One With Everything Green

Exploring the Zen mindset behind “Forest Bathing”

Dr. Mattie Decker explains why forest bathing is more than a walk in the woods.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Conserving Carolina, an organization whose mission is to protect, restore, and inspire appreciation of the local natural world, is hosting monthly “Forest Bathing” walks within Transfiguration Preserve in Bat Cave. (The pristine wilderness area, founded by Episcopalian nuns, is under the stewardship of Conserving Carolina.) Leading them is well-traveled local resident Dr. Mattie Decker, a retired professor of education, certified Nature and Forest Therapy (NAFT) guide, Zen practitioner, and Episcopalian oblate. 

What’s the purpose of Forest Bathing?

The point is to have people understand that you are in a reciprocal relationship with nature. A lot of people feel disconnected. Forest Bathing allows you to slow down and be present at a time when there are so many distractions. It’s about a return to wholeness, and the wellbeing of the forest, too. It’s not just about me receiving benefits from nature, but also about what nature is receiving from me. 

Becoming more aware of our responsibility?

Yes. There is a broken relationship between humans and the “more-than-human world.” … Forest Bathing may bring up emotions from grief to great wonder and joy. The forest delivers the medicine that each one needs, and it is unique to each one. But the main ingredient is getting back to the fact that we aren’t actually separate from nature. We are nature.  

How else is it different from a regular hike?

It’s a slow saunter, and the guide offers what we call invitations. We begin with a threshold, to ceremonially mark the start of the walk — leaving the “tame” world and entering into the “untame” or wilderness world. This can be a circle of pinecones or other things present there. 

Can you give examples of “invitations?”

The first invitation is in a place where we remain for at least 15 minutes, using our senses in a variety of ways, to explore, here, now. Next, the invitation is to walk slowly for 20 minutes, noticing what is in motion around you. Then I choose one to three invitations that are a good fit for the place, the weather, the people, and the mood. The forest offers so many choices, and this part can last up to two hours. The last invitation, an all-time favorite, is “Sit Spot.” Participants are invited to find a place to sit and do nothing for 20 minutes. 

We hold a ceremony with snacks and conversation at the close of the Forest Bathing walk … with the tea from a plant that grows where we are. We offer the first cup to the forest in gratitude. It’s always a highlight of the walk and makes for a way of preparing to return to the “tame” world.

Can anyone participate?

Yes — including children and the elderly. The walks are comfortable, non-strenuous, and on average they take about two-and-a-half hours.

Conserving Carolina hosts “Forest Bathing with Dr. Mattie Decker” at the Transfiguration Preserve in Bat Cave on Saturday, June 19, starting at 1pm. To register, e-mail mattie@conservingcarolina.org. For more information, see conservingcarolina.org and drmattiedecker.com (Also see forestbathingfinder.com for additional dates.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.