▹ This circle is a mindful Forest Immersion. It is structured so as to make the mindfulness of the experience explicit and accessible.
Ideally, Forest Immersion (or Forest Attuning) happens in a forest, but it needs not be. You can pick a meadow, a beach, or your own garden. It is important however that it is as sheltered as possible from human noise interference. Prefer a place where there are plants and trees (or shrubs) and where you have access to water. A free-flowing stream would be great, but a fountain can work as well.
Whatever you choose, don't challenge yourself: pick a spot suited to your own ability and confidence.
Go alone or with nature circle friends. Enjoy walking on our immersion path, and spend quality time connecting deeply with Nature, yourself and your companions if you attune as a group ツ
Type » Activity
Level » Wellness + Nature Sketching
When? » Anytime
Where? » A Forest preferably, but you can also 'immerse' in a meadow, in a clearing, or some quiet place on the shore. Try including an element of water (a stream, a river, a cascade)
Time » 2 hrs+
Themes & Skills
Celebration ⋆ Nature benefits ⋆ Forest ⋆ Stillness ⋆ Slow walk ⋆ Focus ⋆ Senses ⋆ Natural processes/cycles ⋆ Systems thinking
How to Prepare & What to Bring
“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world” — John Muir
- Sturdy shoes for rough forests
- Flip-flops for wading in water if you can
- Insect repellent and sunscreen (eco-friendly when possible)
- Hat, poncho depending on the weather
- A map if you don't know the area
- A hiking pole if you feel like you need an extra 'foot' when walking in a stream or a river bed
- A light mat to sit on, or a folding stool
- Water and snacks
"May the forests be with you and with your children." —Daniel Quinn
We've always known that forests are good for our physical and mental health. We have a very long evolutionary history tied to the forest, and that is likely one of the reasons why we 'feel good' in 'it' (with all its benefits). Forests are indeed a more familiar human habitat than cities are. Forests are our common human shared tradition. Did we need science to explain all this to us? It looks like it: there are now countless scientific studies that have accumulated evidence that proves 'formally', that yes the forest is invaluable to our human wellbeing... meanwhile, we lost a lot of time trying to cut our 'Life cord'. Here we aim at reacquainting ourselves with our home. In short, we invite you to go back "home" with us.
We like to describe our attuning to the forest as a ritualistic walk on a path in that forest. We use the word 'path' because it hints at a journey. Whether we are already 'there' in that forest, or whether we are coming back to it, immersing ourselves in a forest is indeed a Life journey. We also like that the word 'path' refers to the Chinese concept of 'the Way', 'the Road', or 'Principle' embodied by the word 'Tao', for which its interpretation is a holistic philosophy.
Enjoy walking on that path with us ツ
Immersion Path ▸
This is a moment to reflect, a time to 'be'
The first step in our immersion is about expressing our commitment to the moment that we're about to experience. We make clear to ourselves, and to the others in our group, that the intention is not to hike, or trek or do something with a purpose other than letting go and opening up our mind, our senses, and our heart to our immediate environment.
Avoid learning safety by accident...
Here the moderator of the circle goes over the potential hazards. For instance, in our Northeastern American regions, we have problems with a few poisonous plants, and the infamous ticks that carry Lyme disease. The ultimate protection starts with knowledge. Make sure to understand how to recognize potential hazards, so that you keep safe from them.
This is also the time to check that we have sunscreen, insect repellent, water, hat, and that we are properly dressed for the habitat.
Entering the Quiet Zone
Duration: ~5 mns
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear” ― Ram Dass
Ideally, the forest immersion path that you've chosen to explore is sheltered enough from the sound of the city and its highways.
It's also the time to turn our smartphone off or to put it in airplane mode if you intend to use your phone's camera. If you can't unplug, at least set it in a priority/silenced mode, limiting external notifications to the strict minimum. Digital distractions are a stress nuisance in an immersion experience: they diminish our cognitive levels and are totally counterproductive.
Ethics of Reciprocity
Duration: ~5-10 mins
“Gratitude is most powerful because it provides an opening to reciprocity, to the act of giving back, to living in a way that the Earth will be grateful for us.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer
In many cultures, the ethics of reciprocity is also known as the golden rule. It refers generally to the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.
