An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Forest Bathing–A Mindful Experience with Nature, June 10, 10:30-12:30

In partnership with Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga, TN, I will be leading a Forest Bathing experience. Contact (in advance) Crabtree to register.

Forest Bathing, also called Shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese concept of immersing oneself in the rich sensory experience of the forest with open awareness and no expectations. The body and mind “bathes” in the smells, sounds, light, movement, taste and feel of the forest.

Through mindful experiences such as Forest Bathing, we can be present with the body and senses, simply resting in natural awareness, grounded. We will practice skills in how to work with difficult thoughts and feelings to reduce stress and anxiety.

Research in Japan is providing evidence of what nature-lovers have intuitively known for years: that reconnecting to the forest will heal us. Studies show, specifically, that intentional forest walking elevates the mood, reduces stress hormones such as cortisol, boosts the immune system, and reduces the heart rate.

Experience it for yourself.

Location:  Guild-Hardy Trail at Lookout Mountain Conservancy.  (The trail is located at the northern end of Lookout Mountain within the Chattanooga city limits.  Park in the far west end (gravel) lot at Ruby Falls where we will meet to start our walk.)

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Spring Ephemeral Forest Bathing Retreat, Sat. April 12, 10-3

Spring Ephemeral Forest Bathing 2014

There is a balm in nature to make the wounded whole

The old African-American spiritual hymn was playing in my head, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” and I stopped to listen. My friend, Honor Woodard, once told me of her practice to notice the songs that pop into her head. Since then, I, too, have paid attention, and instead of the song being background noise, it takes on great meaning like exploring a dream as a gift from the subconscious.

The boardwalk protects the abundance of wildflowers from being trampled. Most are nestled in bed for their long winter's nap in this protected cove.

The boardwalk protects the abundance of wildflowers from being trampled. Most are nestled in bed for their long winter’s nap in this protected cove.

It was a lovely day in December with a clear, Robin-egg blue sky, and a breeze with a tint of warm. I had a to-do list, and mid-way through, I decided to surprise my trusted 4-legged companion, Fay, with a visit to The Pocket. The winter-scape provides a beautiful time to be in nature and to listen.

The Pocket Trail is a sacred and protected place for life to live. It’s one of those places whose air emanates a refuge like a great sigh of relief. Throughout the seasons, I’ve been to this place with Fay, with companions, and while leading large groups. Each time, I’m enchanted by the sound of the water and birds; I’m held in the womb of the rock; I’m seen by the trees and herbs; and I’m healed by breathing in the enriched air.

Holli and Fay at The Pocket, 12-17-13

Holli and Fay at The Pocket, 12-17-13

Sitting on a rock by the waterfall, Fay leaning against my side, I noticed that old spiritual hymn in my mind. By paying attention to the lyrics, I heard this deeply felt connection of healing I had with this place through words sung in suffering. I sat until the song played out, my mind went still and the silent mind could receive the place. The sun had lowered, and December’s chilled air motivated me to say good-bye for now; I’ll carry the healing with me.

The last light in The Pocket.

The last light in The Pocket.

Fay and I started our slow walk back along the creek, but before we left, I stopped to hear the song of the beech trees rustling in the breeze.

This winter, my hope for all folks is to find a moment of quiet stillness, to be silent enough to deeply listen. Peace be with you.

Ethnomusicology sources helped me to see layers of meaning in this beautiful song.  *Thank you Honor Woodard

From winter 2010 at Southern Dharma Retreat Center with Teacher John Orr.

From winter 2010 at Southern Dharma Retreat Center with Teacher John Orr.

Forest Bathing Retreat: toe first then full immersion June 21-22

Forest bathing is a practice of being present, opening our senses to receive all of the forest. It isn't about taking your clothes off to literally bathe. It's a figurative use of the word, as in to fully bask in the atmosphere. This trail is through the forest at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

Forest bathing is a practice of being present, opening our senses to receive all of the forest. It isn’t about taking your clothes off to literally bathe. It’s a figurative use of the word, as in to fully bask in the atmosphere. This trail is through the forest at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.  – John Burroughs

Friday, 6pm-8:30pm; Saturday, 7:30am-11:30am *

(6am-7:15am optional start for sitting in meditation at the pavilion.)

Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center (Reflection Riding)

Forest Bathing is a Japanese concept of immersing oneself in the sensory experience of the forest with open awareness and no expectations. Studies in Japan have proven that opening one’s senses to the forest will reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, boost the immune system, and reduce the heart rate.

Join Yong Oh, mindfulness teacher, Dr. Jean Lomino, director of CANC and outdoor educator, and Holli Richey, therapist and herbalist, for this Solstice retreat into the woods where we will experience the life-changing practice of mindfulness in nature. Experience how to be present with the body and senses, and learn how to work with difficult thoughts and feelings which generate greater stress and anxiety. Experience what it is to rest in natural awareness. This is the first of more Mindfulness in Nature retreats to come. Toe first, then full immersion.

Register with Chattanooga Arboretum by Monday, June 17th.  Donation, $25 suggested.

*This is not an overnight retreat.

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Perspective is everything

Blue-eyed Mary

Blue-eyed Mary, Collinsia verna

It’s so interesting how context changes our value of something. Today on a bird walk with David Haskell, he mentioned how the beautiful blue jay would be a focus of ecotourism in Costa Rica, but here in the eastern US, it’s a common bird, and thus we often don’t marvel quite so much. Though, Haskell says, its habits are still quite a mystery because its call is usually only far from its nest. When it’s near its nest, the blue jay is silent. Knowing that extra insight–or acknowledged lack of insight–into blue jay behavior, starts to change our perspective of the bird, and how we value it. Now, the blue jay is mysterious.

A similar phenomenon happens with plants. Our value of it can change based on the context. In 2007 when I was with my grandma and aunt in Wheeling, WV, we visited the river park at the Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River. I saw this darling blue and white flower, that at the time I considered some type of violet. It doesn’t grow in GA, where I have mostly lived, and so the beauty drew my attention, and the newness beckoned me to take time to photograph it.

My grandma and aunt patiently waited for me to take pictures, and chuckled at my rear-end sticking up in the air as I knelt down on the ground in this public place.

Later, after I moved to Tennessee, I learned that this is blue-eyed mary, Collinsia verna, not the Viola genus. It’s in the figwort family, or snapdragon family. To Tennesseans and the USDA Plants Database, it’s an endangered plant, which increases it’s sense of value. http://plants.usda.gov/java/nameSearch

The habitat of the blue-eyed mary is moist woods, though the blue-eyed marys I saw in Wheeling, West Virginia were coming up like flowering weeds in a frequently mowed, downtown park lawn in bright sunlight with few trees. Had I been from Tennessee, I might have jumped around a bit, excited and baffled to see this endangered flower in this uncommonly common spot. So, in hindsight I’m jumping around.

I think about how else my perspective influences my value or appraisal of something. Why does scarcity have to often occur for value to be perceived? We value aspects of nature or life when we finally understand that it could and will be otherwise.

Between the sensory awareness of something and the response, is a filter of meaning based on habits of expectation which colors our perspective. The blue jays and blue-eyed marys are only two examples of illustrating the process, but it’s happening every moment. In terms of plants and animals our perception can boil our choices of responses into three options: should I revere and protect this;  should I dislike and destroy this, ie mow, herbicide, shoot, trap, etc; or do I ignore and overlook it. These are sometimes necessary assessments for survival, and sometimes our assessment isn’t based on all the information, ending in unintended consequences. Many times, though, it’s not about survival; it’s simply about habit. And our habits place limitations on our experience. We may neglect to see, hear, smell, taste, touch much of our life fully because of how we categorized our experience.

Being an observer of nature is a gentle way to open our awareness and recognize the automatic associations we attach to our experiences. This is a mindfulness practice that might be more accessible to people rather than jumping into interpersonal and intrapersonal inquisitive awareness. Give it a try in your own backyard. Sit with a dandelion, or an ant, or a blue jay and see what comes up.

