on nature relation,
radical rest, self care, slow life,
well being, and becoming whole
This past year has been filled with unknowns and the deepest grief I've ever experienced. It's been an extremely challenging time of much inner and outer growth, bringing surprises, life-affirming gifts and transformation. This year has been a culmination; the end of a story; the story of my parent's lives in Oregon for the past 20 years. This time has also marked for me an end and a new beginning for myself. This ending and new beginning is something I still am melding and moving through. So, I'll use one of my most potent self-care tools and do what I do; I'll write it and I'll edit it for hours and days until I've sculpted the story and etched it energetically in my heart, mind and soul.
For decades, writing has been a love of mine and my passion for teaching and for self-care has launched me on a path as a Healer and Wellness Educator. I love writing about my life and work. Over the years through my own healing path, I have fully embraced nature and energy practices as potent tools for wellness. When my work came to a sudden halt during The Pandemic, so did much of my writing spark. In early 2020 the day the state of Oregon locked down, my elderly parents moved into a nearby retirement community. With Covid regulations, it was months before I could enter their apartment. My focus was managing their connection to the outside world and their medical needs such as trips to the emergency room, falls or a sudden collapse which became common for them when medical access was suddenly limited. One day early in The Pandemic my dad's doctor actually walked over to the parking lot of their retirement community and in the back seat of my car palpated my father's lower abdomen. For my dad, it seemed it had come down to getting his medical care in the backseat of a 2007 Honda Fit.
With my parents many needs and my work suddenly on pause, I pieced together a new life. Besides stepping into a role as caregiver for my parents, I prioritized tending to my own needs for stress regulation as I grieved the loss of my work, the state of humanity and the planet. At that time when the planes were grounded and the roads were empty, I actually rejoiced in the quiet streets, the silent, clear blue skies and the gentle life of the forest, suddenly reclaimed by residents of The More Than Human World. There were few humans to be found in the woods then. I still smile with memories of squirrels and ducks pattering along the many trails, long used by humans. They seemed to know we humans were taking a pause.
In the past years, in Southern Oregon, the severe drought has intensified and summer and fall wild fires have become the new normal. On September 8, 2020, The Almeda Fire which started a mile from my home, raced through our valley destroying close to 3000 structures, leaving thousands homeless. Our community stress levels skyrocketed with high anxiety, overwhelm and PTSD from evacuation and loss of homes and livelihood. It was terribly frightening. Many have since relocated. I have relocated twice since 2019 in reaction to the climate disaster here and each time have ended up like a boomerang, back to my "village" of Ashland. My community ties of 40 years are so strong it's been almost impossible to leave my people and the land I love as well as my then, aging parents. During The Almeda Fire they too were evacuated and quite traumatized. One year later after another summer of extreme heat and smoke, I relocated to Portland in September 2021 and traveled to Ashland every month to tend to my parent's needs. I finally gave it up and came home after 4 months. I acknowledged that Southern Oregon for now is truly home, even with the environmental disasters.
My parents were managing well, even with my mom's dementia and had moved to an assisted living apartment in 2021. I made the move back from Portland in time for my mom's 90th birthday last January. Ten days later my dad reported not feeling well. After blood work and an echo cardiogram, it was clear that his heart failure had progressed to a new level. I somehow had received an intuitive call to return from Portland even before this news. The cardiologist told me and my sister's he'd never seen a heart so bad in a patient who was still alive. My dad who was convinced at age 94 that he would live to be at least 110, reluctantly signed the intake forms to go on Hospice in early March. We thought he might have a month left. My parents stayed in their apartment with the facility staff, private care givers and help from me as well as Hospice. My dad was very concerned for my mother since he was her anchor and first line caregiver. My mom fully depended on him. During my dad's Hospice journey, though he mostly slept, his presence alone anchored my mom. I was with them often. As my dad's condition progressed, they both needed more care. My dad was so stubborn and so convinced he'd never die that he almost convinced me and his friends as well.
