From Indoor Forest Bathing to the Woodwide Web: Tapping into the Natural Pace and Peace of the Season

To bring a living tree into one’s home, in the very depths of winter, is an ancient tradition. The evergreen tree is a symbol that life will sustain through the dark and cold of winter. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, is traditionally a time of renewal, when the light begins to return, slowly, toward the warming earth. In the old days, when the wild was more prevalent in human life, and the uncertainty of crop yields and the harshness of winter were real elements that brought true consequences, the darkness of winter must have felt more intense without the power of electricity and a million electric lights (not to mention Disney+ and Baby Yoda)!

A single candle, shining beside a balsam adorned in simple and natural decorations, was a point of hope, of courage, and of faith that the light would indeed return. Today, perhaps we bring too much light to the season. As Charles Shultz pointed out in 1965 through his avatar, Charlie Brown, we’ve entirely commercialized the season, and in the process lost some of the peace that used to enfold us at this time of year. For when the dark and cold surround us, and the days draw short, we are given the gift—if we choose to accept it—of longer nights of sleep and opportunities to do less and connect more with ourselves and those we love. 

This past weekend, my wife and kids and I were planning to hit the mall; I had visions of holiday cheer, ringing bells, and smiling shoppers. But then I thought about the commute, finding parking, and all the temptations to buy things we don’t need—so, with my wife’s blessing, my son and I decided to stay home and take a walk in the woods.

We walked into the forest on the mountain behind our house and found a small cave. We made a little fire and boiled water for peppermint tea. As we listened to the crackle of the flames, it began to snow, and we sang a few old Christmas carols; “The Holly and the Ivy” is one of my favorites. The wind blew, the trees swayed, we sipped our tea and spoke our Christmas wishes into the hollow trunk of an old maple tree—a perfect way to download information into the woodwide web! When we got cold, we made our way back home.

The memory of that afternoon will stay with me, because it reminds me that the earth truly holds the wisdom that I want to stay close to through the seasons of the year and the seasons of life. During winter, I do better when I do less, when I prioritize time and space with loved ones (including the natural world), and allow the slowing down of nature and the simplicity of the landscape to enter into my awareness. 

At the end of the day, when the kids are in bed and the lamps are turned low, the lights of the Christmas tree beckon. The essential oil compounds released by the tree are proven mood and immunity boosters, helping to reduce stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. In a way, bringing an evergreen tree inside the home invites the spirit of the forest with it. I invite you to try sitting with your tree and breathing slowly in and out, feeling the presence of the tree and receiving its beauty. You can even lie down on the floor with your head under the boughs and look up into the branches, as if you were gazing up at a giant redwood decorated by forest beings. 

There is so much beauty and magic right in front of us, in all seasons and in all weather. We need only open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts.

Micah Mortali is lead Kripalu faculty, the Founder of the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership and author of Rewilding.

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