Photos of Peace

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

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

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

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SCIENCE

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

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

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ACTIVITIES

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

Directions: Some points to note are – move in silence and go slow. Think less and feel more.  Spend 10-15 minutes for each activity in a particular area. We generally tell participants that they can only take one picture for each exercise. This allows them to be more mindful of the picture they wish to take. After each exercise, group together to share your pictures and thoughts for a few minutes. After sharing, read out instructions for the next exercise and continue your walk in silence for 10-15 min to another area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can share some pictures from your photo-walk in nature on our Facebook group: Art of Nature. Please add these tags when you post your pictures on social media #healingforest, #forestlearning. It will make it easier for us to find them.

*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out these activities on a nature walk, you can proceed to learn the next set of activities at this link.

Bonus: Here’s a link to download a set of 6 nature images. You can use them to attract more people to your walks, or simply use them as meditative wallpapers for your screen. http://bit.ly/hfl-pics

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

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

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

NATURE MEDTIATION:

Handling Stress Storms in Life

Your heart is thumping, palms are sweaty and your brain is a burning car driving downhill with no brakes for your thoughts. This is an experience of a category 5 stress response.

While such severe stress situations may be rare, in our day to day life we experience minor storms of stress at regular intervals. Stress is the omnipresent evil of our modern age. Whether it is working individuals or students, a large number of people have to face stress on a regular basis. We increasingly hear stories of the dreaded phenomenon – ‘Burnout’.

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WHO has declared stress an epidemic on a global scale. It is also linked to many of the leading causes of death. It leads to anxiety and affects our blood pressure and heart health. Stress often results in poor sleep, which plays havoc with our mental and physical health.

But forests can play an important role in overcoming stress.

Richard Mitchell, a scientist from UK, did a study and found fewer cases of disease amongst people who lived near parks or open green spaces. His studies also showed that people with no windows or unattractive views took longer to recover when compared to those who could see trees and grass from their hospital windows. Similarly classrooms with windows revealed better performance by students and lesser incidents of violent behaviour.

What he and other researchers theorise is that nature works primarily by lowering stress.

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FOREST CALM

One of the fundamental reasons mental fatigue and stress happens is when we are not able to put the brakes on distracting thoughts. So how can nature help us? The answer lies in our senses.

Our hearing sense affects us at a subconscious level. Even though we may not be aware of it, our brain is processing the sounds in our environment – whether it is the noise pollution of the city or the song of the forest.

Our visual sense is the strongest sense. We are influenced by the quality of light, the colour of light and also the source it comes from. It affects our mood as well as energy levels. The colours of nature soothe our mind and the play of light in the forest helps to break our pattern of thoughts.

Researchers using MRI to look at the brain activity found that people exposed to nature had reduced blood flow to their Amygdala – a part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety processing.

Evidently, watching photographs and videos of such nature scenes can also have a soothing effect to some extent (at-least for 85% of the people). Let’s test it out.

Japan is a country known for its development and high-pressure work culture. What is less known is that for decades they have been researching on the impact of nature on our body and mind.

Japanese researchers have found that forests can be a relaxation haven. A walk in the woods brings about measurable changes in our body function. Blood pressure levels begin to lower down to normal levels and the heart rate begins to slow down. The stress related hormone in our blood – Cortisol, is significantly reduced.

There are over 50 healing forests in Japan today. Quiet places in nature where people can go to reflect, relax, and rejuvenate without feeling unsafe.Clouds-w

 

TreeWe have collected some wonderful forest games and meditations to help you find your calm at this page. Here’s an example:

Problem Pebbles – Pick a handful of pebbles on your walk. Imagine each pebble is a problem you are facing or a troublesome situation you are dealing with. Keep dropping the pebbles as you walk.

*END NOTE: You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts at this link. We are a small group of friends trying to help people reconnect with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

We would love to hear your insights, meditations and tips for dealing with stress. Please add to our collective knowledge by sharing your experience or learning in the comments section below.

Wishing you strength and fortitude in the face of all storms.

 

 

Waterfall Healing – 7 ways to find calm

When life sends you rain, find waterfalls. This month we explore a collection of short waterfall meditations to help you find your calm.

Waterfalls have this unique ability to pause our train of thoughts, bring our awareness to the present moment and fill us with awe. Seeing the movement of water on it’s journey to the ocean reminds us in many ways of our own journey in time. For a brief moment one is conscious of the larger but unseen laws that govern the flow of nature and life.

Given below are 7 short waterfall meditations. Simple ideas and thoughts that one can contemplate on, while enjoying the beauty and wonder of the waterfalls.  Find an image or words that call out to you and spend a little time absorbing it’s essence.

*Note: Some of the gifs on this page may take time to load on slow internet connections. We hope you patience is amply rewarded.

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Fall. Rise. Repeat

Dance

Everything Changes

Slow down. Find yourself.

