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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Forest Bathing

(Note: Pope Francis has declared September 1 as World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. He asks us to join with our Orthodox sisters and brothers on this day to thank God for the goodness of our world, to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins against the environment, and to reaffirm our vocation to be good stewards of the planet we call home. In honor of this day, I am devoting my reflection to the practice of “forest bathing.” At the end, I’m offering two short videos. One is on forest bathing. But the second one is a hymn I invite you to pray—especially for the current situation in Afghanistan.)

I’m lucky. Our SND property where I now live has a couple of small woodlands. One of my favorite “treats” is going into the woods, walking very slowly, and then just sitting down somewhere. A tree stump, a large rock, or a downed tree provide a place for me to park myself and then quietly take in the forest atmosphere. Just being in the company of the trees and other forest growth, plus the birds, chipmunks, and squirrels refreshes my soul.

(Photo by HoliHo, Pexels)

The Japanese have a name for this practice. They call it shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term. It arose in the 1980s and describes the physiological and psychological exercise of spending time in a forest. For this blog I will be drawing from one of the popular books on this topic, Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li. He says that the purpose of forest bathing is two-fold. First, it offers “an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout.” (Don’t you just love his choice of words?) Second, it can reconnect people to the forests in hopes of protecting these precious places.

Forest bathing is not the same as hiking or walking briskly through the woods. On the contrary, says, Dr. Li, “Aimlessness is advisable. The tree tonic works best with minimal effort.” (Again, I love his words!) The key to “unlocking the power of the forest” lies in the five senses. We explore the forest not only with our feet, but also with our ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and touch. We notice, for example, the beautiful patterns in the forest: the layering of the leaves.. the texture of the barks of the trees… the petals of the flowers… the seeds tucked inside the pine cones. We listen to the trees swishing in the wind, a squirrel scurrying along the forest floor, an unseen bird somewhere high up in a tree singing his distinctive song. It is when we use all our senses to connect with the forest that “the magic happens.” Says Dr. Li, “Immersed in the natural world, we can experience the miracle of life and connect to something larger than ourselves.”

(Photo by mali maeder, Pexels)

We don’t need a huge forest to practice forest bathing. A small clump of trees in a neighborhood park will do. But even if we don’t have a forest handy, we can still partake of nature’s magic. For example, there’s a courtyard outside my office window. When I’m writing at my desk, I sometimes pause and gaze out the window at the evergreens and other trees growing there. I am always amazed at the zillion shades of green I see even in this small place. I ask God, “Just how many shades of green do you have on your palette anyway?” Or maybe you have a tree or two in your yard or on your street. You can “tree bathe” simply by exploring a single tree. (If the tree belongs to your neighbors, you might want to ask their permission first before “tree bathing” with their tree!) Or if you have no trees nearby, you can interact with your houseplants to partake of nature’s healing powers. Tending them, admiring them, or even talking to them can bring calm into our lives. (As a child, I often heard my mother talking to her African violets as she watered them! She’d say things like this: “And how are you all today?… My, my, you’re getting bigger and prettier every day!… Here’s a nice big drink of water for you!”)

Dr. Li summarizes the importance of forest bathing with these words: “The forest in like our mother, a sacred place, a gift to us humans from the divine. It is a paradise of healing.”

(Photo by Lukas, Pexels)

Have you ever been forest bathing? If so, what was the experience like for you?

Do you have a favorite forest or a favorite tree somewhere? Tell us about it.

Have you ever experienced the healing power of nature in any other way? Where and how?

Do you like any of the pictures? If so, why?

PS: August 31 would have been my sister’s 82nd birthday. In honor of Mary Ann, I’m including a picture of her walking ahead of me in a small park in Willoughby Hills, OH. I snapped this picture without her knowing it. Now I have this little treasure which reminds me of all the times we went “forest bathing” together….

Our first video is a brief ( 2 1/2 min.) virtual experience of forest bathing. It also lists some of the benefits of this lovely exercise.

Our second video is the hymn “This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations.” The words of the song were written by Lloyd Stone in 1934. The music is Jean Sibelius’ beautiful “Finlandia,” written in 1899. It is credited with helping Finland develop a national identity in their struggle for independence from the Russian Empire. It has been called Finland’s national anthem. As our hearts ache for all people who are suffering—whether close to home or far away—we hold in special prayer our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan.

I welcome your comments below!

28 Responses

  1. Oh, Sr. Melannie!

    There so much depth and beauty in this blog that I hardly no where to begin. Suffice to say, today I will head for the woods, let my senses linger there, and pray for our world so in need of God’s mercy and love.

    Thank you.

  2. Readers: As I write this, my blog still has not been sent to you, my subscribers. I’m so sorry. Partly it’s my fault. I accidently scheduled today’s blog for tomorrow–but then I corrected my mistake and it still wouldn’t go out… I hope people will access it through google… Melannie

    1. Where’s there a will there is a way. When I couldn’t find your blog in my email and on the SNDUSA.ORG site; I did “Google it”
      Thanks for your weekly reflections.

