Updated: Sep 12, 2021
written on International Forest Bathing Day, September 14 2020
[image description: Summer is standing next to a young oak tree, in the forest, with a smile.]
I’ve been writing some pieces through the year. There are some pieces I want to share, but held back because I wasn’t sure that my story would still remain the same tomorrow. I was afraid that whatever I perceive today, tomorrow, my perception would change. Why even bother sharing how I feel if my feelings change. The social media anxiety is so strong. Fears of what others may think of me- an oscillating indecisive confused soul- refrained me from sharing.
But the forest has convinced me, since it does not judge, to go ahead and share my journey. Like the Earth orbiting around the Sun, the tides changing every single day, everything oscillates. Everything is in constant flux. Nothing is ever the same. Flowers grow, bloom, and die. I am allowed to change. And keep changing. #Impermanence
[This image was taken when I was at a very vulnerable time of my life, (uncovering layers of intersectional identities, ending a 14 year love relationship, witnessing the passing of my beloved dog, among many others challenges). When I needed to get to the depth of my grieving process to heal and figure out my path, I found solitude and safety in Nature where I felt no judgement.]
Being from a family with high expectations, having a German grandfather who graduated from Yale University and a mother who obtained her PhD before I was born, I navigated through the world with privileges. Scholarly achievements were celebrated, any failure was looked at as a bad thing. I was led to believe that I was what I looked like on the outside, a White tall slender girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, named Summer.
But life wasn’t without trauma. Coming from a high functioning family and experiencing social and language deprivation most of my childhood as a result of my deafness, my feelings or struggles were rarely validated. When I was feeling down or vulnerable, I was told to “suck it up” and move on with life.
Yes, my name is Summer. Yes, I'm tall and slender and blonde - the “American Model Ideal” Yes, it looks I had life going for me.... but deep inside, life wasn’t perfect.
Depression was with me during my formative teenage years, being “alone in the mainstream”1, but it left me (or it dissolved) as I found my identity as a Deaf person and a vibrant community that understood my natural language, American Sign Language.
But, 20 years later depression struck me again but this time, it was coupled with high functioning anxiety. I tried medication, it didn’t work. Conventional therapy (the traditional sit-down and talk with the therapist about my feelings) wasn’t working as I had tried about 15 therapists. I was losing friends, relationships became a struggle, and the community to which I once belonged became harder to stay connected to. Sure, I had amazing conversations, went on retreats of different kinds (shamanic, buddhist, artistic), discovered intentional communities... but mental health took a firm grip. Suicidal thoughts became frequent.
With the help of a mentor, my supervisors at work, and my mother, I flew to Alaska. While I was running a half-marathon alone in the Alaska wild, I broke down crying.... Something on that run sparked an immense feeling of comfort but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
Someone out there was listening, like really listening, to words I have not begun to articulate. I didn’t have to think how to pronounce, write, or express in Sign. Someone already knew what I needed. Someone understood.
It was Mother Nature. It was the untamed Wild. It was the trees. For me, Enlightenment happened in the woods. (I would later learn that Buddha experienced enlightenment in the woods too! (Most if not all great spiritual leaders got inspiration and renewal by heading off alone somewhere into nature.)
So for the next three years, I tried seeking out for more of that healing. It was NOT easy. My brain (and my part-bionic self) was wired with timesickness, the need for control, fueled with the demands of an over-stressed society. I worked in a university environment where I struggled to manage a job as a media coordinator and had to take a medical leave. I moved back to Florida to care for my aging father who has Alzheimers. That responsibility was stressful, so I decided to travel overseas thinking maybe the answers were out there. In Thailand and Cambodia , I found myself drawn to the happiness and simplicity discovered among families in the rural areas, where everyone smiled. Traveling alone was helpful in connecting with my “inner self”, but the benefits were short lived. Back in the States, I attempted to work in the professional arena again as a coordinator on a Creative grant project, but I found myself falling back into the cycle of severe anxiety, overplanning, and needing constant validation. I was constantly trying to prove my worth. What was “calming” for me, which was refugee to a deeper, more rugged location in Nature, which was inaccessible or hard to find in these big cities.
So I had to let go. Just sacrifice and go home.
A year later, thanks to the quarantine, the land, and my “forest family” in the Association for Nature and Forest Therapy, I am slowly discovering what works for me. Letting go of control and slowing down, has NOT been easy. A dear friend told me when instructing me how to drive a 40 ft long school bus that I’ve bought to “live in” as my home:
“You like control, right?…. So, the slower you go, the more control you have.” That stuck. So did the lessons that I learned through my Forest Therapy sessions:
In the forest, in a place without judgement or time, we sit silently in Nature. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything gets accomplished”. I had been so driven for perfection, approval, and checking off my long to-do lists defined success for me.
It’s time in Nature that helps the unsettling become as smooth as the river at dawn.
It’s the springs, the rivers, that wash my fears and tears away and rejuvenate me.
It’s the simple text messages and the tiny hearts on social media postings that lift me up- telling me I’m not alone.
It’s the little acts of kindness and love I put towards the batch of homemade cookies and give them to construction workers.
It’s my old Papa laughing and teasing the pup that wandered into our swamp life that made me realize how precious human and nature connection is.
It’s the relationships I create through opening my heart- When I struggle to love myself, I practice on inanimate objects. I put love towards renovating my school bus conversion, the “Cypress Skoolie”. I put love towards woodworking.
It’s the journals, the scribbling, the drawings… the invitations I experience through my Forest Bathing, it’s working... I now smile at myself when I wake up from deep sleep. Before it took effort (I had to force the smile), now it’s becoming natural.
Being alone is okay, being lonely is okay. Just don’t forget that there is a world out there and that everyone is feeling similarly. Sure, we are wired with technology and have busy lives to live, but we are also wired for human connection. And many of us are wired for connection with Nature, but many of us don’t realize it or don’t know how.
Mother Nature won’t judge, trust me. And Mother Nature is hurting, too, so She understands our pain. And we all have the potential to heal Her. Just go out there and spend time among the trees- or any sighting of Nature if you don’t have access to trees. If you’re afraid to navigate, do reach out... We’ve been there. We’re the human “guides” that can open the doors for you.
The Forest is the therapist I’ve been seeking for. It can be yours too.
Let the healing begin- go outside, sit with a tree, and see what you’ll reveal from the connection!
[image description: Summa stands on a sunken canoe in a cypress swamp, looking down in the water. She is wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. She is surrounded by trees. Another image shows a large stump of a Water Oak, with bright green vines growing on it.]
First and last photo by Michael Stultz, 2010. Credit: @natcraz