Forest Bathing For Beginners – You Don’t Have to Wear Hiking Boots to Commune with Nature

You don’t have to wear hiking boots and head off to the Appalachian Trial to commune with nature. If you do, consider yourself at the “mastery” level of appreciating time in nature. Most of us are not in that category, and that’s okay. We meet nature where we are.

In a new book, The Joy of Forest Bathing: The Mysterious Art of Shirin-Yoku, Melanie Choukas-Bradley introduces “Forest Bathing” to western readers and takes the mystery out of this traditional Japanese practice. “Forest bathing” is simply going out in the forest or other wild or semi-wild place and communing with nature. By undergoing a full sensory immersion in nature, you let go of your worries, forget about the rest of the world, and experience the beauty and wonder of the natural world around you. This beautifully illustrated book leads those of us who do not wear hiking boots to step out into the natural world, unplug, and find peace and harmony within oneself and the world around us.

In The Joy of Forest Bathing, the author reiterates what most of us know intuitively and what science has shown to be true: time in nature is good for you. It lowers your blood pressure, improves your focus, makes you feel happier, and soothes your soul. What I liked about this book is that the author opens the door and invites everyone into nature – children, youth, the very elderly, the disabled. You don’t have to be super fit and a rugged mountaineer to experience the wonder of a forest. You can do forest bathing in your own neighborhood or in a public park. The point is to spend quiet, alone time in nature and get away from our wired, overstimulating, stressful world.

The Joy of Forest Bathing: The Mysterious Art of Shirin-Yoku by Melanie Choukas-Bradley comes out August 28 and is available for pre-order now. The illustrations and photographs in the book are lovely and calming in and of themselves; be sure to read this in print or on a color-enabled e-reader. Suggestions for experiencing a sense of wonder in nature are provided for all four seasons, along with many other helpful tips. Highly recommended.

Cynthia Coe is the author of three books introducing children, youth, and adults to environmental stewardship and served as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow of The Episcopal Church. Her books Earth Our Garden Home, Wild Faith, and Considering Birds & Lilies are available on Kindle and in print at this link.

 

 

 

 

Berlin 1990 – A Tourist Walking Through World History

The most fascinating vacation I’ve ever taken, by far, was a visit to Berlin in 1990 – right after the Berlin Wall came down. History was changing right before my eyes. Even though the Wall was literally being sold off in pieces to tourists, the country had not yet been unified. So you could walk between East and West Germany with no passport control or checks. All that was left of Checkpoint Charlie was an abandoned guard shack and a photo of Gorbachev on the pavement, smeared with red paint.

The difference between East and West was glaring. In West Berlin, the taxis were all Mercedes, a shopping mall on the Ku’damm sold all the latest fashions and Mont Blanc pens. The KaDeWe department store had one floor devoted solely to food – every kind of food imaginable. One entire wall featured mustards of any variety you might want. The seafood department displayed a tank of live eels. People from the newly opened East wandered around this floor simply gaping in wonder at the over-the-top displays of food.

Walking towards the Berlin Wall, you heard drum beats, which turned out to be from orange-robed Buddhist monks, demonstrating for peace.  Off to the side, Russian soldiers kept guard over a war memorial. Tables set up by new entrepreneurs sold off graffiti-painted chunks of the Wall.  If you wanted, you could rent a chisel and cut your own.

Stepping through the Wall and into the East, you saw nothing but plain, grey buildings. No shops, no cafes, and no people out and about. But days later, on a bus tour of the few sights to see in East Berlin, hundreds of people suddenly converged on one plaza to demand higher wages and lower food prices. In the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, someone had just thrown a Molotov cocktail through the window of the room where post-World War II was carved up by the Allies. You could stroll through the palaces of former German kings, strolling among Soviet soldiers on leave. No one spoke English. But a lovely lunch was served at a “Friendship Island,” a display of so-called Soviet prosperity put on for foreigners.

