Rosh Chodesh Elul begins at sundown Friday, Aug. 30. Our task this month is to become the highest version of ourselves. We begin our preparation as we delve into cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul.
Before we can transform, though, we must strip ourselves down to the core, acknowledging ways in which we’ve deviated from our paths. If we just concern ourselves with the new appearance without clearing the old, it would be like going to bed with makeup on and applying more over it in the morning without washing our faces, painting over chipped nail polish, or waxing a dirty car so that it looks shiny. That’s only temporary.
Elul is the time to get clear and deep clean our souls. Clean like before a mikvah. Halachah, Jewish law, stipulates that one must be scrupulously clean before immersing, as pristine and unadorned as when entering this earth. Beyond showering and hair washing, conditioner is thoroughly rinsed out, knots combed through, nail polish removed, teeth brushed and flossed. There are no deodorants, perfumes, soaps, jewelry, contact lenses, or anything that might act as a barrier between us and Hashem. What if we all, in the privacy of our own experience of Elul, allowed ourselves to be that pure, honest, naked and vulnerable in the presence of G-d?
We take stock of our actions from the past year. Where did we turn or split away from ourselves, our teachings, our learning, and from our Source of all there is? This process can be painful and uncomfortable, but it can also be freeing.
As we move toward Yom Kippur and atoning for our sins before G-d and each other, we need to clear our holy vessels of emotional toxicity that can burden our systems and create dis-ease. Dis-ease can develop into disease, if left untreated.
Fairly recently, I learned about forest bathing, and am set to begin offering forest bathing experiences. The forest is the perfect place in which to do the spiritual work of soul clearing. By way of explanation, forest bathing does not involve rolling around on the forest floor, nor is it standing in the forest in the rain with shampoo and a bar of soap. What it is, is an immersion in the sensory experiences of the forest. Grounding, or earthing, has gained popularity in the last decade or more, as a source of healing. Forest bathing, however, is the English translation of what is referred to as shinrin-yoku, in Japanese. The term was coined in 1982, by Tomohide Akiyama of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries as a way to appreciate the value of the forest beyond logging. Research supports the healing benefits of unplugging from technology and returning to the woods.
Connection to Mother Nature began at the beginning of time, but re-connection now is more than a trendy antidote to the stressors of living in cities. To discharge and release stress is a vital component of healing. B.P. Tokin discovered in the 1930s that forest healing takes place, in part, because of the phytoncides, from the Greek, phyto, meaning plant, and cide, extermination. Plants emit substances, such as essential oils, that protect them from the harmful effects of the environment. It turns out that, as the plants are protected, so are we, as we share space with them.
To spend time in the presence of trees, hold a smooth stone, or listen to a babbling brook, is to encounter sacred, Divine energy. There is reverence upon entering the sanctuary of a forest. No gear or strenuous hiking is required. Just a willingness to be present and open to receiving and sharing, which is different for each person. There are “invitations,” as the sensory exercises are referred to, that foster a deep sense of peace and relationship to the elements of the woods.
It is believed that each forest bathing experience gives one exactly what is needed.
Meditation Focus: Choose a spot in nature and focus, first on movement, then color, sound, scent and textures. Forest bathe to realign with your neshama, your pure soul.