Green Friday instead of Black Friday

Green Friday instead of Black Friday

Since the 1980s, the Friday after the American holiday Thanksgiving has been promoted by retailers as a VERY profitable scheme to get shoppers to brick-and-mortar as well as online stores. Popularly known as “Black Friday” because the shopping day after Thanksgiving is the day many merchants books shift from the red of debt to the black of profit, the day has taken on sacred significance in a world that worships wealth.

Though founded in The States, Black Friday, is deepening capitalisms’s hold on the world by seeping into places like The Netherlands, a country that does not celebrate Thanksgiving nor has the last Friday in November off for shopping shenanigans.

Packaged as “family fun”and “Christmas shopping,” just because it is familiar doesn’t mean we have to find fun or associate faith with the frenzy that ultimately lines the pockets of the few while driving millions into debt.

This year, I’m inviting y’all to observe a Green Friday instead of Black Friday with 12 ideas for flora and fauna fun.

1. Plant bulbs! Whether it’s tulips, jonquils or irises, fall is the perfect time to plant bulbs to ensure a colorful spring.

2. Host a nature scavenger hunt.

3. Invite friends and family to bring a those decorative gourds over and put on a neighborhood a gourd hunt (like an egg hunt, only with a bit more pumpkin spice).

4. Build a bug hotel or hedgehog house to help small critters find gezzelig homes over the long winter.

5. Go for a nice long walk, mobile device on silent, and get to know the nature beings in your neighborhood. What might you notice about their preparations for winter?

6. Make some cool land art! I am partial to mandala-inspired creations or leafy labyrinths, but you might be inspired to make something wilder.

7. Make a winter-greens wreath for your door or table (or for a gift). If you follow a Christian calendar, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the first Sunday of Advent and Friday could be the perfect day to collect all you need for a natural Advent wreath.

8. Find a Forest Bathing guide in your area and sign up for a walk.

9. If snow already blankets the world outside your window, make some bird-food decorations and add them to a nearby tree.

10. Bring the forest inside by building a terrarium or other tiny micro-ecosystem.

11. Host a Bob Ross painting party!

12. Make a gratitude garden.

 

What activities would you add?

 

Sit Spot – be still and know

Sit Spot – be still and know

“The first good thing is the goodness of nature.”

– Julian of Norwich

How many seconds has it been since you checked your phone? How long is your to-do list? How are culture wars treating you?

Maybe it’s time for a sit spot.

Taking time to regularly rest and reset in a sit spot is a gift to yourself and the world around you. Sit spot is a gentle practice that opens the doors of perception and presence in your day-to-day life. It is a radical departure from the glorification of busy to give yourself permission to simply sit, look, listen and experience your place in the natural world and as Mary Oliver said, “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

What is a sit spot?
A sit spot is a natural place that you can visit as a regular mindfulness, bodyfulness practice. Sit spots can be lush and deeply wild, neat and tidy in the burbs or tiny patch of green in the city.

If you’re not sure how to pick the “right” spot, that’s okay. There is no such thing as a perfect spot in nature. If your first choice turns out not to be ideal for your practice, even better because you get to explore more natural settings!

There are a few essential elements to selecting your sit spot. Safety first, friends! Your sit spot should be a place where you feel and are safe. There should be some presence of nature. Outdoors is ideal, but a lovely spot by a window or in a house-plant nook can work wonders too. Ease of access to your sit spot is pretty important. The more accessible your sit spot is – the closer to your home or easier to set aside in your home, the more likely you are to visit it with intentionality on a regular basis. Ideally it should be less just a few minutes to get to and settle into your sit spot.

Once you’ve selected a spot and settled in, you are invited to spend between 10-20 minutes unplugged and tuned in to the world around you. While sitting, look around to get to know the space and the beings with whom you share this place. Notice your noticing by lingering with what draws your attention. Are you curious, let your attention linger a bit longer.

