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When the vibrant, multi-colored petals of summer have faded and the rains have softened the
autumn leaves so that they no longer crunch underfoot, the Winter Garden becomes a place of peace and sanctuary. The lack of crowds provides a quiet beauty and solitude sometimes hard to find in other seasons. As you wander through the Lost Meadow or cross the bridge into the Ravine Experience, it feels as if you are miles away on some wilderness trail. Did you realize you could even take a bath in the forest? Shinrin-Yoku (JapaneseForest Bathing), along with some simple techniques from Mindfulness Meditation, provide some ideas for how to experience the Winter Garden in a whole new way.
I have been coming to the Garden in various seasons with my family since my parents, Lyle and June Ann Hassebroek, became involved over two decades ago. Nature was always an essential part of my childhood, wandering in the woods with my brother for hours on end. As an adult, I found myself often seeking refuge and healing in nature, so after a decade as a psychotherapist, I began inviting clients outside for sessions. Of course, healers within various medical disciplines all over the world have turned to nature as medicine for thousands of years. Japanese Shinrin-Yoku, based on ancient Shinto practices, encourages you to let nature into your body through all five senses. I also began teaching Mindfulness, which simply means being fully present to each moment, with acceptance. My colleague Jessica Volpentesta and I found we shared a passion for combining the healing powers of nature with the therapeutic effects of Mindfulness and recently formed Mindful in the Wild, teaching a class at the Bellevue Botanical Garden in September called Mindfulness in the Garden: Creating Calm Within. Let me share a few practices from that class that all of you can try yourselves as you wander through the Garden this Winter.
Mindful Walking Shinrin Yoku Exercises
Open Your Awareness
As you enter the Garden, focus your attention first on your breathing, something you always have with you to anchor yourself in the present moment. Take three slow, deep breaths, inhaling the fresh air and releasing any tension you are carrying with you. As you begin your walk, open your
awareness to the Natural world, recognizing the reciprocal relationship we have with all living things.
Usually we walk briskly, sometimes lost in thought, hardly aware of the earth beneath our feet or the beauty around us. Instead, let yourself slow down and focus on how each step feels as it touches the ground. Imagine yourself gliding, smoothly and quietly, softening your presence
in the natural world, honoring life around you, trying not to disturb it as you walk. As you move from the gravel of the main trails to the earth of the side trails or the Ravine Experience, notice how different it feels to walk on the softer bare ground—silent and connected.
Focus on Your Senses
As you walk, thoughts will naturally enter your mind. Just note them and let them float into the background as you refocus on your breath or on your various senses. Sounds are everywhere. Listen to the wind in the trees, the chirp of winter wrens, or the crunch of your feet on the
gravel of the main trails. Notice the silence between sounds and soak in the serenity and peace of this place of quiet. Also let your eyes expand your vision outward to the sky, watch the clouds move, or the branches bend and swirl. Notice the various shades of brown, green and gray that make up this season. Let yourself be pulled toward anything that grabs your attention, looking at it as if for the first time. Examine the veins in a leaf, or the gentle fronds of a fern. Touch with sensitive fingers, feeling the texture, smooth or rough. Rub a leaf, plant or branch between your fingers to release its aroma. Breathe it in, curious—perhaps, even entranced.
Lose yourself in the magical world that is alive around you, soaking in the serenity and peace of this place of quiet winter beauty.
In Beauty May You Walk!
After we taught our first class at the BBG, they asked us to write an article for their upcoming newsletter talking about how we got into this sort of work and giving some examples of the types of Mindful in the Wild practices we teach