Our own ethics of reciprocity emphasizes exchange and partnership between us, the forest and its beings. It is an ethics that contrasts with a utilitarian view of the world. Instead, we reflect on the weakness and harm of a human attitude that is centered on dominion and that sees the natural world only as a resource for humans. And we remind ourselves that we are an integral part of Nature –critical entities of the web of Life. We explore as a group what Nature gives us, and then we share what we intend to give to her.
This is also the time where we debrief about wildlife etiquette, highlighting to handle ourselves around the species that surround us in this forest, and their habitat. We pledge to connect with the forest and to give it our humility and respect.
“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness ” ― John Muir
This is an affirmation of our readiness. After a minute or so of mindful breathing, we acknowledge that we are about to start walking on 'the path'.
Look for a tree or a shrub at the beginning of the path and recognize it as the gate. What we often do ourselves is to find a stone, or come with our own stone and place it on the path for us to pick it up later upon our return. Then we 'pass it' symbolically. We've started!
Local Sensory Explorations
Duration: ~15-20 mins.
“We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.” ― William Hazlett
To help to let go and slow our busy minds down, we usually start with 15 minutes or so with explicitly attuning a few of our senses other than the sense of sight, that will be fully exercised throughout the immersion.
▹ Taste is a powerful sense, but you need to make sure that you know 'what' you are tasting. We ourselves like the taste of trees (needle, leaf, flower), but if you can't distinguish the ones that are poisonous to those that aren't, then please refrain from doing that. There's plenty to explore anyway with all the other senses.
▹ 'Hearing' is great to explore when shutting down our sense of sight. Creating a sound map for 5 minutes or more is a great way to experience it. The principle is simple: each of us has a piece of paper in which we trace concentric circles spaced so as to represent 5 yards distance intervals. The center of the map is us. And then we close our eyes and listen. For each of the sounds that we detect, we write or draw what we think it is, placing it on our map in the direction and at the distance that we think we heard it. At the end of listening, we compare our maps...
▹ Touch is an intimate sense, and a great one to experience through the meet a tree activity, with a friend leading you to it when you're blind (a bandana will do). This exploration also promotes trust and empathy. It connects us with a tree in a memorable and intimate way.
▹ Don't dismiss our very powerful sense of smell, and keep your nose open. For instance, walking through a damp forest after the rain has a unique smell. This one comes from bacteria in the soil known as 'geosmin' (meaning “Earth smell”). Studies have identified geosmin as one of the metabolic by-products of a class of bacteria known as Actinobacteria. Geosmin is responsible for many earthy tastes in alcohols and foods such as fish and vegetables. It is unclear why this smell is released during rain. It has been hypothesized that, by signaling the presence of water, the smell is a method of attracting thirsty animals which unknowingly help disperse the bacterial spores. Smells also open other pathways, some strongly linked to the memory of our past...
▹ There are also other senses to explore such as those relating to body awareness. One we like to explore is Exteroception, that is the sensitivity to stimuli outside the body, e.g., how you perceive your environment. In other terms, this sense is about inclusive attention. An example of that is closing our eyes, moving our hands and knowing exactly where they are in space.
Because some of us are Tai Chi students, we like to incorporate here a few simple movements of Tai Chi to have us experience our own energy as well as the energy of the place.
Attuning / Blending In
Duration: 1/2 hr to as long as you want it to be...
“In this forest, there is a tree that has been waiting to meet you since before you were born.”
This is the core of the immersion walk, and yet this is the less structured part of the entire process. It is about ambling, strolling, musing. It's about listening to the forest. It's about walking as slow as you want (and maybe can) and making light observations (as opposed to scientific or involved observations). It's about sharing with others, and thinking about, what the forest is communicating to us.
Intersperse the walk with as many sittings or resting moments as wanted or necessary. Often what we do during our sitting times is to draw or journal the present moment, which has the effect for us to slow time even more. Some others prefer to read poetry to one another or reflect on some inspiring quotes from master strollers such as John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and so many others.
This is also a moment and place where you can take your Yoga, Qigong, or any other gentle practices outside and share it with your group. Make sure if you share your practice, that it is not about the perfection of the moves, but rather is a means to connect deeply with the forest and the people with you along the path.
The key is light exchanges, not forcing anything. That's also where a good moderator leads us back on the immersion path if we stray away from it...
Stillness & Reflection
Duration: ~10-15 mins+
“Stillness just might be the ultimate adventure” ― Pico Lyer
We've moved slowly; we've shared with others and with the forest; we practiced all our senses together. If we attuned enough, we took in what the forest wanted to give us, and we gave back our humbleness and respect.