Flow

Let Go

From Nothing. Into Nothing.

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We hope these words and waterfalls encourage you to explore the hidden peace, power and potential that lies within each one of us.

It would be really nice to hear your reflections or meditations with waterfalls. Please add to our collective knowledge by sharing your insights and experiences in the comments section.

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

 

Forest Meditation and the Wavering Mind

The mind blows like the wind. It is difficult to control and hard to predict. Especially when it is troubled. Our patterns of thought may vary from scattered confusion or wavering indecision to a spiralling into negative thoughts.

At such times, the forests can offer us surprisingly simple ways to control the commotion in our head and turn a storm of thoughts into a gentle breeze. In this article, we introduce you to the concept of forest mediation and offer some interesting examples to help you find your calm.
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What is Forest Meditation ?

It is a way of finding calm and balance with the help of nature. It helps us in becoming free of thoughts that trouble us or hinder us. By connecting with nature we are able to find answers to difficult questions and bring clarity to life.

In traditional meditation, we withdraw our senses and focus inward to reach a state of inner peace. While in forest meditation we open our senses to experience the peace that exists in nature and deepen our realization, that we are also a part of nature.

Forest meditation is the act of creating a healing experience for yourself. It is about finding the strength of mountains, the compassion of trees and the wisdom of water. The goal of forest meditation is to grow as a person. Above all, it is a journey that creates lasting peace and serenity.

How is it different from traditional meditation?

Many people find it difficult to sit in one place with awareness. The mind is filled with multiple thoughts and the harder one tries to resist, the more they persist.

People who are generally restless or overactive find traditional meditation very hard. Also if one’s mind is already in a state of unrest, or one is going through a troublesome situation in life, it is necessary to calm the thoughts and feelings before one can learn to slow down the thoughts and deepen their focus.

Psychologist Edward Thorndike pointed out that it is not the work expended in the administrative details of an office setting or the algebra in a schoolhouse per se that causes mental fatigue; it is the high energy cost of “inhibiting the tendencies to think of other things.” In other words, mental fatigue was being amplified by firing up the areas of the brain that are required to put the brakes on distracting thoughts.

Forest meditation walks

Start your nature walk by setting an intention for the walk. It helps in channelizing one’s awareness and energies in the right direction.

Be silent. Go slow. Think less. Feel more.

In the first half of the walk use your sense of sight, sound, or smell to bring your thoughts to the present moment. Notice the nature around you and try to find things that fill your heart with awe and wonder.

In forest meditation, we do not try to inhibit or stop any negative thoughts. Instead, we take the help of nature to replace them with positive thoughts, insights, and inspiration.

Creating a relationship with the forest.

Once you are feeling calmer, find a place that calls out to you and sit in silence, observing the world around you. Notice the relationships that exist in nature and the interconnectedness of everything around you. Keep your thoughts in the present moment and learn what nature has to teach us.

Here are a few examples of some forest meditations you could try, the next time you plan to visit a forest or any green space in nature. There is no time limit or rigid rules. Find your own rhythm and choose what feels natural to you. Every person has a unique connection with nature. We hope you find yours.

Time Travel: Find a big rock or an old tree and rest against it. Imagine traveling far back in time and reliving all the experiences from the perspective of the rock or tree.

Gratitude Walk: Find something in nature that fills you with gratitude. Stay with the feeling for as long as you can.

Song of Nature: As you walk in the forest, imagine every pore in your skin is receiving the sounds of nature just like your ears. Absorb all the sounds like a sponge.

World within worlds: Look closely at the tiny world of insects, grass, and small plants that often pass unnoticed under our feet. Find something unique and unexpected.

Circle of Awareness: Sit in a beautiful spot. Create a tiny circle of awareness around you. Become aware of all the beauty in the circle. Slowly expand the circle of awareness to include a larger area. Repeat, until you reach the edge of your imagination.

Dissolving: While sitting at a vantage point which offers a scenic vista, eat a fruit or a piece of mint candy slowly. As the mint dissolves in your mouth, imagine you are dissolving into the forest. In the end, only the forest remains.

Connect with nature. Find your calm.

Leaving you with a short forest meditation film. We hope you enjoyed this post. Please share it with those may find it of help.

END NOTE:
Everyone understands the benefits of meditation, but very few people actually try it or give up too easily. In a world that is getting increasingly crowded, competitive and complex it has become even more important to take care of our state of mind.

If you have any questions or suggestions for forest meditations, do add them in the comment box below to create a space for shared learning. The idea is to learn from each other and share our experiences from different forests around the world. To get a monthly newsletter with new learning please sign up at this link

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*This page is part of our learning program. Once you have tried out these activities on a nature walk, you can click on the acorn or proceed to this link.

