Why You Need to Touch (or Hug) a Tree Today
“You didn’t come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here.”
– Alan Watts, Shirin Yoku website
As I become aware of what actions, behaviors, habits and practices are life-giving for me, I find that I am drawn to spend more and more time in nature. In the mornings, I feel compelled to breath deeply the air as I leave the house, open my window when I am commuting, slow down enough to bask in a moment of sunshine before I enter a building.
The more time I spend in world of nature, the richer my interactions become. A sunset will fill me with a sense of emanating warmth. Mornings of low-hanging fog over dewey grass will fuzzy my sense of here and there. Soft blankets of grass will move me to visceral connection, my fingers (or toes) moving through the strands.
I have a particularly personal relationship with trees. I love to run my fingers over the whirls and eddies of tree bark, to close my eyes and place my hands on the complicated trunks while I think of nothing. The feeling I get from this is hard to describe, but there is a sense of being grounded in something larger than myself. This might come from the many years of growth encapsulated in the rough exterior. Or perhaps it comes from the knowledge that trees, so seemingly inconspicuous have given humans life since the beginning of time. Are in fact alive themselves. Are perhaps in this moment in communion with all living things.
My fascination began with an observation from a participant in one of my very first mindfulness workshops. Someone shared how he had begun noticing the pattern of bark on the trees as he took his daily walks.
His words echoed in my mind as I walked along a riverbank with my husband and our five-year-old son. I sat down on a fallen log, examining closely the moss-covered cracks and touching the peeling skin of the tree closest to me.
“What are you telling that tree, Momma Mia?” my son questioned, calling me by my family epithet.
“I’m telling the tree it’s beautiful,” I said after a moment’s thought.
He promptly came to where I sat and began lovingly caressing the bark of the same tree. (This is the son who tells me I am beautiful, hand to my cheek, almost every day.) We literally ended up hugging the tree together. Then, via his prompting, planning and subsequent stick gathering, we began tapping out a rhythm on its trunk with two fallen branches that, in his words, “told the tree it was beautiful, and we loved it.”
This first experience is a benchmark in my history of connection, my healing, through nature. As I sought meaning for my personal experience, I came across a therapeutic process called Shinrin-yoku from Japan in which one walks slowly, silently and mindfully through the forest. In the United States, this therapy is called “forest-bathing.”
According to research, there are many health benefits to being in nature mindfully- from reduced blood pressure to improved immunity to disease. There is also much research on the improvement of mental states from spending time outdoors. According to The University of Minnesota, “Research has shown that, irrespective of socio-economic background, age or gender, natural environments are perceived as an important link to a more stable world, one that assists in reforming chaotic thoughts and feelings into more harmonious forms.”
While I have pages and pages of research stating the varied, surprising, and interesting benefits of spending quiet and reflective time in nature, I will just say this: trust me.
Please, find time to go outside today and touch a tree and think about what lives in that tree, and how that tree has served you as a member of the human species, and why we have all been given such a tremendous gift.
Where have you most experienced the profound gifts of the natural world? How have these experiences shaped you?
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