I have been mostly silent during this past year of pandemic life. Throughout 2020 I had much to say while at the same time was often speechless and unable to write. Life changed so rapidly from day to day that by the time I completed a piece of writing, it was irrelevant.
Way back In mid-October of 2019, I gently began settling back in Southern Oregon after a life-changing nine-month journey in Idaho. By late fall, I was once again guiding forest therapy experiences and was actively forging new collaborations for my nature-based wellness practice, locally in Southern Oregon as well as other areas of the state. 2020 was off to an active start.
In early January I signed a contract to guide a Memorial Day forest bathing retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort, in collaboration with sound healer and forest therapy guide, Joy Evans, from The Bay Area. I began planting seeds for the retreat 2 years earlier and was incredibly grateful for this hard-earned spot at Breitenbush. As well, Trout Creek Wilderness Lodge reached out in early 2020 with an invitation to facilitate a forest bathing retreat at their healing center in an old growth forest, later in the summer. I was actively mentoring forest therapy guides in training for The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and cultivating partnerships between Wild Wellness Guide and others.
Much was in the works by mid-March when my elderly parents relocated back to Southern Oregon after nearly two years of living in Montana, near my sister. They were set to arrive on March 19th to a retirement community in Medford. Little did any of us know what was about to hit. It was quite a shock for me and my parents when they arrived at their new community and went immediately into lock-down following a newly issued state order in response to Covid. I was unable to enter their apartment for over 6 months and my parents didn't see any of their friends for 3 months. I instantly donned my health advocate hat to remotely help my parents navigate Covid life, suddenly filled with communication/technology issues, medical crises and hospital visits.
With the sudden lock-down, my work halted. A forest therapy guide training I was scheduled to assist at in early April was cancelled and the training program came to an abrupt standstill. All trainings were postponed and staff put on furlough while A.N.F.T. began re-inventing itself. After many months of unknowing and waiting, my mentoring work came to an end.
At the same time, I received regular updates from Breitenbush Hot Springs, temporarily closed due to Covid, regarding my retreat scheduled for late May. At this point, when Oregon was beginning to slowly open up in early May, most of us were still clueless about what would follow as a world-wide pandemic unfolded. Breitenbush suggested they might reopen by the end of May, just in time for my retreat. I waited for their update, but it seemed clear that a large venue offering communal dining, hot spring soaking, workshops and shared lodging would be one of the last places to re-open during Covid. I received notice in early May that Breitenbush would remain closed until further notice. By August, the retreat was rescheduled for 2021. Then, in early September, when wildfires raged throughout Oregon, Breitenbush tragically burned down and will be rebuilding through 2022. The discussions for the other forest bathing retreat near Portland didn't even have a chance to move forward. I rapidly discovered that making plans during Covid was an exercise in futility. I was getting a serious lesson about living in the moment.
The world coming to an abrupt stop was a shock to my habit of expecting life to show up to meet my plans. Most of the world was in disbelief, and adjusting in unison to the new normal of lock-down, isolation, Covid deaths, loss of physical touch, covered faces and deserted offices and streets. Suddenly, grocery shelves were empty; we scrambled for toilet paper and Googled recipes for hand sanitizer. My daughter who had already been on lock-down in Hong Kong for 6 weeks, composed a Covid song and warned me to buy toilet paper. Up until Covid's arrival, life was easier than any of us had realized. Though I've had a daily gratitude practice for years, in 2020 I learned the meaning of "taking something for granted." Early into Covid, here, in The West, we got a miniscule peek into how people in third world countries and, in many of our own cities, scramble daily for the very basics. I realized what a privileged existence I've lived.
With no work and the sudden isolation, even though I am a quiet introvert, I felt seriously cut off from my local community. I was in stress mode with my sympathetic nervous system triggered daily by the fear of Covid. At the time, I was living with housemates who worked with the public. Initially, I became fixated on door handles, dish towels, hand towels and kitchen surfaces (which later proved to not be the route of choice for Covid's spread). When one housemate brought home a smashed box of sanitizing wipes that weren't saturated with toxic chemicals, it was like found treasure.
Considering "nothing" was happening, everything was happening on multiple levels. We were early into Covid and the overload switch had been flipped on. With the sudden shock of losing my work and income; the isolation; my initial felt fear of Covid and my parents need for much help, health advocacy and communication and tech support, along with the rest of the world, I had entered pandemic reality.
Other than taking care of the basics and helping my parents, I did the untypical for me- I stopped. All of my doing and creating came to a halt, replaced by being. My daily self-care practices became more important than ever. Mornings began with a set of Self-Reiki, Wim Hof Breathing, a shower ending with 2 minutes of ice water (or on some days, an icy dip in the creek); skin brushing, including lymph brushing; a glass of fresh squeezed celery juice and a set of Jinjing Qigong. Finally came breakfast. I'm still doing all the practices and have recently added in Nidra Yoga and EcoNIDRA. What if we organized our work around our self-care routine, rather than our self-care around work?