"Once my dad woke up when his Hospice nurse arrived and spoke with her about the light he was seeing as he looked out their sliding door. Dad said, "It feels like this light is here now to stay." At the same visit my dad described to Molly how he had felt like he was dying the previous night. I asked him how it felt and in his Iowa inflection, he said, "Pretty good." This was all happening to a man who had been terrified of death and had described it for years as, "Nothing but blackness." Now on his Hospice journey my dad was discovering a new reality with open curiosity and trust."
My father had no spiritual beliefs though he was culturally Jewish. He had mainly attended synagogue services at my mom's behest or for the socializing and food. He had been terrified of death for as long as I can remember. Knowing this, I was quite surprised when he was gifted with a very unusual 3.5 month Hospice journey.
Increasingly, my dad spent much time in deep sleeps-sometimes in bed with my mom or both of them awake, chatting and cuddling and most often in his recliner during the day. Many times I arrived as they were both waking up around noon and my dad was sharing with my mom where he had been and who he had seen during his "sleep." He would wake during the day after a long sleep, saying, "I'm not sure if I'm dead or alive." My dad shared these experiences with me, describing what I think of as journeying, in rich and vivid detail. It was different than his waking reality and by no means a typical dream. It was so real that he remembered and described the details for weeks. Many times when his Hospice nurse, Molly, visited, he shared these experiences with her. After this happened the first few times, Molly said, "Maynard, it sounds like you may be traveling between worlds." My dad said, "I think I am." He shared about our ancestors who were communicating with him. Often he described his mother and his brothers and sister being present or having spoken to them. Sometimes he would talk to me and my mother thinking my mom was his mother. My mom was not happy about that. My dad was often disoriented during this time, not knowing where he was. Once he told me it seemed like the furniture in their apartment didn't belong to them and that it felt like we were in a store of some kind. More than once he recounted how he almost fell but the most beautiful, shining and loving woman he'd ever seen stopped his fall. My dad was very impressed by her, stating he had never felt so much love. Many times he talked to me and my mom about "the train" he was seeing out the back window, saying, "It feels like we're in a train station." or "It feels like we should be leaving soon." or "Do you see the building across the courtyard? It looks like a moving train." In the midst of these episodes my dad seemed perfectly lucid. He was open to sharing these experiences which he seemed in awe of. It was beautiful to be a witness to this. Once my dad woke up when his Hospice nurse arrived and spoke with her about the light he was seeing as he looked out their sliding door. Dad said, "It feels like this light is here now to stay." At the same visit my dad described to Molly how he had felt like he was dying the previous night. I asked him how it felt and in his Iowa inflection, he said, "Pretty good." This was all happening to a man who had been terrified of death and had described it for years as, "Nothing but blackness." Now on his Hospice journey my dad was discovering a new reality with open curiosity and trust..
My parents many friends came to visit when there was a chance my mom and dad might be awake, but mostly, from mid-April into late June, they both spent hours each day sleeping opposite one another on their chairs in the living room. For my mom, sleeping was a symptom of her dementia. Just before Father's Day my dad started into his active dying phase-sleeping most of the night and day, eating little and very disoriented. On Father's Day he took his last walk with me through their building. He later listened to "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens on his Alexa while looking at a card from my younger sister which contained the song lyrics. My dad listened and looked up at my mother, smiling and extremely out of breath and in a slurred voice said, "Those are great songs." I knew in that moment that my dad would soon be gone. Tears streamed down my cheeks with Cat Stevens voice and my dad's smile tucked away in my heart.
The next day, resting in his recliner, my dad slipped into a coma; his "death sleep", accompanied by severe atrial fibrillation. My mother stood beside her husband of 71 years all night, holding his hand, saying, "I don't think dad will make it this time." She was able to track that he was dying, even with her Alzheimer's. Throughout my dad's Hospice journey my mother said, "What a horrible time to have memory problems when my husband is dying!" She would wake up each day once again discovering as if for the first time that her husband was dying. She knew just by looking at him. My heart was breaking.
