How can loving our inner and outer Nature help us feel better - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually even during Shelter-In-Place?
Film director Sylvie Rokab shares personal stories, helpful tips and insights on managing life during the coronavirus crisis. She also offers a visionary perspective and inspiring examples on how the intelligence of nature holds the keys not only for humanity’s transformation but also our industries, economies and global wellbeing.
Sylvie Rokab is an Emmy nominated, award-winning director, producer, cinematographer, editor and writer – working on films that screened in movie theaters, universities, and community screenings, as well as on television outlets such as HBO, PBS, Travel Channel, and Discovery. Narrated by Liam Neeson, her latest film LOVE THY NATURE received critical acclaim including 27 awards, and had nearly 300 screenings in 140 cities in 16 countries.
With the Atlantic Forest and rocky beaches as her backyard, Sylvie was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised by French and Italian—Egypt-born—parents who encouraged her fascination with nature. Heartbroken by its rapid destruction, as a young adult she made it her mission to inspire people to deepen their connection with the natural world. After moving to the US Sylvie became a wildlife cinematographer and filmmaker. Today, an engaging speaker and teacher, she has lectured at over 60 venues, from film festivals, to universities and conferences. As a nature therapy guide, she also leads adults and children in an embodied and sensorial exploration of wild places and beings. A world traveler fluent in 4 languages, Sylvie seeks to inspire a diverse audience to transform their relationship with nature and ignite a desire to protect our vital and spellbinding natural world.
More information about Sylvie's workshops and nature adventures is available at LoveThyNature.com
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One in Nature Podcast
Episode 2 Transcript
Interview with Sylvie Rokab 4/3/2020
Host: Pamela Wirth
(this episode was originally published as 'Forest Bathing')
Pamela: Hi, everyone. Welcome to one in nature podcast .
The pandemic is affecting each one of us in our own personal way, and yet we're also experiencing a globally shared moment in human history and taking care of ourselves and each other and feeling supported is more important than ever.
With the podcast we want to offer positive and real life examples how nature and forest therapy can help us to stay in touch with our wellbeing, with our bodies, with our hearts, and with each other through this really extraordinary time.
In this episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with Sylvie Rokab. Sylvie is an Emmy nominated, award-winning filmmaker and a nature cinematographer, and she's also the creator of the wonderful and acclaimed movie "Love Thy Nature", which is narrated by Liam Neeson. It's been screened over 300 times in 16 countries.
Sylvie is also an international workshop facilitator and speaker .
We're talking with each other long distance from our respective home offices, and I just want to say a word of appreciation for all the miraculous technology, which really makes it possible for so many people to stay connected right now, even when many of us can't leave the house.
Hi, Sylvie, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast.
Sylvie: hi, it's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
Pamela: So you've just returned from an amazing world travel adventure back to Santa Monica.
Sylvie: That's right. Yeah. it's interesting because I recently sold my house, it's a very long story, but making it very short, at the end of December I sold my place that was in the Palisades and decided I was going to take a break and give myself a month in a place that would take my breath away. You know, it was basically practicing what I preach, and I've had on my bucket list for the longest time to have the opportunity to go to the South Pacific, islands like Tahiti, Bora Bora were like dream places for me to go to. And since it's so far for us living in the States, I knew that I wouldn't do just a one week trip.
So I ended up doing a month-long trip in the Society Islands, Tahiti, Bora Bora , Moorea, some other islands as well as the North and South islands of New Zealand. So it was a mixture of high exhilarating adventure and forest bathing and ocean diving, snorkeling and all kinds of incredible activities.
So it was really rejuvenating and incredible. And I got back and before I ended up renting a house, I was actually closing the contract to a house, a dear friend of mine who lives in Santa Monica, who adopted two kids from Brazil very recently, (Brazil is where I'm from, I was born and raised in Rio,) so she asked me whether I would be willing to come and live with them temporarily until this virus madness, you know, resolves itself in whatever way it resolves itself.
And so of course, I accepted the invitation. It's been amazing because I'm having an opportunity to mentor a teenager and a five-year-old and, you know, they're just learning to speak English. And so, you know, I have the opportunity to speak their mother language, Portuguese, and with that, it's like I'm living in a situation where it's communal living.