Throughout the trip, I was humbled by the gratitude of the West Berliners for their post-war years of living in true prosperity and freedom. After speaking English in a taxi, the cab driver turned off the meter and refused to charge me for the ride. At the hotel, I found myself upgraded to the nicest suite in the place for free, because, “as an American, you are so kind.”

How we are treated when we travel is always set in the context of foreign relations and world history. In Berlin of 1990, I had the rare privilege of receiving the gratitude of those who saw a sparse, grey alternative to the prosperity and freedom of the West just across town.

Cynthia Coe’s novel Ginger’s Reckoningis set, in part, in Berlin of 1990. Ginger’s Reckoningis now only $2.99 on Kindle. Also available in paperback and included in Kindle Unlimited.

 

Sunday Morning on the Farm

Not all worship happens inside church buildings on Sunday mornings. Worship can mean a religious ceremony or service. Worship can also mean, simply, a feeling of reverence. Worship, in its best sense, is communion with the Holy Spirit, feeling connected to God.

On a bright spring morning, it’s hard to feel that kind of connectedness inside a stuffy church building, sitting on a hard pew, surrounded by other people. On a bright spring morning, worship might more authentically happen amongst a field of buttercups, towering sycamore trees, or alongside a trickling mountain stream.

My Sunday mornings are usually spent on my farm. The mountain ridge facing my house is my cathedral. The trees towering over me diminish any troubles or dilemmas I think might overwhelm me. The breeze softly and almost silently blowing through the meadow between my home and the ridge refreshes my body and soul.

I can have quiet here. I can have peace here. I can let go of all troubles and dilemmas and simply be. I can wander through the forest or the meadow and feel part of all of nature, no more significant or insignificant as any other part of nature. I can get in touch with who I am, stripped of all artifice.

Wisdom surrounds me. I have only to look around me for lessons that speak to me in messages both personal and universal.  On a spring day, new life springs up from a ground thought cold and dead only a few days previous. Daffodils and tulips appear in unexpected places, as surprises from the divine. Dogwood trees produce blossoms from branches remembered from seasons past but forgotten in their off-season commonplace familiarity.

Essential worship takes place when we are fully ourselves and fully in tune with the world around us. And in my cathedral of sycamore trees soaring over a grassy meadow, I am more truly worshipful than in any other place on earth.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

Having It All, Losing It All, and Finding Redemption

When the economy crashed in 2008, I watched the stock market tank, careers end, and fortunes lost with a sense of deja vu. I had been through it before and come out a different person.

My book, Ginger’s Reckoning, was written as self-therapy for dealing my own financial crash and destroyed career. My husband and I became millionaires in our early thirties. My husband was an investment banker, and I was a trial lawyer. We seemingly had it all – a charming house in the nicest neighborhood in town, European cars, designer clothes, vacations at exclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Then it all came crashing down. The company my husband worked for was shut down by the federal government and investigated by the FBI. I lost my job as a lawyer. Our income was zero.

I learned a lot during that time. Fortunately, a friend had wisely advised us to save our money when times were good, so we didn’t starve, lose our home, or go without the basic necessities of life. But our lifestyle had to change drastically. I quickly learned how to cut household expenses to the bone. I learned to do without. I learned what was really important to me – and it wasn’t necessarily the money I missed from my former life.

In my novel, Ginger Jordan walks away from her home right before it and all her other assets are seized by the government. She leaves in the middle of the night with only a backpack stuffed with a few clothes and personal mementoes. She goes back to her college haunts in the Fort Sanders neighborhood of Knoxville, which was also where I spent many happy days as a poor but culturally fulfilled UT student.

Ginger’s journey continues to some of my favorite places in Europe, ending up in Moscow. At the time I wrote the book, I hadn’t been to Moscow. The scenes in the book were based on an old 1980’s era travel book I found in a used book store. Oddly enough, once I did visit Moscow in 2005, I was amazed that the hotel where we stayed was spookily similar to the hotel I had described in my novel years before. It was a world apart from my (and Ginger’s) capitalistic world in America – food was hard to come by, a restaurant refused us service (because we were Americans), the hotel wouldn’t let us change to a larger room with enough beds for our kids (because we didn’t have permission from…somebody), and we had to be vetted before entering any store (including the mall beside the US Embassy). When politics went south, we got out of Moscow only after I got in our facilitator’s face and yelled at him to take us to the Delta Airlines office. Fun times!