Early into Covid, my previous life morphed into a world of liminality as we call it in forest therapy- an experience of dropping out of one's typical mental mind and stepping into the present moment. Though it was still quite cold, wet and wintery, I spent much time in the woods, immersing in nature, dropping into my senses through forest bathing. Last winter and early spring, the streets were deserted and the park trails mostly empty. I often found ducks and squirrels using the paths and bridges which they typically stayed clear of when humans were previously present. After 40 years of walking these trails, I spied my first Jackrabbit at Lithia Park. As the animals reclaimed their forest for a brief time, they seemed to quickly adapt to very few humans on their land. At that time I had several experiences meeting small creatures on the trails who suddenly startled at finding a human in their space. More than ever, I understood whose home this forest was.
As Covid brought life to a standstill, I was stuck on a repeating loop, telling myself I should be creating, making and producing, even though I was being called to stop. The Pandemic brought with it the gift of a re-set on a worldwide scale, not something that comes along in a typical lifetime. Though I felt blocked and frozen, initially I pressured myself to offer guided virtual forest therapy walks or create a nature-based coaching offering through Zoom. But even with my strong passion and love for my work and always feeling driven to keep it moving forward, I couldn't make plans. During my trips to the forest, almost daily, I did take photos and nature videos to share through social media for those with no access to nature and the outdoors. That felt like exactly what I needed to do. After months of this feeling of "stuck" I finally was at peace, allowing my heart and inner compass to lead. I stopped grasping for the "next" thing; gratefully accepted the support of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and allowed myself the needed space to reorient while continuing to assist my parents. Instead of being in what felt like a sinking boat, wondering where land was, I realized the boat was my life raft where I could find safety through this challenging time. As the year progressed, I noticed more and more people looking for relief in nature, leaving gifts for all along the trails.
This time last year, I walked miles in nature and along the eerily quiet empty streets with darkened storefronts. I walked through the deserted campus of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and felt the massive loss of Ashland's main economic base. I knew that without Shakespeare many local businesses would never reopen once the lock-down was over. My home of over 3 decades was a new world. The silent, deep blue skies and billowing clouds, minus the air traffic became bluer and more stunning each day as I walked the trails, worked in my garden or practiced qigong in the grass. I wondered where all the people were and what they were doing? All the world together had stepped into the same story, called, "Pandemic"-vividly real and surreal all at once. In this story, I was astonished and bewildered and unable to tap into my previous clarity. Devoid of my former routine and mostly isolated, I entered into quiet, I could feel the shocked state of the world and was reminded of the pain I felt when my marriage ended-when ways of relating, unconsciously established over decades, suddenly shattered into disorientation while accompanied by vivid clarity, and the relief that comes with truth.
The challenges and journey of the past year have been powerful and for millions of people, painful catalysts for growth. My own experience was like navigating class 5 rapids in a raging river with no paddle; doing my best to stay afloat. All the death, loss, isolation, separation and pain on the planet has changed me forever. Just before the winter holidays, I lost three friends to different causes within a period of 6 weeks; each of them, gone in an instant from their vibrant lives. 2020 offered a challenging bridge into my next stage of life. I've finally come to accept and honor the beautiful and unique life I've lived. I am grateful for what is and continue to challenge myself to stay spacious, present and aware as I cultivate how to authentically best live, love, serve and remain whole. It took a pandemic for me to fully recognize my essential need to rest; slow down; make friends with the unknown; meet my shadow and practice kindness toward myself as well as others. Onward.
Many Blessings, Sari
Covid-19 is in the news daily; so much that it is dizzying. I have found myself drawn and repulsed by the news at the same time. In an honest check-in with myself, I find that all I want to do is to unplug and get outside to stop my mental mind, rest and recharge in nature.
As a Forest Therapy Guide and Whole Health Educator™, I offer tools to help people find balance and wholeness during life’s challenges. Stress and the anxiety it produces can trigger disease and illness and is also connected to lower immune function. Managing anxiety and stress and keeping one’s immune system strong, is key to staying well and whole. This isn’t a time for panic, though it is a good time for increased awareness regarding our daily habits. Effective hand washing throughout the day is an extremely important practice even when there is not a pandemic and “social distancing” at this time, early on, will hopefully help prevent an exponential increase of infection while we are still in the early stages.
The big picture is still coming into focus as we humans are being called to care for ourselves, one another and The More Than Human World in a new compassionate way to help repair what is broken.