It's a lot of joint cooking and sharing meals. And, and it's been, it's been really an interesting time, sometimes intense, other times beautiful. And we go through the whole spectrum of emotions and learning opportunities and mentoring opportunities for me. And yeah, so that's where I'm at.
Pamela: And of course Santa Monica is a completely different city now, what's it like to be back?
Sylvie: Yeah, I mean, it's you know, Santa Monica and really all of Los Angeles, right? It's part of Los Angeles County. So when I think Santa Monica is a piece of this big, huge city, it's unbelievable the change that we see in LA.
One of the reasons why I've considered moving away from here is because it's so intense in terms of traffic and the highways are, you know, I call them rivers of metal and glass. They're so intense, and the city is incredibly polluted. And so certainly the crisis that we're going through right now, there's no doubt that there's a lot of suffering as a result of this virus situation. And a lot of pain is coming out of that. Not just, you know, in terms of the diseases, but also what's happening in our society from the standpoint of the healthcare system and economic system, but also what's happening with people individually.
The fear of getting sick and all of that. So I don't want to minimize that aspect of it, but given what's happening. What's also occurring is that nature and our cities are having a breather. I mean, LA now has blue skies. I haven't ever seen such a level of cleanliness in the air.
The air is pure. The highways are completely empty. The streets are empty. I mean, I won't say that they were empty because people are walking their bike riding are, you see families together. So there's a sense of togetherness, but there's also a tremendous sense of openness. And there's a part of me that feels like, my goodness, we nature lovers, I'll say all of us who love nature and have been suffering with the, you know, the impact our world has had in nature. I think we are having a chance to see a dream come true in a sense, which is like really seeing that, like, trees can breathe and cities can breathe, and we have so much lower level of intensity now.
I think that that's a gift at a moment of crisis. It's a silver lining, you know? Yeah.
Pamela: Sylvie, how are you personally affected by covid 19 and how are you able to take care of yourself in this situation?
Sylvie: So, I'll start with a part that's challenging. That is difficult – feeling a sense of commitment and responsibility to two kids, one of them being a teenager. And so dealing with the challenges of that. But, also at the same time, realizing that my world has shifted. I mean, you know, I was intending to do a weekend workshop, you know, in Ojai, with 20 plus people, forest bathing for a whole weekend.
I had a trip planned to Brazil, several other, you know, opportunities and events, screenings of the film and speaking engagements. Connecting with Santa Monica college, I was going to be doing a forest bathing opportunity for these kids after doing the screening of the film and Qand A.
And, you know, those events are always really, for me, they feed my soul because I love to be in connection with many people and feeling like I'm teaching, I'm inspiring and all of that. That's really part of my mission. So making all of that come to a halt. It's really, for me, it's like making me wonder, so what is my purpose? How has my purpose shifted? I mean, I still know what my purpose is at the core, but this coming to a halt is making me realize, you know, how can I shift what I do in the world? What is my new way of expressing myself? Do I feel comfortable just doing only online things? I mean, right now there's still a level of hesitation about how to do it, what to do, you know, and really how to lay things out so that there is, for me, at a personal level, a bit of a sense of confusion.
Uh, there's fear in terms of what could happen with this development of the virus and how this could affect society at a global level, so I do keep my eye on the news and that can be very scary sometimes. So that being said, how I take care of myself is really by making sure that I take time for physical activity.
Bike riding, running, doing things like making sure that I go to the beach and also connecting with nature. So that to me is always part of my daily lifestyle, but now it's become a lot more conscious to be making sure that I do it at least three times a day. Like, you know, there's like a routine that I had to keep for myself.
And so right now I'm speaking with you and I look over my computer. I chose the room in the house that has a desk and right outside there are trees. The sky is blue. There's some white puffy clouds and just making sure that I allow myself to gaze out. There is therapy even while I'm doing other things and certainly touching the leaves outside.
And the other day I took Mark, the teenager, you know, he was having a challenge with his mother. I took him and myself to the beach and we started walking and we started playing with sand and water. At some point he wanted to get his energy out. So we did the little chase and we would race each other like who could run faster.
So we're really taking time and doing things like that. And that's for me, the best part of caretaking besides good nutrition besides meditation and other things. This morning I was doing yoga with a five-year-old, so I was teaching her some yoga poses and you know, it's not perfect. It's never going to be, especially at a time of crisis like this where a lot of emotional stuff surfaces, but you know, it's like, I think.
