Last month, I had one of the best weeks of my life on an “SDI Journey” which took place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The facilitators, Matt Whitney and I (Jeanette Banashak), in addition to sacred musician, Simon de Voil, spent a week forest bathing with an amazing group from North America and Europe. The ages of participants were vast as were their worldviews, stories, and questions.
Throughout the week, we experienced winter, spring, and summer weather, and through the variety of temperatures, we slowly, gently, and mindfully walked and built relationships and fostered reciprocity with the more than human world. As we attuned to nature in embodied ways, we nurtured our ecological identities and considered our pursuits of environmental justice. In the mornings, we accessed our senses, considered the movement within the forest, crossed thresholds, befriended trees, played in a babbling brook, sat in order to simply be, and connected our heart-minds with the natural environment. During the afternoons and evenings, we integrated our experiences through engagement in nature-themed creative endeavors, hikes through the mountains, rest, “birdsong and poetry vespers” (singing, silence, and poetry readings), and processing our days in small groups. One participant said that they would never walk in the forest the same way again. We heard from many others who said the same thing.
What a joy and honor to with-ness the human participants showing up for nature as well as each other: we were intentional about “learning to experience nature as nature experiences itself” (Ben Page). Being present in and with the natural environment encourages the walls between us, the more than human world, our stuff, and others’ ideas, to dissolve as we understand more intimately our inter-beingness.
~ Jeanette Banashak
(2023)Within each of us there is a silence
-a silence as vast as the universe . . .
When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses, to our selves.
-Gunilla Norris, Shared Silence
For a week next March (2023), SGTI co-founder, Jeanette Banashak, and Creative Director of Spiritual Directors International, Matt Whitney, will be co-facilitating a Nature Immersion and Deep Listening experience in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Silence, peace, and joy will be nurtured through guided shinrin yoku (forest bathing) walks and optional community and solo building activities from creativity-making to reflections and storytelling around a campfire to group spiritual direction/companionship with humans and the more than human world.
Forest bathing is designed to awaken the senses in an intentional way and facilitate aliveness of life. Slowly and mindfully, we engage with the natural setting and cultivate awareness of, relationship with, and appreciation for the more than human world. If you would like to join us in the “wood wide web” (Suzanne Simard) or would like more information, here is the website with a video, explanation, and FAQs: https://www.sdicompanions.org/product/sdi-journey-the-forest-as-companion-nature-immersion-and-deep-listening-march-19-25-2023/
Note: Registering before Oct. 8 allows participants to receive a $500 discount.
In Suzanne Simard’s book, Finding the Mother Tree, she writes, “There is no moment too small in this world”. This is her creed - she is writing about appreciating and embracing all aspects of nature. Children have a natural way of wondering about and connecting in the natural world. The cultural historian, scholar of world religions, and self-described geologian Thomas Berry, stated that depriving children of time in nature denies them their “inner intuitive identities”. For Berry, what is learned in nature is a kind of knowledge that is the bedrock for making meaning of our lives and appreciating beauty.
Recently, at one of our yearly siblings (and partners and children) camping trips, I took my young nieces and nephews on a forest bathing experience and invited them to ask a tree if we could approach it, touch it, and be with it. I asked them to pay attention to how the tree responds to their inquiry. After a few quiet moments passed (this was a miracle), they each said that the tree is ok with them approaching and touching it. What intuition! Without hesitating, my five-year old niece gave the tree the biggest hug (I had never seen her hug a human in the same way), while my eight-year old nephew proceeded to climb its branches. The others explored around the tree’s base collecting curiously placed bones.
A sense for Mystery begins in nature. By noticing the changes that occur outside in a day, in a season, by watching birds, interacting with insects, and engaging with trees, we build our capacity for relationships with the human and more than human world. When we build relationships in nature, we co-create spaces for belonging. With our understanding that we all belong to each other, we become compelled to look out for each other, we learn to right any wrongs that we commit, and we work to make things better. Thomas Berry remarked, “As [children] grow to understand their belonging within this larger context, their natural longing to create a better world will increase and they can learn new ways of functioning and creating within a sustainable life context.”
What are ways we can invite children to have direct experiences in nature? It begins with modeling – spending time immersed in the natural environment, prioritizing – making the decision to designate time in nature as more important than other activities, and embedding nature in daily life – building reciprocity and solidarity with nature within and outside the home.
After the experience my nieces and nephews and I had in the forest, I asked my five-year-old-tree-hugging niece a question because I had noticed how familiar she seemed with the trees: Do you prefer hugging trees rather than people? Oh yes, she said, I prefer hugging trees for sure.
~ Jeanette Banashak
Guided by a Tree, Part II
As a follow up to our previous post, Jeanette Banashak has just had an article published by Spiritual Directors International for their blog. Her article guides you through a complete practice of inviting a tree to be your spiritual director: "Trees as Spiritual Directors/Companions."
Could a Tree Be Your Spiritual Director?
This wisdom by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr holds an interesting view of who or what could serve as a spiritual director/guide/companion to us. Inspirational pieces like this one are the kind of inspiration that SGTI sends out every week in our FREE "Universal Wisdom" offering. Have you subscribed yet?
Enjoy this sample and allow yourself a few minutes of gentle contemplation as you sit with the Reflection Questions.
"I must share with you a story about a particularly barren time in my life when I used a tree for a spiritual director. I learned so much that year because I listened in silence...
Because it was small I couldn't lean on it but could only sit beside it. That taught me a lot about what the role of spiritual guide should be. Even though it was small, it had the ability to give me a certain amount of shade. You don't have to have a lot of leaves to give shade.
Because it was silent I listened deeply. You don't need a lot of words to connect with God.
When it got thirsty I watered it. The miracle of water is a little like the miracle of God's love. That little sycamore taught me a lot about foot washing. Watering it was a great joy. A soul-friend relationship never works only one way. There is a mutual giving and receiving.
I learned from my tree that being transplanted is possible. I can always put down roots again, connect with the Great Root, and grow on."
-Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, A Tree Full of Angels
1. How have trees been your companions?
2. Is there a particular tree that you have connected with? What was it about that tree that drew you to it?
3. You may want to take a walk with the intention of finding a tree to sit by and with and invite it to be your spiritual director. Or alternatively, perhaps the tree is inviting you to be its spiritual companion.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.