    2. Sister,I requested to be once again receiving Sunflower Seeds on my email each Monday. I received an email from you thanking me for joining but have not been receiving the Monday email.Hope we can fix this.
      Thank you so much!
      Mary E Nolan

  3. I am so grateful for this grace filled blog. The forest gift and the beautiful hymn. I always wish this hymn would be played in my parish rather than the usual ones on the Federal holidays. I do remember it happening once quite a few years ago.
    Thank you Sister Melannie. Another perfect Monday from you!
    Mary E Nolan

    1. A beautiful reflection. I am blessed to have woods behind my home. I often sit there in the morning with my coffee and just observe the sunlight on the leaves, the birds, squirrels, chipmunk and occasionally a deer. Your reflection will encourage me to do it more often. The hymn is one I discovered a few years ago and feel it to be so meaningful in our broken world today. Thank you.

  4. I hope you don’t mind…your sister is now in my family album…
    a beautiful reminder! God sends us
    guides throughput our lives. Sometimes they wear hot pink!

  5. We have a place up off the St. John’s river in Florida. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s a logging canal between the St. John’s and the Dead rivers that has been unused except for people who don’t want to have company. It’s probably 1/2 mile long and it’s totally wild.It’s forest bathing at it’s best. I have pictures of it but don’t know how to share them. Just boating slowly on the St John’s is great looking for critters like turtles, birds, gators, manatees.

  6. We raised our large family on ten acres of woods located in a river valley in Central Indiana. We Forest bathed on a daily basis. Our youngest daughter eventually worked for Outward Bound and used to relieve stress by simply climbing a tree.
    I miss my valley but in suburban Florida, my husband and I forest bathe every day on our back porch and gaze at our little piece of wilderness. When I take my morning swim, to the west I meditate on a very large oak tree and when I swim towards the east, I meditate on my numerous Hibiscus. (Just as an aside, I became aware that it takes a Hibiscus a couple of days to emerge from a bud and a couple of days to age out. However, it only has one day to live it’s life to the fullest. If only we could live it’s example.)
    PS. I loved both videos. The hymn made me cry for the people of Afghanistan.😥

    1. Good morning Sister Melannie, received your blog this morning and was so glad, since I look so forward to it every Monday.
      We live very close to Knob Noster State park and it is definitely one of my favorite places to walk, so very peaceful and beautiful, I often feel like God is walking right beside me.
      Enjoyed both the videos.
      Have a wonderful blessed week.

  7. When I first ran across the term “forest bathing” some years ago I didn’t know what it was and I pictured someone soaking happily in a giant bathtub in the middle of a forest! I thought “well, that’s interesting” and wondered briefly about the logistics of getting a tub, water, bubble bath, etc., into the woods. Now that I have learned what forest bathing really is, it makes perfect sense!
    I have always loved being under or near trees, the more trees the better. Where I live there are many beautiful walking/biking trails with strategically placed benches so you can pause and enjoy the shade and the company of the trees dispensing it. Every time I go for a walk on one of these trails I notice that just about everyone I encounter will return a smile and a wave and say “hello!” We are all happier under the trees.

  8. I had a friend who lived at a frantic pace, never slowing down to look at the sky or a flower. One day I invited her to a forest preserve to sit and do nothing for 45 minutes. It was mind-bending for her but she loved listening to all the birds and examining the moss on the trees, etc. After that she started taking walks by her home in the woods. She found some peace there.

  9. The Jesuit Center in Wernersville PA is on 240 acres filled with trees and paths – truly holy ground! One of my favorite spots, when I’m there on retreat, is a huge weeping birch that is so big you can walk around under its canopy. Nine years ago, I climbed up and sat in it’s branches (I was more agile back then!) It was such a graced experience for me. A few weeks ago, I spent time under the tree for the last time because the Jesuit Center is closing this summer. I leaned my forehead against the trunk to say goodbye and could feel it’s life energy flowing through it – amazing!
    PS – I share a birthday with your sister!

  10. Everything was so amazingly beautiful; lovely, inspiring words and two awesome videos!!!! Thank you for sharing your talents. Oh, I love the photo you captured of your sister in the forest!!

  11. Wow! I thought I lost my Monday reflection, but it came in this morning. I didn’t know there was a name for my many walks in the woods. “Forest Bathing”, I like it! Just two days ago, as I was walking in the woods, I came upon a flower, looking at me. There was no other blossoms around, but here was this beautiful wild orchid staring at me. That was cause for reflection for many minutes. There is so much beauty in the woods. Wasn’t it John Muir that said, ” the woods are calling and I must go?” A reason for traveling to the woods near me instead of walking around my asphalt community. I will pass on “Shirin-Yoku” to everyone I can. Thanks Melanie!

