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Forest Bathing the Self

“…freedom from want and fear.”

-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Forest bathing for me is always on the menu. The drive away from the structures of buildings, falling into the softness of trees, the ribbons of water massaging the backs of rocks in creeks, hawks flying free catching the presence of winds. I soften into myself, breathing freer than before, almost taking in and coating my lungs with the light blue hues of the sky. And yet, while these places help me to brush off the energies that aren’t mine, releasing emotions in a safe place that provides unconditional space to do so, and catching a moment of good deep breath without outlying pressures, I know I am still not fully free from wants and fears. I started reading Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac" and the line he repeats in the beginning is in regard to the January thaw. How for a window moment animals scurry up and out having more nourishment and “freedom from want and fear” as they come out of hibernation for a stint. Some animals realize they may be free from want, but not fear. Even throughout my years, one would think, or at least I thought, I would know better, that returning to the city, my home, my job after forest bathing that that time does not fix everything. My wants and fears come back circling my head and heart like hawks in the wind.

Emotions for me are hard. They become so strikingly hard at times like a vortex wind that I don’t feel I understand myself well enough of how to lessen the impact or get rid of it finding that “freedom from want and fear”. And I feel really sorry for the people around me. The incessant scraping, as I like to describe it, of two pieces of sandpaper rubbing together becomes so intense, the dissonance of what is happening around me with what’s happening within gets really strong and highly caffeinated that I sometimes don’t know how to release it. One way I have found, out of many, is to recognize that I can’t run from wants and fears. Or fight them. If I do, the dissonance repeats. I have to understand where they are coming from.

Over the years I think we all develop the layers of protection, ways of deflection, covers to hid under and we become sleepy one way or another. The idea that things will naturally go away, which is so not the case the majority of the time, as I am learning about myself. The fears and shakes of being on stage, metaphorically and literally, prance around in all of us, I think. Most of those stems from experiences we have had many times have nothing to do with the present. I have learned, and it is a daily practice now, is checking in with the self. This is something I learned at The Heart Revival Center. I started doing this every morning while my coffee is dripping to see how I am and what I need to tell myself for the day. Sometimes I can pinpoint it right away and sometimes it takes me a bit to get to the heart. Sometimes this helps me to recognize a welling of emotions or recognize where a fear might be coming from which provides a little bit of freedom, a little release, an unhooking of attachment, and breathing room in the forest of myself.

Pema Chodron’s book The Places that Scare You was the first book I bought in 2009. I was going through a difficult time and knew something needed to change. I had a lot of anger and fear. I wanted to find out more about myself. So, there I was standing in the self-help section at Half Price Books and that title caught my attention. That moment started the process of understanding that in order to be really free from what ails us, we need to go to the sources, the places that make us feel uncomfortable, that scare us, but with an honest loving-kindness of how we do that. Not to make our lives more miserable, but to release the attachments that we have to understand why we are stuck. To be a vulnerable friend with ourselves so we can be free from want and fear.

Through Heart the past year I have been really trying to find my voice to express what I am feeling. I feel like a child sometimes because I am afraid to express myself and I feel I am learning how to talk again from years of shoving emotions down. I am so not elegant and feel it comes out in moron half of the time, embarrassed from having tears and blubbers. But I feel safer having a place to practice. Sangha, paired with movement and breath, have really provided that safe place to practice wandering through the forest within. Releasing more wants and fears, finding out in the process what I need. It is not an overnight success. It’s an eye-opener like quarantine, how I think most of us are recognizing that many things we want aren’t really what we need. I feel myself waxing and waning throughout this time. I feel old fears returning like friends, hating it and loving it at the same time because now I have the time to be with who I am, just as I am. I realize the importance of connections with others, how I need to continue to practice opening my heart, how I need to be a friend to myself. And it’s okay. Because throughout this whole process I know that a gap of breathing spaces will come from within. A wide-open space where I can continually say, “There I am,” offering “freedom from want and fear”. So, I offer questions as I always do. What are some of your practices? What new routines have you adapted? I would really like to know what is nourishing you in your daily life.

During this time of restructuring:

May you be healthy.

May you be safe.

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

May you know the natural joy of being alive.


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