Spring has just begun. Do you hear the growing number of bird songs, notice a difference in the light each day and smell the freshness of new beginnings?
To welcome a new season, may I share ten ‘Love Letters to the Earth’ from one of today’s most revered Zen Masters and an inspiration to many, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who passed away a few days ago at the age of 95?
Peace activist and Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh argued that change of lack of meaning and connection in peoples’ lives, resulting in peoples’ addiction to consumerism, and limiting climate change is possible only with the recognition that people and the planet are ultimately one and the same.
He invites us to engage in an intimate conversation, a living dialogue, with our Earth.
You can read the ten love letters in Emergence Magazine here.
I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I did!
Just in case you would like to (re)connect, slow down and be in nature in with a small group of like-minded people, and learn the basics of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing/bosbaden) from a certified shinrin-yoku guide, so you can continue practicing it on your own afterwards, please do check out my website for upcoming nature connection workshops.
“This invitation is called: ‘The Journey of Water’. The element of water can appear in various shapes and forms such as waves, fog, snow, clouds, raindrops, crystals, ice, or as your drinking or bathing water. The water may have at one time been frozen high on a snow-capped peak, or maybe it cascaded down a mountain stream or came from deep within the earth. In many traditions, it is believed water is healing and renewing, activates flow in your life and brings emotional balance. The water inside of you is not separate from all the waters of our beautiful planet. Maybe the water carries all the memories of its different forms?
In this invitation, I would like to invite you to go explore with all your senses the water around and within you.”
A guided shinrin-yoku walk consists of several ‘invitations’, small activities/exercises that invite you to connect with nature, your natural surroundings and yourself in various ways, using your different senses.
Slow down. Listen. Feel. May the magic of nature be with you always.
A strong breeze on my face. Bright sunlight warming my back. Sizzling noise coming from the surf below, trying to grab my feet. Hoarse cries of seagulls flying in the sky above me. My eyes being hypnotised by the dancing waves. In front of me thousands of starfishes. Making me walk with the stars. Smiled at by the stars. Guided by the stars. A message from the deep sea. In nature I never walk. Alone.
(Monday nature break at Zandvoort beach, 30 min. train ride from Amsterdam)
Go slow. Listen. Feel. Smile. You are home. In nature. @Stillness in Nature
You can hear the world breathing if you just listen.
These breezes whisper melodies of different lands,
Transcribed through time.
They are like wind chimes.
Swirling energy carrying seeds of wisdom.
You can hear them as they blow through leaves of ancient trees,
Breathing and exhaling,
Telling the stories of this world for an eternity.
Listen to the sea.
It is the lifeblood of this planet.
Pumping and pulsing through every crevice.
Connecting the nations of this world through its embrace-tracing patterns.
And the sands of our birth lands,
Crashing on shores,
Expanding past horizon,
Reaching deep into the depths of our imaginations.
Listen to the land.
It is the Earth’s belly,
Rumbling and turning as tectonic plates shift.
We shift through its soils,
Break into primates giving birth to life,
Giving birth to us.
We are grateful.
For every gift Mother Earth gives, we live.
Because the life of this land is perpetuated in righteousness.
We are blessed to see her beauty,
Taste her elegance,
Smell her power,
Touch her essence.
This world becomes a miracle when you take time.
To just listen.
Welcome to 2022! A new year to explore… and why not make the ancient practice of nature connection, with a relatively new legacy of research showing enormously positive physiological and psychological effects, your #1 health and wellness practice this year?
Unlike human society, with its ever changing politics, rules and regulations, nature is always there for you, accessible, patient and free: all you have to do is slow-down enough to notice, tune in with all your senses, become quiet and just relax.
After a period of stillness and regeneration, nature is subtly awakening. The morning light is coming out earlier each day, greeting me and my fellow Amsterdammers this week with mysterious fog and dramatic sunrises over the Amstel river.
You can notice tiny green plants re-emerging on the forest floor, in parks, gardens and balcony pots and trees are starting to grow small leaves again. The orchestra of birds is getting more rich and diverse each day.
Little magic is taking place, if you only take the time to sit still, tune in and notice!
Wanna practice shinrin-yoku in a small group of max. 5 other like-minded people, at a special hour of the day, when it’s still very quiet in the forest? Learn all about the shinrin-yoku basics, so afterwards you will have plenty of inspiration and tools to continue a shinrin-yoku wellness practice solo, or with your friends/family?
