A Conversation with “Forest Bathing” Retreat Facilitator, Melissa Jean

1. Tell us about your writing! What genre do you write and what subjects do you tend to write about?

My MFA was in fiction-writing, but these days I mostly write poetry. Formally, I’d say I am particularly drawn to the genre of nature poetry and the non-genre of prose poetry.  (Informally, I’d say I like to write weird little poems.)

2. Do you have a writing routine or rituals?

I like to write by hand in cute notebooks covered with mushrooms and flowers, preferably next to a body of water or under a tree. When I do write inside, there absolutely must be tea.

3. What inspires you?

Mountains, waterfalls, the moon; henbit, clover, nettle. The look on my kids’ faces when they discover something they hadn’t yet seen in the world. Moths, music, maples, mud. Beavers and blue whales. Thinking about how many people are writing a poem right this moment. Cold water. Love: how it never runs out.

4. Why do you write?

I think that lately I’ve been writing to try to make little bits of sense (and nonsense) out of a world that contains so many things all at the same time: grief and awe, cruelty and kindness, foxes and rabbits and carrots. The complexity of the world begs us to write weird little poems about it, and so I do.

5. What do you want people to know about this retreat? What makes it unique?

The term “forest bathing” comes from the Japanese wellness practice Shinrin-yoku, which can also be translated as “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It’s a mindfulness-adjacent practice that involves connecting with natural surroundings using all of our senses and intimacy with the present moment. I’m particularly interested in exploring the relationship between forest bathing and creativity. RWC is the perfect place to practice forest bathing techniques in the woods and fields around the center, and to take note of how the creative process can transform when we are awake to our relationship with the world around us.

6. How long have you participated in the act of forest bathing? What got you started?

I’ve been a mindfulness facilitator for many years, and I’m a professor in the Mindfulness Studies program at Lesley University. Over time, my mindfulness practice had already been moving increasingly outdoors—then, when the pandemic hit, and meditation centers and yoga studios had to close their doors for a while, my practice moved exclusively outdoors. And I found something that felt like coming home as I practiced regularly in the forest. I became certified as a Nature & Forest Therapy Guide through the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy in 2021, and since then I’ve been guiding forest bathing walks and retreats around Tennessee.

7. What’s one important takeaway you hope retreaters will have?

I want retreaters to leave with a heightened and freshened sense of connection to the land, with a soothed nervous system, and with a deeply-felt sense of the earth as a metabolic partner in all the kinds of inner work they are doing when they write.

8. What do you love about RWC? Do you have any special memories here?

This will be the fourth retreat I’ve taught at RWC—two mindfulness retreats and two forest bathing retreats—and all of them have been lovely. The deep silence of the woods, the brightness of the stars, the softness of the moss, and the playfulness of the deer​ around RWC all conspire to facilitate openings and shifts and insights. It’s a place where you can get very quiet and discover something new inside yourself.

9. What are you reading right now?

I just got back from a bucket-list trip to Iguaçu Falls and Florianópolis in southern Brazil (which was mind-bendingly amazing). Whenever I’m getting ready for a trip, I like to immerse myself in books and music from that place, so I’ve been reading Clarice Lispector and Machado de Assis and Jorge Amado for the past couple of months.​ Clarice Lispector in particular is a long-time favorite of mine–because of the way she was “fundamentally energized by the unconscious,” as Hélene Cixous put it–and I’ve been reading her work in Portuguese to try to get even closer to it, unmitigated by translation. (If pressed to choose a favorite Lispector book, I’d probably say The Hour of the Star; it’s like a freedom spell.)

10. And just for fun…What is one thing on your bucket list?

Honestly? A return trip to Iguaçu Falls!

Connect with Melissa and learn more about her Mindfulness and Forest Bathing programs at www.breatheoutside.com or on Instagram @breathe.outside