these complex times. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, empathy helps us expand and grow our relationships. Empathy is also the lifeblood that helps us nurture and sustain those relationships.

The most important take-away from the nature walk is the fact that our empathy is not restricted to just other human beings. It has to expand itself to include other species and our environment as well. As technology advances, it is bringing different cultures closer in contact with each other. And the actions of humans are influencing our global environment at a remarkable pace. Last year, an intergovernmental panel of scientists said one million animal and plant species were now threatened with extinction. And global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68%, on average, between 1970 and 2016 (Source BBC).

Therefore, it has become critical to grow our levels of empathy as a community, as well as a species. Unless we focus on learning and teaching empathy through nature, we cannot hope to create a fruitful relationship with our future.

Healing Forest is a volunteer driven project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Request: Please share this post so it reaches those who might find it helpful. 

Pic by Elena Vell / FB

Have you ever experienced the joy of swimming in wild waters? Water, which is the cradle of life on earth and carries within each molecule the memory of time itself.

It’s a mystery how the world became awash in it. But one prevailing theory says that water originated on our planet from ice specks floating in a cosmic cloud before our sun was set ablaze, more than 4.6 billion years ago. As much as half of all the water on Earth may have come from that interstellar gas. That means the same liquid we drink and that fills the oceans may be millions of years older than the solar system itself. Source: New York Times Article

As we move into Summer, this week’s article covers two beautiful short films. One from Scotland and the other from the neighbouring Faroe Islands. Through the inspiring stories of a few wild water swimmers we touch upon the rejuvenating and healing benefits of water.

Well Preserved

There is no better way to start the day than an early morning sea swim. It is physical, mental, spiritual, communal – all wrapped up in a simple dip in the sea. A group of women, who call themselves the ‘Morning Swimmers of Sandagerði’, brave the icy waters of the North Atlantic, along the coastline of the Faroe Islands, for their morning dip in the ocean. They go in every day of the year, sunshine or snow, unless a storm roughs up the water too much. And for them it is as much about connection and friendship as it is about exercise and invigoration. A film by Green Renaissance:

Health Benefits of Swimming

For The Brain:

Regular exercise, such as swimming, improves memory function and thinking skills. This is good not only for kids and adults, but it is beneficial for us as we age too. Regular exercise reduces inflammation and insulin resistance in the brain, which fosters new brain cell growth. Swimming also improves mood, anxiety, and stress, which increases the brain’s ability to think more efficiently.

For The Body:

Why is swimming good for our physical health ? Here’s a list of some benefits:

  • Keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body
  • Builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness
  • Helps maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart and lungs
  • Tones muscles and builds strength
  • Provides an all-over body workout
  • Improving coordination, balance and posture
  • Improving flexibility
  • Providing good low-impact therapy for some injuries and conditions

For the Mind:

Water and mind have a very delicate link. The element of water has always been associated with feelings of peace and serenity. Many meditation, mindfulness, and forest bathing practices incorporate the soothing effects of water to focus and calm down overactive minds.

The act of immersing oneself in water is a way of reconnecting with something timeless within us. After all, the majority of our body is made up of water.

*According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, 60% of the human adult body is water. The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is a story of adaptation, strength & re-wilding set in the raw and beautiful landscapes of Snowdonia National park. Laura the protagonist has not only overcome a life changing illness through wild swimming, but has also found a greater connection to the natural world. This has ignited her mission to make a stand for the natural environment, and protect wild waters and wild spaces across the UK.

Directed by Fin and Jack Davies Produced by Lewis Smith. Shot by Josh Williams and Jack Davies. Sound Design & Music by Paddy Henchman. Colour by Fin Davies. ‘A Friction Collective production featuring Laura Owen Sanderson’.

Find out more about Laura’s incredible research & environmental projects on Instagram at @weswimwild

10 Ways To Be Wild And Safe

  • Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows
  • Never swim in flood water and be cautious of water quality during droughts
  • Keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters if you are concerned
  • Avoid contact with blue–green algae
  • Never swim alone and keep a constant watch on weak swimmers
  • Never jump into water you have not thoroughly checked for depth and obstructions
  • Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
  • Don’t get too cold – warm up with exercise and warm clothes before and after a swim
  • Wear footwear if you can
  • Watch out for boats on any navigable river. Wear a coloured swim hat so you can be seen

There’s more about wild swimming safety here | Cover photo by Jake Johnson

END NOTE:

Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Request: Please share this post so it reaches those who might find it helpful.  And here is a meditative water poem for you before you go.

