When Given the Chance, Did You Shift?

When Given the Chance, Did You Shift?

I am chronically a glass-half-full kind of girl. So, I received the Covid-19 shutdown as the answer to my years-old prayers for spacious time to reset, sleep, and choose new. Choose, I did. Eagerly, I RSVPed into the never-before and always-dreamed. And, oh was I satisfied! 

So when did I release my bliss and begin walking faster, trading drenching in my senses with chattering in my head? My day planner, empty through Phase 3 of the shutdown, is inked in blue scribblings of appointments and must-dos, right now. 

Planes and earth-bound motorized vehicles, again, profane the peace of nature’s sacred soundscape. The do-or-die of dodging people and bicycles is back. Sadly, my daily early morning wanders around Chicago’s North Pond have become intermittent and increasingly distracted. 

Because of Covid-19, I received a generous time extension for completing my practicum for certification as an Association of Nature and Forest Therapy guide (natureandforesttherapy.org). This merging of open time, deliberate inquiry, and immersion in nature gifted me bountiful learning, awareness, and embodiment and has reminded me of the ever-present abundance and truth that we are of nature. If you truly wish to embody health, nature is your quintessential model. 

Nature and forest therapy, known also as forest bathing or shinrin-yoku (its Japanese name), is an invitation to consciously inhabit your senses, to cross into liminality — the space and time between thresholds such as of conscious and unconscious, known and mystery — to immerse in nature and to be in a continuous state of noticing. 

Allow me to share some gems from my forest bathing practice during the early days of Covid-19. The experience inspired in me giddy peace, trust in real-time abundance, joyful presence, belonging, and well-being. 

Entering presence urges us to merge into our senses. Through the sensorial, we know our of-ness with nature, our implicit belonging. Find a place to sit or stand, and then close your eyes.

  • Connect to your sense of hearing. Do you hear what is close, far away, in the mid-range, to your right, left, or behind you? What do you hear if you listen with your heart, soul, or the soles of your feet?
  • What do you smell? Smell in all directions, through both nostrils as well as each. 
  • Connect to your sense of touch. How do your clothes, the air, surfaces (earth, chair, sticks, rocks) feel against your skin? 
  • Taste. Stick out your tongue. Does air have a taste? If you suck in air as if sipping through a straw, what do you taste? 
  • When you are done, slowly open your eyes. What do you take in through your sight?  

Take your time with each of these sense invitations. Ask yourself frequently, What am I noticing?

Slowing down invites you to allow what is in movement (within you and your surroundings) to become enchantingly revealed. What are you noticing? Remember: Be alive through your senses.

Inviting offers the opportunity to be freely you, responsive to your needs, desires, creativity, and titillation of the moment. How you move with an invitation will be inspired and guided by your sensing — what I call your entry into true intelligence and edgeless possibility.

 Noticing nourishes both the observed and the observer. Notice how you notice. Do you notice the concrete of what you sense (birds flying, branches swaying, ducks squawking)? Do you notice the sense of what you’re perceiving — movement, cacophony, peace, connection? I wonder if nature’s magnificence this spring and summer was because more of us have been exuberant witness to its evolving. 

Exchanging is a way we express mutuality. We must stop using nature and one another as an instrument for achieving our agendas. Nature can survive without us. We cannot survive without nature. Be loving exchange. Inhale what you are receiving from nature (beauty, playfulness, peace). Exhale into nature what you’d like to gift it of you (love, gratitude, joy). Nature is noticing.

And, so, there remains my eternal question: Why when I make a shift that feels so pleasurable, so healthy, do I return to patterns of stress and constriction? 

I wonder: Can we — you and I — create and honor a kind of Sabbath day, without work, technology, transportation for all?

Imagine, one day a week of rest, pleasure, peace, and play for nature and human. 

What are you noticing?

Kathleen Aharoni is a movement and life coach, workshop leader, and author of the award-winning book I breathe my own breath! She has served on the faculties of Northwestern University and Columbia College Chicago. To learn more, visit thehumanecologist.com.

Originally published in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 print issue.