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
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.