Please join me on one of my upcoming shinrin-yoku workshops! New dates/locations will be posted on my website each month.
“In all things of nature there’s something of the marvelous” (Artistotle)
It’s an early morning in late September. Sunlight is radiating through the morning fog on the Amstel river, painting the small waves in front of me with silver sparks. In the air I smell the unmistakable earthy, plant-like scent of sweet water. There’s hardly any wind, and in the air I can sense a crisp touch of Autumn. Waves slosh gently against the SUP board under my feet. With my paddle, I slowly touch the water back. Branches of big trees along the quay, covered in golden morning sunlight, are reaching out to the water, some of them all the way down. A couple of ducks and later on a beautiful swan swim along with me and my board, just for a moment. In the distance, a red bicycle is crossing a drawbridge. I hear the sound of a piano, coming from an open window of a house high above me on the quay. Little boats and big tour boats are still quietly moored at this hour, the hustle and bustle of ordinary city-life far ahead. In the sky high above me flies a flock of geese, making an unsettling type of noise. Window-blinds of the houseboats that I pass are mostly closed; a few times I notice someone making coffee or reading a morning newspaper. At this time of the day, I have the myriad of waterways of this so called ‘Venice of the North’ all to myself. A labyrinth of nature in the middle of a busy city, on which I can slow down, relax, breathe, tune-in, focus, find creativity, new ideas and connect to nature, while awakening all my senses.
When I first came across shinrin-yoku (Japanese for forest-bathing, or in Dutch: bosbaden), a well-ness practice in which you immerse yourself in a forest setting by using all your senses and slowing down, I thought I could only use this technique in a forest, or perhaps a (big) city-park. Since I live in the middle of a capital city with only a small balcony facing some trees, I was sad I had to travel quite a distance to be in a forest and could not practice shinrin-yoku on a daily base. However, inspired by Vicky Kyan, one of my mentors during my training to become an ANFT certified forest therapy guide, offering nature bathing walks on a beach with not a tree in sight (Great Barrier Island, New Zealand), I realized there’s actually a lot of nature nearby my Amsterdam doorstep. Why not practice the Japanese inspired art of slowing down through sensory immersion in nature along the Amstel river, or one of the 165 canals, stretching over 75 kilometres of waterways?
Using the technique of shinrin-yoku when spending time along, on or in the water and slowing down through sensory immersion gives me a feeling of awe, purpose, contentment, vitality, connection and an overall positive emotion: effects similar to forest bathing. Engaging in the practice while being in my day-to-day surroundings has changed the way I see and experience nature forever.
In his landmark book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do”, marine biologist and bestseller author Wallace J. Nichols also concludes that being near water sets our minds and bodies at ease. Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans and gifted artists, Nichols answers questions such as how proximity to water can improve performance, diminish anxiety, amplifies creativity, expands compassion, increases professional success and improves our overall well-being.
Wanna learn more about the practice of shinrin-yoku, and experience what the art of stillness in nature through sensory immersion can do for you? Please join us on one of our guided shinrin-yoku walks!
Free online screening documentary “The Hidden Life of Trees” (Peter Wohlleben) October 13, 20:00-22:00 CEST, Goethe-Institut London
When Peter Wohlleben published his book “The Hidden Life of Trees” (2015), he stormed all the bestseller charts overnight: no-one had ever written about the German woods like the forester from the parish of Wershofen before.
In the documentary “The Hidden Life of Trees” (96 min, directed by Jörg Adolph), the sensorial capacities of cinema are used to thrillingly visualize Wohlleben’s observations, letting you into the secrets of nature that lie beyond human vision and temporality.
The film simultaneously offers fascinating and often visually stunning insights into life in our forests.
Wohlleben tells us in an entertaining and enlightening fashion about the solidarity and cohesion of trees and strikes a chord with his ever-growing community of readers: he brings us closer to these astounding living entities in guided tours of the woods and readings. Wohlleben travels to Sweden to see the oldest tree in the world; he visits businesses in Vancouver that are looking for a new approach to how to treat the woods; he sides with the Hambacher Forst demonstrators.
Because he knows that we humans can only survive if the woods are healthy – and that the eleventh hour is already upon us…
You can get your free ticket for the online screening of the documentary by the Goethe-Institut London here.
