Messages of Hope

When Wendy Fitzgerald[1] was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2018, she and her husband left a paver, inscribed with a calendar of dates at the beginning of a local coastal walk. The aim of the paver was to inspire her to keep moving outdoors, and every time she walks up the steps to the walk, she marks off another date.

What started as a personal motivational tool soon received the backing of the community. Two weeks after placing the paver, they discovered trinkets of inspiration left by community members. These came in the form of cards, earrings, rocks with hand written messages. The messages said things like, “We support you”. “You are amazing” and “Hope”. It wasn’t long before they installed a second paver to place some of the trinkets on.

Wendy and her husband Mike were so touched by these messages of love and hope, they commented that most people did not realise just how much they helped. Wendy said that these messages, many of them from people she didn’t even know, inspired her to keep going when things got tough.

Hope doesn’t just happen, it’s a mindset that we cultivate, it’s who we choose to be.

Shavkat Tursunbayev[2] spends his days scouring abandoned buildings in Uzbekistan looking for people who may be infected with TB, a disease he battled. Shavkat was initially infected ten years ago, then re-infected while serving a prison sentence. While undergoing treatment he received support from outreach counsellors, who are supported by Project Hope. Once his health was restored Shavkat decided to help others just as he had been helped, and he joined the multidisciplinary team that had supported him.

When Shavkat finds potential patients he encourages them to get tested and seek treatment. Because he has been through the experience himself, he is non-judgemental and people trust him and feel safe. By having the courage to hope Shavkat turned his own life around, and created a life that is meaningful. He says he loves his work and feels his life has a purpose. He has become a highly respected member of the outreach team.

Project Hope was set up in 1958 to provide health and humanitarian support around the globe. Since that time they have provided healthcare for tens of millions in more than 100 countries. Trained 2 million health care workers. Delivered $2 billion in medicine and supplies.

Organisations such as this do such wonderful work but we don’t need to be a large organisation to inspire others. Hope is the gift we give ourselves. By demonstrating hope in our daily lives we become positive role models and our actions can inspire others. Hope provides us with a rock solid foundation on which to build a happy life.

St Ignatius said, “Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.” Such a powerful way to live.

 

[1] Manly Daily, September 8 2018

[2] https://www.projecthope.org/

The Healing Powers of Forest Bathing

A few months ago I had a strong feeling to write a course on mindfulness, which I resisted. I am a big fan of mindfulness and I practised it occasionally but I wasn’t someone who made it part of my daily life. I kind of liked the buzz I got from multi-tasking and juggling numerous projects at once and I didn’t want to give that up. But the more I resisted the stronger the urge became until I decided to follow my inner voice and it wasn’t long before I was hooked.

Whenever I write a course I do every exercise and make what I’m writing about a part of my daily life, so I can be sure it works before recommending it to others, and I must admit I didn’t expect to find mindfulness such a fascinating subject. Before long I started noticing a change within myself as I implemented mindfulness practices into my daily life.

At the end of June, when I was half way through writing the course,  I went on a month long trip to Europe and while In England I did some research on the topic and discovered for myself the power of forest bathing. Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is the practice of walking mindfully amongst trees and there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the physical and emotional benefits of this.

When we walk amongst trees we are in an oxygen rich environment. We are exposed to sights and sounds that generally relax us but even more important is our exposure to phytoncides (wood essential oils). Phytoncides significantly increase our NK cells which are known to fight cancer[1]. In a nutshell walking in the forest has some major health benefits the full extent of which is, as yet, unknown.

What does appear to be the case is that regular forest bathing can have long lasting effects. Weekly sessions of around 20 minutes or more are recommended. If you don’t have an area of bush that is easily accessible go to your local park, where there are trees. The benefits gained from just one session last for a week.

Forest therapy[2] has been proven to:

  • Improve the immune system
  • Increase relaxation due to increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Reduce blood pressure if it is high and raise it if is low
  • Increase feelings of wellbeing
  • Decrease cardiovascular illnesses[3]
  • Help with respiratory system issues such as allergies[4]

In the US particularly, some doctors are recommending this practice to their patients. Dr Nooshin Razani[5], a paediatric infectious diseases doctor at Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland California, conducts a program call Shine, where once a month she leads of group of up to 50 people through a lush forest of redwoods. Her patients range in age from 8 months to 18. Dr Razani published findings that park visits, no matter where they were, or whether they were led by a guide or not led to a decrease in stress.

Suzanne Simard, a researcher at the University of British Columbia also quotes a hospital in Atlanta that formally offers forest therapy to patients with cancer. Another doctor in Iowa, Dr Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmill, an obstetrician-gynaecologist became a certified forest guide and leads groups.

Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki[6], who is a researcher and director of Chiba University’s Centre for Environment, Health and Field Sciences and author of Shinrin-yoku, says that our genes cannot change in just a few hundred years and the loss of trees and our natural environment is a major contributor to modern day stress.

Dr Miyazaki also says that stress today is not just triggered by dangerous situations but emotional ones as well such as a crowded commuter train, a driver who takes the parking space you wanted, or an employer who is unhappy with your work. We have more triggers for the stress response today than ever before and when our bodies remain in a state of hyper-arousal for too long illness occurs.

Mindfulness is the way to change our state and ultimately our entire lives, whether we practice being mindful as a daily exercise, or we make walking amongst trees something we do on a regular basis.

I am now offering online courses in Certificate in Mindfulness and a Certified Mindfulness Teacher certification.

 

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/

[2] Shinrin-yoku, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Octopus Publishing, Great Britain, 2018

[3] Your guide to forest bathing, M Amos Clifford, Conari Press, Massachussets, 2018

[4] Your guide to forest bathing, M Amos Clifford, Conari Press, Massachussets, 2018

[5] https://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other

[6] Shinrin-yoku, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Octopus Publishing, Great Britain, 2018