Soul Foraging for the Cluttered Mind
If you are like me, this week you tried to battle the anxiety by indulging in vice, and it didn’t work because you kept googling “election results” and keeping half an eye on the media. Personally, from November 3rd to the 7th, I felt like I was floating through a dream, unattached to the world around me, feeling infinitesimally small and powerless as it all began to unfold.
And then, there it was, a victory for human rights and the climate emergency. I wanted to feel excited, to have some faith in the system, to finally stop worrying about things I can’t control. But the damage cannot heal overnight, and there is much work to be done.
So, today, I come to you with my palms up. I feel so much: mostly relief, some tentative hope, lingering fear and anxiety, justified anger… And though it is okay to have all of these feelings, it does not change the fact that I am emotionally exhausted, and I know you are too.
Recently I discovered the Japanese practice shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. It’s been discussed by TIME Magazine and NPR, as well as in medical news from WebMD and Kaiser Permanente, and it has been practiced all over the world, long before it had a name.
Forest bathing is the act of immersing yourself in nature, allowing it to pervade your senses and bring you a sense of well-being by releasing endorphins and lowering cortisol. The average American spends 93% of their time indoors, and this dulls the senses. So go out. Go by yourself or take your dog, your mom, your bff. If you don’t have a forest, go to a beach, a trail, a park—anywhere you can be in touch with nature.
Fill Your Senses
Sink into the earth a little bit. Feel the spongy dirt under your feet add a bounce to your step. Let the cold bite your lungs, remind you that you’re alive.
Out in the sticks, you can catch the scent of hickory smoke, pine sap, and dark earth. Wander further in the wilderness just after the rain to take in the cedar and the wildflowers. There is nothing quite so rich and clean. Allow it to bring you peace.
If you sit in stillness a while, life begins to happen around you. You will hear the birds first, tittering with the rustle of wind in the trees. The chirp and buzz of the insects will follow, and you might hear the little forest mammals chatter as they accept you as a fixture of their home; they know who you are, they sense you mean them no harm.
Have you ever seen such richness as you do in the wilderness?
I discovered soul foraging in conversation with a fascinating woman who lives in a self-sufficient forest property in Ontario. She described soul foraging as an act within forest bathing: collecting things that are beautiful, interesting, or just speak to the crow-brain while you’re immersed in nature. We’re not talking armfuls, but maybe “a sparkly stone, an especially interesting flower, some smooth birch bark, or a snail’s shell,” she listed. “They tie me to those special moments in nature and help me to feel grounded and calm. I like to think that my soul piques my interest in them so I can carry them forward with me, for times that aren’t so lovely.”
In the top drawer of my desk is a little acorn. I picked it up from beneath a tree a few weeks ago and slipped it into my pocket. I felt like a crow taking home a sliver of tin foil, but it spoke to me, and I followed. Without being entirely aware of it, I was soul foraging, carrying a little piece of nature into my home to connect me to the forest long after I left it.
We talked about the importance of awareness and respect while soul foraging. That means leaving things be that are endangered, protected, poisonous, or necessary to the integrity of the ecosystem. We are here to honor this space, not to tear it apart.
Remember How Large You Loom
Do some foraging within your own soul. New beginnings call for cleansing and rejuvenation. Pause. Take a breath, pour a hot drink and take stock of your body and your mind. Yes, much needs to be done. But you do so much already. Give yourself a moment to be relieved, to rejoice, to set new intentions.
After evening settles in, watch the moth that flutters about the light outside your door. Notice the little etchings of veins in its translucent wings. Take in the ferns, the moss, the mushrooms, the tiny blades of grass that, however small, somehow manage to push their way through concrete.