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Photo by Diane Barker

Podcast

A Forest Walk

Kimberly Ruffin created this guided practice as a companion to her essay “Bodies of Evidence” in our Faith issue. For Kimberly faith is an experience that is palpable among trees. Here, she offers ways to connect to the living world through a walk in the forest.

In this practice, you embark on a “walk of faith,” during which the working definition of “faith” is a continuous exchange of belonging. This exchange occurs among you, an outdoor place you determine, and the other elements of nature there. In essence, it’s an opportunity to let nature support you and to give a little of yourself in support of the rest of nature.

The walk is informed by the outdoor wellness practice often called “forest therapy.” You may also have heard of its other name, “forest bathing,” which is a translation of the Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku.

The cornerstone of this practice is an easy-paced, sensory-focused walk. This particular walk—designed by Kimberly Ruffin, a certified nature and forest therapy guide—is a forty-five-minute “sampler,” or brief introduction to the practice. It is intended to support your wellness, and everything that is offered during the walk is a suggestion, not a direction. You’re encouraged to honor yourself and not do anything that feels uncomfortable.

Before getting started think about choosing a site with which you’re already familiar. “Forest” bathing can be done in most outdoor settings, even if they are not woodlands. Consider your backyard or even a city park that’s not too heavily trafficked and noisy. This walk is not intended for areas that are new to you or where you may have yet to develop a thorough knowledge of natural hazards, such as poisonous plants and dangerous terrain.

As with any experience in nature, be smart about where you are. Use common sense, trust your intuition, and tell someone where you’re going. Know and respect the policies of the site’s stewards.

Kimberly will serve as your guide throughout this practice. A guide can play an important role in forest therapy by serving as a witness or nonjudgmental supporter, allowing participants to enrich their own experiences by sharing them with another. Kimberly would love to serve as a privacy-respecting witness to what you experienced on the walk. Please feel free to contact her. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs also hosts a “find a guide” map if you wish to locate an in-person guide near you. If you’re in the Chicago area, reach out to Kimberly!