This moment is about ourselves; It's taking 'it' all in–still and silent. It's about diffusing the experience further in our body and mind. There is a very nice verb in French that we like to use to describe this moment's main action: 'se recueillir'. It's a reflexive verb, and it combines the act of meditating, honoring, reflecting, collecting oneself silently. That's what this moment is about.
Returning & Belonging
Duration: ~5-10 mins
“Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints! ― Chief Seattle
Before we conclude our stroll, and if we have collected some things off the forest floor, we make the effort to return most of (if not all) our collection back to the forest. It's an appreciation of need vs. want, as well as acknowledging the 'belonging' of what we took.
It also allows us to loop back to ethics about what is 'collectible' and not (including unintended ecological consequences of collecting besides potentially desecrating a site). Often this is also where we share personal stories or myths (including false myths) where terrestrial and ocean entities showed discontent by humans who took without asking ツ
Immersion Gate Closing
Duration: ~5 mins
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees” ― Henry David Thoreau
Time to seal the moment in our heart and mind. This is not the closing of our mind, it is more an act of sheltering the moment (from external potentially harmful elements). It's an attempt to make our attuning and its benefits last longer.
The passing of the gate on our way back also symbolizes the completion of a cycle. This reminds us that cycles are the fabric of Life here on Earth, and that we are an integral part of the whole, following the same laws.
Making memories and sharing them (now or later with friends)...
▹ This time is about sharing a moment from this walk with the other 'circlers': a drawing, something we collected (and kept) and that we are offering to the others.
If you walked this path alone, this is also the perfect time to have a sip of water, or a cup of tea before heading back to wherever our life calls us.
▹ Use that moment to do a tick check (have the back of your friends too), or making sure to get rid of any problematic critter.
Here we are, where we belong...
Don't leave without making the promise to come back and celebrate further this path together!
Claire is a co-founder of Earthwise Aware (EwA), an environmental nonprofit that brings biodiversity knowledge and science, ecological ethics, and environmental leadership to the heart of communities. She is the director of EwA's Biodiversity & Climate Participatory Science program– an initiative that connects the public with its immediate natural systems and empowers communities. EwA focuses on place-based urban wildlife and natural history, and the conservation of species interactions. Its program runs regular continuous biodiversity and phenology studies in 8 cities. The program fosters a deeper understanding of ecological systems and provides tools to the public to make evidence-based environmental decisions. Locally, Claire is a co-organizer of the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge for the Greater Boston Area. She also serves as a board member of the Friends of the Fells, and is an advisor for the Green & Open Somerville group. [More...]
Claire strongly believes that individually and altogether we can be ethically & ecologically engaged–whoever we are, whatever we do, and wherever we are. Ethical Nature conservation is not circumstantial, it is a mindset that you acquire which then turns into a way of life. Once on that path, a great many rewards for us becomes obvious. And the satisfaction out of practicing good ethics is almost addictive. There is no looking back...
Her favorite motto: “Nature Conservation as A Way of Life”
It's the little things that citizens do that will make a difference. At EwA, those 'little things' we do is to get us closer to Nature. And here, with this circle, I am doing my part, committed to getting us back to a familiar and sustaining place, our home: the forests. Forests are 'the place' where we came to be, and where we spent hundreds of thousands of years 'evolving', before leaving abruptly without really looking back. Doing so, we failed to understand that by ignoring and harming our forests, we are harming ourselves physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually...
Often, people asked if this circle is about Forest Bathing, referring to the Japanese and now branded therapeutic practice of Shinrin-Yoku. No, it's not, because we don't know Shinrin-Yoku other than what the Western media made of it. Our immersion path is certainly not about medical therapy but about sharing the human tradition of ambling into the forest. That there are common elements would not be surprising though: Forests are where we spent our species' childhood. From an evolution standpoint, we were totally attuned to our home, at least as a matter of survival. Along the way or maybe at the same time, our spiritual conscience added reverence into the mix. Forest immersion, attuning, strolling, ambling, bathing (or whatever you want to call it) is our initial Story.
