Amos Clifford is one of the most influential global contributors in the world of forest therapy. He was among the first to introduce the practice of forest bathing in North America and founded the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, which has trained and certified over 2000 guides in 60 countries.
Join Amos on a stroll through the Joshua Tree desert as he explains the philosophical foundation for his lifelong work as a guide: a practical vision in which humanity lives in close, creative alliance with the earth.
In Amos’s insightful story, each person's individual genius holds a part of what's needed for our species to evolve beyond crisis into wholeness. The specific skills and craft of a guide are a vital asset on the journey to discover the forgotten, wilder parts of the self and build a reciprocal relationship with the sentient intelligence of the earth.
The topics of this conversation include:
At the end of the episode Amos Clifford shares a guided forest bathing practice: 'Walking the Web of Interbeing with Your Heart'.
Amos Clifford is the author of the best selling Your Guide to Forest Bathing (Conari Press 2018). After studying Buddhist philosophy for over 20 years, in 2004 Amos founded Sky Creek Dharma Center in Chico, California, where he emphasized the importance of meditation practice in wild places. By 2008 he no longer identified as Buddhist, instead preferring the nameless and sometimes unnamable experiences he had in natural settings, and had been having since early childhood. This led to a deepening inquiry regarding relationships between humans and the more-than-human world. Between 2010 and 2012 Amos took his inquiry into wild places, and with the help of School of Lost Borders and Men of Spirit he had a year of intense wilderness practice, which led to the vision for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, Amos founded ANFT in 2012 and over the next two years developed what is now known as the "Standard Sequence" of the ANFT school of Forest Therapy. Amos holds a BS in Organization Development and an MA in Counseling from the University of San Francisco. He teaches about Forest Therapy and leads retreats internationally.
Book titles referenced in the interview:
Spretnak, Charlene. Resurgence of the Real.
Plotkin, Bill. Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche.
One in Nature Podcast Episode 15 Transcript
Walking the Web of Interbeing
Interview with Amos Clifford
Hosted by Pamela Wirth and Kat Novotna
Hello, dear listeners and nature lovers. Welcome to this new episode of one in nature podcast. where my dear co host Pamela Wirth and myself, Kat Novotna are in conversation with human beings, talking mostly about non-human beings and the different ways of relationship between humans and nature.
Pamela is walking and talking with Amos Clifford. And we are really delighted to bring this interview to you. Amos Clifford is the founder of the ANFT, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. And in this conversation, he is talking about the role of a guide in this new world that is facing different types of crises. Amos is talking about the wisdom tradition of the way of the guide and about his unique and beautiful, uplifting vision
So, this interview is incredibly inspiring for me, and we are looking forward to, to your reactions into the interview and enjoy also the practical tips at the end of the conversation; tips for here and now,
Pamela: Hello Amos.
Amos: Hi Pamela.
Pamela: Thank you so much for this conversation today. It is lovely to be out here walking in the Joshua tree desert.
Amos: Yes. What a wonderful afternoon, and I'm so glad to be here.
Pamela: Amos, I want to ask you to share with our listeners a little bit about what you think the role of the forest therapy guide can be in these times that we're experiencing right now. And what I'm thinking of specifically is times that are marked by, you know, numerous ecological disasters, like catastrophic fires and earthquakes and floods and hurricanes.
Amos: Yeah. Well, I think that what I can offer is a story. And it's the story that anchors my work as a guide. And that has been a foundation for creating the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, and for developing the model that we have. And I started guiding way back in 1972 or 73, I was just a kid. And, and I've developed almost an awe for the power of skillful guiding.
Then now 45 years later, I have a sense of how guiding is a really unique profession and way of being, and I often refer to it as a way because. For me, guiding is also a wisdom tradition and one of those areas where if we develop mastery of the craft and the art and the skills of guiding, we're simultaneously developing mastery of ourselves.
I feel that, I feel that this, the times we're in are particularly calling for guides. And the reason I feel that is because of the unique role of the guide as I understand it, and that role is to support people on their journeys to their particular wholeness, their particular expression of their authentic selves.