I'm doing the best I can and what I, when I talk to people and I, I really encourage people to be as authentic as they can be, because let's face it, we're, we're really dealing with some really heavy, intense things right now. It's really shaking us to the core, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we include in our routine the things that we know nourish us physically, mentally, spiritually.
Pamela: and you know, this really makes me think of your film, which I actually watched again in preparation for our conversation. And yeah. And I loved it just as much, or maybe even more the second time. It's just so beautiful.
And so at this time, when so many of us can't access public green spaces at all, or sometimes even go outside to see an evocative movie like this, which brings forth so much love for nature, it can be a very powerful experience. It was for me. And I'm wondering if you would tell us a little bit more about the mission of Love Thy Nature .
Sylvie: Sure. I feel that Love Thy Nature was the film I was born to make, even though, you know, I've been in the film industry for a long time.
I often talk about how at 18 years old, 19 years old, I had an epiphany. I'm in the midst of the Atlantic forest in Brazil where I had the realization that it was so magical, so beautiful, and I came to that forest with a lot of angst and despair about things that were happening in my own life.
Sylvie: And I had a shift: that if people loved nature as much as I did, not only nature was being healing to me at a personal level, but I also got to realize the love that I received and was feeling for nature. If people loved it at that level, it would be a given that we would never destroy it the way that we do as a civilization.
So since back then, I mean, it took me decades really, of, you know living life and experiencing different opportunities, but you know, and even for the vision of what, how this message could be expressed. And it turned out that by becoming a wildlife filmmaker and cinematographer and working with the Travel Channel and, and Discovery and these networks, that vision kind of came into focus, right? Pardon the pun, because it's like, I knew I wanted to shoot nature. I knew I wanted to, you know, inspire people with the beauty and you know, the magic of nature through cinematography. But I also got to realize that the ways that the networks often do it until, at least until very recently, has always been like looking at nature outside of us.
Like something out there. And I kept thinking to myself, people need to realize that we are a part of nature, right? And so that's why I ended up, when I realized, and I was starting to write the film, I got to realize it has to be about the story of our species, the story of we homosapiens or we humans and how much we are a piece of it.
And in the film we have the quote from Alan Watts that I think is so fitting in this conversation. It's, he says something like, um, 'You didn't come into this world. You came out of it like a wave from the ocean'.
And that realization makes us know that massacring nature in the way that we have been, we're basically killing ourselves. And so, but I also wanted it to be a positive, inspiring message. So for me, that was the biggest challenge, how to balance the issue I want to address, the environmental crisis and the fact that we are experiencing a mass extinction of species and we're hitting what we call in the film and evolutionary wall.
But I also wanted to show to people that we are an extraordinary species that is gifted with creativity, innovation, vision, wonder, awe, all these emotions that are incredibly complex and a brain that's absolutely extraordinary. And we can, we have figured out so many difficult, Issues in so many times of our existence from totalitarian regimes, like thousands of years ago when democracy was a revolutionary concept, right?
I mean, of course we're dealing with. A crisis in democracy today, but that's a different story. Way back then, even the simple concept of democracy was considered so radical that people would be ridiculed or even killed if they were to bring up an idea like this. Women were not allowed to vote until just about a hundred years ago in the United States.
So. You know? And then we had slavery, which was one of the, it's one of the biggest scars that we still are trying to heal in our societies, but at least today, we know that that's wrong. So we have overcome so many obstacles. I think that now is the time that we need to help humanity wake up to the realization of how interconnected we are with everything.
And that the healing of our species, the healing of our civilizations, the healing of our economies, of our technologies, the healing of our bodies, and our spirits are all aligned with the healing of nature. And experiencing that realization through nature connection. And that's why, you know, the whole idea, concept and practice of forest bathing so inspired me that when you know Amos and myself and you know, as organizations A N F T and Love Thy Nature, we partnered thinking like there would be ways in which we can collaborate to make the film be seen. You know, by people who want to experience forest bathing, and people who are in the world of forest bathing also can utilize the film as a tool.
It's also about, you know, inspiring people with this message.
And. Yeah. I feel like we are incredible partners with a very aligned kind of mission. I think the main goal that I have with the film is to have people awaken to how deep is our connection at an individual level, at a community level, and at a global level as well.
