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Chapters

Standard Sequence and the Liminal Journey

My destination is no longer a place, but a new way of seeing. –Marcel Proust

Introduction

The Standard Sequence is an ordered set of techniques that are used in every Forest Therapy walk. This sequence has been found to be highly effective for helping participants shift their awareness gently toward a state of relaxed embodiment and softened mental focus, and then to return from that state. Such a shift invites participants to experience the world through their senses, and through those senses participants may discover a connection to the Forest that is rejuvenating, restorative, and possibly fun. For those seeking the empirically demonstrated health benefits of Forest Therapy, such as reduced blood pressure, reduced cortisol levels, and boosted immune function, the Standard Sequence is a potent framework of activity that yields these results as it facilitates a relaxing, slow, somatic process in nature.

The Standard Sequence also may facilitate a deeper and richer experience that can be surprising and difficult to explain or quantify, but might be described as a heightened quality of aliveness. Such aliveness often manifests by way of mending relationships participants have with themselves, the More Than HumanMore-Than-Human World, and sometimes even with things beyond the material world. We call this a process of remembering our wholeness. While these experiences may be difficult to quantify, they are nonetheless real to those who experience them and can act as powerful stimuli in a diversity of healing processes. This is the realm in which the Forest is truly the therapist, and the participant achieves results by working within their own unique relationship to the More Than HumanMore-Than-Human World.

Before examining the framework that yields these results, it is important to clarify that as guides, we do not reveal this process to our participants. It is incredibly important that guides allow participants to live into the experience of the Standard Sequence without contextualizing it in any way. As was discussed earlier in this manual, it is critical for guides to minimize their own judgmental thoughts that might interrupt the flow of participants’ embodied process. Guides should recognize that participants must experience Forest Therapy with their bodies for it to be effective; no amount of explanation will help participants authentically participate in it. With this understanding, it is still important that guides understand the significance and rationale for all elements of the Standard Sequence.


The Standard Sequence

When participants are asked how they felt during a guided Forest Therapy walk, some will say it was like a daydream, some will say it went really fast, some will say it was like returning to a childlike state, some will say it was like a trance or even a mild psychedelic journey. These are among many ways of saying that a Forest Therapy walk can be represented as a kind of liminal journey. When we say “liminal journey,” we are talking about a shift in attention that allows participants to experience things that may not fit within the stories of the world they normally live in. Such experiences might include phenomena such as having a conversation with a tree, experiencing a familiar sensation in a completely new way, feeling an incredible depth of emotion, sensing a message from ancestors, or spontaneously doing something for no clear reason beyond that the body was calling for it.

It is the guide’s role to support participant’s processes by cultivating the liminal space where these kinds of experiences can emerge. In this liminal space, participants may experience a shift in consciousness that awakens the potential for healing in ways they might not experience otherwise. This liminal space is created through the guide’s facilitation of the Standard Sequence.

Through the lived experience of the Standard Sequence, participants may enter and exit what Carl Jung described as a “container” or a “temenos,” a magic circle, a vessel, in which the transformation inherent in the patient's condition would be allowed to take place." [7] The container of Forest Therapy is bounded by a set of experiential thresholds that the guide constructs through gentle facilitation. These are known as the threshold of connection and the threshold of incorporation. The threshold of connection begins the walk and the threshold of incorporation ends the walk.  [8]

Between these thresholds, participants may experience some degree of the liminal journey. Some participants may not have such an experience and will still have a fantastic time on the walk and feel they had their needs fully met. Sometimes on the same walk, the Forest may offer one participant an experience of great personal depth and another participant an experience of simple relaxation, and both these experiences can be beautiful and meaningful to the individual experiencing it. If the guide is allowing participants the freedom of self-direction, participants tend to naturally gravitate towards the experiences they need, whether those experiences might be viewed as simple or complex. It is not the guide’s role to judge experiences either way.

Threshold of Connection

The threshold of connection is what supports participants to enter a state of liminality. It is comprised of four elements:

  • Introduction to the Walk
  • Arriving (Emplacement)
  • Pleasures of Presence (See Appendix A for an example script of Pleasures of Presence)
  • What’s in Motion? (See Appendix B for an example script of What’s in Motion)

Together, these elements lead participants into the container of liminality by accomplishing four things, each related to one element of the threshold.

  1. The Walk Introduction describes the container for the experience by letting participants know they are safe, they will be seen and heard, and their needs will be met.
  2. Arriving helps people connect to the place they find themselves in. This may include internal and external landscapes.
  3. Pleasures of Presence shifts participants’ attention from their discursive, thinking minds into their feeling and sensing bodies.
  4. What’s in Motion helps participants slow down. In slowing down physically, the mental state tends to slow as well.

When participants feel safe, awaken their senses, and slow down, their attention may shift, and they may find themselves experiencing reality in a new and different way than they normally would. These new and different ways are often somewhat curious and perhaps even disorienting, and as such, are characteristic of liminality, which we will discuss in a moment.


