Forest overdose

Images: Epping forest
copyright RawPagan

An interesting memory was triggered within me accompanied by a powerful experience when having been out in the forest all day on a workshop I felt extremely unwell.

I began feeling it was too much half way through the day as my vision got fuzzy and I felt pressure in my head. I also found it difficult to connect to others while in nature.

The experience took me back to my childhood when I remember spending long days in a forest either berries or mushroom picking and just how exhausted we all felt afterwards. I experienced the same symptoms yesterday, bright red face with a strong headache, blurred vision and feeling very tired physically. Not a pleasant state to be in. Nature overdose. I am convinced it is possible and spending long periods of time out in nature amongst trees can really alter things within us and it can be a difficult adjustment, experience.

Why I think this happens? Nature is a very strong stimulator of all senses. It can feel overwhelming having fresh air and space around us for long periods of time. Although initially it is pleasant, it also registers as a new way of being, breathing, connecting to our bodies and experiencing things in auditory, visual and sensory ways. I often find I breathe deeply in a forest automatically and I am very aware of air going in and out. I breathe purposefully as soon as I enter a forest, something I just don’t do in my daily life, at home, car, on the street or in a shop. In nature I can’t help but breathe. It almost feels like I am breathing for the first time and inhale really deeply. Another strong awareness is around my legs and hips and the sense of ground beneath my feet. I feel my joints, my bones and muscles again as if being in my body for the first time. Effectively emotionally and physically I behave different in a forest than I would do anywhere else. That exposure and change in behaviour and feeling in itself makes the body open up more to all the stimulation in a forest, very different type of stimulation one would get from daily life activities indoors.

I go to the woods at least twice a week, if I don’t do it I begin to crave it. Forest is my sacred place, a shelter from outside world, my teacher, healer and guardian. What occurred to me yesterday, however that I only spend a certain amount of time each trip and there is always a clear cut-off point when I know it is time to leave, I had enough and whatever I came for is done. Yesterday I was not able to leave even though again there was a clear point after lunch when I was ready to leave. Instead we had to go back in and yes, that was difficult. I also carry a negative signature of resistance when things are forced on me. Stimulation got reved up too in terms of activities and contact with the forest. Alone time was also extended, which ended up feeling too much. Lying on the mossy ground, as well as observing things closely and having my eyes closed was difficult at that point. When I was leaving the forest at the end of the day I had an awful headache, my body exhausted. I struggled to see and speak. I spent the rest of the night feeling nauseous and very ill. Very strong experience. Connection with my experiences as a child came in later when I began remembering many around me feeling that way. Too much of a good thing? Yes, for sure. Finding that balance that works for you individually is important just like with anything.

I thought about my outdoor practice with clients and how this might be an important consideration, as nature is highly stimulative and can be overwhelming and catch us out physically, emotionally and spiritually. Some clients might find it difficult to stay with that overwhelm for long periods of times when for others it might be welcomed. It is an important factor to include when working outside and provide some information and specify possible warnings working in nature.

It made me reflect on my trips to Scotland and Wales and how carefully and intuitively I plan and go about my visits to the woods. I don’t always feel like it and when I am told to leave I always do. It is very measured, just enough. Forest tells me clearly always what, when and how. I thought about people living in the woods permanently and my perceived desire to do the same, could I? There is, of course, a way of adapting to the environment and it is possible to fit in with the elements and rewire yourself to being in a place for long periods of time, but, I suspect it takes time. We are physical beings as well as spiritual and there must be a balance in that if we are to achieve our fullest potential in what we do and gain awareness in. With a strong spiritual practice we must not forget our physicality and how we react to things with our bodies. Spirit tells us some things and bodies tell us something else and it is about taking care of both that makes the whole operate successfully. We are used to noise, pollution, cars and the truth is that’s the environment we are in most of the time and we crave clean air, open spaces, solitude and quiet. I believe there’s another side, perhaps that too much of the other (unless you were born there and well adapted) can also produce some difficult experiences. It is about the balance and a bit of exposure to both, perhaps or getting used to what we think we desire over a period of time, slowly.

My experience has been very useful and insightful and provided a lot of food for thought and a call for further research into effects of nature on our emotional, physical and spiritual states in its positive and negative ways.

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