So the story I hold is That one of the reasons we're in a time of crisis and of catastrophe created by humans is because over the last 400 years or so, we've developed all these incredible capacities and technologies. And ways of being together in cities and urban environments that are so compelling, but that has come at the cost often of turning away from our authentic selves.
So Pamela, I have this story and the story is that we are born out of the earth with an intention given to us by the earth. So our births are not accidental, but they're intended. And when we're born out of the earth, we're each given a particular set, unique to ourselves, to each individual, of what I often call medicines, but they could be called graces or gifts or different elements of our individual genius.
And in my story, the earth knows what is needed. So when we're born with these, we're born with something that is needed now. The proper role of education is to help each person discover and embody that set of medicines that they're born with. So when I talk about our authentic selves, and when I talk about wholeness, what I'm talking about is, when we're fairly well along on that journey of discovering our unique contributions and learning how to embody that. In my story because the earth knows what is needed now, if we're all able to do that, everything that is needed. To get through the crisis and perhaps even more than to get through the crisis, to evolve through it, to learn what it's teaching us, perhaps even as a species, to come to a new place of understanding and of consciousness.
If we can all become our authentic cells, everything that is needed to accomplish that will be present. And that's the story I carry about the way of the guide is that the role of the guide is to provide these experiences and journeys in which each person can encounter themselves, can encounter their own medicine.
And we do that out here in the more-than-human-world. We do that when we get out of the tamed world. The human-built world of culture where the consensus trance that we've created tends to limit our ability to see ourselves, to see who we are. When we come out here, we're guided by human guides and also by all the different beings and landscapes and images and experiences that appear then we have a very natural tendency to move toward wholeness. We have a natural tendency to meet the graces of who we are and to begin to embody that. That is what the earth is asking us to bring now, and that's why the role of the guide is important.
As a guide I don't come out here with my people wiith an assumption that I know what they should experience. That would be more the role of say, an educator or perhaps a therapist would have an idea of what should be experienced. I'm not saying those are bad things to have, but we have to be careful that we don't participate in the taming of people.
The taming that separates us from. The wild aspects. Sometimes this is called the wild mind, where we find those elements that we've perhaps forgotten. So it's a process of this remembering there's the members of my wholeness that I'm connecting with and pulling those back into balance and into awareness. Hopefully.
So I personally really loved this story that if as a guide, I can help people do that, they'll find their way of helping to support this passage that we're going through as a species and as a planet.
Pamela: That's a beautiful story and it sounds like a deep and profound process of human change and awakening and how does this look on a forest therapy walk?Like if someone sees a flyer somewhere, there's a guided walk in the botanical garden or in your city park, how is the way of the guide experienced and expressed in that context?
Amos: So I can speak to this, only for guides who've been trained by the association because there are other organizations that have their ways of guiding also and their ideas about it.
But if you're trained by the organization, the guide does have a goal, and that goal is to help you become aware of your body and of the place that you're in and to slow down and to allow relationships to appear to make themselves known. The guide then trusts in those relationships to do the work that needs to be done.
So, you know, if I guide you, I'll do a three hour walk and we'll go less than a quarter mile usually. So we're not rushing through the landscape. And that might sound for some people like, 'Oh, that's going to be so exquisitely boring' and yet it's not. It's a very, very full three hours, a way of discovering how rich and full a quarter mile is.
Even even a hundred feet, even, even one spot. How rich and full that is. And how really, we don't need to do more than that. So we'll just start with some simple embodiment, invitations. And then typically we'll walk slowly. We have this way of inviting people to just notice what's moving around them, what's in motion in the environment and the different rhythms.
Whatever it is that shows up. And we may do that for 15 or 20 minutes, and then the guides will give invitations. The invitations are often imaginal, meaning that they leverage the power of the imagination to connect us with the more than human world. And to invite us into different ways of being in relationship and in dialogue.
So we'll do that for a while. Often we'll just do a period of what we call sit spot, just sitting still somewhere, no agenda, just sit down, stay there for 15 minutes, 20 minutes maybe, and then we end with a tea ceremony. And the tea ceremony is really a time of incorporation. We make the tea typically out of plants that we foraged along the trail.
