Forest Bathing with My Inner Child

My inner child was in a bad mood this morning. Perhaps it was the missing time that prevented me from writing after morning meditation. I’m not quite sure how that happened (darned aliens!) – I got up at five, ran down the hall to change into my yoga clothes where I wouldn’t bother my yoga camp roommate who was sleeping in. Grabbed a hot tea and dashed to the Wireless Room, which is literally right down the staircase from my room, and is the one place we’re allowed to use our devices. Mediated for 15 minutes and suddenly it was 6:15 and I was behind schedule for my 6:30 yoga class so I didn’t have time to write.

Maybe I lost the time when I took my phone off airplane mode to connect the online mountain meditation and my phone buzzed and dinged for 30 seconds with all the different communications I had received since yesterday morning. Some of them appeared as notifications on my screen, including a cri-de-coeur from a colleague who didn’t realize I was on vacation. I felt compelled to let him know; so I did, then I found myself starting to check each of my feeds before I took myself in hand again. Hmmm, perhaps I’ve discovered where that extra 30 minutes went. And the guilt, when I pulled myself away. Why do I feel bad for taking time for myself? No one is irreplaceable at work.

In gentle yoga, my child woke up and started sulking. This is stupid. That teacher’s dumb. I can’t do it and that’s not fair. My back hurts. I tried to reason with her; I tried hugging her; finally I gave up and let her whine while I went through the motions.

After class, I ate far more breakfast than I should have because everything on the buffet line looked so good and she wanted to taste it all – pancakes and apple compote and quinoa cream – and then didn’t want it in the end because it tasted funny. But we eat what we put on our plate.

After breakfast we stepped outside to see how many layers we’d need for today’s hike. I say that as if I were a true hiker – I’m not. I signed up for the Forest Bathing class because it sounded like slow, quiet walks in the woods. I keep doing this. I don’t own hiking shoes or an outdoor backpack or rain gear, and I look so stupid when I show up in city sneaks and a hoodie. Luckily when we stepped outside in our indoor shoes, it was warmer and we saw a little peek of blue on the Eastern Horizon and fog streaming up out of the trees. That seemed like it should be a good sign. Satisfied, we turned to find the door had locked behind us. She rolled her eyes at me while I trudged through the wet grass in my slippers all the way back to the lobby where the door was unlocked, then all the way back down the hall to my room which is right next to the locked door.

After putting on all my layers, I debated whether to bring the walking sticks I had borrowed. “Walking sticks are for fuddy-duddys,” she jeered. “They just weigh us down; we need to be free. Besides, they’re cold and you didn’t bring any gloves – city slicker!” So the sticks were a no go.

The class started with an outdoor warm up. Inside me, she started to pace in circles.

Then we took off for the woods. She wanted to run through the grass, push people aside and race into the forest. My older joints and ankle couldn’t keep up with her. Or with the rest of the class. The teacher chided us to “stay found” and not lag behind the group. Impatient with me a few minutes ago, now she wanted to get in his face, tell him not to judge, that I was “right where I needed to be.” I told her to settle down and reassured her that I’d try to keep up. Now she looked worried. What if I couldn’t keep up? What if he scolded us in front of everybody? What if he threw us out of the class because I couldn’t keep up? Would I have to leave camp, go home? But we wanted our vacation! Would we have to stay and face my classmates at meals, their embarrassed looks? Or would we have to go home and explain to my husband that we had squandered all that money. I committed to keeping up.

The hike went straight up through muddy leaves. And it started to rain – so much for my weather sense. Although the guide had asked us to walk silently, his co-teacher and the people behind me kept up a running stream of small talk. Gripping my inner child tightly so she wouldn’t turn around and shush them, I tried to enjoy a quiet walk in the woods. “Forest bathing,” she muttered as we tripped and slipped. “It’s not so great. Very mushy.” I hushed her and reminded her that we were supposed to be walking meditatively. “The walk is too fast to meditate and I can’t enjoy the scenery,” she complained. “We could walk right past a bear and never even see it… Can we go home now? Why did we have to come? Other people didn’t come.”

The guide stopped us to point out a white tail deer track. While I watched trying not to think too loudly, my child sighed, gusting the hair out of her eyes. “White Tail! Everyone has seen a white tail,” she hissed just loudly enough for me to hear. The other bathers must have agreed in thought; no one looked impressed and our guide, disappointed by our reaction, moved us on at breakneck pace again.

