When the Forest Speaks, Listen.
By Cheryl Rostek
Listening to the Forest
How do you listen to the forest?
You slow down.
Like, reeeeaaaaalllllllyyyyy slooooooowwww dooooooowwwwwnnnnnnnnn.
My Forest Bathing Experience
I entered my forest bathing experience, guided by Melody from FirReal Nature Connections, with curiosity: I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, the process was simple, straightforward and serene. Melody set the (exaggeratedly slow) pace and invited us to follow. She guided us to engage one of our senses at a time along the trail, bringing focused observation of our surroundings.
We walked gingerly feeling the ground beneath our feet, our slow pace affording the opportunity to gaze intently at the familiar forest and see it with a new perspective. We engaged awareness of the smells of earth, pine and cool air, trying to, perhaps, even taste their aroma. Our ears zeroed in on the sounds we heard: birds and breezes, trees rustling and cars humming in the distant background.
I enjoyed the unhurried pace and expansive space to reflect along the journey, listening to Melody’s insights about the community and communication of the forest.
Why Slowing Down and Being Mindful Matters to Me
Until I was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer 4.5 years ago, I lived life in the fast lane gluttonously jamming every experience and opportunity I could into my days, never satisfied and always striving for the next best thing. Since my terminal diagnosis, however, I’ve been journeying towards slowing down and learning to live grounded in the present moment. This is important in order to make the most of my days as well as to combat the anxiety that surfaced in cancer’s traumatic aftermath. Yet, often I feel like a very slow learner of slowing down!
My experience with Melody was concentrated practice of slowing down and mindfully being aware of my surroundings - with exponential results. Never have I been so acutely aware of my senses! It was awesome!
At this point, I was already prepared to highly recommend forest bathing. But there’s more!
The Nurse Log
As we traversed the last stretch of trail I thought my increased tools for mindfulness were pretty great; but my hands were growing numb from the chill in the air and I was ready to be done... However, the forest felt differently. She had more to tell me. It was here that Melody noted the new growth emerging from a nurse log: a decaying, fallen tree providing nutrients for seedlings. That log was a rich, life-giving environment and continued to play an active role in the forest community.
A few days after my forest bathing experience a beloved member of my Glioblastoma (brain cancer) facebook group was nearing his last days. (Since the average survival of someone with glioblastoma is 12-18 months, there is alot of death and sorrow in this community.) A guided meditation I listened to that morning posed the question: how is your heart today? Tears dripped down my face. My heart was not okay. It was not okay because this young man with a family was dying. It was not okay because his fate could become mine any day.
However, I remembered the nurse log in the forest and its significance instilled me with peace. That decaying log was still very much an important and active part of the forest. Even though the tree was “dead” in many ways it was still very much alive! It was as if forest wisdom spoke to me, “it’s okay not to feel okay. But, also trust that it will be okay when you become that nurse log. You will continue to bring forth new life and be a part of the forest which is so much bigger than yourself. Just as your ancestors continue to influence you, so too, you will continue to be a part of your children’s lives even after you breathe your last breath.”
I had watched Melody lovingly embrace her favorite tree during our walk together, now, it seemed, that very forest was reaching out with comforting arms and embracing me.
Slow Down and Listen
I’ve been saying for years that being outside solves a multitude of problems. My forest bathing experience exposed how this works: Mother Nature has so much to tell me, if only I slow down and listen.
About the author:
Cheryl Rostek is an advocate for Glioblastoma Awareness with an extensive online following. She was an accomplished pharmacist who now blogs with honest vulnerability about overcoming real life impossibilities and thriving with stage 4 brain cancer. When she’s not writing, Cheryl is learning to laugh alongside her ridiculously optimistic husband and their three young kids - preferably somewhere outdoors.
Visit her online at www.cherylrostek.com to sign up for blogpost alerts and updates on her upcoming memoir. You can also follow her on Instagram @cherylrostek and Facebook @authorcherylrostek .