Pamela: You've really taken your work way beyond the movie theater and film screenings, and you're bringing it into an embodied experience. How does that work? Would you tell us a little bit about that?
Sylvie: The way that I've decided to do it with this film was to really do what we call view and do events, which is a view of the film and do something about it. And at the beginning it started with a number of different things. We would do things like, I mean. One time with a university. We had kids do a tree planting expedition before the film be screened and they plant the trees like on the banks of a river.
Another time we had a shaman in Sedona take me and the audience members, of course, the ones who wanted to come, they put their hiking boots on after the screening and we went walking on this beautiful mountain where basically there are lots of stories of Indigenous, you know, legends and, and relationships with the earth and plants that he was showing us and telling us how to use them for medicinal purposes or which berries could be eaten and all of that.
And more recently I've been doing forest bathing with a lot of people and the way that I have been kind of structuring this is by doing weekend workshops or even week long expeditions. And so, you know, I have, uh, joined Esalen as a faculty member. And so at Esalen I do the weekend workshop there.
And also at 1440 Multiversity. That's another retreat center that I've partnered up with. And we do the screening of the film on opening night as we call it, just like a film festival, so to speak, kids opening night, and you get folks to ask questions. And we do Q and A and it's kind of like a fun and sort of like casual activity.
And then the next morning. We go right into forest bathing um, and we also do things like music and drumming and other activities that are inspiring and fun and connecting. So we did this in Costa Rica for eight days.
Um, and we include things like hiking and looking at animals and all of that. Um, I also often include physical activities, especially like if we're going to a place to see wild animals, and we're doing, I mean, you know, uh, I knock on wood nature willing, we would be doing a, um, eight day expedition to Belize in November Um, like with a multi-sport kind of activity, going into caves and snorkeling and all of that, and at the same time, incorporating forest bathing and nature therapy, right? Sometimes I don't call it forest bathing when we're doing water invitations and snorkeling and all of that, but we're doing nature therapy in those locations.
One of the things that gives me most joy is to hear people say that it helped them to realize that they want to get involved in environmental activism. And when I hear that, I mean, I still, this day I get the goosebumps to just think about it because it's so cool to see how direct is the connection of when we love something, we want to protect it, right?
So falling in love with nature is incredibly healing to ourselves, to the natural world, and it makes us want to do something about you know what's happening today?
Pamela: Yeah, yeah, of course. And what you're talking about just really reminds me of those parts of your movie where it speaks about the interconnectedness of life and what a better way to get a direct experience of that concept than to actually be together in nature with people and to do things like snorkeling and hiking together.
But what about right now during the virus outbreak. How can we continue to have these kinds of experiences that really cause us to fall in love with nature, and how can we develop relationships with nature and, and why is that important right now?
Sylvie: Right, right.
yeah. Well, there's the very immediate time that we're living in right now, and I know a lot of people, and maybe several of you who are listening to this podcast might be in a building where you can't even take an elevator to go to a nearby park. And like you, Pamela, you were saying that like some parks are not even open to the public.
So, um, so for you folks who might be listening to this and you're not having an opportunity to be connecting with nature, I mean, even like taking a deep breath with a window open and feeling the wind on your skin can have an effect. Us. Um, you know, if you have obviously the opportunity to open a window and look at a tree or, or touch a plant in the house, or even the ability to open the refrigerator and getting a few vegetables and fruits and chopping them, you know, on a cutting board and having the sensations of your fingers on the food and maybe smelling those fruit and vegetables and doing it in a way that's not like chop, chop, chop, I have to go on with my day.
But now most of us are having a little more time since we don't have to commute, but really connect with things that are very, um, at a much deeper level is an opportunity to deepen connection with nature, and certainly those of us who can go outside, obviously, uh, connecting with the outdoors, touching the trunk of trees, smelling flowers. Now that spring is happening in the Northern hemisphere anyway, or maybe touching snow if you're in the Southern hemisphere.
You know, all of those things can be very grounding. Now when it comes to the bigger picture of not just the crisis, the virus crisis that we're living in, but like the environmental crisis that we're talking about, that's been happening, you know, more significantly in the last 300 years and really much more significantly in the last 50 years.
But when it comes to that, it's like, connection with nature is the only solution for so many reasons. And I'll, I'll just bring up one of the reasons. Since the industrial revolution 300 years ago, we have been – I was going to use the word harvesting, but it's not harvesting.