Threshold of Incorporation

The second threshold, known as the threshold of incorporation, is comprised of a single invitation:

  • Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony is discussed in greater detail in its own chapter in this handbook, but for now it is important to understand that the threshold of incorporation is what leads participants out of liminality and returns them to their thinking minds and their day-to-day lives.  A Forest Therapy walk does not thrust participants into liminality and then leave them there indefinitely.  The rationale for entering and then exiting liminality is that the participant may harvest something meaningful while in liminality that supports them in their normal, day-to-day lives.


Liminal Phase and Partnership Invitations

Between the two thresholds, the guide supports participants within this liminal phase. Invitations in this part of the sequence depend on the relationship between the guide, the land, the moment, and the participants. These invitations we call partnership invitations because they emerge from the partnership guides have with the land and the beings that live within it.

In this phase of the sequence, the Association encourages guides to avoid having a rigidly fixed agenda for what invitations they will offer but instead to respond spontaneously to what the Forest is offering in the moment. Guides, especially new guides, should have a plan for what invitations they will offer and they should also know that it’s okay to modify that plan when they sense the Forest suggesting another opportunity for an invitation. This is one way that guides authentically work in partnership with the Forest.

Guiding in this way takes time to develop and it is important that new guides support themselves through planning out the sequence. With experience, you will develop the ability to change your plan and improvise invitations. Much of this confidence comes when guides spend a lot of time on the trail they guide on, becoming more familiar with the beings they are working in partnership with. It is critical to remember at this stage of the walk (and every stage of the walk) that the Forest is the therapist, not the guide. The Forest offers itself through so many beings, and it is the guide’s job to invite participants into sensory connection with those beings and then step back and let the Forest lead. The Forest is a guide’s partner. Remember the definition of a guide:

A guide works in partnership with the More-Than-Human World to accompany and support others on the journeys through which they encounter and embody the whole of who they are.  

For more information on partnership invitations, refer to the chapter on crafting invitations and Appendix C: Partnership Invitations.  


Liminality and the Stories of the Tamed World, Wild World

The Standard Sequence helps to create a container for liminality in which participants have found a phenomenal diversity of experiences they describe as “healing.”  These might include a feeling of childlike wonder and joy, an expression of grief and reconciliation, a remembering of the body, a sense of self-love, the  renewal of a lost relationship, a subtle ceremony of forgiveness, and so many more.  The kinds of healing people experience in liminality because are personal and unique to each participant in each moment. What is important to acknowledge is that they are powerful experiences, whether or not they can be explained.

To explore how these experiences emerge, we take a closer look at the definition of liminality. Liminality is the space at a boundary or a threshold. Imagine a doorway between two rooms as liminal space. It is not a room and yet it is its own space. Another way of saying liminality is to say it is ‘in-between.’

In Forest Therapy, liminality refers to the space and time between the thresholds of connection and incorporation. In a more philosophical sense, liminality also refers to the participants’ state of mind when they are in between two Stories. “Stories” is capitalized because these stories are big stories. They describe the entire world through two different perspectives. Neither is objectively real, but both speak to a part of ourselves that demands our attention. In the journey toward our own wholeness, the wisdom of both these Stories benefits us and the More-Than-Human World as well.

This discussion is not about rejecting or accepting these stories. Forest Therapy is about getting between them where we encounter a liminal space that gives hospitality to each Story without affirming either as superior. We call these Stories “The Tamed World” and “The Wild World.”

Recalling the chapter on Stories earlier in this manual, stories are how we make meaning of the world and our relationship with it. Some historical examples where we see stories help make meaning of the world are folk tales and religious texts. Stories can also come in more modern forms of economic, social and political beliefs. Stories are how personal and collective identities are woven together and for this reason, Stories are powerful. Like language, the Stories we carry actually shape the way we think and perceive.

Most people today live in a world that can be characterized as the Tamed World Story; this Story is, again, not a bad one, but a limiting one. The Tamed World Story, in an attempt to be the Universal Story, has historically attempted to cloud, minimize, and repress the Wild World Story that preceded it. It may be that the moment our societies upheld the Tamed World Story as a singular truth was also the exact moment that humans forgot that we are, and have always been, nature.


The Tamed World Story is woven together by many smaller Stories, including:
  • Nature is not sentient; it is mechanical and controllable.  
  • Humans are separate from nature.
  • Human ways of thinking and perceiving are superior to all others.
  • Life is defined by the search for meaning.
  • Thought and labor constitute a pathway toward meaning.  
  • Only what can be measured should be considered real.
  • Life is preferable to death.
  • Permanence is preferable to impermanence.
  • Time is the constraint against which we strive for meaning.  
  • There is a moral good and bad, right and wrong, and it is the role of leaders to judge and determine such things.
  • Suffering lacks meaning and should be avoided, even at the cost of feeling anything at all.
  • “Success” is determined by power, privilege and access to more than we need.
  • And others

Notice that this Story is not called the “Tame World” Story. There is not a “tame world” that has always existed. This world has been tamed through a long history of human storytelling and culture. Through this process, many humans have been tamed by accepting these stories as monolithic truths. Forest Therapy can be thought of as a creative process whereby humans can actively participate in their own storytelling; these acts may constitute what we might call “untaming” or “rewilding.” Untaming and rewilding are actions that help humans live in the Tamed world, but with the strength and wisdom they may receive from the Wild world. There is wisdom in both Stories, and it is when we journey between them that we may find elements from both that define our wholeness.