How to rewild your garden into a miniature rainforest

Liz Miller/Shutterstock

An article by Jack Marley, The Conversation

Many scientists believe that halting global warming at 1.5°C will require us to invent Negative Emission Technologies – machines that can suck climate warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the air. But such technology already exists and has done for over two billion years. From the trees outside your window to the microscopic algae in the ocean, nature is working hard to absorb the atmospheric carbon that is heating our world.

Limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C will require removing CO₂ from the atmosphere.
MCC

Rather than reinvent the wheel, some experts are calling for natural solutions to climate change. These involve restoring natural habitats – such as forests and wetlands – which would draw down CO₂ through photosynthesis and store it as living tissue in plants.

Rapidly phasing out greenhouse gas emissions is still vital, but letting nature do much of the hard work in removing the CO₂ that’s already in the atmosphere could save the time and money we’d need to develop artificial methods of capturing carbon.

Returning many of the world’s ecosystems to something resembling their former glory could also help solve another crisis simultaneously. In this fourth issue of the Imagine newsletter, we look at the mass extinction crisis that threatens the nearly nine million species on Earth and how radical action to prevent their extinction could also prevent ours.

We asked experts to imagine how natural solutions to climate change could start at home and what a future with more of the wild in our lives might look like. In the end, it’s a case of saving two birds with one tree.


A wilder world is a cooler world

Nearly a million species are at risk of extinction without “transformative changes” to the way societies and economies are organised in the 21st century. That’s according to a report published in May 2019 by an international team studying Earth’s biodiversity.

Climate change drives species to extinction and exacerbates threats such as habitat loss, by destroying the habitats themselves or changing the conditions that make them hospitable to different species.

But it might surprise you to learn that across vast swathes of the world, nature is already returning to places where dense habitats were once destroyed by humans. Even on your own doorstep, your local environment could be wilder than it was 100 years ago.

If you live in mainland Europe, that’s almost certainly the case.

More and more people around the world are abandoning rural landscapes and moving to live in cities. In their absence, the land they once used for agriculture is regenerating as shrubland and forest. These new habitats have ushered in wolves, brown bears, lynx and boar. José M. Rey Benayas, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alcalá, says:

Despite 40% of the world’s land being cultivated or grazed permanently by domestic herbivores… forests returned at a rate of 2.2 million hectares per year between 2010-2015 alone. Spain, for example, has tripled its forest area since 1900 – increasing from 8% to 25% of its territory. The country gained 96,000 hectares of forest every year from 2000-2015.

In the UK, forests have recovered more slowly, from 5% of the land area after World War I to 13% today. It’s been estimated that every hectare of forest that’s restored in the UK could absorb the annual emissions of 30 London buses or 90 cars every year. Restoring forest cover in the UK to just 18% of the land area could absorb a quarter of the carbon that will need to be cut in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Aside from not emitting carbon in the first place, restoring forests across the world on an unprecedented scale could be our best bet for avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to a new study. Mark Maslin, a Professor of Earth System Science and Simon Lewis, a Professor of Global Change, both at University College London, explain the thinking.

  • Negative emissions – Increasing the world’s forest land by one third – regrowing an extra billion hectares of trees over an area that’s roughly the size of the United States – could capture 205 billion tonnes of CO₂, according to the study. That’s about two thirds of man-made carbon emissions already in the atmosphere.
  • Low disruption – The study’s authors say reforestation on this scale could actually be achieved with fairly limited disruption to our lives. Most of the land needed would be around 1.8 billion hectares in areas with low human activity, so new forests wouldn’t have to compete with land we’d need to reserve for growing food.
  • But there’s a catch – Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, the higher temperatures could reduce the area that’s suitable for forest restoration by a fifth by 2050. On its own, reforestation isn’t enough. There’s still a very urgent need to reduce emissions drastically for a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. As Maslin and Lewis point out, the actual sum of CO₂ that reforestation could lock away is also much smaller in other research, perhaps closer to 57 billion tonnes.
Where the billion hectares of forest could be planted – excluding desert, farmland and urban areas.
Crowther Lab, Author provided
How all of that new forest would look with the forest that’s already there.
Crowther Lab, Author provided

Rewilding starts at home

Reforesting the Earth will take decades, but right now, people in the UK could help bring back one of the country’s most diminished habitats in their own backyards. Since the end of World War II, Britain has lost 97% of its wild grassland – turned into farmland or dug up to build roads and homes.

