I was recently asked to tell my story. How does one do that? What part of it is important to share? Is it the pain points, the ah-ha moments, the hope that sat there in my heart, the listening that changed things for me, the path that brought me to my ‘now’?
How would you tell your story?
Life got complicated. I found myself in a whirlwind. I escaped a tremendously dangerous abusive marriage; I survived the death of two children; I clawed my way back from bankruptcy after my spouse secretly borrowed money against our assets; I was blindly supporting my mentally ill family member; and I was stressed to the max with my intensely demanding work. All this turmoil was part of my every day when a friend of my mother’s encouraged me to go walk in the woods.
Walk in the woods? Would that fix anything? My fear, anxiety, grief, worry, sleeplessness and helplessness all seemed to overwhelm me. I was eager to find snippets of calm and joy. So, into the forest I went.
What did I find there?
My senses came alive. I moved slowly. I drew a deep breathe, then another. The pine needles seemed to emit a soothing, familiar scent. The colours and textures of my surroundings were vibrant and fascinating. They made me curious. I listened. I heard sounds close and far away. I focused on the ones that were pleasant to me. I felt the breeze on my face and the rough terrain below my feet. I tasted a wintergreen berry and noticed it’s pasty texture on my tongue. I could feel myself slip into a state of calm. It seemed so simple.
What happened next?
I reminisced about my walk for hours after it was over. I thought about the sensations I felt. I wondered if there was something to this. Was it my imagination or real? Did it matter?
I found myself craving my next walk. I was able to go again within the next couple of days. I felt child-like as I wandered and waited for my senses to notice and witness experiences that awaited me. I sat for a bit beside a little pond, that was really nothing more than a big puddle. I became still, but was soon surrounded by movement. The leaves rustled, a chipmunk scampered, a moth flitted through the ray of sunlight that gleamed into the green forest. Was this orchestrated just for me? I experienced a moment of awe. I felt small, but somehow knew I belonged there. I considered the lesson in this thought.
What did it feel like to belong?
I felt like myself, supported, comforted and accepted. This seemed rather foreign to me as it had been a while. I had connected to the natural world, but also to myself. It nourished me. It didn’t solve my problems, but it helped me to think more clearly, more creatively. I could see beyond my little world into a bigger perspective.
This is where my story took on meaning.
I walked some more. It became a regular activity. I started to have restful sleep, handle stress better and build resilience. My memory improved and I felt joy again. I knew that I was returning to happiness and wellness.
When I was ready, I did some reading on the science of a slow-paced walk in natural settings. I discovered a plethora of research and various programs that have demonstrated the health benefits of this sort of activity. I learned that several countries around the world have spent millions of dollars to develop ‘nature therapy’ centres to conduct research and program offerings to their citizens. They too agree that time spent in nature promotes well-being. This practice is simple, straight-forward, affordable, and accessible as a health initiative. I knew that I wanted to study and become a teacher to deliver this sort of support to others, in hopes that they could also find wellness. So I did.
It is what we are remembered for. I knew that amongst all the hardships that I have suffered, I wanted to do meaningful work and turn the unpleasant stuff into something beautiful. And so, I walk in the forest and offer reciprocity. My love for the natural world is what I strive to pass on. Maybe someone, somewhere will rediscover themselves because of the story I share. Maybe someone’s sparked love of nature will bring appreciation and motivation for the preservation of wild places.
Connect with nature, one step at a time.