Engaging with nature can encourage meditation by providing enhanced opportunities to follow the breath, body, mind and senses. Meditating in a supermarket, on a train, or any other noisy place is also possible if certain practices are developed, but a forest can provide props that fast-track this experience. And what a forest floor there is in Forrest! Perhaps one can’t help but meditate when entering it.
Finding rainforest: A good pathway to quiet meditative walks is to continue south from Forrest for four hundred metres and then turn off left towards the West Barwon Reservoir. One hundred metres towards the reservoir look out for a sign on the left for the Fern Gully Walk. This takes you through untouched rainforest, around grassy banks, and over narrow fern-covered bridges that cross over a trickling creek. The rich mix of undergrowth and trees are in contrast to the well-ordered forestry trees on the other side (west side) of the Forrest-Apollo Bay Road. Taking one slow step after another, nature releases you from the busyness of the outside world. Twenty minutes delivers you to the reservoir picnic grounds and surrounding tree tops. From there your walk can extend to an exploration of the weir and the shimmering, still lake. Following the river and heading north will bring you back to the Forrest township where there are gardens, hand-made structures and historical reminders to admire.
Forrest is indeed an ideal place to unwind. Meditation is a process where there is always something new to emerge or release. Walking slowly, deliberately and establishing a rhythm creates a break from our more regular unconscious physical movements. Walking in silence allows for even more awareness. By doing things meditatively we can interrupt or slow down the adrenal system enough so that we are not in fight or flight mode. When then brain and the body relax enough or in new ways, the whole body system calms down and begins to repair itself. New insights can arise and we can physically feel changes taking place.
The Breath: With no phones to check (hopefully) we can set off with the company of our breath. One of the quickest ways to connect with deeper parts of ourselves, and slow down that adrenal system, is through following the natural breath. This initially involves not slowing or lengthening the breath in any way, but simply observing what our breath is doing in any moment. It is amazingly simple yet regularly forgotten. And just by watching our breath, it tends to slow down, regulate itself and restore our cells. What better place to do this than in a forest full of natural energy.
The Senses: Engaging with our senses can mean disengaging from our thoughts, worries and plans long enough to be in the moment. Placing ourselves in a context bigger than our own thoughts is perhaps a necessity. The Fern Gully path lives up to its name. Here endless varieties of green, light, and patterns hold our attention. In this setting our eyes can both rest and remain curious with each step. Research has revealed how stimulus from our senses can either soothe or over-stimulate our body systems. The rainforest is not a place to be bored, unappreciative or negative. Simply, it is bigger than us and the whole body intuits this message.
The Mind: After we have walked for a while with a focus on our breath and/or senses, we might notice that some of our thoughts have lost their grip. Or not. Honestly observing whatever is in the mind is one of the ways to loosen our thoughts’ grip on us. Often, when we are still enough to watch thoughts float past the screen of our minds, some lose their power and float away. In this way, new insights can arise. At the reservoir lake, water is a great element to meditate on – it can be calm, choppy, narrow or deep – just like our minds. A forest meditation can also continue long after the walk has ended as the pictures and qualities of nature remain in our mind’s eye.
Forrest has so many beautiful pockets such as this loop walk, or Lake Elizabeth and/or other trails. Choosing to walk any of them is a privilege for each walking moment is unique, like each of us. If completing a walk with others, it is fascinating to ask them what took their attention? We are or become what our attention is.
Suzanne Frydman www.relaxcommunications.com.au
This article first appeared in Otway Life Winter 2013 Issue 3