Left – Wild grassland in Transylvania. Right – Potwell Dykes, Nottinghamshire – how much of the UK’s lost grassland would have once looked.
Adam Bates

What’s left is a sorry sight. The clipped lawns and neat grass verges of Britain mostly contain only one or two species of turf grass, compared to the more than 40 plant species that can thrive in a single square metre of grassland. As their native habitat has declined, British pollinating insects have vanished from a third of their range since 1980.

Maintaining the hyper-manicured lawns that we’re used to seeing in public parks often involves petrol mowers and fertilisers which leak more carbon to the atmosphere during their production and use than the grass itself can store.

If you have a lawn, you can think of it as your own patch of artificial grassland – a stunted remnant of a once vast ecosystem. But it needn’t be that way, says Adam Bates – an ecologist at Nottingham Trent University. There are four easy steps any gardener can follow to turn their lawn into a wildlife haven that locks away CO₂.

Adam Bates

1. Cut higher

Most lawn mowers have blades that are set as low to the ground as possible, ensuring that the lawn is cut to be flat and featureless, which is no good for wildlife. Bugs and small creatures need nooks and crannies to hide from predators. Spiders in particular need something to anchor their webs to.

By adjusting the blade to the highest possible setting – often around 4 cm off the ground – mowing can leave taller grass with more recesses for insects to hide in.

A traditionally managed lawn. There are few plant species and little structure for bugs to exploit.
Adam Bates

2. Include mowing gaps

Leaving longer gaps between mowing the lawn can give wildflower species the time they need to flower and provide nectar for pollinating insects to eat. By leaving a gap in spring, early flowering species like the native cowslip can bloom.

Fox-and-cubs (Hieracium aurantiacum) help feed leafcutter bees.
Jörg Hempel/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Cowslip is a plant which has been declining for decades, but the Duke of Burgundy butterfly depends on it for somewhere to lay its eggs.

Leaving a mowing gap in summer can give species like cat’s-ear and fox-and-cub time to flower – both important food sources for leafcutter bees.

3. Don’t use fertilisers or herbicides

You might expect herbicides to be a bad idea, but when it comes to lawns, fertilisers are only good for ensuring a luxuriant green colour – one or two grass species will soak up the extra nutrients and outcompete everything else.

To ensure a rich variety of plants can thrive in your wildflower lawn, reducing the fertility of the soil is essential.

4. Remove the clippings

By collecting the cut grass after you mow you can stop more nutrients getting into the soil and reduce the lawn’s fertility with every cut.

If you’re 100% committed, you can leave strips at the sides or patches in the corners to go wild and form small wildflower meadows. Most wildflower seeds will be carried to your garden on the wind or by birds, but if you’re tired of waiting, you can buy and spread the seeds yourself.

Once you’ve seen pockets of wildflower meadow spring up on your lawn, you may not want to stop there…

Ponds – the carbon sink in your backyard

Pollinator species would certainly benefit from more people turning their lawns into the wild grassland habitat that’s so rare in the British landscape today. But a single square metre of grassland might only absorb about 2-5g of CO₂ over the course of a year. So how helpful is rewilding your garden for slowing climate change? Very helpful, if you add a pond, says Associate Professor of Ecology at Northumbria University, Mike Jeffries.

A pond that’s only a square metre in size could suck as much as 247g of carbon from the air every year. Though small ponds make up a tiny proportion of the UK’s land area – about 0.0006% of it – they punch well above their weight in terms of how much carbon they can bury as sediment.

Ponds are carbon sinks which can fit well in intensively managed landscapes.
Mike Jeffries, Author provided

By digging a pond in your garden, you’d also be inviting some truly unique wildlife. Perhaps most interesting of all according to Jeffries is the tadpole shrimp – thought to be the oldest animal in the world.

Tadpole shrimps (Triops cancriformis) evolved 220m years ago and can be found in freshwater ponds in Britain.
Repina Valeriya/Shutterstock

Garden ponds can also draw in more familiar creatures, like frogs and toads. Half of all the UK’s ponds were lost during the 20th century, leaving many native amphibians searching for somewhere to live. As climate change threatens to dry up much of these habitats, garden ponds could provide an oasis for struggling species says Becky Thomas, a Senior Teaching Fellow in Ecology at Royal Holloway University.

Frogs and toads need clean ponds in which to breed [but] the fashion of keeping our gardens meticulously neat and tidy is leaving our wildlife with nowhere to hide. Creating a pond can be a fun project – especially with children. Once put in, it will only take a matter of days before something decides to make it their home. It will usually be invertebrates and plants to begin with, but it won’t take long for it to be found by a nearby frog or toad population.