Wellness is not only about one thing. Everything affects everything else. As Georgiana Donadio, founder of The National Institute of Whole Health says, “Everything is Everything. Our, Physical, Emotional, Nutritional, Environmental and Spiritual levels of health work together to support our wellness or contribute to us falling ill. Though I could focus here on the many details of every aspect of health, I am guessing you are reading numerous articles about how best to stay well in these times.
I believe we have entered a new level regarding planetary shifts and will continue to get more potent glimpses of the inter-connectedness of the world we live in, as we humans and The Earth herself evolve together. Human health and wellness is fully inter-connected with the health of all life on the planet. We are not separate from, but fully integrated in the living organism that gives us life-The Earth.
The big picture is still coming into focus as we humans are being called to care for ourselves, one another and “The More Than Human World” in a new compassionate way; to help repair what is broken. Climate change; racial inequality; over-population; poverty; starvation; food insecurity; war; depletion of resources and ancient mutating viruses that we have lived with for millions of years in symbiotic relationship, are shouting us awake. Here is the invitation: to come together; explore and build creative new relationships with ourselves, one another and The Earth as we discover how to share this world together in right relationship.
Caring for Ourselves, Others and The Earth through Nature Relation
An important way to practice “social distancing” is to stay home and communicate with others through online forums or groups. Several countries quickly prevented large Covid-19 outbreaks through “social distancing”. Schools closed; people worked from home and group events were cancelled. The United States has just initiated a month-long travel ban from Europe to The U.S and is asking large groups to not gather. Schools and businesses are closing and people are working remotely. All of this is intended to prevent Covid-19 from multiplying and spreading exponentially.
What do you do when you feel isolated and unable to be with your people and social networks? There is another way to practice “social distancing” and though you can do this solo, you are in no way alone. It’s a practice called, Nature Immersion also known as, Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing/Shinrin Yoku. As a Certified Forest Therapy Guide through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, I typically facilitate Forest Therapy in groups.
I have been forced to practice, “social distancing” for years, due to a sensitivity to LED lights and loud noise which caused such violent vertigo several years ago that I could barely be in public gatherings for close to two years. It led me to spend a large percentage of my time in nature where I discovered the lively web-of-inter-being we are all a part of. We live in a human society, but that is not the only world. There exists, “The More Than Human World” which includes all Earthly life that is not us people. The in depth time I spent immersed in nature became a potent healer for my body, mind and spirit as well, it connected me deeply with nature in a new way.
What if you could distance yourself from humans and still find connection and relationship with other beings in our world? How might you step away for a time throughout your week, from all the stress and pulls of life? It might be your garden, a park, the forest or a botanical garden for some solitary, quiet, slow, unplugged time; bathing in the essence of nature. I invite you to explore forest bathing. It’s not a hike; not a nature identification walk and it’s not a run or a fast walk with friends, discussing life stress’s. It is: calming, slowing way down, quiet, restful, unplugged time in relationship with the land and it’s beings. Forest Therapy supports the immune system, mental focus, mood, sleep, regulates blood pressure and reduces anxiety.
A Self-Guided Forest Bath
1-Allow yourself between one to two hours.
2-Dress to stay comfortable. Really layer up in cold climates. Bring a sit-pad or towel.
3-Find a place you are familiar with where you feel safe.
4-Arrive: notice your body and what you are experiencing through all your senses. Look around you. Notice the place- what do you smell, feel, hear, taste and see?
5-Slow Meander-Allow yourself to take time as you explore and notice with your senses. Where does your body lead you? Take a very slow meander and explore with your senses what you are drawn to. Do you feel like sitting with a particular tree, on a rock, near the water or looking at the sky? Then do so.
6-Find a place to sit- a “Sit-Spot”, where you can rest for at least 20 minutes in silence and notice the life around you with all your senses.
7-Finally, plan ahead and bring a thermos of tea and a snack for yourself; Treat yourself royally and set out your tea and food on a beautiful cloth or in the forest duff. Be nourished and held by nature.
Repeat as often as you can.
Blessings for Wholeness, Sari
Some links related to self-care and wellness practices.
Everything is Everythng: The Five Aspects of Health
Spring Energy Tune-Up Part One
Spring Energy Tune-Up Part Two
Raw Fermented Kraut for Body and Mind: The Research and The Recipe
Feet, Feet, They Make Your Heart Beat
Tears of Joy: Crying Yourself Well
Nature and Forest Therapy also known as Shinrin Yoku, which translates from the Japanese to, Forest Bathing, has awakened and deepened my connection to the natural world like nothing I have ever experienced. It has helped me connect the dots of my life. For over 25 years, I have explored whole person wellness, health and healing, and in the process, discovered my personal path to healing which has allowed me to hold space for others. My healing work includes all aspects of health- physical, mental, emotional, environmental and spiritual, which I integrate into my practice as a Whole Health Educator™, Coach and Reiki healer and now as a Certified Forest Therapy Guide.
