If you’re thinking this all sounds a bit like kid stuff, well, that’s kind of the point. “I see people transform into their childlike selves during forest therapy,” Benjamin shares. “But, it’s not like they’re reverting to some earlier stage of their lives. It’s more a realization that their capacity for wonder has been there all along, and that a bit of presence in the natural world can bring it forward.”
For Julie Sczerbinski, the co-founder of The Forest Therapy School, a boutique training program based between Virginia and Connecticut, it’s about getting out of our heads and into our bodies. “We don’t have to think while we are practicing forest therapy; we are focused on experiencing the forest through our senses. The mind quiets down, we become present, and our bodies connect to the experience of aliveness.” Her co-founder, Regan Stacey, an artist who came to forest therapy after surviving breast cancer, continues: “Forest therapy [can help us] see the truth that we are interconnected and interdependent. It offers us intentional time to be with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.”
Will Davies, a graphic designer who lives in the bustling Fairfax neighborhood of L.A., came to the forest therapy walk not sure what to expect. A self-described nature lover who considers himself fairly experienced when it comes to the outdoors, Davies realized that he had been spending time in nature, but not with nature: “Hiking was about getting somewhere, camping was about spending time with friends, backpacking was about getting off the grid.” Learning tools to slow down and tune in, Davies feels “newly equipped to access deeper dimensions of nature I previously was blind to.” Forest therapy seeks to shift us from a more passive, or otherwise transactional and surface-level engagement, to an intentional, reciprocal, embodied relationship with nature. Connecting with the living world in this way can cultivate feelings of gratitude, calm, and wonder. All good things, to be sure.
Pam Soffer, an ecotherapist and nature-based psychotherapist, also joined the Saturday morning walk in L.A. For her, it was the “community of curious others” that most resonated. “Every time we reconnected as a group… I loved that each person’s reflections drew out the depth of my own experience,” she shared. You can get lost in the woods by yourself (and enjoy many of its benefits), but there’s something especially restorative about sharing the experience with others. The sincerity and candor are often disarming, and leave you feeling a little more hopeful—about people, the planet, all of it.