In the novel, Ginger comes to terms with her drastically changed circumstances while in Russia, backed into a corner but helped by family and close friends. In the real world, I too came to terms with my own dark night of the soul in Russia, stripped away from all that was familiar and comfortable.

I hope you enjoy my novel, Ginger’s Reckoning, featured as an Amazon Countdown Deal Friday, March 30 – Monday, April 2.

Blessings, Cindy

 

When Life Becomes Overwhelming: a DIY Resilience Toolkit

Between a hurricane hitting a major US city, North Korea firing off missiles, and widespread political turmoil, stress levels are up.  Sometimes it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless to do anything about the numerous disasters, breaking news headlines, and personal problems that constantly bombard us.

We need resilience – the ability to suck it up and move on (or at least find a sense of peace among the turmoil), and like anything else worth having, finding resilience might take a little work.  But even those of us prone to anxiety can come up with a “toolkit” of go-to techniques and practices to find calm in the storm.

Here is my own Resilience Toolkit.  Even on relatively calm days, doing just one or two of these activities can help to clear your mind and be ready to deal with unexpected sources of stress.  On days when you know you’re about to run head-on to numerous sources of stress, you might do several of these activities (as time allows; even a few minutes helps).

·         Turn off the television and put down your phone.  It’s okay to take a break from the news, and chances are, you can’t do anything about most of the problems you see on TV.

·         Read something dealing with a lightweight subject that doesn’t push any of your buttons.  Personally, I prefer travel books – they take you out of your own messed up world and transport you to someplace interesting and new where you have no dog in the hunt.

·         Quiet crafting – knitting, woodworking, drawing, cooking, gardening, whatever floats your boat.  I find that even one or two rows of knitting calms me down (or at least gives me an excuse to take a break from the rest of the world).

·         Journaling.  Write whatever comes into your pretty little head, and feel free to vent.  You have permission to write illegibly so no one will ever be able to read your deepest vents, or you can tear up (or even burn) whatever you write afterwards.  It’s the process that makes you feel better.

·         Take a walk outside.  Being outdoors gives you an instant sense of peace and quiet.  A walk around the block or just a breath of fresh air does wonders.

·         Spend a few minutes in meditation or prayer, doing yoga, or reading a favorite inspirational book.  One of the purposes of spiritual practices is to help find a sense of peace.

Life is tough.  Some days it’s tougher than others.  Take care of yourself by spending a few minutes a day in your own little bubble of peacefulness, away from the madness of crowds and reality.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony in the Everyday World Around Us.”

Big, Fat Novels for Snowy Days

It’s snowing in many parts of the country, and down here in the Smoky Mountains, most schools have closed due to illness.  For many of us, it’s time to stay inside and snuggle with a really good book. 

I don’t know about you, but there’s a time and a place for big, fat novels spanning hundreds of pages – summer vacations, blizzard conditions outside, school out and cooped up inside.  You need a lot of time for a novel of more than 500 or so pages, and you sure don’t want to have to lug such a thing on an airline flight with you. 

Most of my own writing tends towards the short and concise, but I dearly love a good, long novel with multiple plot lines, lots of interesting characters you really get to know well, and a story spanning several years.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt.  This was the “it” book of a couple of years ago.  I couldn’t put it down.  A young boy finds himself in an art museum during a terrorist attack and develops a certain attachment with one piece of art that mysteriously disappears before the first responders arrive.  Arguably too long, but it’s a lot of story for the money. 

Russka, Sarum, London, Paris, and New York by Edward Rutherfurd.  If you like historical fiction spanning generations, these books are for you.  As a history major, I was in hog heaven reading these books and learned oodles of history as well. 