The Tamed and the Wild Worlds can be conceived of as the Stories of two distinct archetypes. An archetype is a recurrent symbol or pattern in art, literature, and mythology. It is important to understand that archetypes are symbolic and not literal. This means that archetypes do not exist in real life, they only exist in our collective imaginations . While modern mythologists propose that archetypes are not universal, there are some dominant archetypal types that are found in diverse cultures all around the world. These include the lover, the trickster, the leader, the innocent child, the warrior, the wise elder, the rebel, and many more.  

The story of the Tamed World can be understood through the archetype of the Father (remember, this is not about your personal father, but about a mythological pattern). The Father archetype is both a tyrant and a protector. The Father creates social order by creating a framework of meaning that preferences social stability and safety above wholeness and connection. This is not to say that the Tamed World is a bad world. In fact, it is a very necessary part of human life and consciousness. The protector aspect of the Father archetype means that its love is paternalistic. It perceives that its domination of people is for their own safety, so they will not encounter the dark and chaotic side of human consciousness. In striving for control, the Father attempts to limit suffering caused by violence, but it does so in its own violent way. This violence takes the form of discriminating hierarchies of value and linear systems of meaning. Most of us spend most of our conscious process oriented in the Tamed World Story. Sometimes people may never venture beyond it.

The Tamed World Story, however dominant, is not the only Story that exists in our history as human beings. There was something that came before the world was Tamed, a Story from our past when people lived more closely with each other and with the Earth. It is a Story that still exists today and holds its own wisdom, despite being buried by the Tamed World. This ancient Story is complementary to the story of the Tamed World, and we call it the “Wild World” Story.
The Wild World Story is comprised of the smaller Stories below:

  • All things are interconnected.
  • Life and death are bound in an endless cycle and are equally important.  
  • Impermanence is beautiful and a prerequisite for growth.
  • There is no moral right and wrong, there is only what is.
  • Things are not always as they seem.  
  • All beings are related.
  • We are bodies first and foremost.
  • We are enough just as we are.
  • The heart has wisdom that the mind cannot always understand.
  • All living beings have their own sort of perception and experience, and such ways have their own integrity and value.
  • All things rest. Progress is not always linear.
  • There are things that exist beyond what we are capable of intellectually understanding.
  • Suffering is a fundamental part of being alive.
  • There is no meaning in the universe apart from the reality of being in relationship with everything around us.
  • And others


The Story of the Wild World can be understood through the archetype of the Mother (remember, this is not about your personal mother, but about a mythological pattern). Whereas the Father’s love is protective and controlling, the Mother’s love is liberating and hospitable to creation, destruction, and change. In this way, the Wild Story holds something fundamental about human wholeness, that while we may live in a Tamed World, we are and always have been impermanent and constantly changing beings; we have always been animals. The Mother does not hold us back from experiencing the darkness and the light of our animal nature, and in doing so, allows us to literally and metaphorically die in order to transform. By liberating people from the idea that they must conform to the Tamed World’s way construction of making meaning making, the Wild World invites people to feel the sensations of aliveness. In their experiencing of aliveness, the Wild World has its own power, mystery, and beauty that we too, are a part of.  Whereas the Father is a King who demands we shape ourselves in the image he has chosen for us, the Mother is a Priestess who will witness us as we walk through the Fire in order to become something new.  

You might think of the Father archetype as a garden and the Mother archetype as a wilderness. Both support life, yet in very different ways. The garden is a place where life is coerced or shaped into an ordered beauty by the hands of the gardener. The wilderness is a place where life is allowed to be beautiful even when it is rotten and wilting and eaten up by parasitic animals. The distinction between these archetypes is not a judgment. For humans today, both are good, both are necessary. In our discussion here, what is important to understand is that the liminal journey moves participants between these worlds to find something within themselves. The space that the Standard Sequence takes participants into is not fully Tamed and not fully Wild, it is between and so it is liminal. In the liminal space between these Stories, participants may go on a journey toward seeking their own wholeness, a wholeness comprised of our participation in both these stories, giving due honor to each. For more on wholeness, see the chapter, Encounters with Wholeness.


Conclusion

The Standard Sequence is a crucial element of Forest Therapy because it supports participants in experiencing a liminal journey without the guide naming it or expecting it. Guides should G not attempt to analyze whether participants are having a liminal experience, because often guides tend to confuse liminal with “deep.” For example, a participant who finds a state of rest and relaxation may experience that as liminal; such an experience may not appear deep, but it can be and it often is. Liminality holds all things, and all experiences find hospitality within it.

It is also good to recognize that liminality is often a disruptive experience. By stepping out of the Tamed World Story even a little bit, participants can experience things that they did not think were possible, and this can be challenging and even a little scary. Knowing this, it is best to be gentle; trusting and allowing participants to self-direct their own process while in liminality by modeling behavior consistent with the Way of the Guide, which we’ll address in an upcoming chapter.

“The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.”
–George MacDonald