A shared home for humans and wildlife

No matter where you look, you’re likely to find a potentially useful habitat for nature that’s under threat. Professors of Conservation Ecology Brendan Wintle (University of Melbourne) and Sarah Bekessy (RMIT University) say that even very small patches can be invaluable for a particular species.

It may not look like a pristine expanse of Amazon rainforest or an African savannah, but the patch of bush at the end of the street could be one of the only places on the planet that harbour a particular species of endangered animal or plant.

In Australia, our cities are home to, on average, three times as many threatened species per unit area as rural environments. This means urbanisation is one of the most destructive processes for biodiversity.

Moving out of gardens and into the streets, how could our towns and cities be reimagined with more space for nature? Heather Alberro, a PhD Candidate in Political Ecology at Nottingham Trent University, believes that “urban greening” could make the places we live resilient to climate change and ensure a refuge for biodiversity:

Shade cools the ground.
Roland Ennos, Author provided
  • Cool those heat waves: a single tree can have the cooling effect of more than ten air conditioning units, all while absorbing carbon. Higher temperatures turn cities into concrete heat traps, but using air conditioning to stay cool takes a lot of electricity, adding more CO₂ to the atmosphere. By contrast, trees shade surfaces that might otherwise absorb heat and cool the air by gathering water on their leaves which evaporates in the sun.
  • Filter air pollution: plants capture airborne particulates in the wax or cuticles of their leaves. By filling streets with trees, the air can be made safer to breathe.
  • Increase biodiversity: rooftop gardens and forested terraces can create habitats in new places. Networks of connected habitats – such as wildflower meadows that snake along roadsides – could allow new urban ecosystems to form, populated by species that had previously been squeezed out of the concrete sprawl.
The Parkroyal on Pickering Hotel in Singapore is shrouded in forested terraces and sky gardens that encourage local insects and birds.
Ariyaphol Jiwalak/Shutterstock

If all that sounds good to you then you’re in luck, Alberro says. Urban greening is being taken very seriously by architects, designers and politicians. You may find your neighbourhood growing wilder in the years to come.

The mass greening and rewilding of our cities is no novel or abstract ideal. It is already happening in many urban spaces around the world. The mayor of Paris has ambitious plans to “green” 100 hectares of the city by 2020. London mayor Sadiq Khan hopes to make London the world’s first “National Park City” through mass tree planting and park restoration, greening more than half of the capital by 2050.

If you live outside a major city then perhaps it’s your daily commute that will change first. Thanks to efforts by campaigners and local councils in the UK, roadside verges are being turned into wildflower meadows, with an eight-mile “river of flowers” now hugging a motorway in Rotherham.

A roadside verge teeming with wildflowers in Rotherham, UK.
Pictorial Meadows

According to Olivia Norfolk – a Lecturer in Conservation Ecology at Anglia Ruskin University – bees and butterflies don’t seem to mind the traffic and their numbers have “increased dramatically” where regular mowing has stopped and wildflower meadows have returned on grass verges. She said:

The UK road network spans over 246,000 miles – reducing mowing on the grass verges that surround them to just once a year could save money and create thriving habitats for pollinating insects that return on their own each spring.

Seeing so much colour on land that was once devoid of life can really lift the spirits. Alberro believes this may be the greatest benefit from rewilding – more human happiness. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” – the idea that regular immersion in nature is as good as therapy. In the future, people may not have to go too far to get their fix.

Further reading

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Flowers have mastered the art of communication over a hundred million years. They have crafted and perfected this skill because their very survival depends on it. What they have realised is that the secret to great communication is a mix of the visible and the invisible. In this article you will find 7 intriguing tips from flowers on how to better your communication skills. *And don’t miss the film and surprise gift at the very end.

Need For Better Communication

Every effective communication is an exchange. Of ideas, emotions, and attention. Our ability to express ourselves plays a very important role in connecting us to others and connecting others to us.

The relationships of our life are bound by communication – both visible and invisible. If we observe the patterns that help us grow in life, we find that communication is one of the integral qualities that shapes our journey. Mothers, teachers, influencers, change-makers and wise masters – all know how critical the art of communication is.

When we analyse the problems in any relationship, whether at home, at work or with our closest friends, we find that communication is failing. By mastering the art of communication and improving our skillset, we can succeed in creating healthier relationships and more joyful interactions in life.

