Empowering Earthlings: Awakening the BodyMind with Forest Immersion

Panelits: Kendon Smith, M.D. & Paul Schaafsma & Michelle Merrill, Ph.D.
Last month, we offered this panel conversation as part of World Unity Week.

As without, so within. What we seek to accomplish for the planet has work within as a necessary corollary.

Begin with your roots in the forest.
Listen without and within,
And find your place among other beings,

at home on the Earth.

Every cell in our bodies knows that our origins are the same as the ancient trees. Life on Earth teaches us how to be together, and how we are related to the life around us. We need only remember how to listen to those most ancient teachings.

Michelle explores the history, practice and science of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku). We uncover how shinrin-yoku deepens our connection with all other beings in loving-kindness, and realigns our relationship with the complex wonder and sacred beauty of the universe. Shinrin-yoku empowers us to be more effective agents for world unity and Earth care.

Paul talks of his experiences with shinrin-yoku, encountering forest immersion as a kind of rebirth. We are all like “babes in the woods,” sprung from the Earth. Quiet contemplation and connection with the natural world rejuvenate and invigorate us in profound ways. We recognize that we are invited to be here by the Earth — we are welcome guests, not trespassers.

Kendon delves into the concept of the BodyMind within, our wordless primary decision maker. Through BodyMind, we are conscious of who we are holistically, within-ourselves-between-ourselves-within-the-world. Access to BodyMind reinforces the sense of renewal and enhanced self-value that is associated with being present to Nature.

As more and more of us can ask ourselves upon awakening each day, “How do I really feel this morning?”, with the question rooted in developing increasing body-sense awareness, we move toward greater and greater possibilities of world unity and self unity.

We are grateful to have offered this discussion panel in partnership with World Unity Week. This is just one of many events Novasutras hosted for this global convergence.

Presenter Bios:

The panel for this session includes Kendon Smith, M.D., Paul Schaafsma, and Michelle Merrill, Ph.D. All three are members of both the Within Reach and Novasutras organizations. Within Reach focuses on effective public engagement and activism to seek the Future We Need socially, economically, environmentally and spiritually. Novasutras is an emerging eco-spiritual movement, to nurture and uplift one other during these challenging times, as we work to create a world that works for all people and all species.

Born in 1935, Dr. Kendon Smith was a full-time academic at Columbia University and N.Y. Medial College for 12 years, then Mental Health Administrator for three years, then a workaholic child psychotherapist and child psychopharmacologist, emphasizing work with severely mentally ill children. His full retirement was in 2013. His focus in California the past seven years has been on participation in and study of meditation and on “Focusing” approaches to personal mental integration. His neuroscience background has led to identification of an autonomous Brain/Mind system which knows implicitly and knows holistically, without access to words, yet is primary in our decision making. Kendon is also deeply engaged with climate and social justice efforts. He advocates for greater Unity within as a necessary corollary of work towards world Unity. As more and more adults and children can learn how to ask questions within, and hear holistic answers, we move forward.

Paul Schaafsma is a lifelong advocate for the environment and for social justice. His expertise in history, political science and public policy is grounded in a deep spiritual connection to Nature. He has worked on solutions to poverty, hunger and homelessness, human rights in Central America, and nuclear disarmament. His current focus is researching solutions to the climate crisis and the politics needed to enact them.

Dr. Michelle Merrill is the founder of Novasutras. Michelle began her career as an evolutionary anthropologist. She studied the social behavior of wild bonobos in the rainforests of Congo and orangutans in Indonesia in the late 1990s. Her research watching these apes confirmed the importance of social affiliation (a step toward loving-kindness and community) in the capacity for cultural learning. What she experienced in her research in the tropical rainforests of Africa and Asia catalyzed her commitment to work for global transformation. After seeing the effects of deforestation in the tropics and looking for the underlying causes of that crisis, she began to study systems thinking and work on global Education for Sustainability – especially on transforming teaching in colleges and universities around the world. She later turned her full focus to activism and community organizing. She developed the Novasutras movement’s core ideas and online presence, recording guided meditations, and leading online and local events near her home in Santa Cruz, California. She also facilitates Pachamama Alliance programs, and was actively involved in the 2019 Global Climate Strike Coalition in Santa Cruz.

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