Unless the place where we're guiding doesn't allow that. Then we'll bring plants that are representative of natives of that ecosystem, and we'll have just some snacks and tea and an enjoyable conversation, and that'll be the walk. And it may not sound like much, but we just hear over and over again from people help even one walk.
Really changes their perception of themselves in their, their way of perceiving, the more than human world and of being in it. And I'm not talking about newbies to nature even, I'm talking about people like, well, one of our trainers and she shared yesterday how, she'd been a wilderness guide for decades.
She thought she had this nature connection stuff dialed. She did the training and became a guide and she said it completely transformed her understanding of the potential for connection and transformation in nature.
Pamela: I can attest to that. I would say my own relationship with nature has profoundly changed since my training as a guide, and now, in daily life, even if I go across the parking lot at a mall and there is a couple of birds,hopping around, I feel related. I feel like, Oh, hi family members, you're here too. And nice to see you. And it makes me feel that I'm embedded in a whole network, a whole web of life, and it's actually comforting and wonderful
Amos: Do you talk to them like that? Like you just said, you, you greet them and say hello and you talk out loud.
Pamela: Not out loud. No, I am German after all. We don't really do that, but I feel it and I spend time and I stop and I look and I listen to them.
Amos: Yeah. Yeah. I tend to be out loud. I think probably more at home I go outside and there's all this, the blue birds who I feel are like, I, I feel a little sense almost like those are my blue birds. I can say, Oh, good morning blue birds. It's so good to see you. Hello sky Lords. It's so wonderful to see a Skylord. It is my name for the Turkey vultures because they are probably the most magnificent fliers in this guy. And, yeah. So I just really, really enjoy that sense of being in dialogue.
Pamela: You know Amos, I'm just wondering what your experience is here. I know that there are many, many people for whom this is true that they didn't really grow up with a big relationship with nature because they didn't have the opportunity for one reason or another to connect with nature as children. And how have you guided people who have this experience and who have been curious to be in nature and what was that like?
Amos: People who haven't had a lot of prior experience
Pamela: who don't really feel like, Oh, going to nature is returning back home. They're more like. Yeah. No. actually, no, that's not true for me.
Amos: Well, I think that most of them, when, when they show up. I really have a pretty profound experience that first of all, nature is not what they thought it was.
You know, typically say if you're in a group of people and you say, tell me about an experience with nature, and a lot of times they'll talk about something that's far away. I used to go into classrooms a lot. and do this with kids like fourth through sixth grade. I do this work with them in circles.
And I would, was one of the prompts I really liked tell me about a recent nature experience. And it wouldn't be unusual for half of the experiences to be something they experienced through a screen. They were looking at a movie about, about nature and then, or, through a car window. And it's so exciting to some of them to report like, we saw some deer outside the car window when we were driving such and such. So they have this sense of an exoticness almost, that I think is a very distorted sense. and, but it's not unusual.
And so. When we start guiding, you know, some of the principles we use in guiding, one is hospitality, to really offer a lot of hospitality and be attentive to the people and their needs. And then to really, help them understand what they need to be aware of. So we call them awarenesses. For example, Poison Oak, a lot of Poison Oak where I guide, and if someone is not nature experienced, it's really important for them to be aware of that. And so typically I'll take them and we'll look at some plants and be curious. And I'll describe, one of the ways, at least in which I feel like it's a very strong ally. It brings a strong medicine, which is that when we're aware it's in the environment, Poison Oak is constantly inviting us to be attentive, just pay attention.
And then what happens is, because we're looking for that one kind of plant, it starts popping from, you know, this phenomenon sometimes called the wall of green, an undifferentiated green. And, and, people will start seeing individual plants and they'll start thinking in terms of this story about, well, what is the place they hold in the forest? What is their medicine? What is there, to learn?
And so this kind of curiosity comes up and that curiosity is always a thread that can be followed and strengthened and can eventually develop more into like a strong rope or a bond, a cord of a cord of relationship and of meaning. so I've seen this quite a bit, where in a three hour walk people.
People's entire conception of nature, of its physical location, of, of how it's experienced of, what, what do we mean by nature shifts.
And a part of that shift is really calling attention to the fact that nature is not something out there. Our bodies. It's our bodies. This is the lowest hanging fruit of where to learn about nature.