& if you want to slow down, relax and tune into the language of nature live on a guided shinrin-yoku walk, do check out my website. There are new dates for October / November in the Amstelpark (Amsterdam) and Duin & Kruidberg, Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland (Santpoort-Noord).
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter” (Rachel Carson)
The evening light is fading, offering a more subtle palette of colours. Birds, hidden in the high trees and bushes set out for a final serenade. A strong aroma of earth, grass and flowers fills the air. Rain that fell in the hours leading up to the shinrin-yoku walk, has refreshed the atmosphere. Light reflects on thousands of raindrops that rest on top of flowers, plants, leaves and spiderwebs, turning them into little diamonds. The south-western wind brings in lyrics from a song by boaters, navigating the Amstel river in the distance during this golden hour. Human visitors to the Amstelpark are scarce at this time of the day. A curious rabbit observes us from a distance. I pour seven wooden cups of fresh herbal tea, six for us, one to offer back to Nature. We sit in a small circle on the grass, above us huge branches of two sycamore trees. This is my favo moment of a shinrin-yoku walk: the tea ceremony. A moment for participants to share, if they wish, their experiences with each other.
During tea – the final part of a shinrin-yoku walk -, many participants share that by truly slowing down and focusing explicitly on their senses, they experience a deeper connection. To the present moment, present place and their present state of being. This gives them focus, inspiration, calmness, joy and a feeling of deep relaxation.
Often, participants say they feel an elevation and rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit.
Some participants also share what for them constitutes a ´door of connection´ to nature: “When we focused our attention on the sounds of the spot in the dunes where we were standing, I realized that for me, my sense of hearing really re-directs me away from the business in my head into the now. That’s so relaxing. Something I will do again when I am in nature.” Or: “The floral scents I smelled during one of the ‘invitations’ on the walk in a deserted Amstel park brought me back to where my passion as a chef originated, and how much I like to experiment with fresh herbs in dishes.”
What is known about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku or nature immersion, in which you engage as many senses as possible and aim to be truly present in the moment? In his book, ‘Shinrin-yoku. The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation’ (2018), Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki shares the results of his 29 years of research in this field:
– Increased relaxation of the body due to increased activity in the parasympathetic nervous system; – Reduced stress of the body due to a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity; – Reduction in blood pressure after only 15 minutes of forest bathing; – Reduced feelings of stress and a general sense of wellbeing; – Reduction in blood pressure after 1 day of forest bathing, which effects last up to 5 days after taking the forest bath;
– Strengthened immune system and improvement of weakened immunity, with an increase in the count of natural killer cells, which are known to fight tumours and infection.
Miyazaki’s research into the effects of nature immersion on human beings has extended as far as considering the effects of looking at a bouquet of cut flowers or a pot plant or smelling naturally dried wood (as opposed to treated wood). More specifically, Miyazaki has examined their calming effects on the human body and mind, which may or may not lead to physiological relaxation and immune function recovery. This of course, in turn can help prevent illnesses.
Miyazaki concluded that by feeling part of your natural surroundings and the web of life as opposed to feel separate from it, your overall feeling of well-being increases. Further, a thing that we humans often have lost due to our disconnect to nature, is an understanding of the vital importance of community. Finally, there’s the positive impact of taking in the nature atmosphere, such as phytoncides (the chemicals released by plants and trees), ions and the earth’s surface electrons, for your body system.
If you are interested, there’s ongoing research on the health benefits of the practice of shinrin-yoku and nature connection. Do have a look at the Forest Library for a collection of the latest articles on the health benefits of shinrin-yoku and nature connection by popular press, as well as rigorously researched and peer-reviewed studies in this field: https://www.theforestlibrary.com/forest-bathing-online-articles
Or… just try a guided shinrin-yoku walk to experience the results for yourself, and learn how to really slow down, relax and reconnect with nature, while being guided by a certified guide. For upcoming walks in Amsterdam or its surrounding forests/seaside, please check my website www.shinrin-yokuclub.com.
“Make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, and match your nature with Nature” (Joseph Campbell)
Free online talk with author Suzanne Simard on 7 May 2021@12 p.m. PDT / 9 p.m. CEST
A forest is much more than what you see.
Over 30 years of research in Canadian forests by Forest Ecology professor Suzanne Simard has revealed that trees talk, often and over vast distances.