  12. Good morning sister! I so loved this writing today. Interestingly enough, I spent the day yesterday with a good friend by the ocean in Half Moon Bay, California, where I “ocean bathed“. I didn’t get into the water, but watched the waves crashing in to the beach for hours, and found the same kind of healing power there that is described in the video and also your words. Seeking out God in nature is one of the finest things we can do. God bless you!

  13. I will have my 82nd birthday on September 30, and, my name is also Mary Ann. I will say a prayer for “your” Mary Ann.

  14. My heart is full. As a child I always liked to wander in the woods around our house. Thank you. I am sharing with a friend that I walk with. It will feed her soul too.
    Bless you.

  15. Thank you. I have been a regular “nature bather” for the past year or more. I love it! It has helped calm and refresh my soul, improve my spirituality, lower my blood pressure, sleep better, etc. I never realized how many “sounds of the wind” there can be…………………..
    I was wondering what happened yesterday, but I waited and this was today’s special blessing.

  16. Thank you, Sister Melanie. I noticed at the start of the Shinrin-yoku video how even the Japanese letters for forest bathing look like and remind me of trees in a forest. I have a state park less than two hours from me and this has inspired me to go and “bathe” there more often. Thank you!

  17. Years ago we lived in Wisconsin when our sons were small. We frequently visited the lush forests there to picnic and hike, especially in the fall. It was very therapeutic. Our sons loved it. One son still goes to the woods on the weekend by himself to commune with nature. Now we live in a large city. Before we downsized 18 months ago, we would forest bathe on our deck that was shadowed by a huge, gorgeous maple tree that we planted when it was 3 years old. It was amazing, as were the birds and squirrels it provided a home and shelter for. Now in our retirement community, we have no trees, but we have two beautiful flower beds with an array of colors and textures as well as potted tomatoes. Like your Mother, I talk to the flowers about their beauty and tell the tomatoes how much we are enjoying their delicious fruit and ask them to show me if any worms are eating them so I can pick them off!! Now the hummingbirds are migrating through and they visit our feeders and beautiful flowers while we porch sit, giggle at the hummingbirds antics and marvel at God’s nature and beauty. Two small hummingbirds, only 2 inches long, control the feeders, fighting off the 3 inch long birds! I thought the pic of your sister was you before I read the caption! How wonderful you have that great momento of her. Both videos were awesome. I could almost smell the forest and the music video indeed was a prayer. Thank you for this beautiful, comforting post. May God continue to inspire and bless you in your holy work!

  18. From California —
    Ever since childhood I have been a lover of the forest, of plants in general… it’s wonderful to have a name for this. My husband and I have backpacked all over the east side Sierra’s and marveled at the beauty of forests, lakes, flowers…
    Scrolling down through your images, the overhead shot of a dense forest started my tears for the fires that are ablaze right now— California, Nevada, Oregon… although Nature will survive, each square mile feels like a loss.
    Please pray, brothers and sisters…that firefighters and home owners remain safe, that forests can be thinned correctly going forward so as to reduce these monster fires.

  19. Hi Sr. Melannie,
    I have tried many times to send a note but it fails to to go through!
    THANK YOU for this Beautiful and Thoughtful
    Reflection! So timely in this broken world….
    Many prayers are necessary, as we know.
    The forest bathing idea is something i have done for years just looking at the trees in the back of our property as i meditate in the early morning….centers me for the Day ahead.
    I Did not realize there was a name for it!
    The video and song were beyond beautiful.
    Many thanks for sharing your Gifts with us.
    I look forward to Mondays!
    Tuesday works too–we can be Patient!
    Many Blessings!

  20. Melannie, I am so glad to see that you sent us a Sunflower Seed this morning! I looked for it yesterday, and I was hoping that you were OK. I also know that our IT gentlemen in Columbus, Ohio, started giving us a new server. and once in awhile they give a fast message that we can’t use our computers for 10 or 15 minutes. That is why I thought maybe I didn’t get it yesterday because of that. However, when I went this evening I saw my ” Sunflower Seeds” and I was so grateful. Please know I look forward to Mondays, but I will keep looking the next days until I find you or call you! Peace, dear one! Celeste Albers

  21. Awesome reflection, I love to start my day on our patio, sitting under a large tree. I watch the birds, and squirrels as I pray and read the daily mass readings. It is my favorite place outside of church to connect with God.
    The videos are inspiring and heartfelt.
    Thank you

  22. Hi Sr. Melannie. I rarely get to read your blog on Mondays, usually I read it several days later. This time, I’m a week late. Unfortunately, where I am in NYC, there is an absence of forests. So the opportunity to “forest bathe” doesn’t present itself often, although we do have lovely parks. But physical limitations keep me from getting there. I wanted to comment on the second video. As I listened and sang along, I wondered why it sounded so familiar and then realized it was set to “Finlandia”, one of my all-time favorite tunes! It has been used many times with different words, but the words in this rendition were particularly appropriate.
    Thank you for your always educational and inspiring blogs!

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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