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Anatomical ways of knowing

Lichen Heart in moss at Rock Town, GA

Lichen Heart in moss at Rock Town, GA

I love language expressions that convey a deep intuitive knowing using human anatomy, blending body and mind. Two of my favorites are “to know by heart” and “it’s in your blood”. Within these expressions are a poetic understanding of life’s phenomena.

“To know something by heart” is to say that one has learned something to the degree that she no longer has to think about it. It becomes a different quality of memory, which seems to bypass conscious striving for recall, and emanates from a place other than the brain, a place where Taoist acupuncturists say a powerful source of the human spirit resides, the heart.

When we say we know something by heart, the context is usually within the recitation of something that has been memorized. I played the piano years ago and memorized many pieces, playing them by heart at recitals and for the Guild. I’ve also memorized Shakespearean monologues and soliloquies and recited them by heart for teachers, students, friends and for my dog.

A farmer's market potato heart.

A farmer’s market potato heart.

My knowledge of plants is in this heart realm of knowing. When I’m with a plant that I don’t see very often, and I stop to greet it, it’s name comes to me from another place where there is no effort. It’s a different place of knowing.

Recently, I listened to a program by an agency who works with people with Alzheimer’s disease. The presenter described how the mystery of memory presents in people who seem to have lost crucial aspects of their memory, though other memories still remain. The challenge is in discovering what these memories are for each person with Alzheimer’s.

The agency presenter described a case of a caregiver who met with a male patient with Alzheimer’s who had grown quite despondent. The agency learned that this man had been an artist, a painter. The agency suggested that the caregiver get some paints, brushes, canvas, and an easel. Then the agency said to the caregiver to set up the easel in the patient’s room and begin to paint even though she didn’t know how.

The caregiver painted every day in the patient’s room, while he sat in his chair disinterested. One day, the patient got up from the chair and walked behind the caregiver to look at what was on the canvas. The patient grew angry, and said to the caregiver, “No, no, no. You’re doing this wrong.” (That’s my paraphrase.) He took the paintbrush out of her hands, sat down, and began to correct her painting. The agency said that he continued to produce many paintings on his own after that. This was something that he knew by heart.

I wonder if knowing things by heart strengthens that spiritual aspect of the heart which Taoists describe, and if that is the strongest, longest-lasting place of our memory. Perhaps memorization of poetry and music does something for our hearts and our spirits in addition to strengthening our memories. What do you know by heart? It’s likely to be something even more special than that which you could do in your sleep, or know like the back of your hand.

My other favorite expression, “it’s in your blood”, also has a connotation of the type of knowing that avoids the brain; it has a meaning that says we come to something more from a genetic fate, than from learned reason. When something is in one’s blood, it also joins a person to a host of people, the individual merges into a pool of ancestral genes.

We can easily get into the question of nature and nurture here. What about the stories, though, of people who weren’t conditioned by their immediate caregivers to do what they feel led to do?

I was born in West Virginia near my grandparents, but moved to suburban Atlanta when I was a small child. Though we visited the WV family farm annually, I was raised far from the farm-life of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Natural areas and going home to the farm were always special to me. When I discovered from a local herbalist in college how to make medicine from plants, I fell in love. Although it might have looked like lunacy in my suburban upbringing to pursue becoming an herbalist, I knew that it was what I needed to do. While on this path, and visiting with grandmother Ruby, I learned that my great-grandfather James Dovenor (he never knew how to spell his middle name, so I don’t know either), a fur-trapper, carpenter, farmer, and fiddler, also grew ginseng. Knowing that made sense, somehow, of my mysterious longing to work with the healing properties of plants.

Since then, I’ve learned much more from my father and grandmother of how they harvested and used local plants. It was knowledge almost forgotten except that it’s life was in my blood, latent, waiting for a sign.

What is in your blood? What do you know by heart? I would love to know.

Love after Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott, 1986

http://download.publicradio.org/podcast/speakingoffaith/20090416_opening-to-our-lives_uc-poem-walcott.mp3?_kip_ipx=1453630575-1364431090

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