A Guided Experience into the World of Silence with a Deaf Forest Therapy Guide”
Original article published in the Association for Nature and Forest Therapy blog, https://www.natureandforesttherapy.earth/blog-earth
In an increasingly fabricated culture, being able to sit in silence and be one with Nature has become difficult. In our media spaces, we are increasingly battled on cultural identity politics (with raised awareness of Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Rights, Immigration, and movements from marginalized social groups). There are never-ending discussions on social media of power and privilege, and our mental space feels rushed from the effects of time-sickness and the demands of work in a high-tech society, our eyes tired from screen fatigue.
While this “identity search for a place to belong” may be necessary for some of us to find our “place” in society, we lose our sight/grasp/understanding of what “place” we have right now in our local environment. Where do we live? What supports our “living”? Author Richard Louv calls this Place Blindness*.
The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we will need. So the value of nature will, or should, grow. If we honor this hunger and this place, our sense of regional and individual identity will be shaped as much by natural history as it is by human history. –The Nature Principle
We also live in a culture where our mindset and self-perception are based on the belief that we’re not good enough. It is apparent in our addiction to consumerism and approval. Instead of looking for better technology, better jobs, better hairstyle, why can’t we focus on bettering our inner selves?
This is what I struggle with the most. How to just…. BE. Being a millennial and working over 20 years in the academia and technology worlds has me constantly rushing to complete deadlines, and even with my new Forest Therapy guiding business. I’m almost always rushing to figure out how to promote my business and figure out my social media and marketing plan. It gets overwhelming and I lose connection with myself, and Nature. My creativity gets diminished, my health suffers.
If we knew the importance of Nature connection, we’d understand that answers come when we wander out and/or ground ourselves and just let be.
Now, how do we start “just being”? I suggest this: start with silence.
Why? Everybody needs quiet right now. 97% of the U.S. population is exposed to noise in their daily lives, quiet places are nearly extinct. (source: www.quietparks.org )
Being Deaf the majority of my life, I have a unique relationship with silence. I have plenty of it (sometimes too much that it hurts) and not enough of it (with my “monkey mind” and anxiety, and addiction to technology). I’ll start describing my relationship with the latter:
The Deaf community have often been viewed as people that live in “silent worlds”. This is not entirely true – we may not hear (or have different degrees of hearing-ability), but our mind operates just the same as hearing people when it comes to thoughts. We have mental noise: We worry, we get emotional, we think in logic puzzles, we are constantly figuring out how to navigate in a world where access to information is mostly shared verbally and auditory. Language and social deprivation have us constantly figuring out how to piece the puzzle of life in a hearing-centric world.
My upbringing in the hearing world – where I’m often left out of spoken conversations, I had plenty of time in silence. It’s true, too much time spent “not being heard or seen”, can make silence feel like an enemy… but it also makes me who I am.
Through my studies in Deaf Culture Studies, I’ve learned to reframe the notion of disability as a loss, a deficit, or a disadvantage. Having a disadvantage in one area creates the opportunity to develop an advantage in other areas. I educate people to change their perception of Deafness as a loss and transform it into a gain. Instead of saying I am someone with a Hearing Loss, I tell people I have a Deaf Gain.
Having access to silence has given me a lot of gains: It’s made me receptive to other cultures. It’s made me sensitive to people’s emotions by reading their body language. And it’s allowed my imagination to play, my inner child to go wild. I thank silence for giving me creativity and sensitivity. I’ve been given these tools by just being quiet.
So, now that I’ve shared you my perspective from being a Deaf person. I’ll next share with you my experience being a Deaf Forest Therapy Guide… I have discovered that Forest Bathing supports this goal to “quiet the mind”.
Aside from the myriad ways that being “out in Nature” does the mind, body, and soul good – it presents an opportunity where we can just be quiet. The soundlessness of nature has solaced many people, there are countless benefits to retreating in silence. Out in Nature, you don’t need to speak (or sign). You don’t need to figure out how to pronounce a word or sign correctly. You don’t need to worry about looking good. You don’t need to impress anyone. You don’t need to rush. Nature allows a space where you can…. Just … be… yourself.