We have been extracting what we call 'natural resources' from the ground, whether it's oil as fossil fuels, whether you know, rocks from different locations or cutting down trees and burning them for whatever number of purposes, even to clear pastures for cows and you know, using them as materials.
If we are to realize that we have to overcome the era of pure extraction, we have to learn from other species on this planet. So with that, we have to ask the question, how does nature do it's technology, right? Every single technological issue that we're trying to invent, if we were to talk with biologists, we realize that every single one of them has already been invented by nature.
So, one example that I give on the film, on Love Thy Nature is we use toxic dyes to create our clothing still to this day. But we know that some of the most beautiful colors in nature, we give the example of the Morpho butterfly. The Morpho butterfly has this, these brilliant, bright blue colors on its wings, and that color has absolutely no pigments. It's just an optical illusion of how light refracts on the microscopic scales, on the wings of these butterflies. That gives us the illusion of color. It gives us the sight of color.
And so that's just one example, but even in terms of climate change, like scientists are trying to discover the miracle of photosynthesis, where the plants and algae basically absorb sunlight and absorb carbon dioxide, and in the presence of water, it creates oxygen, which is exactly what we need to solve the problem of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And the list goes on and on, I mean, like muscles that, utilize their bodies to, uh, attach themselves to rocks.
That's a glue that's bio-degradable and buildings that mimic the buildings that are done by termites, like termite mounds have a perfect warming and cooling system, just by the way they capture the wind and have the circulation of air within those mounds. There's already a building that's been built in Zimbabwe that mimics that, and there's no need for air conditioning.
I mean, you know, biomimicry is the organization, so they call themselves Biomimicry 3.8 is the organization in the United States that's making this knowledge and the nature inspired technologies and the ideas behind that available for all kinds of scientists and innovators around the world. In Europe, they have their own version of that.
But the point is, is that. We don't need to be using the methods and the M.O. that's been use 300 years ago with our industrial revolution, we need to really look at nature to transform and transition our industries, our factories, our ways of creating materials. To transform it and be inspired by the ecosystems, by the organisms, by how nature does it's thing, of zero, you know, circular economies, zero waste economy, circular economy.
So there's, I think it's a revolution that is, you know, hopefully budding. We're not even close to being at the epicenter of this, you know revolution. But it's the only way that we're going to survive as a species, clearly, if we transform our industries very fast.
Pamela: Well, I'm feeling incredibly inspired and hopeful in listening to you, you know, from all the new perspectives and doors that you're opening for inner and outer transformation, you know, at the personal as well as the global level. It's really very powerful what you're speaking to. And Sylvie, from today's conversation, what would be the message that you most want our listeners to take away with them.
Sylvie: I'll leave you with something that Steve Kellard says in the movie,
'All humans have a need to have meaning and purpose in their lives.'
And many of us call this spirituality, a sense that our life has more value than just being a little tiny speck of matter at a moment in time and in the vastness of the universe. And that, having a sense that we belong to something so much bigger than ourselves is the spiritual and the emotional fuel that we need every day to know, you know, our lives are not just this moment or not just this day. This day is just part of a much bigger picture.
And if we stay connected with this much bigger picture with this planet that we're stepping on. Every moment of every day. It really brings us back to a place of joy and a place of possibility, a place of inspiration. And I invite you, um, you know, all, you know, everyone who's listening to this to make sure that you do this on a consistent basis.
And that's the best way, in my experience, it's the most beautiful and best way to stay connected. With your inner self and to stay balanced and at peace and with a sense of joy.
Pamela: thank you so much for that Sylvie, that was so beautifully said and expressed.
Sylvie: My pleasure. Pamela I saw having had me here today.
It's been really a pleasure doing this.
Pamela: And there will be information in the episode notes on how to connect with Sylvie's work.
Sylvie: anybody who would like to receive my newsletters, um, I don't send them too frequently, so it's usually like once a couple of months. They just need to go to lovethynature.com and they can subscribe to my newsletter and they would know of upcoming goodies, whether they're online or in person.
Pamela: Great. Thank you so much, Sylvie.
Sylvie: Thank you. All the best. Bye. Bye.
Thanks for listening to one in nature podcast. Our intention is to encourage positive connections between people and the world of nature. If you'd like to support our work you can find firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash one in nature