During my undergraduate studies, I took a philosophy class where we discussed whether or
not we could use the mind to determine if we were alive. I remember feeling as if it was a silly conversation because I believed, then and now, that the mind cannot capture the feeling of
being alive, only the concept.
In those days, I would spend a lot of time in the forest, trying to just feel what life was. It felt more natural than the process of learning through concepts. The classroom had so little to
offer me when it came to real life experience, not that I didn’t enjoy some of the intellectual adventures that were had there. But sitting in the forest, I realized how dangerous concepts
are when they are detached from the felt experience.
I remember a time when I saw a bird egg hatch. I knew about how the bird incubated in the
egg and pecked its’ way out, and what would happen next, but it was the feeling of being
there that defined the experience of being alive in that moment. And I remember a time
when I found a bird with two broken legs and some damage to the wings. I knew that in that moment compassion dictated that I help it pass. And I knew how to do it, but nothing
intellectual compares to the feeling of being intimately tied to that moment, in that relationship.
In life and death and all experience in between, there is a concept,
an expectation, a desire,that is crafted by the mind. But no matter how deeply the mind thinks it understands the experience, nothing compares to the felt sensation of being there. That is what being alive feels like, when you are living it, not thinking about it.
Most of us think too much, some of us all the time.
When we think too much, we lose track of ourselves, the selves that feel. These selves don’t
even have names- they are our physical selves, our animal selves. They do not think, they feel. And it is this that connects ourselves to all others because feeling is connective in its’
reciprocity. Thinking is something you do by yourself, feeling is always in relationship to something felt. When you feel the rain, it can be said that it feels you as it courses down your skin, adapting its’ path to the contours of your body. When you hear the birdsong, the bird
is heard. There is exchange, there is relationship.
One of the great paradoxes of our day is that we want to be seen, to be witnessed as our true authentic selves, and yet we cannot recognize our own authenticity because we are thinking instead of feeling. Each of us wants to have our place, have our missions and purpose, our journeys and sagas and defining moments. But these things are not things that can ever be
felt, these things are simply projections of our thoughts. If we want to feel alive, we must
be capable of just being present, awakening the senses, and feeling what is real.
Mary Oliver (the unofficial Poet Laureate of Forest Therapy) once wrote, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.” And that’s really all it takes; it’s just paying attention to what is right before us. We’re missing it all around us. The quality of light as
the sun passes through the sky. The dancing grasses in the breeze. The sweat on our brows,
the sound of the rain, the taste of a wild strawberry, the meandering garden snake and the
waltzing butterfly. Can we just be with these things beyond our thinking selves? Can we
expand our definition of self and community to recognize we’re all alive together? And more importantly, that it is because of each other that we feel alive?
Feeling alive is feeling connected. It’s not spiritual or philosophical or metaphysical at all. It’s very simple. It’s nothing more than relaxing into being right where you are and paying attention to what you are feeling.
The forest makes this easy because the forest doesn’t think, it only feels. Everything in the forest is waiting to form a relationship with you, as if you are a long lost friend. In our social world, we are often scared of being in relationship with anything because relationships require some vulnerability. But the forest is a powerful teacher and
a compassionate listener. It is easy to be a little vulnerable when
we don’t have to think about why it’s scary in the first place.
As I guide, all I really do is help you stop thinking. I want to invite you into a few hours of time when you can turn off the thoughts and just feel, and in that feeling, be alive. The forest brings
us back to our selves, so that we may feel, so that we may appreciate the simple wonder of