Writing In Nature To Find Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Words That Heal: Creative Nature Writing

CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISES IN NATURE

Writing is therapeutic. Writing in nature – meditative.

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

It’s about observing the nature outside and observing the nature within.

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

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

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WRITING EXERCISES IN NATURE

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

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

Senses: Pick any one of your senses. Describe your surroundings keeping only the chosen sense in focus. You can turn this exercise into a letter to a friend. In the letter you are describing your nature walk to a close friend who is not present with you, but remember you can only use one sense to portray the scene.

Objects: Choose any object in nature, create a riddle around it. Let others in the group guess what object you picked. In the riddle the less you reveal, the more interesting it becomes. Just like the language of the forest which is full of riddles and mysteries.
Here’s a riddle for you. The answer is given at the very end of the article.

You can see me, but you can’t hear me.
You can feel me, but you can’t smell me.
What am I?

Emotions: Take an emotion that you are feeling. Include it in a 3 line poem. These 3 line poems are a simplified version of Japanese Haikus. The aim of our poem is to capture an image from your nature walk and convey the emotion you are left with. It’s not a test of your poetic skills and the lines do not have to rhyme. Here’s an example:

Characters: Pick the oldest tree around or a tree that feels special to you. Spend time with it and write the story of its life. In this exercise allow your imagination to fly. You can compress time and write a biography for the tree or simply write about a day in the life of your tree.

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EXTRAS: IDEAS FOR NATURE WRITING

Magical Creatures: Our forest stories have always been full of magical beings like elves, fairies, gnomes. If you could create your own magical creature what would it be? What magic will they have and what would you call them?

Game of Memories: When we recollect positive memories in nature it strengthens them and allows us to return to them when we need it the most. Write down your earliest happy memory. Write down your most peaceful nature memory.

Nature Song: This is a fun exercise that gives rest to the logical, thinking side of your brain. Pay attention to the sounds of nature and write a song in gibberish. Which means you cannot use any known words from your language. Just compose a song from the sounds around you: Krr Krr Krr Krr Krr, tok tok, Ku-oo

One Word Connections: This game serves as a warm-up to our next exercise, but is also fun on it’s own. If you are in a group, form a small circle. The game starts by one person saying any word from nature. The next person says the first thing that comes to mind on hearing that word. You are not allowed to think and respond. If a participant takes too long to respond, then the chance automatically passes to the next person in the circle. Complete 2 to 3 rounds of the circle with this exercise and build your spontaneity.

Twisty Tale: This is a group exercise. Stand in a circle and create a story starting with ‘I went for a walk into the forest….’. The conditions are that each person adds one line to the story, but alternate people add happy and sad twists to the story. So one set of people are trying to make the story positive and happy while the other set is giving it a dark or tragic turn. Once the story runs its course, switch the roles of the people.

Gratitude Note (Closing Exercise)

We usually end our nature walk by writing a note of gratitude. The note starts with gratitude for the gifts we have received from nature and grows to encompass other aspects of our life.

Without gratitude, nothing is enough

~Julio Olalla

At the core of all emotions in life, this emotion of gratitude is the one that allows us to find contentment and make peace with ourselves. It shifts focus from what is missing within our life and moves our heart to appreciate what we have.

As with all writing, this exercise is effective only when the words flow from the heart and not the head. We hope that being in nature has enabled you to do so.

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

WORDS THAT HEAL

Fewer people are spending time in nature these days. This distance is affecting our health – as individuals, as a society and also as a planet. The intention of this idea is to bring nature back into conversations and inspire more people to connect with forests in creative ways. Let’s do this as a collective.

When you create writing in nature and share it with other, it spreads the seeds of emotions you felt and the insights you learnt. Hopefully, it will grow the magic of nature and draw more people to it.

Do share your poems, puzzles, stories or reflections from the nature walk on our Facebook group. In case you post your writing on social media, add these tags: #healingforest / #forestlearning. It will make it easier for us to find them.

*This page is part of our learning program with nature arts, activities and meditations from around the world.

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

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

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p.s: Our answer to the riddle is ‘Sunlight‘. But in nature, there can be more than one right answer!