Forest Bathing is a meditative practice of surrendering one’s mind to the expansive and ever-changing energy of the forest. It was originally developed in Japan as a wellbeing practice called “shinrin-yoku“–it situates the forest as a sanctuary—a place to breathe and connect one’s inner being to nature’s deep, pure beauty. Taking inspiration from this practice, poets and visual artists have used it to create situational works of art that use the forest itself as canvas and medium. (See Jonathan Skinner’s ecopoetic meditation, “Paragraphs on Forest Bathing.”)
But as pristine as the idea of the forest may be, forests now usually reveal radical and often destructive anthropocentric impacts. In the Hillside Woods of my town in Westchester, NY, damage by deer, invasive species and humans—plus diseased and downed trees and climate change—are causing potentially irrecoverable changes to the ecosystem. Our internal relationship to the forest has also changed: what had been a sanctuary has become a locus of anxiety as we become more and more aware of the impact humans are having on the natural world that we rely on to survive.
During this time of masks and social distancing, when viruses continue to evolve and climate as well as political and social catastrophes continue to disrupt people’s lives around the world, it may be more important than ever to bathe in the long-suffering forest and learn from it about how we as humans can live with uncertainty and surrender to nature’s powerful resilience.
ABOUT THIS RECORDING
In September 2020, Haven Colgate of my town’s Conservation Commission asked me to lead a poetry walk through our Hillside Woods. And so, I created this recording as an asynchronous, forest bathing guided walk. Happily, now all can join, anytime, and in any forest — including forests of the imagination, as well as urban forests, desert forests, and sea forests.
To use the recording, stand at the threshold of a forest path. Like listening to a guided tour of a museum, the recording moves with you along the path (with many minutes of silence.) It is an invitation to bring a notebook and a pen, and to sit and write to various prompts.
At the end, you will have an ecopoetic poem: a poem that, when read straight through as if it is one long piece, blurs genre into a borderless, evolving form. (Perhaps like an ecosystem when not constrained by limited ideas about what an ecosystem “should” be. See my post “The Poetry Walk” for more information [and a teachable prompt!] about this form.)
* This recording (right click to download if you are concerned about connectivity in the forest)
Stand at the threshold of the forest path, and hit play. After that, follow… when prompted to write, assume the mentality of “first thought, best thought.” In other words, let the language move through you, without editing or second guessing yourself.