After you’ve introduced yourself the spot and the beings around you begin to make themselves known, invite your senses into deeper connection. Reach out and see what you can experience with your sense of touch. What sounds are nearest to you, and which sounds are the far away? What is the smallest things you can see; what is really close or super far away? What does the sky feel like on your skin?

What are you noticing?

And that’s it folx, it really is that simple. Think of your sit spot as a tiny slice of sabbath you can experience any day of the week. Sabbath is a gift, a may not a must, where we are invited to step out of the unnatural, dehumanizing industrial growth society to slow down and connect with our true nature, others and the numinous mystery of life. A sit spot, when visited regularly over time, can begin to open those doors in gentle and surprising ways.

If you begin this practice, and I really hope you will, I invite you to come back here to share a photo of your spot and maybe something you are noticing now and over time.

Sometimes it is helpful to reflect on a prompt at your sit spot. If you would like to receive weekly sit spot prompts, please sign up below. Sit spot prompts will begin Friday, August 26.

If you’d like to schedule a walk with me and explore sit spots in Leiden, The Hague or Amsterdam, you can connect with me here.

Back to School and Back to Nature

Back to School and Back to Nature

I woke up before the alarm clock on Monday morning, fresh from another stress dream prior to the start of school. In this dream I was in charge of taking our two aging, black and white dogs to the dog park for an afternoon romp. When I got there I was greeted by no less than 20 large black and white dogs running and tumbling happily – all without any fence surrounding the park. My dream self saw no problem with this scenario and and quickly unleashed Louie and Sookie to join the cacophony. Within seconds both had bolted and I spent the rest of the dreamscape running and yelling their names (and the names of dogs from previous chapters of my life).

When I woke up and realized it was not real I was relieved and exhausted. Stress dreams are part of the fleeting days of summer for many who serve our world in schools around the world. The anticipation of the demanding days and a desire to bring our very best to our students and colleagues is just the beginning of the high pressure of working in education.

In addition to working at an international school, I am a certified nature and forest therapy guide. Because of my vantage point of serving the faculty and staff in the elementary division of our school, I see how mush passionate educators give of themselves and the toll that can take on their wellbeing.

As educators juggle a multitude of tasks and demands from creating engaging lessons to managing thoughtful differentiation to learning the latest buzzwords and technology (and in America, the latest lockdown protocol), it is important that school leaders create accessible avenues of support for faculty so that they can, in turn, support students.

“A new Gallup poll shows that 44% of K-12 employees say they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work, including 52% of teachers who report the same. Moreover, 35% of college and university workers say they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work – making K-12 and higher education the two industries with the highest rate of burnout, according to the new poll.” writes Lauren Camera at U.S. News

How can a walk in the woods increase faculty and staff well-being and resilience within an educational setting? How can forest and nature therapy help mitigate the stressful demands of the classroom?

Nature and Forest Therapy Supports

 

Forest & Nature is a research-based approach for supporting health and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. Usually offered as a 2-3 hour immersive experience in nature, participants are guided through a series of gentle invitations to awaken their senses, slow down, cultivate presence and deepen their relationship with nature. Inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to “forest bathing,” it is a practice of spending time in nature-lush areas for the purpose of enhancing health, wellness, and happiness.

An abundance of growing research indicates over and over again that spending time in nature supports human physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It is also known that when teams engage in shared nature-connected experiences it opens up the possibility for creativity and cultivating genuine connections that inspire teams to tune in to their individual and group potential.

Certainly, the wellbeing of students is at the forefront of every educator’s mind. Unfortunately, the overwhelming nature of caring for students in the 21st century often leaves teacher and staff wellness out conversations about school wellness initiatives. Healthy teachers are the foundation for healthy classrooms.

This year as you plan for back-to-school nights, parent teacher conferences, professional development and implementing the latest learning platform, I encourage you to set aside intentional, regular time to get of the school building into a natural environment.

The forest is the therapist, the guide opens the doors.

