When I mentioned to my SO that I was going nature bathing at Mt. Cooth-tha Botanic Gardens, his first question was, would I be getting naked. The answer was no, and although our guide, Mon, was very encouraging and accepting of whatever responses people had as a result of their experience and of how they chose to share them, I’m inclined to assume getting naked may have been met with a calm invitation to reconsider.
Nature, or Forest bathing, was invented, like vending machines full of strange things, in Japan, and is called “Shinrinyoku”. It involves going for a walk in a forest, sitting in a forest, or basically just hanging out in a forest. It has been proven (by scientists) to have actual health benefits, due to things emitted by the trees called “phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees”.
Monique Ross, (or Mon as she likes to be known) who runs Heartwood Nature Bathing in Brisbane (and the surrounding area), is a certified Nature and Forest Therapy guide. Now I can picture the cynics among you hearing wind-chimes and smelling incense, but this is an actual, proper six-month course. It may seem like anyone could put a post on Facebook, strap on some sensible shoes, and take a gaggle of unsuspecting people with time on their hands to go wandering about in the woods, but stuff can happen. And did!
When people take the time to stop and smell the eucalypts, all those things that have been distracting their minds are silenced, and the foetid, rancid baggage they have been lugging around for probably decades, can start to rise to the surface like an inadequately weighted-down dead body. If they are not with someone trained to deal sensitively when this happens things could get awkward. Or someone could just trip over and break their arm, in which case Mon is trained to respond to this as well. And, of course, it’s Australia, so snakes. One participant calmed down so much that she felt herself in danger of fainting as her blood pressure dropped, so nature bathing is not without its risks.
The actual experience involves walking for a while then stopping for a short informal meditation; informal in the sense that you are just invited to notice things: sounds, smells, the feeling of the earth underneath you etc. not search for enlightenment. Unfortunately, just as we stopped to do this, helicopters, planes, and chainsaws started up. Mon told us later this happens every time and she’s learned to just laugh and accept it. We were then invited to share anything that came to us. Or not.
Now, I am not a great fan of these sharing circles because the inherent danger is there will be that one person who will overshare. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, but if it did I’m assuming Mon would have drawn on her training from the “How to Deal with Oversharing” module in her course. (For the record, my one thought was of the bush turkeys I “noticed” lurking about, reminding me of their relatives who, while we were away for two weeks, ransacked our back deck, smashed everything breakable and strewed it everywhere. Luckily (for them) Alectura lathami are a protected species and while I have a slingshot sitting on my windowsill I would, of course, never use it.)
And so we walked, then stopped, then shared and so on. It was a very pleasant and restorative way to spend two hours. At the end, while we each found a place to just sit awhile, Mon laid out a lovely morning tea. The tea itself she brewed from herbs and flowers in her garden. As Mon poured the tea and handed the cups over, each person was invited to share again, then we just sat around and had a chat. Which is when, our collective guards down, danger struck. As I was drinking my tea and nibbling on an apricot-coconut ball, a female Butcherbird swooped down, snatched the remaining ball from my hand, flew up onto a branch above, and proceeded to warble out her triumph to all the other birds, who then arrived in numbers on hearing there was free food.
Alarmingly, Butcherbirds “get their name from their habit of impaling captured prey on a thorn, tree fork, or crevice“. Fortunately, I sustained no injury above acute disappointment at losing my treat, but assume had I lost an eye or something, Mon would have been all over it.