Yet, such a vital skill is not given the importance it is due, and a large number of people struggle with it. By exploring how flowers talk – attracting bees, butterflies, moths and birds – and understanding the methods they have evolved over time, we will find useful metaphors to make our own communication more beautiful. A few simple tips will show us how to become better communicators so that we can create stronger connections in our lives.

ARTICLE REFERENCES: Thich Naht Hahn (Art of Communication) | J.D.Schramm (Communicate with Mastery) | Stephen Buchmann (The Reason for Flowers)

Better Communication | What Flowers Know

Among the most beautiful innovations of the natural world are those remarkable bursts of colour we call flowers. Despite their tremendous beauty, flowers have a major problem: Flowering plants cannot survive on their own, and instead depend on pollinators for their procreation.

To do so, they have developed an ingenious means of advertisement, which primarily utilizes their vivid colours and enchanting fragrances. In fact, a flower’s colour is specifically designed to garner attention. Insects cannot see as well as we do, and the brighter a flower, the easier it will be for a pollinator to recognize and visit it. As a result, flowers boast the most highly saturated colours found in nature.

Better Communication Tip 1: Design for Impact

Given the flood of communication all around us and the ever shortening attention span of people, it is essential to design our communication for impact. Amidst all the clutter and cacophony around us, it is not an easy task to create messages that stick in the mind.

Here’s an ABC tip from J. D. Schramm, founder of the Mastery in Communication Initiative, at Stanford Graduate School of Business: Make your communication active, brief, and clear for maximum impact. Think: What? So what? Now what? The ‘what’ is the information you need to share. The ‘so what’ tells you why this information is relevant. And the ‘now what’ articulates what action is needed. It’s great to have persuasive and meaningful content, but it also needs to be pleasing to the eye. This helps your reader take in the information as intended.

Better Communication Tip 2: Craft it to serve the audience

Flowers reward pollinating insects handsomely for their services. Flowers are like a kind of café or a rest stop for insects where they can eat, drink, and take a break. Not only that, flowers are also an ideal location for insects to find mates and, in colder parts of the world, the inside of a blossom can even be comfortably warm.

To become an effective communicator, first, we must understand our audience. By understanding their needs, perceptions and current level of understanding, one can create communication that is healthy for them. But what exactly is “healthy” communication?

Master Thich Naht Hanh says: It’s best to think of communication like food. Some of it is nourishing, and some is toxic and poisonous. Nourishing speech is understanding and positive, while toxic speech fills people with negative emotions like anger and frustration.

In order to communicate well with another person, we first need to understand ourselves. However, most of us rarely communicate with ourselves in a healthy way, which is why we may have some trouble communicating with others.

Better Communication Tip 3: Time it well

Over the centuries, plants have evolved to flower at a time that ensures maximal reproductive success. Not just the season of flowering but also the time of day during which they flower and for how long they stay open has been carefully crafted through a cycle of learning, failure, and success.

For example ‘Moon flower’ is the common name for a variety of plants that have flowers that open at night. They do this because night-flying insects mostly pollinate them. One such insect is the hawk moth. The flowers are sensitive to small changes in light so they open when these insects are out in the evening.

Experts in communication know that timing is everything. What to say, when to say it, and how much to say, are all questions that one must think about before engaging in important conversations. The difference between an average and an excellent communicator is this ability to master the timing of delivery. Knowing when not to speak is as important as knowing when to talk.

In Frank Luntz’s book Words that Work, he states that “Communication is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. It is therefore important to focus on what people are likely to hear to sidestep saying the wrong thing or having your message misconstrued. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities.”

For example, we know teenagers won’t respond very well to communication very early in the morning. And while good news can be given any time, if you are going to deliver some bad news, make sure you wait for a suitable time.

Better Communication Tip 4: Improve your listening skills

Scientists have found evidence that plants can actually hear the buzz of passing bees and produce sweeter nectar in response to entice the flying insects in. Flowers are technically the ‘ears’ because of their conical shape which feel the sound waves rather than hearing them.

Based on observations of evening primroses, the team behind the study discovered that within minutes of sensing the sound waves of nearby bee wings through flower petals, the concentration of the sugar in the plant’s nectar was increased by an average of 20 percent. The flowers even seemed able to tune out irrelevant background noises, such as the wind. ( Learn more at this link)

Being a good listener helps solve problems, resolve conflicts, and improve relationships. In the workplace, effective listening contributes to fewer errors, less wasted time, and improved accuracy. Knowing how to improve your listening skills can help you build not only friendships but also careers.