Trees share resources right under our feet, using a fungal network nicknamed the Wood Wide Web. Some plants use the system to support their offspring, while others hijack it to sabotage their rivals.
The fungi networks move water, carbon and nutrients such as nitrogen between and among trees as well as across species. These complex, symbiotic networks in our forests mimic our own neural and social networks.
In her eye-opening debut, “Finding The Mother Tree. Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest”, Suzanne Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she illuminates the fascinating and vital truths – that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.
In her book, in which she artfully blends science and memoir, Simard writes how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; are able to identify which saplings they are related to; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies – and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them.
One of the most powerful ways to connect with nature for me so far has been Sit Spot.
Sit Spot is a path, a journey. One that will lead you from the known into the unknown and back with unforeseen treasures. It will change the way you look at both your outer and inner worlds.
Our native hunter-gatherer ancestors relied upon their ability to follow and read the messages written upon the earth. The meaning of a change in wind direction; the language of the birds for our survival; an animal movement that leads to water. Tracking these things allowed them to live and thrive by observing and questioning. Since we no longer need our ancestral tracking abilities for our daily survival, we use them less and less, and often fail to see how all things are interrelated.
“When we tug at a single thing in nature we find it attached to the rest of the world” – John Muir
How to do a Sit Spot Sit Spot is the simple act of finding a particular place outdoors where you sit quietly and observe. Do what feels right. Breathe, look around, close your eyes, listen. Be present with all your senses.
You need at least 20 minutes and a place nearby your home to visit as often as you can. The longer you sit and the more frequently you go, the more effective it will be. Experience the rhythms of nature vary with the time of day and time of the year. As a city-dweller with no access to a garden, I actually have three Sit Spots.
My primary Sit Spot is on my tiny balcony from where I can notice not only my balcony plants (and opposite neighbours), but also three huge trees changing during the seasons, green chatty parakeets chilling on the waving tree branches, like surfers waiting for their next wave, seagulls, bees, butterflies, the wind, sunshine, rain drops, snowflakes, the moon and stars.
My second Sit Spot is in the nearby Sarphatipark. By now, I got to know most of the trees there, various ducks, geese, and other park inhabitants, as well as its regular human visitors. Visiting the place is starting to feel like catching up with a dear friend.
My third Sit Spot is in front of our caravan in a forest, where I spend most of my weekends. Robins are starting to greet me there, butterflies sit on my shoulder, a fox regularly walks by. As if by really slowing down, my surroundings are relaxing about my presence, too. Each and every time I discover more new little details about the same place.
You can sit in whatever way you like, either on the earth for the connection, or on a chair. The power lies in really getting to know one place very well, so do not change Sit Spot from day to day. By taking yourself out of your regular daily routine and reconnecting with the rhythms of the natural world, you begin to recalibrate and reconnect with your own true nature. By spending time outside in this way, and by consciously practicing your ability to observe, you will strengthen your awareness.
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of the buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
Blackfoot Warrior and Orator 1830 – 1890 In case you want to read more about Sit Spot, I would recommend the book ‘Sit Spot and the Art of Inner Tracking. A 30-Day Challenge to Develop Your Relationship to Self, Earth, Others, and the Wisdom of the Ancestors’ by R. Michael Trotta.
They say birds are the sentries – and our key to understanding the world beyond our front door. These early Spring mornings, with new beginnings just around the corner, birds start waking me up with their lively, golden songs. Still dark and quiet outside, without any of the usual Amsterdam city buzz outside my window, their melodies are so pure, vivid and heart-opening.
On my ongoing journey to deeper connect with my natural surroundings and the nature beings I share this land with, I came across the book What the Robin Knows. How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by lifelong birder, tracker and naturalist Jon Young. By reading the book, you will discover a universal bird language that will speak to you wherever you go outdoors, be it in a city park, seaside or forest, opening your mind onto a wider mind of the land itself.
By tuning in to the bird’s vocalizations and behavior, we can acquire much of this wisdom for our own pleasure and benefit; and the birds’ companion calls and warning alarms are just as important as their songs.
Deep bird language is an ancient discipline, perfected by Native peoples the world over.
The book unites the indigenous knowledge, the latest research, and the author’s own experience of four decades in the field to lead you toward a deeper connection to the animals and, in the end, a deeper connection to ourselves. A brilliant work, born of a lifetime of listening, teaching, and tracking what really matters, waking our animal senses.