As for me, I started immersing long before the term came to the West a decade or so ago. I have 'practiced' forest immersions for the past 35 years, in a way that originated from where I am coming from–Brittany (a cultural region in the northwest of France, covering the western part of what was known as Armorica during the period of Roman occupation). I 'quote' the word practice, because this is not something that we usually say or used to say there. For the longest time, it was somehow obvious that when you enter the forest, you're there to listen, see, smell, taste, feel, and converse with the forest. It was obvious that in a forest you de facto 'attune'. If my fellow Bretons lost the way, I would not know as I don't go back to Brittany very often. But glancing at some of the present time cultural groups over there, the thought seems to be persisting that attuning is what you do in the landscapes of Brittany.
I spent big parts of my childhood, youth and young adulthood wandering our forests and at sea (Bretons are also people of the sea). The forest and the ocean persisted in my heart throughout my very urban American life, as I always took the time to spend regular quality extended periods of time in our local forests. I even furthered my experiences in various other World forest habitats... Going back to my roots like a deeply felt need, probably fueled by the fact that forests and the ocean have been places of refuge for me from the very beginning.
Anyway, about 20 years ago I started studying the Tao Te Ching and the T'ai Chi Ch'üan. I liked the simplicity of the breathing and fluidity and the grounding quality of the moves. So it felt natural to incorporate some of my favorite postures to deepen my experience. in this case, the word 'practice' makes more sense because it's actually hard to reach movement or breathing purity (but that's another story). However, trying to reach some kind of perfection is not what I practice when I 'immerse'.
So, this practice is a mix of personal experience with various cultural traditions. When people tell me that the ability 'to be' in a forest is the 'panache' of (or is accredited to) a specific country or culture, it makes me feel very sad. We could not be more mistaken. There is a very simple reason why forests are so beneficial for our health: we come from there, forests are our familiar places while cities still aren't... Our departure from 'the Forest' is very recent in the history of Man.
There is also a reason why the Tree of Life is a widespread myth in the history of human cultures: forests are our common human tradition. And this is what this immersion is about: a shared memory of this tradition.
» Ecology, Ethics & Conservation
The EwA Wildness Etiquette » Easy Rules to Protect Nature & Wildlife
Tree Values (Global Tree Campaign)
How Trees Talk to Each Other – TED Talk (2016)
The Science, Art, and Meaning of Forest Wisdom (Dr. Suzanne Simard)
Geosmin, an Earthy-Smelling Substance Isolated from Actinomycetes by Gerber, N.N. & Lechevalier, H. A. in Appl Microbiol (1965). 13(6): 935–938.
The Smell of Rain: Before, During, and After from The University of Melbourne's Scientific Scribbles (2014)
Vanishing Clams on an Iberian Beach: Local Consequences and Global Implications of Accelerating Loss of Shells to Tourism by Kowalewski, M. & al. (2014) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083615
» Wellness, Mindfulness & Art
How Forests Foster Human Health – Present State of Research-based Knowledge (in the Field of Forests and Human Health) by Meyer, K.; Bürger-Arndt, R. in International Forestry Review, Volume 16, Number 4, September 2014, pp. 421-446(26) [DOI: https://doi.org/10.1505/146554814813484103]
Forest Experience and Psychological Health Benefits: The State of The Art and Future Prospect in Korea by Won Sop Shin & al. in Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan; 15(1): 38–47.
Just think: The Challenges Of The Disengaged Mind by Wilson, T.D. & al. (2014) in Science Vol. 345, Issue 6192, pp. 75-77 DOI: 10.1126/science.1250830
Cycle Celtique (12 Principes Fondamentaux) » Pour les celtes, la Nature, est célébrée comme une source d’inspiration, une conseillère de sagesse et de beauté. Les celtes pensent que l’homme n’est qu’un des éléments de la grande harmonie naturelle, que la nature n’appartient pas à l’homme mais que c’est l’homme qui appartient à la nature.
Tao Te Ching (1994) by Laozi (Auteur), Stephen Mitchell (Interpretation) » There are countless interpretations of the Tao, and our intent here is not to list all the ones that we read or study so far, and which one is more truthful to the original text. Stephen Mitchell's interpretation is one that touched us, and that's why we chose to list it along with a more traditional (below) French traduction.
Tao-Tö King (2002) de Lao-tseu (Auteur), Liou Kia-hway (Traduction)
Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen (1999)
Sharing Nature » A movement to help people deepen their relationship with nature.
Nature & Naturalist Journaling » Why, How to… » With references & examples of wonderful nature sketchers and observers to reassure and inspire us.
The EwA Naturalist Daybag » Preparation is key, our Nature bag is always ready to go, so don't have to think about and risk forgetting important items!