“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.”
Listening to trees requires of us a different quality to that with which we usually think of the action of ‘listening.’ Surrounded by trees we must open more than our ears. We listen with all our senses – our internal senses as much as our (five) external senses.
These ‘silent sentinels’ (as trees are sometimes referred to) may sound as if they have nothing to say; if we open our other senses, we may find ourselves in the presence of an astounding eloquence.
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (translated as forest bathing1) helps us to open up our other senses so that we may hear the trees and the forest.
Shinrin-yoku is a deliberate attention to our senses within a forest or bush setting. By bringing our attention to each of our five (external) senses one at a time and focusing upon that sense we can begin to truly ‘hear’ what the trees and the forest have to teach us.
Shinrin-yoku has been much studied and researched, and the benefits to humans has been shown to be efficacious. Some of the benefits that have been shown to ensue from forest bathing include: stress reduction, reduced blood pressure, improvement in immunity, lessening of anxiety, increased feeling of calm, lower pulse rate, and a general sense of ease and wellbeing.
When we engage our internal senses (proprioception, inner body radar, imaginal sense, and heart sense) we can tap into an even stronger sense of communication with trees and the forest.
The rainforest activist John Seed understands this communication to be something more than a communication between humans and trees, but one of self-communication. As he points out in Thinking Like A Mountain2:
“I am part of the rainforest protecting myself. I am part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking.”
This understanding is a fundamentally deep recognition of our (human) part in the whole web of life. Furthermore, this understanding breaks down the distinction about who is the listener and who is the speaker. With this understanding, listening to the trees becomes listening to myself.
When one enters a forest, or stands in a grove of trees, with this understanding then the ability to truly, deeply, listen becomes clear and apparent.
Listening in such a way the truth of trees is palpable. Trees reveal truth, as much through the linguistic association, as in their very presence.
The truth of trees is available to all of us. All we have to do is listen deeply and intently with all our senses.
1. For anyone interested in finding out more about Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku) these two books are recommended: M. Amos Clifford, Your Guide to Forest Bathing and Yoshifumi Miyazaki, The Japanese Art of Shinrin-Yoku.2. John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, Arne Naess, Thinking Like A Mountain, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, 1988.