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The joy of looking closely

I stood in a small circle amidst beautiful ornamental woodland in the Lake District. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was a perfect day to be amongst the trees with other nature enthusiasts.


I was taking part in a Forest Bathing walk; the experienced guide pulled out a plastic bag with several luggage labels inside. He held it out in front of us and said, "I invite you to put your hand in and remove a label. Then, read the word on the label and go and explore the word in the forest. If you'd like, you can take an eye magnifier."


I reached in, pulled out a label with the word 'seeds' on it, and immediately made my way over to take a magnifier before heading off in search of 'seeds'. I walked and scanned the area, my ever-present dominant 'cognitive self' looking for something to label 'seed'- maybe an acorn, conker or a beech nut. However, this was an ornamental woodland, and all the tell-tale signs I had learned to notice were missing. Here was the reminder I needed: Forest Bathing isn't about 'knowing' but is about sensing and feeling and with a sense of surrender I slowly continued.


Some colours can only be seen during spring or summer in woodland and immediately request your attention. A magnificent flash of magenta beckoned me over, its persuasive tongues calling me into the undergrowth. I approached slowly, crouched down on my hands and knees, put the magnifier to my eye, and leaned forward.


I hadn't anticipated what would happen next. The combination of surprise and joy unexpectedly washed over me. One moment I was an adult looking for seeds next, I was a child gazing at a fairy, its pink dress decorated with white vertical lines, its delicate hood tilted forward to obscure its face, and its arms open wide to embrace me, welcoming me back to a place I once knew. It transported me back in time and transformed me into a curious child filled with belief, magic and wonder.


I gazed through the magnifier for an unreasonable amount of time with a warm, joyful feeling coursing through my being. I thought about moving the eyepiece away and looking for more seeds elsewhere, but why? I had everything I needed right here.I had reawakened a part of me that had been forgotten, buried beneath adult worries, logistics, facts, details and 'necessary understandings'; for that moment, I was a child again, filled with an immense sense of joy.


Joy, a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment, is one of the three principles that underpin Forest Bathing. It is often described as 'the emotion that makes life worth living in the present moment', so it is no surprise that it was so present during this experience. Forest Bathing is a practice that brings you deeper into the present moment. It gives you permission to place your worries and the expectations others have of you to one side. At the same time, immersing yourself through your senses in the present moment.




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