This manual of Forest Therapy, like the practice of ForestTherapy, is built on a series of stories. Stories hold a power that is distinct from the power of facts.  They can express multiple meanings, values, and interpretations. Stories, unlike facts, allow multiple truths to coexist. Aleut wisdom-keeper Ilarion Merculieff describes the power of stories beautifully. He writes: 

“Stories allow the teller to express whatever is most important and give listeners the latitude to take away whatever they are able to see or learn. Each person sees and learns different things from the same story. The story does not dictate the lesson to be learned. Rather, it creates the opportunity to learn whatever the individual is capable of learning. If I give you a direct answer, there’s no freedom. I am acting as the authority, the expert. But in the relationship between real human beings, there is no one-upmanship. I am not the answer. I don’t know any more than you do.The only difference between us is our experience and how we use our inherent intelligence as real human beings.” [1]

In this manual, there are many Stories. Some come from the realm of science and research. Some come from traditional wisdom. Some come from deep ecology and depth psychology. Some come from real experiences in training Forest Therapy guides. The most important thing to know about Stories is that it is not necessary to choose which hold truth and which do not. Invite yourself to allow Stories to have their own sort of dignity, as they may hold some truth even when they appear confusing or contrary to other Stories we carry. Because of this, it is important that guides understand what we mean by the term Story.  

We make sense of how we experience the world by weaving our inner and outer lives together into narratives. Those narratives are made up of our Stories. We experience the world and our lives through the lenses created by these narratives. In this way, our identities and our world views can also be viewed as Stories that we carry within us, and that ground us in a sense of what we each, individually, describe as ‘reality.’

Some of the Stories in this manual include: 

  • Most people live in a world that has been“tamed” and is starved of heart-centered and embodied knowledge. 
  • Most people have been conditioned to think of nature as separate from themselves, which has caused harm to humans and the More-Than-HumanWorld.  
  • The More-Than-Human World has its own kind of wisdom and the ability to sense and feel, and these offer the possibility of a kind of communication between people and the More-Than-Human World. 
  • There are specific ways of speaking and guiding that are very effective at helping people develop authentic relationships with the More-Than-Human World.  
  • When people come into authentic relationship with nature, good things are likely to happen. 
  • Authentic relationships are rooted in reciprocity; in relationship, we know and are known by other beings. 
  • When people take a journey that leads them beyond the world as they know it, they can discover or remember parts of themselves they may have forgotten or never encountered before. 
  • Guiding is a Way, an archetypal path or vocation that is important for the time we live in. 
  • Sometimes, wonderful things require no explanation.  
  • Guides can learn how to partner with Nature, and in doing so, make space for the Forest to be the therapist.

When they begin their journey to become certified, many guides find many of these Stories to be compatible with the way they already look at things. Some of the Stories in this manual and training may also offer ideas that stand in stark contrast to what may be considered culturally normal for a guide. This is to be expected, and we encourage guides to lean into those experiences knowing that they don’t have to believe in a Story to learn something from it.  We encourage you towel come all feelings and responses as you learn this work. Simply be open to new Stories and see what emerges. Ultimately, the most important Story for you to honor is your own.

One Story in particular tends to be challenging to guides-in-training:the idea that, in working in partnership with the Forest, guides should be free from all agendas and have no desired outcomes for their work. Many people come to this training thinking they are coming to learn how to become a healer; that they will learn to harness the power of the Forest to heal the world. But this is not what Forest Therapy guides do. Guides do not push healing upon people;they create spaces where people can self-direct in order to find whatever it is they need. The benefits that participants experience do not come from guides.They emerge from the relationship between people and places. This Story is one of the most important in this manual and we will explore it at great length.

Forest Therapy is a deliciously relational practice. It brings us into embodied interactions with the More-Than-Human World, as well as with other humans, in wonderful ways. It is also a deep journey into our knowing of the world. With every walk, we learn. Through this process, our ways of perceiving and experiencing may shift and grow, in order to allow new Stories to emerge from our own inner knowing.  

This process of re-storying depends on being in the right kind of relationship with the Stories we hold. First, we should be aware that they are Stories. It may be fair to say that most people do not have this awareness of distinction between story and fact. Many people believe that their own personal views correspond perfectly to an ‘objective’ reality. Their relationship to their Stories tends to become tight-fisted, defensive, and rigid because to challenge our own Stories requires a certain vulnerability and willingness to have them change.

For example: Think of something you believe to be factually true, and hold your hand in a tight fist. Imagine that you are holding on to that idea. What does it feel like? Some might describe this tight-fisted posture as the embodiment of dogma. Now, relax your hand. I wonder what it feels like to let the idea rest on your palm, knowing that it could drift away if you allowed it to. Does your sense of relationship to the idea change? Which way feels better? The tight fist or the relaxed open hand? Experiment with this. 

The right kind of relationship with Stories offers an ability to hold them loosely, with a kind of gentle skepticism that allows new ideas to flow in and others to flow out. This is what the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki referred to as “beginner’s mind.” [2] The point is not that we don’t know anything. We do, and what we know is important to us. The point is that we can become skillful at not believing everything we think and at suspending, or even letting go of what we think we know sometimes.

The process of continually re-storying is not oriented towards finding an ultimate truth, or even in determining who is ‘right’ and who isn’t.  What you can learn from each Story is guided by an inner sense. The good Stories, the ones that serve, feel right in the deepest seat of our knowing in the moment they are needed.

Shall we get started?