The hospital bed arrived the next morning. It was Tuesday and my dad didn't get up again. My sister's arrived the following afternoon. Since Tuesday dad's heart had been racing at 200 beats a minute. The comfort medications Hospice provided barely calmed his heart rate. Though dad couldn't speak we knew it was extremely intense for him. It looked like his heart was jumping out of his chest. Amazingly, a few hours before he died on Thursday evening, my dad, who was known for his side-splitting jokes, pulled himself from his death sleep, and forced his eyes open to mere slits and almost inaudibly whispered his last joke to his beloved Hospice nurse, Molly, her ear next to his mouth. By evening, my dad's heart finally slowed and finally at peace, with my older sister by his side, he took his last breath. My sister's had gone to bed and I quietly sat with my dad's body, waiting for the funeral home to come for him. I thought my mom was asleep as she'd gone to bed just before he died. Once they had taken my father, my mom, still awake, called me into her room and I lay in bed with her. She said, "Dad's dead isn't he?" I told her yes and we lay quietly together holding one another.
My dad's death and loss caused my mom's dementia to spiral out of control. Without her anchor, she could no longer stay in assisted living, even with private caregivers. Within three weeks of my dad's death my mom was in a memory care facility near my older sister in Montana, and has since rapidly declined and is now on Hospice.
My father who had been mentally vibrant up until the end was now gone and my mother too was suddenly gone. Her rushed move was totally out of my control and at the same time necessary. None of us were prepared for how the move played out. At this point my mom has few if any memories of my dad, how many children or grandchildren she has and little understanding of where she is.
My grief dropped me into anxiety, despair, disorientation and exhaustion. It was partially triggered by my dad's death and partially from very painful family dynamics with my sisters, related to the circumstances of my mom's sudden move. My cortisol was rushing and my body felt out of my control. I was taking 1-2 naps a day and waking each night about 3 am, struggling to return to sleep. I have always been a good sleeper but my body clock and metabolism were suddenly out of control. I cried for weeks and let the tears bring me back to balance. Though physically weak I would slowly walk the 2.5 miles to my sit-spot at Ashland Creek as many days a week as possible. I'd sit on my rock and drop into my senses, sinking my feet and calves in the ice cold creek for long periods. After an hour or so, I walked down the trail once again, very slowly. Each time I left my sit-spot I felt a little more alive, more whole and a lot more human. As I walked the trail home I noticed the people I passed gently turning away from my red swollen eyes, offering me privacy and maybe protecting themselves from my grief.
I gathered every self-care tool I had to regain my balance and energy. Self-Care has become an integral part of my daily life following a health crisis which flattened me in 2013. These practices have been a lifeline for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Over the past 9 years I have integrated numerous practices into my day for grounding and balance. Self-Reiki, The Wim Hof Method-breath work & cold water immersion, skin brushing, Medical Qigong, Forest Bathing/Nature Immersion, EcoNIDRA and Gratitude are all core to my self-care.
To manage my energy and grief and regulate my nervous system, I streamlined my daily self-care practices to wherever I felt most drawn. In the morning before rising I typically did Self Reiki and Wim Hof Method Breathing followed by a hot shower ending with 2 minutes of cold. Before breakfast, Jinjing Qigong helped get my body moving and energy flowing. In the cool of the morning, I often followed breakfast with an aerobic walk to the park. After about 20 minutes I gently slowed down to a slow meander as I transitioned to Forest Bathing. I dropped into my senses, letting my attention go where it was pulled and ditching any mental concepts of where I should be or what I should be doing. I eventually arrived at my sit-spot, a place in nature where I'd simply sit and experience nature through my senses. I sat and noticed and sat and felt and sat and noticed. Here I felt safe and present enough to cry and release whatever wanted out. Another practice which helped me through this time, was EcoNIDRA™, a nature-based form of the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra. I'd choose one of my many EcoNIDRA™ recordings and rest on my bed in late afternoon, facilitated through a 3 stage journey- through my senses, my body and The Earth for about 50 minutes. This practice offered radical rest for my body and nervous system while doing absolutely nothing; drifting between a state of waking and sleep. Mid-afternoon and evening allowed me time to ground and focus on my remote work. Lastly, before turning my light out, I'd write in my gratitude journal-the best thing from my day; the worst thing and a list of all I was grateful for.