To be a good listener, one needs to be mindful of our own thoughts. Practicing mindfulness helps us become aware of the chatter in our heads and we can learn to redirect our attention to the other person. Then we can hear not only what they are saying, but also sense what they are feeling.

We don’t always fully understand people that are close to us. This is often because we don’t listen to each other. Mindful listening means carefully taking in what others say without judging them. When the person you’re communicating with sees how much you care about understanding them, that alone will lay the foundation for good communication. When someone’s telling you about their thoughts, you might be tempted to interrupt them, especially if you want to correct their perceptions. However, this might lead to a discussion where you are not truly focusing on their feelings, which is what you should be doing.

Better Communication Tip 5: Create curiosity, engagement, and payoff

The most appealing thing flowers have to offer is deeply nutritious food, namely their sweet nectar. This sugar-rich, high-energy food is stored deep inside the flower, forcing pollinators to immerse themselves in the bloom, thereby covering their bodies with the flower’s sticky pollen, the grains of which are also edible and a good source of protein. While it is easy to get to the flower, the seeker has to put some effort to reap the benefits.

Building curiosity and pay-off into your communication are the hallmarks of excellent communicators. They are able to pull the audience towards them rather than push their words on unsuspecting candidates. In classrooms with a captive audience, when teachers forget this golden rule, they lose out on engaging with their class.

Just like flowers, one of the fundamental reasons we communicate is to spread our ideas. For this endeavour to be successful, listeners should be an active part of the conversation. When listeners feel that the information adds value to them, they begin to own the ideas. That is how the message will travel far and wide.

Better Communication Tip 6: The Invisible

Although flowers can be identical in their colour or shape, there are no two floral scents that are exactly the same. The different scents allow insects to discriminate among plant species and even among individual flowers of a single species. (Source link)

“The best machines that we have can really detect these floral scents maybe a few meters away from the flower, but we know from observations that pollinators can detect floral scents from up to a kilometre away.” ~ Jeremy Chan, University of Washington.

The scent represents the invisible aspect of every communication – the emotions. While words can only go so far, it is the emotions which travel far and wide. The biggest difference between average and stellar communication is the depth of emotion it conveys.

The invisible component of every communication also includes eye contact, posture, gestures, facial expression, body language, and personal appearance. More than half of what we communicate is non-verbal through our body language and mannerisms, as well as the way we use the space and the items around us. All these aspects combine to create an emotional impact.

Just like the sense of smell has a direct connection to the brain, emotions have a way of permeating into our hearts. For every piece of communication that touches us, it is the emotions which are absorbed, retained, and passed on.

Better Communication Tip 7: The Community

During flower development, newly opened and young flowers, which are not ready to function as pollen donors, produce fewer odours and are less attractive to pollinators than are older flowers. Once a flower has been sufficiently pollinated, changes to the floral bouquets and reduction in the scents lead to a lower attractiveness of these flowers, and this helps to direct pollinators to un-pollinated flowers instead, thereby maximising the reproductive success of the plant.

The best communication is inclusive communication. In a group, no person should feel unheard or left out. Learning to grow your communication circle is the most important part of the communication process. Knowing how to empower others to share their voice creates richer and more meaningful conversations. Like the flowers we should all strive to communicate with compassion. By creating space for others to speak and listening mindfully when they do, we can form highly engaged groups.

Remember the end goal of good communication is to build stronger bonds with those around you. And by sowing the seeds of compassionate communication we are allowing the growth of compassionate communities. Communities that will spread joy, peace, and beauty into the world at large…. just like the flowers! 🐞🦋🌺

Summary: How to improve your communication skills

END NOTE: The next time you start a conversation, think of the flowers. Let them remind you of all the visible and invisible ways your words can weave their magic. Keep growing and keep flowering!

*If you are one of the few people who have managed to read this far, please leave a comment to share your own insights or thoughts. Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through creativity and mindfulness. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

REQUEST: Please share this post so that it reaches those who might find it helpful. *And here are some flower gifts for you before you go.

One of the things that makes humans unique is our ability to walk upright. It’s a big part of who we are. Moving around might seem simple, but it requires a refined use of our brain power. In this post we explore the connection between walking and our brains, and how we can transform our nature walks to create healthier minds.

These days, we seem to be walking less and less. With easy access to cars and public transport and our work shifting to desks and screens, there are less reasons to go outside. And very often the design of our congested cities does not give us easy access to good walking routes. This sedentary lifestyle takes a silent toll on our health over time.

