Fall season surely has it’s own qualities.
The days seem to be getting shorter; the temperatures drop; storms, drizzle and showers can set tight limits on what one can or wants to do. Over the last few days it has been pretty difficult to get enthusiastic about a long bike ride in the forests around where I live. The chill, the wetness – suddenly there’s always a good excuse other than, of course, the weather not to put on that helmet, and go peddling.
Yet, when I manage to gently park all my objections and hesitations and actually step on my bike, it truly is a blessing to receive my “forest bath”.
“Forest bathing” is a relatively new, Japanese phenomenon. Or, maybe more precise: the phrase is new, the practice is probably as old as humanity. Roaming through forests, connecting to nature, smelling the earth, the leaves, the trees – hearing the wind rustling leaves and listening to birds chirping…
There’s a web site dedicated to the beneficial practice of forest bathing, also known as shinrin yoku (森林浴). They write: “Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.”
It doesn’t really come as a surprise if you realise that our far ancestors come from the forests, they descended from trees before they explored the savannas. But then again: a great deal of fairy tales see the forests as dark, spooky places where wolfs and witches lurk. These stories are filled with symbolism projected onto the characteristics of a forest.
Shadows in the Forests
Archetypal psychologists find any reference to forests in the stories of their clients a more than merely interesting place to explore. “The forest is a mysterious place; in legends and fairy tales, they are usually inhabited by mysterious creatures, symbols of all of the dangers with which young people must contend if they are to become adults. It is a place of testing, a realm of death holding the secrets of nature which man must penetrate to find meaning.”
Just up from a town called Arzier is a “spiritual path” in the midst of a forest, leading to the ruins of a monastery dating back to the Middle Ages. Meandering around the forests towards those ruins brings up a wide variety of questions, observations, and conclusions for me. I appreciate the beautiful texts on the path, that invite to meditate, to simply be quiet, to appreciate community or to ponder the unknow-ables of existence.
For me, forests hold all of the above potentials. Trust me: usually not all at the same time. But I find them deeply relaxing, and deeply secure and safe places to explore my own shadows, my own concerns and my own anxieties, my own joys and waves of contentment – as if embraced by all of nature.
But a forest during the Fall, with the beautiful display of colours, and the clarity of impermanence all around – there are few places as awe inspiring as that…
“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and colour are their last days.”
(Read here my blog on the beauty of Spring)