Between the Reiki; breath work; cold water; qigong; walking; forest bathing; EcoNIDRA™ and Gratitude, my nervous system began to calm and I began returning to myself. I returned to a whole self with a broad perspective of all that had happened after my dad's death and a much clearer understanding of who I was. Life felt new in many ways. My father had died; my mother was physically gone with her mind rapidly going. Through profound grief I had summoned the strength and determination to complete the passage, having pulled myself out of a deep hole. Everything felt new. The grief process helped me let go of how I previously perceived my life. It was a time for release, deep integration and rest. I was Alice on her journey through The Looking Glass, stepping into liminal space. I realized my only way through was to make peace with the unknown; with all that showed up and cross the threshold that had been waiting for me all along - a path to freedom and new life.
I learned that grief takes its own unique course for each person. Before my father's death, I imagined grief as deep sadness and sense of loss. I had lost close friends and older family members but this was my first time losing parents. I discovered grief as much more than profound sadness and loss. The disorientation; exhaustion; fear; anxiety; disrupted sleep; inability to focus or work, along with a sudden loss of my natural social ease was extreme. I would see someone I knew in public and quickly turn a corner to avoid conversation. I screened my calls and sometimes couldn't respond to messages or emails or initiate contact for weeks. The exhaustion scared me and painfully brought back the experience when I collapsed with Meniere's Disease 9 years earlier; when my adrenal glands crashed and it took years to regain my energy. I feared this state would last and I'd be stuck in this new reality. But, contrary to my health crisis 9 years ago, I now had a potent self-care tool kit I'd pieced together over the last decade and I understood how resilient our energy body is. I was confident this would be temporary; that I had the patience, strength and stamina; the tools and emotional and mental capacity to move through this. I knew that nothing would change until I allowed myself to be present with the experience and feel the pain. Through experience I knew one of my most potent allies and self-care tools was my ability to cry and feel my feelings.
Two months after my dad's death I was still really struggling at which time I read a book by a forgiveness educator named, Ana Holub, called, "Forgive and Be Free." I realized in this period that I had much work to do related to long time painful family issues and dysfunctional patterns with my sisters and parents. I have heard it is common that loss within a family can bring up trauma and painful family dynamics. The instant my dad took his last breath, all the dysfunction in our sister dynamic exploded from the shadows. For a time there was no contact between us. At the same time I was blocked from contact with my mother. Ana's book saved my life as I used her method of working each incident from my present and past where I'd felt wronged or felt I had wronged others. Ten days after beginning this work and after shedding a river of tears, I miraculously heard from my older sister. That call launched us both onto a profound path of deep repair and healing of our broken relationship of decades. It began with one phone call, from my sister, "I'm calling to apologize and ask your forgiveness." We were both blessed to dive into forgiveness work together and through facilitation as well. This work has been life changing. I have done so much over the years to try and fix the brokenness in our sister relationship and nothing touched it until now. I am more than grateful for everything that has happened since my dad's death. It was extremely painful and set off a chain of events comparable to a slow fuse sparking for years and finally detonating through our whole family constellation. I had lost my father and mother and through the grief process and forgiveness work, I found myself and I found a true sister for the first time since we were children. I also learned about the vital importance of letting go of relationships that serve no one and only prolong pain and suffering. The forgiveness work opened new doors and sparked a renewed life energy that infused each day. At this same time, a long-time friend and I happened to reconnect over the summer. He too had been going through his own process of loss and grief and like magic our path's merged as we began holding space for each other around our separate experiences. Our connection has slowly grown into a beautiful friendship which we are both cherishing like a newly discovered rare and delicate seed.
