Last week I received my official "Certification" as a Forest Therapy Guide from the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. In celebration, it seems fitting to share one of the most profound experiences from the course.
When beginning the guide training, the instructors suggested that this would become a "transformative" experience. Of this, I was skeptical. However, during the 4th month of the training, I reflected on an encounter that made me feel as if this might actually be the case.
For a "Sit Spot", or essentially outdoor meditation assignment, I sat with a pine tree in my backyard, who had become a constant friend over the past months. The invitation for this sit spot was to mindfully ask "what the imaginal natural world might reveal to us about ourselves". I considered this and silently asked the tree what I might receive during the session. After a while it occurred to me, watching her (as I perceived the tree), that she is a mother to many living beings. I watched birds flying in and out of her branches. She seemed alive with movement, brimming with spring, and joyous to be constantly hosting and housing many creatures. She gives in a similar way a mother gives, I thought. Providing shelter, protection, comfort, and food with her physical self. She provides branches and structure for birds nests, which she holds above the ground. She mothers the baby birds until they are strong enough to fly south and then keeps a home for them to return to the following Spring. How is she different from a mother who physically carries a baby, provides food, warmth, shelter, and protection I wondered? The answer that came was simple - she isn't.
After sitting a bit longer, another thought came to me, that maybe I am actually a mother of sorts to these beings as well. Daily I put out food for them, watch over them with love, tend to the tree that is their shelter, and keep them safe from our cat and windows. This thought felt like a shot to my heart filling me with love. The concept that I could be a mother to nature’s children other than my own and have a part in nurturing beings of the land came as astonishing and beautiful. I sat there with a feeling of joy and hope - watching the tree and the birds for the remainder of the session.
A few days later, as I watched the tree from the kitchen window, I was amazed to see the most obviously pregnant squirrel eating the birdseed from beneath the tree. Previously I had seen this squirrel and always shooed her away from the bird's food.
Today was different - I completely empathized with her late pregnancy stage – feeling large, slow, heavy, and hungry. I watched her while she ate and ate, and then after she ate, she gathered seeds and found places to bury them in the yard. This time, after she had left, I went out and added more seed to the ground and hoped I would see her again.
Over the next few days, a second squirrel appeared. She also looked very pregnant and sat watching the first squirrel eat. She had patches of fur missing and it looked like she needed some extra love. I kept spreading the seeds, this time in two locations for them both, and watching them eat from the window became a regular part of my day. Whenever I opened the door to take more seeds out, both would scamper quickly at the sight of me.
The day of our next live training session, Geeta, the instructor, gave us the option at the start of class to sit outside with the invitation to "be open to what "a being" outside might have for us", and what we might offer in return. I was tired and not expecting much, but I took my seat and went to my spot. Before opening the door, I noticed both squirrels eating about 10 feet away. I very slowly opened the door – they both looked and remained very still as I took my seat. It took a few minutes, but what joy I felt when they both resumed eating instead of running. It was such clear trust given to me in reciprocity, that it filled me with love and appreciation. In return I tried to project as much love as I could to their pregnant squirrel selves.
Weeks later, when a very young, small, and spritely squirrel came up to the tree looking for seeds, I delighted in the thought that this was one of the pregnant squirrel's babies. Joy was the sensation watching it leap across the lawn. "Delight in her's, as I delight in my own," I thought with a smile. Maybe this is what true reciprocity with the land and beings of the world actually feels like.
As a kid I was definitely a bleeding heart where animals were concerned. Becoming a certified forest therapy guide (not to mention a mother) has increased this conservatively by a power of 10. Not only do I delight in other creatures (and especially their babies), on a level similar to my own, but I have become absolutely unable to pass any visible spider in danger of squashing (as recently demonstrated stopping traffic in the middle of the mall), wounded flying bug (recent attempt to nurse back to health with water and honey), potentially hurt bird/bunny/dog/insect, or worm stranded on the sidewalk following a rain (too many times to count). Recently I took a trip away from my own kids for three nights. Not realizing how much I missed them, I can still feel the love for two tiny creatures encountered on this trip when I see the pictures below (apparently I have a "love smile").
This gives me hope for the days ahead I dread, when my kids are grown and don't need me as they do now, when hopefully my job is successful and they are happy, independent, and free (and still call and visit regularly 🤪), that there will be others in need of love and hopefully open to a willing forest therapy guide who is there to give it. For this realization - transformative or not - and for the tree who showed me that mothering can be done beyond nurturing one's own, the squirrels who bestowed me with the gift of trust after allowing me to mother them, and for the baby creatures allowing me to delight in them with love, I am thankful.
With one of my favourites ❤️