Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Forest Immersion: Going Back Home

We've been developing a new EwA Nature Circle lesson, and it's about to be ready for publication! Yet some impatient Friends have asked for a preview. So... Here it is!

EwA Nature Circle Lesson > Forest Immersion: Going Back Home

We also call this circle lesson: Forest Attuning

This is a circle lesson focused on attuning to the forest. We also run variations of it in meadows, on ocean shores. And we describe it formally in an open-access Nature Circle lesson that is about to get out, finally! :-)

At a very high level, here are the lesson steps: There are 3 parts (Before, During and After). And this is usually a long session 2-3 hours min. 
  1. Clarity of Intention >  Express our commitment 
  2. Revisiting Safety > Revisiting "bio"-hazards (ticks, poison ivy), making sure that we have sunscreen, insect repellent, water, hat, and that we are properly dressed for the habitat.
  3. Entering the Quiet zone (practicality) > Phone off (or on airplane mode off), tune off (entering the quiet zone),
  4. Ethics of Reciprocity > We debrief about wildlife ethics. As well as we go over that we are an integral part of nature / that we are a critical element of the web. Describing it as a bidirectional relationship. We explore as a group what nature gives us, and then we share what we intend to give 'it'. 
  1. Forest Immersion Gate Opening > Tai Chi breathing and affirmation of state / Making it clear to our conscience that we are starting walking on the 'path'. Make note of a natural element (a tree or something else) and recognizing it as the gate, then 'pass it' symbolically. We've started!
  2. Local Sensory Explorations > Besides our regular senses (and myself I have used sound maps, and blindness as a way to bind people and create alertness). I also like to incorporate when I can (and depending on the audience) some easy Yang style movements into the mix to make people experience their our own energy and the energy of the place.
  3. Attuning / Blending In > Musing, light observations (as opposed to scientific or involved observations), slow walk (as slow as you want) interspersed with as many sittings or resting moments as wanted or necessary. Often myself I end up using my sitting time to draw as it slows time for me even more.
  4. Stillness & Reflection > It's not all about trees! Some Bretons were also known to worship thickets. I do that a lot, although it's not about 'worship' in the English sense in this step. In French we have a wonderful word, it's a reflective verb: "se receuillir" it represents a mix of meditating, honoring, reflecting, collecting oneself. That's what this moment is about. 
  5. Returning & Belonging > Before we pass the closing gate and if we have collected something, we make the effort to return most of our collection back to the forest, taking only a token. It's an appreciation of need vs. want, and acknowledging the belonging of what we took. It also allows us to loop back to ethics (of what is 'collectable' and not). Often at this step, that is where I share a personal story of returning a volcanic stone to the sea // and asking for forgiveness of Pele for avoiding her mythical anger :-)
  6. Forest Immersion Gate Closing > Here were mean 'Closing' as in sheltering the moment (from the external potentially elements). It's an attempt to make its effect last longer, and make it a persistent experience.
  1. Sharing Among Friends > Here it's about sharing a moment about this circle with the other 'circlers': a drawing, something we collected (and kept) and that we are offering to the others. 
  2. Until Next Time > Departure with maybe a promise to come back and celebrate further this path together.
There we are! enjoy! 

Some Background...

I have 'practiced' forest immersions for the past 35 years, in a way that originated from where I am coming from: Brittany, in the Northwest of France. I 'parenthesized' practice, because this is not something that we usually say or used to say there. For the longest time, it was somehow obvious that when you enter the forest, you're there to listen, see, smell, taste, feel, and converse with the forest. It was obvious that in a forest you de facto 'attune'. If my fellow Bretons lost the way, I would not know as I don't go back to Brittany very often. But glancing at some of the cultural groups over there, the thought seems to be persisting that attuning is what you do in the landscapes of Brittany.