My friend Sarah Marshank, founder of Selfistry, recently wrote a piece titled, "Death is Weird." The gist of it is that we each experience the death of a loved one in our own unique way. and how can we know what anyone's experience really is.
Sarah writes, "When we find ourselves about to say we know how it is for others, let’s pause, bite our tongue, turn off our autopilot, and offer an inquiry instead – a wondering. Like this: "How is it for you, your mother’s dying?"
I grew up thinking that death was painfully sad and frightening. It can be for some but perhaps not for everyone. Each death, just like each birth is a unique passage; its own journey. My father's death and what immediately followed, catalyzed healing and transformation, creating a profound opening for new life, filled with goodness, peace and love. It cracked me wide open, leaving light, love, peace, wholeness, new life and hope. The waves of grief still wash through me, unannounced, accompanied many times by tears. I never know when one may hit. What I do know is, as long as I embrace the unknown, I'll continue to move through life in peace and remain whole.
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
How often do you find time to play in the woods? I have childhood memories of spending my days in the forest next to my home in S.W. Iowa. I built forts with my friends along the wooded trails. We lined them with thick green moss, pine cones, rocks and sticks, making them our second homes. I also had a nature room to myself under the shade of an old weeping willow, in a partially shaded spot, tucked away next to a secret staircase near my house. The sunlight filtered through the willow branches creating what I thought was "fairy light." I filled my little room with rocks, pieces of bark, sticks, flower petals, moss, buckeyes, milkweed, dandelion fluff and willow branches I wove into works of art. When there was no school, I spent hours there in quiet solitude. I wandered home for lunch where soup and grilled cheese sandwiches awaited. Once sated, I was back in my little room for the remainder of the day, touching, listening, feeling, smelling, imagining and observing all the life around me. That was decades ago and yet, those memories remain fully alive in me.
"Today, my focus was on intricate pieces of "forest treasure", splashing in the waterfall and exploring a grove of trees spread out like a mansion, with one distinctive room after another. I was swiftly pulled out of my small sense of self and life's stresses into an experience of something much greater, as I dropped into the life of the forest."
I still go on playdates in the woods, sometimes solo and sometimes with friends and play in ways quite similar to when I was a child. Today I spent a couple hours in the forest, off the trails in the woods of Southern Oregon. When I hit adulthood, I thought play meant activities like skiing, hiking, dancing, going to the beach, going out for a meal with friends or planning my next vacation. And now, one of my favorite ways to play is through immersing in the woods. Through this practice, I have reclaimed the world of imaginative creative play that I lost myself in as a child. I readily drop in to the intricate beauty of the forest, initially starting with a hike and then, I am called by the forest to slow way down and connect with the more than human world, the sentient community of nature. Today, my focus was on intricate pieces of "forest treasure", splashing in the waterfall and exploring a grove of trees which spread out like a mansion, with one distinctive room after another. I was swiftly pulled out of my small sense of self and life's stresses into an experience of something much greater than myself, as I dropped into the life of the forest and a deep sense of awe.
Two years ago, I began moving my practice as a Whole Health Educator, with its solid basis in evidence-based health research, in the direction of the healing medicine of the forest. When I discovered the practice of Forest Therapy, also known as Shinrin Yoku, which translates to Forest Bathing, I was not surprised by all the evidenced-based research there is on the healing power of nature. Shinrin Yoku refers to the practice of spending time in the forest with the goal of enhancing health, wellbeing, happiness and connecting to nature. The practice is based on the idea that it is beneficial to spend time "bathing in the atmosphere of the forest." The Japanese began studying the positive effects of Shinrin-Yoku on health over 30 years ago when they found their nation in a health crisis and turned to the forests for healing. Today, thanks to Shinrin Yoku in Japan, we have decades of medical research, which correlates the time spent in nature with increased wellbeing.
