Whispers from the Forest
It was in late October 2017, and it was an unusually warm autumn in Toronto. I was wandering, Shinrin-Yoku style, in the downtown’s biggest forest, High Park. The scene in front of me was idyllic; many Black Oak trees stood across an acorn-strewn field beneath a blue, blue sky. The odd insect fluttered by, chickadees chirped, and scores of chubby black squirrels collected their winter supply.
Suddenly, a red-tailed hawk swooped directly into my path, only a few metres away. I stood motionless. We met eye to piercing eye. Her white and caramel wing feathers ruffled in the wind. My attention fell to her dangling talons poised purposefully over an unsuspecting squirrel… and I realized the reason for our meeting.
I wondered what broader message there might be in this brief but rich encounter. I kept coming back to the themes of awareness, abundance, and choice.
"Nature is abundant. There is more than enough to go around. We have the choice to pay attention to this or not, to our peril."
In January of 2018, I began leading forest bathing-style walks with my newly founded group, True Nature Toronto, through which I aim to inspire appreciation and awe of our true nature through nature connection experiences. On our first walk, which was a very wintery and windy day, the six of us were engaged with the invitation to “notice what’s in motion.” I had tried this invitation on my own before. After some time focusing on whatever was moving, I was astonished to experience seeing the wind for the first time, which for me emerged as a gestalt of feeling, hearing and seeing what was behind all of this movement.
“You are so much more than you know!” said Wise Forest to me. “You heard my grass symphony with your eyes.”
As I was leaving the park after a walk with my dog Arrow, we came upon a small grove of pine trees near the road. When we got closer, the air around us seemed to thicken, and I felt an energetic unity around these trees. I thought to myself, “they must be a community!"
We approached slowly, and I looked and listened with my whole body, taking in the trees. At the edge of the grove I paused and stood for a few moments. Despite the cars passing by, and a busy restaurant a hundred metres away, there was a slight hush in the air.
On the next walk I guided, I intentionally started and ended in this little community of trees. To end, I suggested the participants try the same exercise I did when first engaging with the pine grove, which I have named “Standing With the Forest.” I was curious how others would sense and receive this group of trees. Most participants reported feeling protected, nurtured, cared for, and part of something bigger than themselves. This little pine grove felt like a community to most of them too.
“Come join us,” said the little pine grove, “and welcome home! We are here, we see you, you belong with us.”
In a few short months of practicing forest bathing, and inviting others to do so, I have heard, felt, seen, tasted and touched forgotten and even unknown parts of my humanity. Being present with and connected to our natural environment, can reveal the true abundance and interconnection in everything, and in all of us. Nature shows us there is nothing wrong with us, we are always welcome, and we belong, we are more than enough.
My message to the forest and all her beings is, “I will respect you, protect you and cherish you, for you are us, and we are you.”