Forest Bathing

Today is  November 7, 2014. I arrive at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center snuggled in the redwood forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I walk in the woods a bit and realize I am forest bathing. The joy I feel being there is enhanced by the early morning sunlight streaming through the trees.

Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing in Ben Lomond, CA
Photo © 2014 Jerome Freedman

The canopy of redwood trees greets me with their astonishing height and their feeling of closeness. They seem to work together as a sangha to nourish mother Earth, provide me with shade, and freshen the air.

I had been here two years ago when the same path was drenched with the rain that came the night before. This time the fallen leaves crackle underneath my feet.

The air is crisp and clean. I am delighted to be attending the writer’s workshop with Maxine Hong-Kingston, Earll Kingston, and Wendy Johnson. Many friends greet me with joy and offer good tidings about my recovery from cancer.

We gather in a circle and sit silently for about 20 minutes. Near the beginning, Maxine tells us that Dogen said, “To sit together in a sangha is enlightenment.” A wonderful feeling of bliss encompasses my body as I experience this truth.

This is the kind of feeling that you want to go on forever. But we know that the natural law of impermanence makes this impossible. Since it is such a pleasant sensation, I naturally want more. When I realize that the period of silent meditation had begun, I allow it to dissolve without the usual craving that comes with the pleasant sensation I feel.

The forest is responsible for my openness to experience these feelings. I do not feel like a stranger with members of the sangha anymore.

Maxine reads Mary Oliver’s poem, Everything! I realize, everything is empty of a separate existence. She picked her words carefully. I have no words to pick. I just think about forest bathing.

I take a short walk in the forest and come back in time to hear the tail end of Jim’s flute. This is also just in time for the lunch break. I had already eaten a bit while writing all of this so I went for another bath in the forest.

This time I get far enough to see and walk the labyrinth.The labyrinth tells me, “Walk with an issue in your life: spiritual or secular. Phrase it as a question or an intention. Use words, images or body movements to express it.”

Labyrinth, Quaker Center

Labyrinth, Quaker Center, Ben Lomond, CA
Photo © 2014 Jerome Freedman

I have two primary goals in mind. One is to present the 7 Principles of Mindfulness in Healing on Super Soul Sunday. The other is to offer a special gift to a particular person at the retreat. As I walk toward the center, I wonder, “Which one of these is more probable?”

As I stand in the center contemplating these intentions, I feel turned on and excited. I rest there, standing in the center, listening to the sounds of the forest,  feeling the gravel under my feet, smelling the aroma of the forest air, and seeing the beautiful trees around me. I am aroused and alive. The forest bathing has given me energy.

I slowly walk out of the labyrinth and sit on a bench. I move into a few moments of calm meditation and then realize I must get back soon.

Back in the Redwood Lodge, I ask Maxine for a blurb for my book. She’s not too excited. I don’t have time to go into details.

I write a few more word and then take a short power nap. I have leave to as close as possible to 4:00 to attend my monthly shabbos sangha in Kentfield. Before I leave, I listen to moving stories that other people wrote.

The day of forest bathing comes to a close as I head back home.

Wouldn’t you like a day of forest bathing? Where would you go to do it?




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