Loneliness and its forest cure

This month we touch upon the growing issue of loneliness. Even though the world is more connected than ever, we find a great number of people experiencing a sense of isolation and disconnect from others. Can the forests teach us how to avoid loneliness and in difficult times, overcome it?

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hern42/

To find the answer, we take a journey into Canada’s Forests. Canada is the second largest country in the world. It’s forests and other wooded lands make up 40% of its 979 million hectares. Canada’s forest cover represents 10% of the entire world’s forest cover.

In Canada lives a wise professor who has been studying trees and forests for years. Her research has given us some interesting findings. Watch this short Ted Talk by Suzanne Simard to know more.

Suzanne Simard is a professor of forest ecology and teaches at the University of British Columbia. She is best known for her work on how trees communicate with other trees.

Forests are built on relationships
~Suzanne Simard

The forest cure for loneliness

The best antidote for loneliness is meaningful relationships. Which includes and begins with examining the relationship we have with ourselves.

Most people think about creating relationships with people who are like them or with people who they like, but the forests teach us that relationships are built on giving. The action of giving opens the door for receiving.

The trees in the forest feed the fungi networks with food, while the fungi supply the trees with vital nutrients which are difficult to access. As the bond deepens, the fungi are able to spread and connect to other trees forming a large network of interconnected trees. This beautiful example from nature can teach us an important lesson. The act of giving starts the process of connecting with others and bridges the way for reaching out to people who can give back to you.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/deniscollette/10134425183/

Sometimes, building relationships with other people is not easy and requires a lot of effort and practice. Here’s a helpful tip. Creating a connection with plants, trees and forests is simple and can be a healing exercise. They can teach us a lot about relationships and also take away our loneliness. Once we begin to explore and learn this dance of giving and receiving we come to realise that we share a relationship with everything. Not just with other people, but also with animals, trees and nature.

With enough practise, we can become like the mother trees which give far more than they receive, especially to those in need. Sharing our personal gifts to reach out and help take away the loneliness in others.

To start off on this journey, here’s a quick recap of 4 take-aways from Suzzane Simard’s talk.

  • Go connect with the forests. Build a relationship with them.
  • Learn how they work. Learn what they have to teach.
  • Protect the forests. They can’t defend themselves from humans.
  • The forests are worth saving, because you are worth saving. Use your own links to spread the word.

Forests aren’t just a bunch of trees competing with each other, they’re super cooperators. ~ Suzanne Simard

Questions for reflection

What are we receiving and what are we giving back to the relationships in our lives?
How do we create a better relationship with ourselves and others?

And while you ponder on these questions do enjoy this beautiful video from the forests of Banff National Park in Canada. In the filmmaker’s words – “It is another one of the magical Wildlands of our planet. A place where you can truly experience the strong connection between humans and nature. It’s difficult not to be fully aware of your existence when you are walking through the Rocky Mountains of Canada. Exploring the Wildland of Banff is a life changing experience.”

Film credits:
Time-lapse Photography: Enrique Pacheco (enriquepacheco.com)
Original Score: Peter Nanasi (peternanasi.com)

END NOTE: Do add your thoughts, stories and reflections in the comment box. It will help us learn from each other.
If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to help people reconnect with nature. To know more about us and join us as a fellow volunteer visit this link.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilbanas/831577475/

Lessons from Old trees

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This week’s healing story is a story of regeneration. It is about facing years of discrimination. It is about finding yourself alone and misunderstood. It is about fighting battles, inner and outer. It is a story of growing up. Not just in age but also as a person.

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than one seeks.”

~John Muir

A healing story by Price Sheppy 
I grew up a homosexual in a small American town. My gay friends and I often got harassed. Some people would threaten to beat me up and at best people would simply say that they would pray for my salvation. I grew up going to church and struggled with my “sin” and wondered if I was going to go to hell.

When I was 16 and a junior in high school I got a summer job on a trail crew and it was the first time that I had to backpack 5 miles into nature and away from civilisation. It was the hardest work that I ever did. I remember the first time that I hiked up to a ridge line and looked in all directions and I didn’t see a city or a road. I was scared, but also I started to feel a release. It was the first time that I was ever away from my community/city, because I was so far away physically I was also able to create some mental space from my home town and emotions and feelings started to shift.

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One day one of the crew leaders gave us 30 minutes to go into the woods and sit and be alone in the woods. At first it was scary, then boring, but then as I looked out at a beautiful view, the shift that I began to feel earlier finally came into perspective.  Here is my best description of what happened.

