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.

 

Picking Blackberries & Taking Selfies

Picking Blackberries & Taking Selfies

The day before we hitched Sugar Magnolia to the station wagon I logged out of Facebook and deleted it from my phone, but not before sharing one of those inane “taking a break from social media” social media posts. With an intention to only share one image a day on Instagram, we set out for a 21 day camping and hiking trip around the Benelux, a swanky mash-up of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Sugar Magnolia is the name of our early 90s Eriba caravan that we bought last year from a Dutch family living about as far east in The Netherlands as you can go. Our custom for each road trip is that once safely out of the neighborhood, we pop a CD in the player (yes, the car is also old enough to have a CD player) and crank up Sugar Magnolia by the Grateful Dead.

“…She’s got everything delightful
She’s got everything I need
A breeze in the pines in the summer night moonlight
Crazy in the sunlight yes indeed…”

On the road south headed to our first stop in Limburg, we were happily planning our first meals and hikes while watching the turbines spinning along the flat Dutch farmland. Strong was the itch to capture a video of the passing polders to post a poignant piece about natural energy sources. But I resisted and returned my attention to the conversation in the car.

A few hours and a couple of aging hippie soundtracks later, we rolled into the campground at the Maasduinen National Park and stood gawking with goosebumps under the massive Douglas Fir trees who would be our hosts for the next few days. The Maasduinen park in Limburg is a vast park of dunes, heather fields (heide in Dutch) home to an array of wildlife and quite the diversity of bees, according to the forest ranger who greeted us with a boyish grin and a large bee poster depicting the winged friends who keep the world humming.

Once settled and sufficiently lunched, we headed out for a hike in the dunes and heide, just starting to bloom in advance of the big purple show that covers the dunes for a couple weeks in late August. With the road behind us and a beautiful uncivilized horizon all around us, our conversation wandered into transcendentalist territory where we considered Emerson’s transparent eyeball and Buddhist teachings about being fully present to our direct experience. As Sookie and Louie, our two aging boxer/bulldog companions sniffed and peed and pulled us along, we started noticing that the path was lined with ripening vines of blackberries (well, to be accurate, they are European Dewberries). B bent down to pick and pop a berry onto her tongue and then I reached into the tangle of leaves and thorns to pluck a plump little treat for myself.

Zing! The tart little explosion was perfection, full of sunlight and itchy memories from childhood summers spent picking blackberries behind my elementary school in Atlanta. Fully present and at the same time welcoming wisps of the past, the urge to capture it all for social media barged in to spirit my attention away from my present experience. “Ooo, let’s get some pics, reach in again and let me take a few photos for Instagram!”

No longer was I fidgeting the seeds lodged in my molar; no more was my gaze soft and reminiscent; the taste on my tongue had faded into framing the perfect photo for thumbs ups and heart emojis from the handful of people who may or may not see my berry blip in their day of scrolling.

Gone was my direct experience of the landscape, my lover and our languid walk in Limburg. Now my mind was out here with y’all, imagining the dopamine kick it would get out of a nanosecond of…what? Affirmation, acknowledgement, ego? Ugh.

Around 180 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”

I slipped my phone back in my pocket, feeling a little silly that I had so quickly stepped off the present path and onto the digital landscape in my mind. This multifaceted medium – blogging, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – is built to be addictive, and I have been a devoted advocate for sharing a bit of love and light in the mess out here. I am also now called to put down my PDDs (person distraction devices) and take the “soft animal of body” out into the created world to experience encounters with wholeness – that awareness of being part and parcel of God –  that elude me on the interwebs.

And this doing what I do not want to do, all toxic Pauline theology aside, is a real and present human condition that many of us struggle with in various degrees and domains. In this struggle we are invited to be intentional with our promises of progress. For me this means airplane mode, away messages and phones parked out of reach combined with mindful/bodyful/prayerful practices such meditation, forest bathing and lectio divina. Such intentionality, however we craft it, can lead to rich internal landscapes where we are more fully aware of and connected to the world, one another and our ideal selves.

Here are a few ideas to help us deepen our human experiences of the here and now:

Find out how and use Do Not Disturb and away messages on your phone, email or other digital connection tools.

Put your phone in airplane mode at meal times, when you are on a walk or any time you want to just think your own thoughts for a while.

Go outside or spend longer than usual lingering by a window in your home.

Look closely at everything​​ (let it get a little weird).

Occasionally take a photo with the intention to print rather than post.

Breathe deeply when the urge to click or scroll tugs at your mind. Notice the sensation without judgement and let it pass.

Journal or draw – on paper – cheap notebooks are best for letting yourself fill the pages with musings, meanderings and mistakes.

Be gentle with yourself.

 

 

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.