For me, it's often to just look at my hand when I'm moving it and to, experience the way in which I, I just have to think and it does what I think and, and it's pretty phenomenal. And to also reflect sometimes on. The ways over 65 years these hands have served me and what they've made possible. And to realize that this is a natural phenomenon, every bit as beautiful and stunning as say, Yosemite falls or Zion Canyon, or the great redwoods and, and it's something that we're with all the time.
If we can allow that part of the story about nature to be in our consciousness then we can maybe overcome this inherent trance that I think we have in our culture. That nature is something out there. You see it through a screen, through a car window. If you're lucky as a child, you may have had some direct encounters
Pamela: That we're really not separate from nature at all. Is that what you're saying?
Amos: Yeah. It's why I often use the term more than human world instead of nature, because I think we have a really strong trance around nature that when we hear that word, we just by default at an unconscious level, we think of, it's something out there over there somewhere when in reality there's just… show me something that isn't nature.
There's the human built world, think of a city with all its skyscrapers and streets and infrastructure. And that's the expression of the natural species - humanity's particular way of creativity. It's an expression that comes with some problems and some imbalances, but it's the way of nature that all of those things will be corrected.
You know, another word for nature is reality. And in the end, reality will have its way. It always does. And so, when we see things like, global climate. Catastrophe. That's simply reality, having its way. And over this and very short time span of 300 years, you know, the industrial times that we've lived in, and now these technological times, we've been able to kind of outpace the impacts of reality, but it catches up inevitably every time.
And, and when we're not in a proper relationship with the more than human world we'll tend to behave in ways that when they do catch up with us, are really, very difficult and very well catastrophic. I really feel this strongly. We're seeing entire countries being rearranged by the, by reality. There's a phrase I like, this writer Charlene Spretnak, one of her books is titled resurgence of the real.
We're seeing that climate catastrophe is a resurgence of the real, it's, it's moving beyond any way that we may have been in denial and, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for us to be in denial. I'm not saying it's impossible because clearly many of us still are, and it's been my hope with the whole, establishing the forest therapy movement with my contribution to that, that we bring people into the relationships with the more than human world and with the other than human beings, where they can start feeling the sentience, the intelligence and the guidance of our other than human kin.
Amos: And I believe if we can do that, and if we can be humble enough to listen to that, creative enough to be guided by it, so that we can actually change how we live and authentic enough to bring our full individual genius into the process, then I think we may be looking at a time of deep transformation that could be quite positive, even though inevitably there will be a lot of pain involved.
Pamela: What is something that you could offer to our listeners as a simple thing in the moment right now, whether someone is sitting in their office and taking a little break or driving or doing the dishes.
Amos: Yeah. Pay attention to your sensory experience right now. And, I love feeling, my hands and, and observing them. Like using the example of doing the dishes. For me, doing the dishes in a sink of dishes- it's the warmth of the water and the suds and the moving of the body and the hands is usually something that I find very relaxing.
If I'm sitting at my desk, I might be able to pick up a pencil or a pen and just allow myself to doodle. No, no preconceived goal in mind. Just enjoying that sense, the movement of the wrist and the fingers in the arm as you're moving. Another thing that I really enjoy a lot is the sense of my body of the mass.
And so one way I described this to myself is the sense of gravity. So I like to just stand, and particularly. Out here in a natural setting like this, I like to just stand and feel the way the weight of my body meets the support of the earth and this kind of perfect match between how my body is constructed and the gravity of the earth, of how we have been dreamed up out of the earth to be so perfectly matched.
So those are just a few invitations. If you have the opportunity, after you hear this interview, to just step outside, just take a breath of air. Breathing in and noticing what's enjoyable in that. Breathing out, perhaps offering whatever you can offer, if it's gratitude or a song or a sound or greeting of your local bird people, whatever it is, to just offer that. So how's that Pamela?
Pamela: I love that, and I'm doing it right now as you're speaking. Thank you so much, Amos.
Amos: Thank you for asking these questions. I. I always feel like it's the relationship and it's the being asked questions and being listened to and this deeply hospitable way you have that really helps us develop our, sorry. It's Raven people...