All I knew was what my community had told me, being homosexual was evil and wrong. Suddenly I was away from that for the first time. Suddenly I realized there was more and bigger things then I had ever known. The wind through the trees was soft and warm and the branches swayed slowly. I suddenly was overwhelmed with what was the inherent Peace of nature. I felt safe. I thought of the animals and the squirrels and birds that I was seeing and hearing and felt that I belonged to a larger community. These animals and plants didn’t judge me for who I was. I felt accepted as just another animal in this world. It allowed me to accept myself for the first time in my whole life. Surrounded in the beautiful and safe space.  I felt loved and I loved myself.

w-leaf-1From that point on I have continued to go to the forest and open spaces to receive healing. It is an interesting kind of healing. Whenever all of the bad things in life happen I go to take a walk in the woods, or find a beautiful place and rediscover the peace nature provides. It is a strange kind of acceptance and peace nature offers because it doesn’t exclude the pain and suffering in the world. I am smart to know that when I am backpacking in the woods that I can just as easily die or be killed. I see the pain and suffering of other animals and their struggle to survive. Yet surrounding all of this is a beauty and a peace that is accepting of all of that and an acceptance of who I am. It seems to tell me to stand up and fight, and also helps me relax and heal.

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Years have passed, but the healing moment has remained with Price and continues to influence his life and inspire his work. Price is currently working as Marin Community Program Manager for the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy in San Francisco. He leads walks into nature for people of different age groups and backgrounds. He hopes that through these walks he can help to introduce the healing of nature into other lives.
http://www.parksconservancy.org

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To visit the Muir Woods, is to walk into one of nature’s greatest shrines. You will be awed into silence as you go in and be a wiser person when you come out. Muir woods has been designated as a national monument in America. It lies in the Golden Gate National Recreational area near San Francisco, California and is one of the last few homes of the ancient coastal redwood forests.

Redwoods include the tallest living trees on Earth and can reach up to 115 meters (379 feet). Imagine standing under a tree that is as high as a 35 story building. Many old trees have huge cavities in their trunks – also known as goose pens (from the use by the earlier people) – which can hold more than 20 people. Exactly why the redwoods grow so tall is a mystery. Theories continue to develop but proof remains elusive.

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Redwoods are also one of the oldest living things on Earth. The oldest known redwood specimen is about 2,200 years old, many others in the wild exceed 600 years. The reason redwoods are able to reach such high ages is their unusual ability to survive. Resistance to natural enemies such as insects and fire are built-in features of a coast redwood. Diseases are virtually unknown and insect damage insignificant thanks to the high tannin content of the wood. Thick bark and foliage that rests high above the ground provides protection from all but the hottest fires.

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Fairy Circles: One of the most amazing things about the Redwoods is that they do not necessarily need a seed to form a new tree. Redwoods have the ability to produce sprouts whenever the cambium—the living tissue just beneath the bark—is exposed to light. New sprouts may come directly from a fallen branch, a cut stump or a burnt tree’s root. If the top breaks off or a limb gets sheared or the tree gets cut by a logger, a new branch will sprout from the wound and begin to grow into a new tree. The new trees are identical clones of the parent tree and may carry DNA which is thousands of years old. The forest is covered in such giant stumps surrounded by a circle of newer trees which are also known as fairy circles.

Some redwoods can sit patiently in the shade of the older trees for decades. Yet as soon as the elder tree falls or is cut down, breaking the thick canopy and allowing new light to enter the forest, the suppressed redwood springs up with new growth—a phenomenon known as release.

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Lessons from the Redwoods.
A walk among these giants is a lesson in humility. With their size and age they give the small journey of our human lives a larger perspective. Their majesty and grace tells us stories of patience and endurance. Their resilience fills us with hope and reminds us that despite all the calamities and hardships in life, we carry within ourselves the ability to regenerate and renew our spirit.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

~ John Muir

Learn more about the redwoods>>
Know more about the Muir woods>>

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Healing Forest is a project to explore fascinating forests and collect inspiring stories of healing from nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping Forests heal.

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If you have a healing story from nature, do write to us. In a world full of divisions, we need more stories of healing. Please share / subscribe / comment

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How forests heal people – in 6 pictures

Here’s a wonderful forest tip for Gorillas living in the urban jungle. There are times when we all have to face challenges in life, big or small. This short comic explores the connections of nature with our mind and body. It throws light on how to create moments of calm and healing when you need it the most.

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Gorilla-BScientists around the world are finding out the health benefits of spending time in forests. But there are millions of people around the world who suffer silently from anxiety, depression and stress related problems. Nature can help in healing. This is an important idea that needs to be spread far and wide. If you would like a high res copy of the images in this comic strip to post on your blog / fb click here (Dropbox zip file). Please do provide a link back to our healing forest website in your post.

Credits: Art by Arif Hussain ; Information source: Infom.org, Shinrin-yoku.org

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Healing Forest is a journey to discover the magical healing powers of nature. To find ways to bring back the connection that people and nature shared not so long ago.  Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.

Join us in this exploration of fascinating forests and inspiring stories of healing from nature. Subscribe to our monthly healing notes : CLICK HERE

To know more visit: www.healingforest.org/about