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Walking among the trees

Walking among the trees has long been one of my favourite ways to experience mindfulness, and it feels just as important now to stay committed to this daily practice, as it did during lockdown.

When I step into a wooded area that I know well, I feel welcomed by the trees, as if I’m walking among wise elders. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given that some of the trees in my neighbourhood are much taller than me, have been around for longer than I have, and that trees are an older species than humans. In my imaginative practice, trees have taught me alot about resilience: they show us how to be rooted and flexible.

My 12-year-old son and I have recently revived our practice of walking in the woods together. There is a patch of woodland near our home that is tiny in relative terms, but once you step inside and slow down, it seems to expand as you take in how many different types of trees live there.

We have developed a silent walking practice with hand signals that are codes for ‘look’, ‘listen’ and ‘smell’ – so we can both appreciate anything interesting that arises. Silent walking with others is something I first practised on retreat, and it’s lovely to share it with my son (he took the photo that accompanies this post). We haven’t yet developed a signal for ‘feel’, but we’ve both noticed that when we see a dog bounding around excitedly, we can physically feel a resonance of that joy in our own bodies too.

When I walk among the trees regularly, I feel less separate from the life around me, and I’m able to rely less on technology to meet my human need for connection. It’s also a good way to encourage myself to spend time looking up (at the trees and the animals in them), rather than down (at a device).

This is a short video I made at the same woodland spot that we visit several times a week, about using the senses as a guide for practising mindfulness in nature:

I’ve been delighted to discover more about the specific health and wellbeing benefits of walking among trees, especially that it’s thought that we can get similar effects to ‘forest bathing’ in urban parks – as this article from the Forest Therapy Hub explains.

I also wanted to share this discussion in which Iain McGilchrist touches on the importance of time in nature for wellbeing, and gives a beautiful description of mindfulness as receptivity to the world we are part of.

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