Pamela: Amos is also taking pictures while we are walking and talking and. If you look at the episode notes, you can see some of them. They're very beautiful.
Amos: Maybe you'll see the Ravens who just showed up right now. Right at the end of the interview. I thank you. Pamela I'm going to see if I can get closer to those birds over there.
Pamela: To find out more about Amos Clifford's work. And about the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs that he founded in 2012, you can check out their website at nature and forest therapy.earth. Amos is also the author of the bestselling book. Your guide to forest bathing, experience the healing power of nature.
The second expanded edition was just published in August it includes specific activities for forest bathing and journaling pages.
To repair the relationship between people and places is very much at the heart, at the core of the forest therapy practice that Amos and his team of guides and trainers have developed over time. It's a tender and open approach that offers creative pathways to restore wholeness. an approach. Born out of these times for these times.
We asked Amos if he would share a relational forest therapy practice with our listeners. And the following 10 minutes are a guided invitation which he calls Walking the Web of Interbeing With Your Heart. And to experience this practice as if you were on a guided forest bathing walk, you could either take your headphones with you and go outside, or you could listen first and then go outside and try it by yourself. Enjoy.
Amos: I'd like to offer an invitation that has to do with. The awareness and the intelligence of the heart, this heart awareness has emerged in my own practice as in many ways, the most central feature of what I think of when I think of my nature connection practice. Our hearts are exquisitely alive.
And since the world around us constantly, but because we haven't been trained in this, we may be in relation to our hearts, something like a person who has never had sight and has maybe heard it described it doesn't really know from firsthand experience, which shape and color and texture is.
And yet, were they to open their eyes by some miracle and regain their sight, an entire world would be open to them. It's like that with our hearts, our hearts are wide awake and they're connected to the world around us by strings or filaments, like strands of webs that are in contact with, and know the colors and the textures and the shapes.
And beyond that, the messages coming to us from the entire world, the human world and the more than human world. So this invitation is a way to explore how the heart can connect with the world around us and to begin to awaken that sense and if it's already awake perhaps to strengthen it.
So here's how the invitation goes.
Standing somewhere out in a field, perhaps, or a meadow, in a way that you're aware of your body, you're aware of the gentle pull of gravity, you're aware of the landscape
You're awake and alive to the senses of sight and smell the taste of the air of everything that can be heard. The way the landscape touches you with its breezes and with this awareness beginning to pay attention to the region of your heart and feel into that reach, feel into the liveliness.
Allow it to be soft and receptive. And at the same time, inquisitive and adventurous and feeling into this soft, receptive inquisitive adventures place of knowing in your heart.
You can imagine strands like filaments of the web, reaching out from your heart and contacting the many places and beings around you.
You can imagine those places and beings sending back their own filaments and how these filaments, these strands of the web vibrate very subtly within your heart, but not too subtly to notice.
And holding this imaginal web in your mind, I invite you to turn slowly in place with your eyes closed. If you can do that safely and keeping your balance. Being attuned to your heart. And notice when you come to a direction where there is a tug on it, where perhaps one or more of these many strands is vibrating, particularly vividly.
And when you come to that direction, stop and feel into that sensation.There is no need to know at this point to what your heart is connected. Just feel it for a moment.
And then when you are ready, open your eyes, if they've been closed and take a step toward the pull of this connection, feeling it as you take one step and then another. Continue to wander in this way, being pulled forward by your hearts knowing, until you come to the place where this tug originates, the place where the end of that strand in your heart meets the end of the strand and the other being. Be it a stone or a tree, a flower, a stream, an ant hill stick, whatever it is that your heart knew to connect with.
And when you reach that place, feel into your connection with the being, and here I recommend. That you make a gesture, perhaps simply bowing to that connection.
And when you feel complete, you may want to stand and turn slowly again until you feel another tug. Another strand of the web, which pulls you forward in the same way and introduces you to yet another one of your heart's connections. In this way, you can explore an entire landscape. You can walk the web of being.
That your heart knows so well. And in which you always live.
Thank you for listening to this episode of one in nature podcast
Our mission is to spark heartfelt connections between people and the world of nature.
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