Soon we were walking beside a happy stream – happy because it was healthy, fed by the rain that was falling harder from the sky. She wanted to pause, to gaze at the stream, to watch it flow by, and was unhappy that I made her keep up with the group. We finally arrived and our guide gave us our assignment. We needed to find a place to squat down beside the stream for about 10 minutes, hold our hands about two feet above the water and gradually lower them until they were submerged, then cup them to lift water just to – but not in — our mouths and whisper a question or a gratitude to the stream to be carried down to lake, rivers from the lake to the watershed, to the ocean, eventually to the world or even the universe. We glanced about, almost twenty people and there was barely enough space for us all in this glade; and squatting my ankle would not do, much less for 10 minutes. And whisper to the water? We all very seriously separated along both sides of the stream and squatted or knelt. My ankle protested. My inner child flung herself on the ground and kicked her feet. “I’m bored.” She complained.

I stood, stepped aside, and tried a standing meditation, conscious of how I was completely doing something other than the assignment. Conscious of how much I looked like my nephew when he was so completed obsessed with rage, he was unable to move and stood rigidly, eyes unseeing, fists clenched, just like the girl inside me. After the guide hooted like an owl to let us know ten minutes had ended (my inner child made a raspberry sound), we gathered in a sacred circle and passed the forest microphone (a pine cone thoughtfully shaped by a red squirrel) to share our thoughts. Each person spoke of something meaningful they had noticed or realized or observed. My better self wanted to participate; my inner child jeered that it sounded like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. When the pinecone was passed to me, I couldn’t say anything because I was holding her tongue, so I held the cone in silence, then passed it on – an acceptable alternative to speaking, we had been informed the day before, although I was the only one to take advantage of it. When the pinecone found its way back to the guide again, he held it out to the group and offered an invitation to anyone who had not spoken to speak. Offered it again, followed by reproachful silence (“Bueller? Bueller?”). Then we moved on.

First we were told we were walking too loudly, and he taught us how to walk more softly. I tried it faithfully and it made my ankle hurt. By this time, my child was swinging wildly on a nearby branch, singing loudly and mostly off-key, in a way designed to annoy. I walked even more silently, forgetting to breathe in a meditative way, and wished we would pause so I could look around, too afraid of my footing to even glance up. I felt like I was back on the destructive sidewalks of Buenos Aires again. (“Gonna fall,” the child jeered. “Gonna FALL.” And I pictured myself slipping, twisting my ankle and knee again, landing on my hip, covered in mud, angry and embarrassed, in pain and not wanting help. Luckily none of this happened.)

Then we stopped for another meditation. Find a rock, the guide said, one that speaks to you. “That one,” my child pointed. “That one is in the middle of a thicket,” I pointed out reasonably. “We can get in, follow me,” she called, pulling me by the hand. We couldn’t get in and disturbed a classmate on a nearby rock who was already deep in contemplation of the forest. “This one,” she called, now tugging me another direction. We finally sat, gazing out through the trees into the meadow. Listening to the rain as it grew louder and louder, soaking down on us, splashing up at us, knocking autumn leaves off trees, rattling bushes. “We’re getting wet,” she said mutinously, crossing her arms and glaring at me through wet bangs. “You like the rain,” I told her reasonably. “I’m not dressed for the rain,” she argued, “and this rain is cold. And this is stupid.”

The owl hooted and the sacred circle rejoined. “I like the rain,” each person shared, talking about how peaceful it was. The pinecone came to me. “I like the rain, too,” I agreed, “And my inner child [who was glaring at me like a wet cat at this point] is very noisy today.” She gave the heavy sigh of a teenager embarrassed by her mom and turned her back on me. All the way out of the forest and back to the dorm, she grumbled at me and poked.

“Look at that bush – its leaves turn pastel pink in the autumn,” I pointed out.

“They’re cleaning the whirlpool and sauna until 2 pm,” she sneered. “How are you going to thaw out?”

“Peaceful reflections cupped in a fallen leaf,” I shared.

“Are we almost there? How much further is it? Now all your clothes are wet and you have to go outside in the afternoon session, too.”

She was right. But then they decided we’d stay inside this afternoon and learn Qi Gong or Tai Chi or something; and I could put on tomorrow’s clothes while today’s clothes dried. And we had a nice hot shower and drank two cups of ginger tea with lemon and honey.

So even though we left the bedroom window open and it rained into our room – and even though our paper guest badge that we are required to wear at all times, even in the forest, even in the rain, looks a little Wabi-Sabi – I think she’s satisfied for now and will settle down enough that I can enjoy the rest of the day.

[Hey, are you writing about me? What are you saying? Let me see, let me see!]

When you go forest bathing, if your inner child is crabby, leave here with a sitter.

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