Let us show you some exceptionally beautiful nature trails around the world and explore the complex science behind how humans walk, revealing a process that boosts our mood, creativity, and sociability. We hope these notes will inspire you to walk and wander more. *Don’t miss the short film at the end.

CREDITS: The health tips for this article have been taken from a wonderful book called ‘In Praise of Walking‘ (2019). It examines the science behind one of the basic skills that defines us as human beings. The author, Shane O’Mara is a Neuroscientist and Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

CHINA

One of the most extraordinary nature walks on our planet is through the otherworldly Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Its strange mountain spires topped with grass and trees have been an inspiration for Chinese landscape paintings through centuries. The spires — over 3,000 of them — are made of quartz and sandstone that has eroded over time, leaving crooked towers soaring into the sky. When the fog lingers along the tropical forest below, the rock towers look they’re wafting above it. The floating mountains in Avatar were inspired by these awe-inspiring formations.

The park is in Hunan province, far enough from China’s major metropolitan areas that it was unknown for a long time.To avoid the crowds, spend time hiking in the lower elevations and skip the cable car, elevator, and other areas where tourists concentrate. Your entrance fee also gives you access for four days, so you can explore some of the less-traveled areas of the park, such as the Yangjiajie Scenic Area where a steep two-hour hike leads to an amazing view.

Nature Walks China

Nature Walk Tip: Walk with your senses

Your brain has two modes: an active mode and a default mode. When your brain is in active mode, it’s focusing on a task, doing stuff in detail – counting something, for example. In default mode, your mind is free to wander, exploring and processing memories. That’s not as frivolous as it sounds; it’s vital for keeping your brain in order and your thinking sharp. Evidence suggests that creativity occurs when these two modes of thinking occur simultaneously. And walking is a great way to encourage the brain to do exactly that. Walking – or more specifically, spatial navigation – stimulates the part of the brain around the hippocampus, which is also the part of the brain that’s active in memory

Contrary to the traditional form of walking as an exercise, the Japanese form of mindful nature walks also known as forest bathing invites you to take a slow walk in nature. By focusing on your senses and soaking in the gifts nature, we can access a range of health benefits for our mind, body, and spirit. Numerous studies confirm forest bathing’s ability to ease high blood pressure, digestive challenges, anxiety, mild depression and insomnia. spirit. According to one study, future cases of depression could be lowered by around 12 percent if everyone spent just one hour a week doing physical activity.
For more info: What is Forest Bathing?

USA

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, ranging from Maine to Georgia. From the spiky, tree-clad mountains of the south to the wind-whipped mountain ranges of in the north, beauty is not the exception but the norm. A spectacular range of scenic nature spots, spread across the trail reveal themselves to keep the walker enchanted.

The Trail is not only as a project in land conservation, but as a way for all human beings to find solace, optimism, and rejuvenation during a time of “general upheaval,”. ~ Benton MacKaye

One can visit various parts of the trail for day hikes, and some go even farther, even to the point of attempting a thru-hike, in which they hike the entire length of the trail in one season. The most ambitious hikers do a “yo-yo” which involves hiking the whole trail from beginning to end and then back again. Obviously, this takes lots of time and stamina!
Fore more info visit: https://appalachiantrail.org/ | Beautiful sections of the nature walk.

Nature Walks America
Pic by Tony Glenn

Nature Walk Tip: Getting Lost

Neuroscientist John O’Keefe has made some pioneering discoveries regarding how the brain. He discovered that our brains contain place cells – they tell us where we are and they work most effectively when we walk. Further research has revealed even more fascinating types of cells in the brain that help us get around. Head-direction cells are essentially an inner compass, indicating our orientation. There are also cells that respond to nearby objects. All in all, the brain more or less has its own GPS network.

Once in a while try walking in an area that you have no idea about. Let your internal sense of direction guide you. Explore things that fill you with awe, wonder, and fascination. Let the signs of nature, the direction of shadows, the sounds on the wind, and the path of the sun guide you. Making walking a habit can preserve your memory. Researchers following up on 300 older adults after 13 years found that those who had walked six to nine miles a week lowered their risk of memory problems by 50 percent.
Research Source

ITALY

With their colossal limestone walls and gloriously green valleys, Italy’s Dolomites are home to some of the world’s most majestic scenery — and mountain huts called rifugios make it all the more accessible.

A monumental mountain range in northeastern Italy, the Dolomites have been declared a World Heritage Site since 2009. There are several Alta Via routes, but the AV1, with fewer exposed sections, is ideal for less experienced hikers. The rifugios or traveler’s huts are normally open from June to September.