Anyway, about 20 years ago I started incorporating some elements of the Tao Te Ching and Tai Chi. I liked the simplicity of the breathing and the moves, and it felt natural to use them to deepen my experience. There the word 'practice' makes more sense, because reaching simple breathing and fluidity of simple movement is actually hard (but that's another story). However, trying to reach breath-and-move-simplicity perfection is not what I practice when I 'immerse'. 

A little background about these 3 components: 

1 - Britanny / Armorican culture.
Armorica was the name of an ancient part of the Gaul in France and that included the Brittany peninsula. Brittany is also known as Lesser Britain. There, celts succeeded a megalith seeder culture mixing with the local population. They changed the culture, making it very special and strongly tied to Nature and its cycles. The people of this region were also known as the people of the landscape, and where that landscape is comprised of both the forest and the sea. Still, now you hear some people of this region (who are called Bretons), proudly state that they are rooted in the forests and gazing at the ocean's horizon. For those of the Bretons who specially worshiped the Brittany forests, there is one that has all the features of a Natural cathedral. This is the Broceliande forest, that is tied to the myth of King Arthur, his knights, and Merlin. There is a little dispute going on there between the Celts from Great Britain and the Celts from Lesser Britain: where that forest is located, as well as about the literary origins of the Arthurian legends. The Celts from my region believe that it's in Brittany and is the forest of Paimpont, and of course, us French in general claim that the Arthurian Legends are ours. The Greater 'Brits' contest that of course ;-) 

As for the trees, there is a mighty tree among them all for the Bretons: the oak. It symbolizes Strength and Wisdom. In ancient times, it was a place of gathering, celebrations and initiations. 
The choice of the oak as a mighty tree is not surprising: Oaks are somehow a quintessential wildlife plant. Indeed, no other plant genus supports more species of Lepidoptera (and therefore providing more diverse food to a diverse population of birds) than the mighty oak. From an ecological point of view, the Oak is known to support some 534 Lepidoptera species. The seconds in line are the Willow and the Cherry plum (around 456 species). Simply amazing!  

Anyway, Armorica always has been seen as being fiercely independent and rebellious, tough on the Romans, and the Kingdom of France after that. Eventually, Armorica was annexed to the crown of France around 1532 (I think). But still, this proud culture remains rebellious at heart, and proud of its forest and ocean roots and anchors.

That's my personal & cultural tradition. I spent big parts of my childhood, youth and young adulthood wandering forests and at sea. I never totally lost the forest and the sea, as I always made an effort to go back regularly, and to extend my experiences in various forest habitats of the world... Actually, I cannot say that it was an effort either: it's has been more like a deeply rooted need, probably fueled by the fact that forests and the ocean were also places of refuge for me.

And that's the thing... When people are quick to think that the ability 'to be' in a forest is the panache of a specific country or culture, it makes me feel very sad. Because we could not be more mistaken. Humans have a very long evolutionary history with forests. We come from the forests! There is a reason why forests are so beneficial from a health perspective: they are our familiar places. Cities are not. Our departure from the forest from an evolutionary timescale is very recent. And there is also a reason why the Tree of Life is a widespread myth in the history of human cultures: forests are our common human tradition.

2 - The concept of the Path that we brushed upon yesterday (also known as 'the Way') comes from the Tao Te Ching. This is a Chinese classic text traditionally credited to the 6th-century BC sage Laozi. I've been a student of the Tao Te Ching for more than 20 years. The Way has a special meaning within the context of Taoism, where it implies the essential, unnamable process of the universe. I like the concept a lot, because it favors, or reminds us of, the importance of being humble. We cannot name or describe all things in the Universe, although we forget that a lot as a species.  

3 - Tai Chi often goes in pairs with Tao Te Ching, as it is for some a mental and physical practice of the Tao. More importantly, it is a philosophy of the forces of yin and yang, related to the moves. I use some of its gentle breathing exercises, and sometimes incorporate a few of the postures of the Yang style Tai Chi form, because they also demonstrate wonderfully the Qi (bioenergy) as well as it fosters mindfulness. 

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