Shinrin-Yoku for the Soul

I just took a tree bath.

Yep, I totally meant to say that.

My morning started off with some harsh words and less than kind exchanges. Nothing too serious, just life getting the best of me. My soul was left aching, and I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I needed a walk in the woods.

I didn’t need it for the exercise (well, my lazy self could always use some exercise I guess), I just needed to be there. Surrounded by the beauty and life and oxygen-giving trees.

While sitting in the lobby of the dentist’s office, anxious about being poked and prodded all up in my mouth, I flipped through one of my favorite magazines and saw a quick insert about a place north of Atlanta where you can rent small, simple cabins in the woods. They referrenced the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which when translated, literally means “forest bathing”. A Japanese forestry expert coined the phrase many years ago, and it has since been a practice widely used and loved by their culture. You simply spend intentional quiet time surrounded by trees.

I didn’t need to read this article to know that I love being in the forest (ok, honestly, I love being on a well-maintained trail in a forest; I get a little freaked out about being lost or surprised by bugs and critters off-trail). I’ve always said I feel the most at peace, most inspired and most spiritually connected when I’m surrounded by nature. So of course when I hear terms like “forest bathing”, I geek out a little.

Some of my best memories and most peaceful moments are when I’ve been immersed in nothing but trees. We grew up going to a quiet cabin in the North Carolina mountains, and were even fortunate enough to purchase our own cabin last summer, nestled among miles and miles of trees. We love sitting on the deck, looking out at the long-range views of nothing but green, listening to leaves being rustled by the breeze or the dancing rain. My husband says he does his best thinking up there. It’s definitely good for the soul.

View from our cabin…ahhhhhhh

So this morning I headed out to one of my favorite trails. I let the rhythmic sound of my feet, pounding the damp ground, lull me into a state of peace. I smiled at the way the sun peeked through the leaves, leaving a golden glow among the darkened forest floor. I watched a black and blue velvet-winged butterfly float by, I passed a field of tall, bushy grass, alive and buzzing with a chorus of grasshoppers, I exchanged a curious glance with a pair of deer. Luckily I didn’t see a snake or get eaten by mosquitoes…I mean, not everything in nature is pleasant.

What I noticed the most on the walks, however, were the trees. I mean, their symbolism for life just amazes me. The way they endure so much. They live through heat waves and frost, too little rain or too much. They lose limbs in storms and become covered in vines or eaten by insects, and yet their root systems are usually so strong, their trunks so sturdy, they survive again and again. They grow and grow and grow some more, some for many more years than I will ever see. Even as I passed trees that had finally fallen or succumbed to death, I notice their ability to continue to give life. Plants were sprouting from within and moss covered the bark. Creatures found new homes in their safe shelter. The tree continued to give, even in death.

One of the trails at Cheatham Hill

I walk on and on, my soul filling up with every step. The trees guide me on. Acorns and branches and leaves are falling all around me, but I head on. I have to keep going. I realise that after a heavy storm, it’s not the best time to hike in the woods, but there’s so much beauty to notice, so much more good, that the benefit is worth the risk.

Life is like that…things are falling apart all around us. We are attacked from every angle, every day. But our roots are strong. We may be covered in fungus and loose some leaves and limbs here and there, but we endure. We are life-livers and life-givers.

Everyone struggles everyday with something. Even the people who seem like they aren’t (I’m looking at you Facebook and Instagram). We are all human and life is hard. Sometimes we search so desperately for something to take away the hurt, that we forget that right in front of us, all around us, God has put everything we need already here on this earth. I think we just forget to stop and notice. We strive, we search, we struggle…but we forget to just be still.

Truth.

So go hug a tree. Ok…just kidding. Kind-of. At least if you do, send me a picture because that will just make my day.

Do take the time to be still and notice. Slow down, breathe deep, go take a tree bath or two. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself one day, when no one is looking, giving those trees a quick thank-you hug.

The Road to Forgiveness

California here we…leave!

We are wrapping up a work/play trip to San Diego/LA, and just boarded the plane for Denver for our third leg of our western summer adventure. We brought the kids (and even one of our favorite babysitters!) and hit up beautiful Southern California, their little eyes wide at seeing it for the first time. We definitely saw our fair share of sights!

From Sea World, Del Mar, and the San Diego Zoo…to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, we soaked up the perfect SoCal weather and slept in the most amazing Air Bnb’s, thanks to my husband’s uncanny ability to find the best last-minute places. We also endured classic LA traffic, whining, fighting kids, the cluster of Opening Day at Del Mar (ok, so that was also fun and perhaps the best people watching ever!) the monstrous line at In and Out Burger, and multiple Uber drivers that didn’t speak a lick of English, but alas, such is the beauty of travel. No one got kidnapped or ended up in the hospital, so I’m calling it a success.

Hooray for Hollywood!
Seeing the west coast for the first time

So now here I am, just me and the kiddos, (our first flight as a threesome without daddy) and I’m trying as usual to hold it together and relax instead of imagining going down in a flaming ball of fire because, you know, being in a plane is my happy place. Oh, and did I mention that when I boarded the plane I discovered that my husband unknowingly swiped my headphones, and after the third baby cried before take off, I was cursing that sweet man a bit excessively in my head while trying not to bang my head against the seat 6 inches in front of me. And then there’s a guy behind me that clearly needs a new iPad because he is banging on his screen with brute force, so hard that it’s shaking my seat my seat as if a toddler was kicking the crap out of it. But hey, the kiddos are knee deep in plane snacks and soda and laughing their heads off together at something, so at least some of us are having fun.

On this next leg of the trip, we are meeting up with my mom, who has finally fulfilled her dream of renting an RV and trekking across the wide open space of the west. We plan to join her for some of the journey in Wyoming before heading back to Georgia for the start of school.

Before we meet up with her, we are spending a night in Denver to catch our breath and see some family. We have some cousins there, and we are meeting up with my “real” dad, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and who has never met his grandkids. Yep, you heard me right.

So, that’s not awkward at all.

I think I wrote some time ago about how my real dad hasn’t been in my life for quite some time, several decades passing between the time I talked to him on the phone, asking if I could invite him to my wedding (which was a no-go as I’d figured) to about a year ago when I finally got the nerve to return his surprising phone call. We have had several small-talk conversations since then, but he mentioned he would love to see us.

So here we are, about to land in Denver, me trying to explain to my children that they are about to meet a total stranger who happens to be their grandfather. Just another day in the life.

There are all sorts of reasons I could not make this happen today. All sorts of hang-ups and resentment and abandonment issues that have plagued me over the years. But as my sadness and anger and confusion has gradually settled, after I’ve realized that my love and self-worth isn’t dependent on a single person or my past, I know that forgiveness and love are the ultimate healers in any situation. In that truth, I rest assured.

Our meeting today will be brief and probably totally awkward, but it also needs to happen. All I can do is take baby steps in this journey. I must trust the process and be open to it. I will let the past stay where it needs to and focus on an amazing present and future.

Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two hurts don’t mend a heart. But an open heart, one that takes the first step, one that chooses to forgive…that’s where the magic can truly happen.

Update: Meeting was a success!