Finding Wholeness

Exploring My Jewish Roots Through The Healing Magic Of Forest Bathing

Trees and Judaism are deeply connected.

Tu B’Shvat  a New Year for the trees that we celebrate on the 15th of Shvat - comes at a time when we’re still in the depths of winter and everything around us is dead. It’s during this time of darkness when the spark of life, the sap, begins to flow.

But our connection goes even deeper.

I almost cried when a friend told me about hitbodedut, a practice of going into nature and speaking with G-d in an unstructured, spontaneous, individualized way. I realized that my impulse to go into the forest and talk to the trees was not some crazy thing I did, but one of the oldest forms of Jewish prayer.

It’s as if my soul remembered this practice from a long time ago.

Judaism is an earth-based tradition

Judaism is an earth-based tradition, but I didn’t grasp that until recently.

The version of Judaism that I grew up with at a big reform synagogue in Washington, DC was completely disconnected from nature. We wore all black to the High Holidays, sat in wooden pews, and listened to an organ. I spent most of my time counting the lights on the ceiling and making funny faces at my sister.

After having a Bat Mitzvah and traveling to Israel with Birthright I assumed I was done with Judaism, and my spiritual journey led me to other traditions — mostly Eastern and indigenous.

Maybe you can relate. I was searching for that connection to nature, not realizing it’s been within Judaism all along.

Many of the earth-based rituals and practices in Judaism have been planted deep into the soil of our collective memory, only to arise at the time when we need it the most for our own healing and for the healing of the planet...

I always assumed anxiety was simply part of my birthright

Like my curly hair and strong facial features, I always assumed anxiety was simply part of my birthright. I thought it was normal to vacillate on decisions a thousand times, and ask the opinion of everyone I knew when I had to make just about any choice.

With the exception of a few bold moves, most of my decisions - from what to eat, to what to wear, to where to go to school- have been painful and crazy-making. I’ve always known I felt better in nature, but it wasn’t until I was living in New York City that I began to fully understand the effects of being disconnected from nature has on my mental health.

Anxiety can stem from disconnection to nature, and Jewish people have been largely disconnected from our homeland for generations.

My grandparents grew up in New York City, my parents grew up on Long Island, and I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I spent a lot of time playing outside, but I never learned to garden or intentionally connect to the natural world.

In the scientific studies I read as I wrote my book, I found evidence to what I had known on some level my whole life: that at the core of most health issues, including overconsumption and addiction, is a disconnection from nature. But instead of dwelling in more despair, I looked for a way to heal.

The cure is almost too obvious: reconnect to nature.

I started the Forest Bathing Club with a mission to empower people to reconnect to nature as a way to heal themselves, their communities, and the planet.

Forest Bathing is based on the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, an evidence-based practice of awakening the senses and connecting to nature. It’s not a hike or a walk with a naturalist, but more of a moving meditation or an accessible transformational journey. It’s proven to lower stress, anxiety, and inflammation as well as boost immunity, creativity and sense of awe.

“I was aware of the scientific benefits, but it was the spiritual connection and feeling of oneness that completely caught me off guard and has changed my life forever. ”

I was aware of the scientific benefits, but it was the spiritual connection and feeling of oneness that completely caught me off guard and has changed my life forever.

I studied with teachers from various traditions— from  Japanese mountain mystics, to the Maori in New Zealand, and the Mayan elders in Guatemala — and learned a lot from the forest itself. Without fully realizing it, I uncovered a spirituality of direct revelation that was completely decoupled from my own ancestry and traditions.

Until it all of a sudden it wasn’t.

One of my teachers taught me a practice to call in my ancestors with each direction of the medicine wheel. It’s a simple practice but as I started to add it to my daily nature-connection rituals, life opened up in an unexpected way. I learned that to connect to our truest power, we have to go through our ancestral tradition, or as the saying goes, “You must go through the roots if you want to bear the fruits.”

“You must go through the roots if you want to bear the fruits.”

I began to wonder: What were my traditions? What role do I play in the larger story that started way before I was born and will continue long after I’m gone? And so I turned to Judaism, to the practices of my birthright.

First, I rediscovered Shabbat and felt called to the kabbalistic practice of running through the fields to greet the setting sun in the West. In many ways Shabbat is a weekly practice of forest bathing, of moving from the doing of the week to the beingness of the day of rest.

Then I rediscovered Rosh Chodesh (hi At The Well!!). By syncing and connecting to the moon, we attune to outer and inner nature of our bodies, and when we gather, we deepen our sense of community and wholeness.

There’s so much more to discover

There’s a spiritual meaning to everything in nature and Judaism acknowledges these truths.

I don’t know where this journey will take me, but perhaps once you’ve started the journey, you’ve already arrived.  In doing this work, I feel like I am discovering my true self and not who society made me think I was supposed to be. That in itself is the greatest healing I could ever ask for.

Exploring My Jewish Roots Through The Healing Magic Of Forest Bathing
Julia Plevin
Julia Plevin

Julia Plevin is a San Francisco-based author, designer, and founder of The Forest Bathing Club. Read more in her first book, The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing.

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