In my December 2017 column, I encouraged you to enter your interior space within you to find magic, mystery, and harmony. The inner space where your child dwells.
Today, as 2018 dawns, I walk in our wonderful Askew Creek Park here on Chemainus Road. Once again, nature brings me home to my inner self. For me, the theme of this forest area is that of letting go and of embracing new life. I see dead trees, dead wet leaves on the forest floor, while I hear the lively flowing stream and see the lush green ferns growing like a carpet over the dead wet leaves.
It seems to me the reason nature brings us such freedom, peace and joy is that nature and animals live in the present moment. When we allow ourselves to be fully present then all our worries for that moment dissipate and we feel energized and whole. When we are not present, then we feel overwhelmed, and disconnected with ourself.
Many years ago, when I lived in Peru and had to wait in a sandy park across the street from the hospital for patients I would find myself initially leaning up against a tree. Gradually, I found myself hugging the tree. At that time, I never mentioned this behaviour to anyone. But I noticed that whenever I did this I felt calm. I did not pretend to understand this phenomena, but unbeknownst to anyone I continued to hug trees whenever I had the opportunity.
In recent years, hugging a tree has not only been popularized but its benefits have been researched. In Matthew Silverstone’s book Blinded by Silence he proves that trees do in fact help in the healing of certain mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
He shows how the tree helps in these particular disorders. They help heal by increasing levels of concentration, adjusting reaction time, calming tensions, and increasing awareness of the present moment. Silverstone also states that some physical ailments such as headaches can be relieved by hugging a tree. Again, as a person hugs the tree they let their stress go (shoulders come down from around the ears to a lower relaxed position). Silverstone points to research to assure us that there are health benefits to simply touching a tree or being in the vicinity of a tree if one cannot bring themselves to hugging a tree.
Qigong (Chi Kung) is a tree hugging form of Tai Chi. It is often used as a warm up exercise at the beginning of a Tai Chi class to help strengthen the legs prior to stretching. You may want to google Qigong. There is not only a very good explanation on the benefits of imagery tree hugging but also demonstrates the body position used for this exercise.
Stand like a tree. Imagery tree hugging still has the calming effect and benefits of connecting you with your inner harmonious space. Qigong normalizes the breathing which is beneficial for any respiratory or cardiac ailments. Please remember any exercise that will be beneficial to your physical and mental health must be done on a regular bases. It takes patience and perseverance for any new habit to take root. Just like tree roots; they must be deep in the soil to sustain the tree over a life time.
Generally, it is common to make resolutions with the start of a new year. Making resolutions is inherent with letting go of former unhealthy behaviours. In a certain sense, as we make a New Year Resolution(s) we have a similar experience to what I am presently observing in Askew Creek Park; dead growth along side of new growth.
In 2018 we can choose to let go of the decay (negative thinking, gossip, impatience, self-defeating behaviours ) or we can choose to be like the flowing stream and green ferns. The sun, rain and snow falls on both, may my New Year Resolution be to improve my quality of life in some small way.
Hopefully, tree hugging will be a new behaviour or an ongoing behaviour in 2018. It will help each of us to feel more in control of our inner calmness amid the threats of nuclear war, property tax increases, and personal dilemmas. Welcome 2018, The Year of the Dog.
Kathleen Kelly is a Chemainus resident and author of the book ‘The Tornadoes We Create.’