Many have found forest bathing to significantly alleviate the source of numerous stress-related ailments. It can decrease stress hormone production, at the same time increasing mood. High stress levels can contribute to development of arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, headaches, high blood pressure and skin conditions, and numerous other health conditions. Forest bathing regulates parasympathetic nervous system activity which calms and regulates the system, conserves energy, and slows the heart rate.
Spending time in nature can also boost the antiviral natural killer cells of the immune system which can become compromised by high blood levels of stress hormones. These factors in turn offer support of increased immune function. In a 2007 study, the body's disease-fighting agents, natural killer cells, rose by 50% in men taking two hour walks in the woods over a two day period. Another factor in boosting immune function is a chemical released by trees called "phytoncides." These essential oils are part of the tree's immune system and in turn, as we breathe in the forest air, our immune system gets a boost.
"The guide opens the door and the forest offers its healing medicine, unique to each person."
In January of 2018, I completed my immersion training to become a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. Although the work I do as a forest therapy guide is inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, as an A.N.F.T. trained guide, the use of the terms Forest Therapy and Shinrin Yoku do not fully reflect the specific practice as offered by A,N.F.T. Participants are guided on a very slow, mindful walk in nature in a way that facilitates and invites healing interactions. The guide opens the door and the forest offers its healing medicine, unique to each person. In cultures throughout the world, there has been a long tradition of healing through the natural world. This work is about helping people find their wholeness and helping them connect to the natural world, themselves and others in a new way. At the same time, something very subtle happens- people discover a powerful connection with nature, which fosters a new awareness, catalyzing a strong desire to advocate for the care, healing and repair of the natural world.
Wild Wellness Guide offers several Forest Bathing Experiences, including scheduled Public Group Walks; Private Groups for special occasions or life passages; Individual and Couples Sessions and Team-Building or Corporate Wellness Walks for your organization.
Come join me in the world of nature and discover the medicine of the forest through the beautiful healing and playful practice of Forest Bathing.
Though I always had a close relationship with the natural world, during a sudden, debilitating healing crisis, several years ago, something shifted on a massive level and nature fully opened to me, allowing for a deep new connection. Through this experience, I became clear that my work was as a healer, teacher and guide to facilitate others in exploring the depths of what it means to be fully alive.
During this period, I spent close to two years in solitude and meditation, practicing gratitude and medical qigong in my meadow, under an oak tree by my creek. One day I realized that the trees, the running water, the rocks, the sky, the breeze and the animals had become an essential part of my life. I began having experiences with wild animals which resembled something out of a fairy tale. While napping in my hammock by the creek one warm afternoon, I was awakened by a large buck nuzzling my knee. His twin was on the other side of me and a female was in the creek. We all gazed at one another before the two bucks moved beside the creek, rose up on their hind legs and loudly clacked their antlers in play before running off. Soon after, a large black bear appeared one evening, gazing into my kitchen window. That was followed by a pair of screech owls taking up residence in the nest box under my bedroom window. Each spring the owls breed a clutch of babies. They have taught me their hoot and continue to teach me their wisdom. One morning as I finished qigong, I looked at the beauty of the natural world around me and asked aloud, "When will I get my life back?" "This is your life now.", came the answer. I understood then that the natural world had become deeply integrated into my everyday life and played an essential role in my ability to heal.
Soon after, I discovered The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) and Shinrin Yoku. I first began integrating some of my health education coaching work into nature, taking my clients into the forest for deep stress reduction. I began offering "Elemental Forest Medicine" groups, where I discovered the power of the forest as "therapist" and its potent ability to reduce stress levels and support physical and emotional healing. I awakened to the healing power of "the more than human world."
I am grateful to be a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. I invite you to join me in the trees and discover for yourself, the healing power of slowing down; connecting with the natural world in a new way and letting go of stress and supporting your wellness through the evidenced-based healing practice of Forest Therapy.
