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.

 

 

A Guide’s Harvest

A Guide’s Harvest

I began my journey as a nature therapy guide long before I found the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy guides, but have found my people and myself through the hospitality, process and connections in this wise and gentle community. My reasons for searching and finding this community are plentiful – layers upon layers like the forest herself, some hidden from the casual observer and others reaching heavenward for all to see. My well rooted past, tangled with wounds and gifts, my calling to pastoral care, my daughter’s wild love for the natural world, and a still small voice calling me deeper into the natural world to experience a divine presence in every being I encounter are part and parcel of what has led me to and moves me forward on the way of the guide. 

I recently wrote this blog post which was inspired by the invitation to create a Threshold project:

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.

The above reflection is only a tiny glimpse of how profoundly my encounter with the Way of The Guide has been and continues to be in my life. I feel more at home in my own skin as I more full inhabit the evolution of my calling to accompany others on their own journey of rewilding. I feel most keenly alive when I step into guiding others through the doors of perception through each aspect of guided walk. And when a walk is complete, the impact lingers will after the experience so that my heart is so tender and open that I can suddenly weep with delight upon seeing sunlight through a glass of sparkling water. What an amazing gift! 

So too am I grateful for my companions in the Wild Tulip cohort who’ve brought their full selves to the co-creation of our little, digital community. I have learned a great deal from everyone and feel connected to our merry little band of guides in ways I cannot yet fully articulate. I do feel a growing sense of – gosh, I don’t know what to call it – to be set out on my own to continue this journey without the support and celebrations of the Wild Tulips. I only hope that the way I guide others will honor our shared experience and our leaders Ben and Kat who so deftly wove together the many threads of this learning and the diverse spirits entrusted to their care.

With a hopeful heart I will never be done sharing what I need to make this experience complete. For now, I have a small slide show of just a sliver of things I experienced along the way.

Urban Foraging in Amsterdam

Urban Foraging in Amsterdam

Before I moved to Europe the only kind of tea that would pass these lips was iced and sweet. Tea made in my mother’s house was brewed and served according to very strict guidelines:

  • There was one small aluminum pot used to make the tea. No other other pot would do and NOTHING else could ever be cooked in that pot. I learned this the hard way after warming up a chef boyardee after school snack.
  • After the water is at a rolling boil, put in one pinch of baking soda, turn off the water, immerse, two Lipton family-size bags, cover with a thick, old saucer and wait at least 10 but not more than 20 minutes.
  • Add two large scoops of Dixie Crystal sugar to a large, glass pitcher
  • Pour hot tea over the sugar and stir until all sugar melts.
  • Top up with cold tap water until pitcher is full
  • Serve immediately over glasses filled to the brim with ice. If the ice floats, add more. Never serve first cups with floating ice.
  • Finish entire pitcher and never store over night, not even in ‘fridge.

It’s not often that I drink this kind of tea anymore, even if I could find it outside of Georgia. And as for hot tea, well that’s one of those things like free jazz that I really want to like, but alas my tastes are slow to mature beyond the days of sweet tea and bluegrass.

Until recently.

I am in the last stretch of certification as a nature therapy guide and one of my final projects is to identify with 110% certainty between 4-6 plants that I can forage and brew into a tea served on a nature therapy walk. And though I am getting to know the names of the trees and plants around me (I call the Japanese Maple in my garden Ruby), the goal of nature therapy is less a naturalists’ endeavor of classification and far more a somatic experience with the more-than-human world. I’m rightfully wary of serving folks what I pluck from the forest because what looks tasty is often poisonous and what seems dangerous can turn out to be incredibly healthy!

So, rather than relying on books and handy Youtube foraging videos, I recently reached out to the incredibly wise Lynn Shore, founder of Urban Herbology in Amsterdam, and spent a lovely morning wandering through her “River of Herbs” gardens in a city park learning about delicious plants that grow in abundance in The Netherlands.

As we walked and talked and touched the tender plants, Lynn plucked herbs and placed them in thermoses filled with piping hot water. I picked and tasted a bit of Wild Garlic, Stinging Nettle, Lemon Balm, Sweet Cicely, Garlic Mustard, Sweet Woodruff, Cleavers and Wild Geranium. Each plant I met was bursting with fragrance and flavor and my tastebuds were beyond thrilled with the invitation to experience the delights of the wild world.

We sat on a path strewn with pink blossoms and sipped the steeped tea and talked about the benefits of the plants, respectful foraging and how a love for nature inspires a genuine care for the environment.

This new way of getting to know tea, looking for the friends in the field that we can forage and share under the trees, is the tea-making tradition I hope to share with others on our journey of falling more deeply in love with creation.

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)

3 minutes of forest bathing

3 minutes of forest bathing

I wonder what it would be like for you to silence the distractions around you and sit still, noticing your breathing, while watching 3 minutes of nature time in the Veluwe…