Not Quite Yet

Winter’s stubborn touch, like the whipping tail of a dragon that catches the brave knight unaware as the dragon retreats from battle, is still with us here in Southern Michigan.

We went from several days of mild, pleasant, sunny weather to a couple days of frigid 30s and windy, with nights in the 20s. Yesterday it even snowed a bit (that just ain’t right…). Fortunately, the forecast ahead looks promising starting with tomorrow’s high in the 60s.

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Forest Bathing

Photo by Sebastian Pickler on Unsplash.

The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku and use it as a nature therapy for spiritual restoration. Developed in 1980 for preventative care and healing, Japan now has 44 designated shinrin-yoku forests across the island nation.

Research shows time spent in forest bathing can have positive neuro-psychological impacts on the nervous system, thus lowering our stress hormone and boosting our immune system. Other reported benefits include increased mental clarity and reduced blood pressure.

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Curatives for the Soul: Part 3 – Nature Immersion

A four-part series exploring supportive habits to help ease our paths through life: journaling, meditation, nature immersion, and positive philosophy.

Journaling and meditation aren’t selective about where or when you embrace them. But nature immersion can take a bit more planning, preparation, and cooperation from Mother Earth. The results, however, are well worth it:

I believe in God, only I spell it nature. – Frank Lloyd Wright

If you translate God to spirituality in Wright’s revelation, his wisdom aligns with my feelings when I immerse in nature. To be clear, this isn’t about getting away from home by taking creature comforts with you to a modern campground with conveniences, but it certainly can involve camping to an extent. Nature immersion, if you want its curative benefits, requires adherence to one definition of “immersion:”

a (particular) state of mind or body to involve something deeply, to steep, to absorb through some action or activity

This curative practice means going into nature in a way and for a time where you have little or no awareness of anything human or man-made. It’s not necessarily a solitary adventure, although usually more effective alone where you can reap the best insights and curative benefits from the deeper states you’ll experience. Simply stated, the purpose of nature immersion is to isolate yourself in nature so you can connect your nervous and mental systems to the purer, natural rhythms of Earth’s natural essence.

By the time we’re 60, we will have been alive for almost 22,000 days on this planet, rarely, if ever, stopping to watch just one. It is this total immersion into nature and commitment to simply being there, that we can entrain our nervous system to the natural, healthy rhythm of the planet. Stephanie Nash

Nature immersion really is an ultimate unplug and tune-in moment. You’re unplugged from the internet, social engagement online or in person, no news media, no music, no podcasts, nothing but “plugging in” to nature’s essence. And by doing so, you’re instead tuning in to your internal experience, which can lead to rewiring many things from stress to improved awareness of bad habits to a deeper awareness of what’s real and important in this world.

So how does one pull this off? As with most things, there are degrees and levels of nature immersion limited only by your time and willingness to go deeper:

  • If you can only start with local isolations for 15-, 30-minutes or more, those will still help you begin to connect better to nature. Take a lunch into a nearby woods to sit quietly, eat, reflect on things, and let your mind wander and absorb what you see and hear.
  • Or invest a few hours on a sunny afternoon to hike a local forest preserve or park’s trails, leaving the phone off and concentrating instead on what your senses share with you from the forest’s fauna and flora, and the rhythm of your internal systems.

The ultimate experience, though, is taking multiple days and finding an isolated place in nature to go, camp out, and sit and walk in an absence of modern connections or even your own voice. It’s a silent retreat, and one best done without even journaling or noting anything while you’re involved in the immersion.

Immersing in nature, to some, may feel at first you’re abandoning everyone and everything you like to do. It’s only a few hours or a few days, maybe a week, and I’m sure the world will survive while you briefly unplug and immerse.

But the real question is… will you survive if you don’t reconnect with your true self and the natural world you live in?

If you’d like to read a little further on this, I suggest Stephanie Nash’s excellent article about her experiences found here (her quote above is from that article).

Spring’s Promise

It’s that time of year when we’re all antsy to get outside, change into t-shirts and shorts, and embrace our inner go-barefoot desires. Each seasonal shift has its abruptness, but winter-into-spring is special. Even for a winter lover like me, right now it’s an overstayed house guest whose every little nuance has become irritating and I’m ready for it to leave.

Like any power who knows its hold on us, winter teases wickedly during March. One day it’s sunny and 70F, and the next cold and dreary. If winter’s really bored, we’ll often get a short-lived late snowstorm. I can imagine winter’s glee about this time of year as it conjures abrupt weather shifts to keep us puny humans guessing.

But we who have cycled through many of these seasonalities know the irrevocable signs that spring is near: frisky squirrels and chipmunks seeking love, hyperactive birds, and the slow, deliberate emergence of flowers, plants, tree buds, and green grass. We also know it’s a tag-you’re-it game played best with patience earned from being here before.

I’m defiantly siting in my back open patio as I write this, bundled to negate the mid-40F temps. A mere 16 hours ago I sat in the same place but in sunny and rejuvenating 70F pleasure. No lily white skin exposed yet by wearing pairs of “do they still fit” shorts from last summer, but then, I’m always slow to foist my winter tan-loss onto the world.

I’m ready to bid adieu to winter but will again welcome its promise of renewal and restoration at the end of this year. In this annual waiting game, patience is key as Mr. Winter hands the seasonal baton to Miss Spring. She’ll once more bring her promised, ideal weather for outside sitting, pondering, hiking, and being warm again. Can’t get here soon enough.

SPRING’S PROMISE (poem in draft)

The sun shines
its healing rays
through thinned clouds
or crystal skies.

Early, some say
since winter’s grace
is too recent
in memory and bones.

Tell that to the
squirrels out rustling
in the leaves
chasing for love.

Or the chipmunks,
bolder than later,
on high perches
calling for love.

And the flowers,
breaking the seal
of hardened ground
to reach the light.

Eager to leave
those faded days,
I’m ready again
for spring’s promise.


Drove the housemate to the airport at 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, grateful it was less than 30 minutes away, unlike the 90-minute one-way airport runs from where I lived in Ohio. Up this early often jumpstarts a productive day, unless the inevitable napisodes later on interrupt the flow.

Driving back home in the pitch-black darkness, on a mostly deserted Interstate highway, I was thinking how much I love early, pre-dawn mornings: the quiet, the solitude, the chance to be alone with thoughts, and the comforting sense in these hours before daybreak that this new day brings possibilities and fresh starts.

Certainly this bizarre behavior and infatuation with rising so early, some might think, is merely an artifact of getting older. My younger self remembers witnessing very few sunrises, unless I’d already been up all night (ahem… college days, people, college days).

During my 2019 solo RV travels, making coffee and fixing breakfast early as the dawn broke, was close to a religious experience for me. Such starts felt like homage to the universe for allowing me to travel and roam. In the mountains, by a beach, or in a flat, viewless forested campground, many of my days back then began with this ritual. I’d usually follow with some morning pages journaling, then take a brief, brisk walk as nature’s light slowly revealed the world from the confusion of darkness into sunshine and clarity.

Now such moments consist of coffee and thoughts, sunrises slowly illuminating the world I contemplate outside my breakfast room, while wondering what this fresh day will bring.

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