.Hello Dear Community,
I am incredibly grateful for the gift of clear, clean air for these past two days. I have spent hours in nature since yesterday, connecting to the natural world with all of my senses. My olfactory function is quickly returning. It is such a gift to notice and differentiate scents of nature after weeks of smelling smoke and the inside of a sweaty mask. I hope those of you experiencing the summer fire season are finding ways for self-care; getting away at times if possible and getting outfitted with good masks and air purifiers of some kind. We all understand how challenging the fires have been. Unfortunately, I have had to cancel all of my Forest Bathing Walks since early July and have been unable to schedule any in August due to the unpredictability of the smoke. I am praying for early rains this year to fully snuff the last of the fires and allow us all back to the outdoors. The good news is that I have a great air purifier. The clean air has made my Reiki sessions a doubly blissful and relaxing escape from the stress of the smoke.
I am very happy and grateful to announce that in July, I completed my 6-month practicum through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and am now Certified as a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide. This certification feels like an essential coming together of the circle of my healing and teaching work that I have been building and refining over the past many years. I am so excited to bring Nature and Forest Therapy into my practice as a Whole Health Educator™ and add it to my facilitation of Mind-Body Stress Regulation as well as my Reiki Energy Healing and teaching.
I have changed my practice name to "Wild Wellness Guide" from Forest Bathing Ashland. My practice has been a work in progress and since early June, "Wild Wellness Guide" has been has been strongly speaking to me. I feel it aptly describes me and my practice as I guide others on their path to wellness through facilitation, education and healing. The "Wild" world of nature is where I am deeply connected and a central core of my wellness work.
My work as a Whole Health Educator focuses on whole person wellness and disease prevention. It integrates evidence-based practices for physical, emotional, nutritional, environmental and spiritual wellness. In my practice, through my own experience and those of my clients, I have discovered as science now demonstrates, that the stress of modern life leads to much of the disease in our society. Research is showing that stress is increased from sedentary time spent indoors; screen time and being cut-off from our roots in the natural world.
At the core of my work is calming the sympathetic nervous system to regulate stress. I am so excited to be able to offer Forest Therapy, Mind-Body Stress Regulation and Reiki Healing to help my clients develop a personal practice to manage stress levels for optimum wellness.
Nature and Forest Therapy, (also called Shinrin Yoku/Forest Bathing), is a facilitated, mindful sensory immersion in nature, for slowing down, deeply letting go of stress, unplugging and connecting to the natural world, oneself and to others in a new way. Once practiced with facilitation, it can be easily integrated into one's life as a regular practice. Forest Therapy is offered for public groups, private groups and for individuals and couples.
Mind-Body Stress Regulation includes Guided Sensory-Nature Imagery, Breathwork, Gratitude Practice, Mind-Body Techniques and Nature Immersion. It includes "Body Hacks" (practices) to help support the Vagus Nerve, one of the cranial nerves which connects the brainstem to the body, linking the neck, heart, lungs, and the abdomen to the brain. A balanced Vagus Nerve supports a healthy parasympathetic nervous system. I offer this work in individual sessions as well as sessions combined with Reiki.
Reiki Energy Healing is a very calming form of energy work which deeply relaxes the sympathetic nervous system. It helps support stress levels, mood, pain, sleep and anxiety. When the sympathetic nervous system calms down, the physical, emotional and energy body is able to relax and come back into balance. Besides individual healing sessions, I offer classes for Usui Reiki, Levels 1,2 & 3 and a half-day class called, "Reiki for Self-Care."
(Updated info here for 2019) I look forward to seeing you in the foresta and Parks in beautiful Boise, Idaho where I relocated to in February. I sold my home and said goodbye to my longtime home in Oregon, heading for new adventures. Call or contact me through my website to schedule Forest Therapy Walks, Stress Regulation Facilitation and Reiki sessions or Classes.
Be Well, Sari
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.