But understandably, without the tools of mindfulness and ecological awareness, for those who suffer Nature Deficit Disorder, sitting in silence can be a scary thing. It’s not easy to just stop what you’re doing and just be.
Now, Forest Bathing guides understand. Guides have learned to speak and understand two languages – the language of the civilized (untamed) world and language of Nature. They help the connection by creating safe spaces out in Nature. They provide you the tools to slow down so you can see what has been hidden inside of you. Forest Therapy trains the mind to quiet down and listen to our body, – we do that through sensory exploration. And once we connect to the Earth this way, the healing begins.
There are a few invitations that I’ve caught while reflecting on how to guide in silence:
Quiet Mind Meditation – Using the breath, visualize a creek, ocean, clouds, anything with a flowing nature. Allow all the “mental noise” to fade away.
Slow Interpretative Movements – Using your entire body, interpret the sound waves of Nature. Start using your fingers, hands, arms, then let your body flow.
Silent Sit Spot – Bring ear-plugs or noise cancelling headphones and explore your sit spot with expanded sense of touch, vision, balance, and other natural senses.
Gesturing Beasts – Initiate communication through body expression. Start with copying what animals usually do, then using your hands/body/face to ask question or make conversation.
Deaf and Blind Interdependence – This is a highly tactile and intuitive activity and might be scary (so a guiding partnership with another human is encouraged). With ear-plugs/noise cancelling headphones and blindfold, allow someone to slowly introduce a tree*. Have them learn the tree’s story by feeling the tree. (*Make sure the tree has no poison ivy vines or sharp thorns.)
So what I’m trying to present here is—
Listen to silence, it has so much to say. –Rumi.
Listen to Nature, it has so much to say. –adapted by The Giving Cypress.
So this message is for all my communities, try to refrain from polluting the world with “noise pollution”… stop polluting your mind with “mental noise” and thoughts of “not good enough”… just wander out and find a sit spot in Nature, let silence envelope you, and allow yourself to just be.
Invest time in Nature, and you will find it’s really an investment in yourself. You’d be surprised what you discover.
ASL translation of this article is currently being worked on. Thank you for your patience.
Note about Trauma Informed Approach:
*While I emphasize experiencing more silence, I do recognize that being silent has multiple/different meanings and that it is not always positive. In this article, I speak of silence as a way to reach inner peace and a way to “listen deeper” to the More-Than-Human-World. Keeping trauma-informed approach in mind, I recognize that being silent can be triggering for people, especially for marginalized groups. I strive to raise awareness of how we can support and include people with different abilities, particularly Deaf people who do not have adequate access to nature/outdoor education and mental health programs. Being cut off from accessing information shared via auditory/verbal communication (during Forest Bathing walks, audio recordings, or videos) can be traumatic for Deaf/ DeafBlind/ DeafDisabled people. I will be happy to counsel on the topic of accessibility while guiding or working Deaf/DeafBlind/DeafDisabled people. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
More references/resources about silence & nature:
Sanctuaries of Silence – Emergence Magazine: https://emergencemagazine.org/story/sanctuaries-of-silence/
Quiet Experiences: https://www.quietparks.org/quiet-experiences
Be Quiet All Day For One Day: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/shhh/
Making Outdoors More Inclusive: https://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/rei-2018/five-ways-to-make-the-outdoors-more-inclusive/3019/
1st photo: Derrick Williams at @dwfashionphoto
2nd photo: Kami Padden @kamicreatesart
3rd photo: Summer Crider @thegivingcypress
[Image descriptions: Summer, a white Deaf human being with dark blonde hair is crouched against a white wall in an urban setting. They are holding their head as if they have a headache or looking overwhelmed. 2nd photo shows Summer standing behind a Nature Estuary at sunset, they are holding their index finger to their lips as if gesturing "be quiet". Last photo shows a dandelion in front of a pond.]