By Sarah Hodges
“We’re lucky in Hawai’i. Our ocean culture and native Hawaiian culture both teach us a reverence for Nature,” says Phyllis Look, the islands’ first certified Forest Bathing guide, who started Forest Bathing Hawaiʻi in 2018. “Still, the majority of us predominantly reside indoors, away from trees and out of a relationship with nature.” When Phyllis retired from her position at Hawaiʻi Public Radio, she mused over what she could do for her community, and stay socially engaged and physically active. By the internet’s algorithmic chance, Phyllis discovered something interchangeably called Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing. When she learned that she could get certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, she dove in with great enthusiasm.
“I think a little voice inside of me was beginning to make itself known,” Phyllis reflects. “I think this happens to a lot of people – a yearning emerges, impelling us to recognize more of who we are. To hear that truth we have to quiet ourselves. We have to get through a lot of noise. If you pay attention, or if it’s insistent enough, that voice gets louder and stronger, tickling your ears and your heart, telling you there’s this thing inside you that really wants to be expressed. Climate change, environmental issues, bringing people together, hospitality, plus a desire to help people feel better, all came together within me through Forest Bathing. It was quite a spiritual experience.”
Phyllis felt happy with her life before forest bathing, but she says she’s never felt happier than she does now, sharing this beautiful, connected practice with herself and others. She sees people’s need for a practice that asks us to become aware of our senses – even beyond our five basic senses – and pay attention to the natural world around us. “We heal so much by resting our anxious brains and connecting to other people in a space that is calming. We have a need for authentic, direct experience – not for show, not given to you by a translator, such as the media. We need to contact Nature again.”
Originally created in Japan in 1982, Forest Bathing arose as a response to a health epidemic. Cancer, strokes, suicides, and other maladies were at an all-time high amongst much of the rapidly urbanized, technologically burnt-out population. Japan’s Agency of Agriculture and Forestry named this practice shinrin-yoku, which translates to “Forest Bathing”, and the government continues to fund it.
The approach to Forest Bathing that Phyllis is trained in fosters a heart-centered, reciprocal relationship. Phyllis guides people to simply use their senses while gently walking through a natural setting, during which she facilitates sharing circles and periods of quiet contemplation. The rest of the experience is left to the individual. Often, as people tune into their senses while in nature a sort of magic happens. “It’s a way of loving,” comments Phyllis. When we come into a relationship with Nature, the world around us comes alive. We realize Nature has sentience, presence, power – almost a personhood.
Phyllis has a theory on how Nature Therapy can help support the health of our environment. “Whether or not you love it, you experience it as a real living force,” she says. “Once you experience how we are all interconnected, you’re more likely to want to cherish and protect these other beings, this land, these waters. That’s the heart of this practice’s quiet environmental activism…but everyone needs to come to it in their own way.”
Phyllis discovered Still & Moving Center during her years working at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. She has since become a valued member of the Still & Moving community occasionally gracing us with a Forest Bathing offering. Her environmental perspective and pursuit of a whole, vibrant, connected life are right in alignment with Still & Moving Center. Phyllis guides regular Forest Bathing sessions at the Lyon Arboretum and Nānākuli Lookout on Oahu, Hawai’i.
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)