Written by: Shane L Taylor
A few days ago I went on a ten km mountain/forest hike in the Lamington National Park about 45 minutes from where I live in Australia. As is my custom, I walk alone to be totally focused upon my surroundings and get connected with nature. It was a beautiful sunny, winters day as I set out on the five km trail that leads to the base of Ballunjui Falls.
Along the journey I came across multiple lookouts that stare down the length of Numinbah Valley at a height of around 800 metres. It is a magnificent sight and feeling to stand on the edge of the mountain and take in the vision and energy of this beautiful valley. The trail meanders through the forest with awe inspiring giant trees, birds constantly calling out and creative rock formations. It is such a blessing to be present in that environment with a quiet mind, totally disconnected from the reality of modern life.
My intention on these walks is always to empty my mind and listen only to the sounds of the forest and focus on my breathing. As I walked and allowed my mind to marvel at the beauty surrounding me, I became aware of what I could describe as the forest talking to me. Not in words, but in ideas. By the end of my hike I had received five specific lessons that I would love to share with your here.
Each lesson has a positive impact on my mental health and I am sure will be of value to many other people. There is nothing new or overly profound here. Just five reminders of good quality thinking and action that will build strength into our mental health and wellbeing.
1.The forest is full of authenticity and purpose.
Everything in the forest is living exactly as it should be. There is no identity confusion in the forest. Unlike us humans, the trees don’t question their purpose in life. We don’t hear trees talking to each other complaining about how big, or how small they are. Or judging each other for the colour of their bark and leaves. One tree isn’t jealous of another. There is no anxiety about where they are growing. A tree isn’t freaking out because it is growing too close to the edge of the cliff.
As I walked on, I let the authenticity of the forest flow through my mind and I allowed myself to feel my own authenticity. I allowed myself to believe in myself, to love myself, to be proud of myself for who I am and what I have experienced in my life so far. I took the pressure off myself and just believed that all things are possible for me. That I am abundant no matter what mistakes I have made or what weaknesses I have.
And it felt good…
And it still feels good as I recall the experience. And that is the lesson here. We need to believe in our own authenticity. Many of us are all caught up in a false identity that has been programmed into us by the culture we live in. When we are secure in who and what we are, we are not concerned with the actions and opinions of others to the point of creating anxiety.
Obviously humans are far more complex than trees. We have an awareness that is far superior than any other living thing on the planet. This is why we need to take this lesson from the forest that we must focus upon our own authenticity and use that to release fear and anxiety about our position in this world. Like the trees, we are mean’t to be here. We are here for a reason. We are here to learn and grow from our experiences to impact and empower others.
We each have a purpose even if we are unsure of what it is. The best way to become aware of our purpose is to believe we have one. From here we will start to see the signs of what it is. Remember, just because we don’t think we have a purpose doesn’t mean we have no purpose. It just means we are out of touch with our authentic self.
To get in touch with your authentic self, spend time in quiet places like the forest, and just listen to your surroundings. This will allow your mind to get quiet enough to express your true self. Our modern world is so busy and noisy that its no wonder we can’t perceive our own voice and purpose in life. If you get quiet enough for long enough you will begin to hear the direction you should go in.
There is wisdom built into every one of us that comes from this authentic self. It is a still soft voice that is waiting for us to slow down for long enough to hear it. For me, the forest is a great place to experience this level of focus.
2. The only fear present in the forest is our own.
Any fear I felt in the forest was being generated by me. The animals, plants, insects and all the other living things are not living in fear. We don’t see anxious and stressed out birds, wallabies, snakes, trees etc. Walking around dazed and confused questioning their worth and building limiting beliefs about who and what they are capable of. These creatures are actually in danger of being eaten by other creatures too. So they actually have the right to be a bit stressed. But lucky for them its not build into their mental capacity to operate like this.
Once again thats our domain. We like to stress for the sake of stressing. Because thats just
what we do, and have always done. But do we have to? Can we make a new habit of not stressing about every little thing that doesn’t provide pleasure? We absolutely can.
The opportunity for stress is inevitable and we are never going to get away from that. However our reaction to these situations is our choice. The lesson from the forest here is that we need to learn to make better choices around what we are fearful about. Stress comes from our fears. If we have no fear over something then we have no stress about it. We are calm and unfazed by the situation. But when we are fearful that we might lose something we are attached too, we tend to generate stress.
The forest reveals that even in the midst of actual danger we don’t need to freak out. The forest is relaxed and sure of itself. What a great way to live. As I walked through that forest I was reminded that this state of being is available to me too. I can be relaxed and sure of myself no matter what situation I find myself in. It is just a choice, not always an easy one. But a choice all the same. It takes practice and diligence to build this habit but it is absolutely available to all of us if we choose to use it.
3. Look at magnificent things.
During my walk I was blown away by the majesty of the largest trees and by incredible view of the valley stretching out from various lookouts. At the end of the trail was a beautiful waterfall. It was not flowing in its full capacity but it was still and amazing sight.