On the walk you can wander through lush Alpine grazing lands and valley floors carpeted with pine and fir trees. Largely because of the beauty of the pale dolomitic limestone, panoramic vistas are a constant. Experience an exquisite glow that happens at sunrise and sunset, when the dolomitic limestone is bathed in gorgeous peachy-pink hues.
For details and a travel story visit this link.

Nature Walk Tip: Staying Healthy

Given our boxed-in, busy daily lives, it’s especially important to have a moment of calm as part of your daily routine. But, unfortunately, our cities don’t make it easy for us. Over half the global population lives in cities and urban areas – and that will probably rise to 80 percent by 2050.

Researchers sent a group of walkers into a forested area, and another walkers group into a city, for an hour. Afterward, the forest walkers had improved heart and lung function; the city walkers didn’t.

Walking in nature is known to boost our immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
Source: Harvard article on health benefits of walking.

PERU

In a country known for exceptional trekking, one of the most iconic trails is the walk to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. There is the Salkentay route where you can rest in comfort each evening of the hike. But if you’re seeking an alternative route to the illustrious ruins, then perhaps the Choquequirao trek is more apt. Known as The Cradle of Gold, Choquequirao is a former Inca stronghold isolated in the cloud forests above the Apurimac River. It’s just as impressive as Machu Picchu but it’s only accessible by foot, eliminating the likelihood of encountering crowds.

These walks are a journey back in time. A walk among the cloud filled forests makes the memories of our present day hassles fade away into the distance. And when you arrive at the ruins set amidst the magical mountains, we receive the gift of briefly living the lives of ancient civilisations through our imagination.

Nature Walks Peru
Pic by Mailan Maik

Nature Walk Tip: Finding Answers

You’ve probably heard people say you should “sleep on” a difficult question – but why not also try “walking on” it? Next time you have a challenging problem to solve at work, give it a go.

Biomimicry is a scientific practice that learns from and mimics the strategies used by species alive today. It offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in. There are many examples of exceptional ideas that have come from observing nature. From the flight of planes, the bullet train, or the humble velcro. On a more philosophical note, walking in nature can help us find answers, because we are a part of nature too. The patterns and problems of our inner world are often mysteriously reflected in the art of nature outside.

NEW ZEALAND

Welcome to a walker’s paradise, where a network of trails winds past rugged coastlines, through farmland, river valleys and towering forest, to dramatic mountain ranges.

Scattered across the country, each within easy access of cities and towns, the tracks are well-kept and popular with both locals and visitors. Each route is different and offers a one-with-nature experience you can’t get anywhere else.

Walking and hiking throughout New Zealand is the best way to see beautiful landscapes and explore vast wilderness areas. Each Great Walk has been selected for unique combinations of cultural significance, exceptional scenery, and accessibility. Over the Great Walks season between October and April, huts along the tracks are equipped with flushing toilets, cooking gas, and other comforts that aren’t typically seen in DOC huts. As these walks are popular, will need to book these huts in advance.
For more info visit: https://www.newzealand.com/in/walking-and-hiking/

Nature Walks New-Zealand
Pic by Marina Cath

Nature Walk Tip: Making Friends

One study found that elderly people who walked for around 150 minutes each week were more socially active; they also had higher levels of well-being compared to elderly people who walked less. Walking is also a crucial step in young children’s social development – once they can walk, they both play and vocalize a lot more. Adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week slowed age-related declines in brain function and improved their performance on cognitive tasks.

However, the most significant friendship we create is the one with nature itself. Those who know how to silence the mind to match the silence of nature, find a rare and invaluable gift in life. A space of unconditional acceptance and the freedom to know our true selves.

Nature Walk Sheep

Nature Walk Film

Watching this heart-warming short film by Gnarly Bay. Journey with them as they walk through Chile and Patagonia to find an important life message. Do watch in full-screen and with headphones if possible.

NATURE WALK SUMMARY

There are many ways one can benefit from standing up, leaving the house, and taking a stroll in Nature. By walking more we can boost our physical as well as mental health. It also helps us become more creative and social. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to journey to the far corners of the world to experience its healing effects. Discovering the wild and wonderful in our own neighbourhood is the seed that flowers into our well-being. And our connectedness creates a lifetime of learning, wisdom, and growth.

Feel free to add your favourite nature trail recommendations in the comments below. What gifts and lessons have you received from your walks?

Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through inspiring stories, films, and articles . Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal

REQUEST: Do share this post with those who might find it useful | *And check out our Nature Calm course for more ideas.

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