In completing my training. month by month, I've become acutely aware of the web of connection that links and integrates my decades of life experience, study and practice. I've understood my endeavors to be related, but until now, not so deeply connected. In the past six months, I have spent more time than ever in my life, immersed in and observing the natural world. This intimate connection has brought me a clear and profound understanding of my life's trajectory and my place in it. For years, I have been on a journey of discovery; sowing seeds, exploring and gathering the experience and tools necessary to share my healing offerings. This path has included gifted mentors, guides and healers, higher education, in-depth training, mothering, relationship, self-study, self-discovery, spiritual practice and life-altering transformation. Now, Nature and Forest Therapy, brings to my work a deep sense of wholeness, added to my teaching, stress reduction coaching and hands-on energy healing. The healing power of the natural world is like the missing key that is now found, completing the circle. Last year, the first time I brought a group into the woods for an "Elemental Forest Bathing Walk", I felt complete, like I never have in my entire life. I said to myself with great relief and joy, "Ahhhh, this is why I am here." As The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy teaches, "The forest is the therapist, the guide opens the door."
Connecting deeply with nature has clearly revealed to me the Medicine Wheel of my life.-my vision; my experience and above all, my cracked-open heart. What might you see if you visualize the elder years of your life and from there look back to your early years or to where you are right now? Where has your inner compass been leading you all this time? I see the integration of all: my youth; play; imagination; isolation; sadness; my parents, young and aged; my life as a sister; friend; community member; marriage; wife and mother; my babies-now adults; immersion in meditation and spiritual path; travels; divorce; studies; degrees; certifications; passion for communication; connection; healing, teaching, wellness and wholeness; inquiry into one's thinking; organic farmer; herbs and nutrition; personal healing crisis- trauma; alone; exiled; excruciating; mind-blowing transformation; greatest gift; the world of subtle healing-breath, energy, Reiki, gratitude, mind-body, mindfulness, Qigong, animals, birds, bugs, flowers, frogs, owls, plants, trees, rocks, snakes, earth, water, fire and air; the more than human world.
Since my immersion training in January, I have found my tribe and just like wild herbal tea, I have been deeply steeped in "the more than human world." I have learned to slow way down; listen; feel; see and connect with the forest in a new way. I have spent hours scouting trails and guided many participants in Forest Bathing Experiences. I have studied wild edible tea plants; sat for hours in my three different "sit-spots"; awakened my senses; connected with birds, animals, clouds, insects, flowers, plants and trees. I have developed my eye and hand, discovering that I am an artist; honing my skills each month as I created sit-spot and tea plant drawings. Through it all, I have created a "Web of Interbeing", linking together 18 different beings who I observed and connected with during sit-spot practice. I am now more than ever, acutely awake to the diverse, thriving community in my meadow. I have created a "Deck of Invitations", activities in the forest which I invite my participants to partake of, to connect in a new way with the natural world. I have read and dipped into the works of inspired authors, naturalists and poets; a few of my favorites being, David Abram, Amos Clifford, Richard Louv, Florence Williams, Robin Wall Kimmerer, John Muir, Mary Oliver, Emerson, Rumi, Thoreau and Wordsworth.
I finished my practicum this month with a solo Medicine Journey, followed by a "Threshold Ceremony" in my Clay Creek meadow, acknowledging completion of my concentration and work of the past 6-months, as I set intention for my next steps. I am grateful to The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, my A.N.F.T trainer's, Ben Page, Alex Gesse, Amos Clifford, Geeta Stilwill and Andrea Prazmowski; my mentor, Geeta and my loving tribe, Cohort 19. I am grateful for the opportunity through my work as a Forest Therapy Guide, to facilitate others into a deeper relationship with the more than human world, for healing, connection to self and others. There is great power in the shift that takes place when we deeply connect to the natural world. This connection can guide humanity to a place of true reciprocity, caring and love for all beings that live in The Earth, offering an invitation to do the work of healing and repair, for the survival of all who exist in this delicate web-of-interbeing.
In gratitude, love, trust and remembering to let go when called to do so.
Immerse in an Instagram Forest Bath
Please take some time to slow down, immerse in and enjoy my Instagram photos below. These were taken during my immersion training in Costa Rica and throughout my 6-month practicum.
I took my first photography class in 10th grade from my biology teacher, Woody Clarke. Mr. Clarke guided our class into the woods next to my high school, in Council Bluffs, Iowa and named every tree, plant, bird, insect and animal we came upon as we meandered in the beauty of the Iowa woods. I developed my black and white nature photos in Mr. Clarke's school darkroom. Now, 45 years later, I continue to wander and play in the woods near my home in Southern Oregon, noticing as the life of the forest calls to me and poses before my digital Android phone.