After seeing these great things I had the thought appear in my mind that looking at magnificent things is very beneficial for our mental wellbeing. It builds wonder and gratitude into our mind and that reduces fear and stress. Looking at and appreciating these magnificent creations takes our focus away from ourselves. It builds peace into our mindset by reminding us that we live in a wonderful world. That what we see on the news and around our cities is not all that is available for us.
So much of our anxiety comes from focusing our attention on the creations of man. We are influenced greatly by all the negative information we get thrown at us each day and night by news outlets. This serves to form an unbalanced view of the world. Therefore we create beliefs around what is right and wrong, good or bad based upon this unbalanced information.
If we don’t get ourselves out of this environment of negative information on a regular basis then we will develop an unrealistic view of the world. This effects how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves and what we believe we are capable of. Which all adds up to cause fear which produces stress and anxiety.
Taking time out to go into nature and focus on magnificent things not created by humans gives us that balanced perspective. What we have created is not all that this life has to offer. In fact what we have created is greatly surpassed by the abundance and beauty of nature. Allowing ourselves to be influenced by that abundance and beauty is highly beneficial to our mental health and well being.
4. If we have nothing to overcome, we do not grow.
Even though I was not focusing on the challenges I am facing in my life, I had this thought flow into my mind.
“If you have nothing to overcome then you will not grow’.
It was a very comforting way to look at the challenges in my life. It reminded me of the quote: Life is happening for you, not to you. It gives me a better perspective to look at the hard things in life. We can choose to be in fear and stress about certain situations and experiences or we can choose to perceive these circumstances as obstacles to move around and problems to solve. In moving around the obstacle and solving the problem we grow stronger and closer to where life wants us to go.
I believe that life is always calling us forward to great things. It is our fear that holds us back. It is our fear that we use to justify our weakness. In reality, there are no failures, because there is always another chance to try. It might not be the same chance we had first time but we can continue on. There are always many roads to where we need to be. The only failure is when we give up and don’t try anymore. We see ourselves as failures sometimes, but that is just one persons opinion. It is not factual or real.
We must gain a higher perspective when it comes to achieving our goals. Just because we fall short a few times doesn’t mean we are hopeless and unable to succeed. It just means we were not ready to succeed yet. That we have more to learn. The so called failure is really just part of the process to make us strong enough to achieve the goal.
Ask any “successful” person about their road to success and it will be lined with “failures” that would have stopped many other people. These people chose to keep going. To find a way around the obstacle and find a solution to the problem.
Give yourself a break and stop holding yourself back by the experiences you see as failures in your life. If you get up and keep trying, then that “failure” ceases to exist. It is just a stepping stone on your journey to success.
5. We are all being challenged in ways that will lead us to our purpose.
This is a challenging one. It requires the humility to accept that there is a greater intelligence in control of our world than our own. The way I see it, we are in partnership with this greater intelligence which we can call God, the universe or life. And this intelligence is constantly working with us to push us forward on our purposeful journey. The struggle we have, is that we are not very patient and this intelligence is incredibly patient. So we get frustrated very easily with the time it takes to achieve great things. We also get easily overwhelmed with the pain it takes to expand our minds and lives, to the point where we can receive the success we are looking for.
I go through this every week. Some days are great and it all seams to flow as I push towards the goals I desire to achieve. Other days I wake up surrounded by fear and anxiety about what is happening and what isn’t happening. It is on the tough days that I must remind myself that all these challenges are designed to grow me into the person I need to be to achieve these goals. To become the person I know i’m called to be.
Like a tennis player who wants to be the best they can be. That will never happen if they don’t challenge themselves against the best players in the world. In doing so, they sometimes get blown off the court by the better player. It is all part of the journey. We have to pick ourselves up and keep going no matter what happens along the way.
By taking on this mindset, that life is challenging us only to make us stronger so we can reach our goals, we find peace and a way to reset our mind when we are feeling overwhelmed. Even when we don’t have goals, life is calling us forward. Because life has goals for us. Life has plans for us. We are very important in this vast creation. Just because we don’t think so, is irrelevant.
Look at all the things we have achieved in our lives so far. Much of it took great perseverance and times of struggle. We can draw faith from these times and remind ourselves that we can get through our current challenges too. We just have to hold on, stay as faithful as we can, and not let fear and stress consume our lives. Then before long we will come out the other side and look back to see how those tough times served us to get us to where we are today.
At the end of the day, it is a choice. We can live in fear and anxiety with self loathing and feel defeated. Or we can choose to fight and grow into the people life is calling us to be.
So there you have it. Five mental health lessons from the forrest. Why not take some time out from your normal routine and get out into nature to reset your mind? To find peace, we need to practice peace. There is no better place to practice and experience peace than to get into nature and just be still. Be still and let the sounds and scenery occupy your mind. This gives your mind a break from the constant flow of noise we get from our modern culture. Give it a try, you wont be disappointed.
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Shane L Taylor