When you are ready, I am here to serve as your nature and forest therapy guide. And if you are not in the area, or if I’m  not the right guide for you, you can search for a guide in your neck of the woods via the ANFT’s Guide Locator.

 

Sources

Educators Report Highest Level of Burnout Among All Other Industries

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams (find it on Bookshop.org)

Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental health

Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy:
A State-of-the-Art Review

A collection of great resources on the ANFT website.

 

Unplugging In, With and For Nature

Unplugging In, With and For Nature

A long time ago, in a mindset far away, I planted and served an online church in Second Life. I’ve served as the minister of digital community at the UCC denominational level and even traveled the States leading “social media bootcamps” for clergy. For about 4 years I worked as the director of digital strategy for a liberal arts college in the south. All this after I graduated from seminary with a focus in social justice, pastoral care and digital ministry. I was about as nerdy as theologically progressive gal could be. 

And then just before the world turned upside down and tuned into all things virtual (meetings, game night, karaoke and church), the universe with her delightful sense of humor, plopped Braiding Sweetgrass into my heart, shook me to the core and called me away from the screen and into the woods.

Now I am called to (and trained in) nature therapy, outdoor life coaching and eco-chaplaincy, as far removed from technology as possible. Of course I still hang out in digital spaces, the public square of our age, and even build websites for folx in helping professions. But every day I more fully inhabit my wild love for the natural world – of which we are all a part – to invite others into this (re)connection with creation of which we are all luminescent, interdependent parts.

More and more research around the world verifies the positive physiological, mental and spiritual benefits of intentional time in nature.  

But it’s not all about humans and how we can use nature for our wellbeing. When we spend more time (re)connecting with the natural world through activities such as forest bathing, nature retreats or guided nature meditations, there are positive impacts on our environmental attitudes and behavior. A spirit of reciprocity invites each of us to be in and with nature, recognizing we are of nature and to do what we can to be for nature in a world that only sees what can be consumed. A walk in and with nature is the first step to remembering we are of and for nature.

I hope to have the honor of sharing a walk with you one day.

1. Amy Novotney, “Getting Back to the Great Outdoors” American Psychological Association, (2008)

2. Dr. Qing Li, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, (2018)

3. Kyoung Sang Cho et al., “Terpenes from Forests and Human Health,” Toxicology Research, (2017)

4. Claudio D. Rosa & Silvia Collado, “Experiences in Nature and Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors: Setting the Ground for Future Research,” Frontiers in Psychology (2019)

Don’t Meditate

Don’t Meditate

Meditation can be daunting. 

Perhaps, don’t meditate.

Just try being still and quiet for three minutes, maybe five. 

Don’t wait until the dishes are done or the laundry is folded or the inbox has been emptied. Just choose a quiet place and time and give yourself a few minutes.

Maybe sit at your table where you’ve gathered over the years with friends and loved ones.

Or in your favorite comfortable chair where a book or film has moved you to tears.

Or even on the foot of your bed…

Near a window is particularly nice.

Just be still and quiet for five minutes with no device, book, craft, chore or even lover at hand.

Don’t try to meditate. 

Don’t try to count your breaths. 

Don’t try to do anything. 

Just be still and quiet for mere minutes;

allowing your mind to wander any which way it will. 

Be gentle with yourself. 

Notice your noticing. Has your mind wandered to a task that needs doing? 

Thank your mind for its concern for the work of the world.

Breathe. 

Notice where you are sitting, are there sounds or sights distracting you?

Thank your senses for being alert to the world.

Breathe.

Notice how your body feels. Are your legs feeling wiggly? Does your nose itch? 

Thank your body for giving your spirit access to this world.

Breathe.

Quietly whisper “thank you” into the room.

Breathe.

Say thank you again.

Breathe.

When you are ready, welcome yourself back to movement and activity.

Next week, if you are ready, sit again, perhaps for 10 minutes.