War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky).  Okay, if we’re talking big, fat novels, we’ve got to include War & Peace.  Yes, I’ve read it, and I loved it.  (I confess, I skipped the military history stuff).  If you like Downton Abbey type stories, you’ll love this book, too.  This fairly recent translation has gotten great reviews. 

Stay safe, stay well, Cindy

 

 

 

  

A “Hillbilly” Reacts to “Hillbilly Elegy”

A Review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
I bought this book as soon as it came out. I wanted to love it. Finally, I hoped, someone would write about contemporary Appalachian culture in a positive light.

This book was not about life in Appalachia. This book was about white poverty among people in small towns in the Midwest, many of whom are descended from Appalachia migrants. The experiences of Vance growing up poor were well worth reading, but I expected much more reflection and analysis on “Hillbilly” culture. There was the beginnings of a good discussion on upward mobility (around page 200), and I had hoped this would be the crux of the book.

My own parents grew up in grinding poverty in Appalachia, and I married the son of an investment banker. The difference in lifestyles and attitudes between my parents’ early lives and my adult life were jarring and often difficult to reconcile. My life as a wealthy person in Appalachia is light years away from that of poor Appalachian people living less than a mile away. Yet we do still have the same “culture” in many ways. I had hoped this book would address this culture, including the love of the land, the rich musical heritage, the pride in Cherokee heritage most of us have, and the extraordinary generosity of people in this region. I had also hoped a book such as this would have covered the vast changes in this region in the past fifty or so years.

This idea for this book was a great concept, but it focused too much on the author’s personal story – and that story took place among exiled mountain people in the Midwest, not in Appalachia itself. The focus on violence in this book was real for this author, but I wish he had been able to see this problem in context and understand that hair trigger temper tantrums are, in this region, more a symptom of class, rather than pervasive among everyone in this region. It only told part of the story of the people in this region.

I hope someone will eventually write about contemporary culture in Appalachia in a way that does justice to the subject.  It grieves me that in America, it is still considered acceptable to ridicule “hillbillies” and “rednecks.”  I hope at some point, this will end.

 

 

The Spirituality of Writing – Favorite Books & Authors

Many of my spiritual friends are also writers, and that’s no coincidence.  Writing and spirituality – at least on good days – are both active practices of contemporary mysticism. Like meditation, centering prayer, or lectio divina, the process of writing in your journal, crafting a story, or drafting a nonfiction essay gets in touch with deep truths, essential facts of life, and brutal honesty.

Like many spiritual practices, writing takes place larger in silence and by yourself.  Like spirituality, writing often involves confronting your inner demons, bad past relationships, where you’ve been, and where you think or hope you’re going.  Though writing may sound like a breezy, romantic occupation, it’s actually a lot of soul-baring, emotionally draining work.

Many of my favorite authors have written on this wonderful and mysterious process of writing.  Here are some of my favorites, holding places on my bookshelves like old friends watching me work and get in that mystical state where the best writing happens.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

I’ve read many, many books on the process, craft, and spirituality of writing, but there are my all-time favorites.  What are yours?

Happy Writing, Cindy

Favorite Books on Faith

As I have struggled with my own hard questions about faith (and often finding myself on the fringe of the institutional church), I’ve found the following books most helpful in letting me know that others struggle and question and sometimes feel on the fringe, too.  These books might also be helpful by showing us how many of us feel, whether a part of a church or not.

All of these books are very accessible and easy, engaging reading.  All are in paperback and in the $10-$20 range, available online or in stock or available by ordering from the major bookstores.

Julia Cameron, Answered Prayers: Love Letters from the Divine (2004).  This is a book of short, one-page prayers – but from God to you (not the other way around).  This is one of the most affirming books I’ve ever read and good to digest in very short bites, perhaps as a daily meditation aid.  I also recommend Cameron’s many other prayer books.

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (2000), Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006), and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007).  Anne Lamott is a trip, pure and simple.  For starters, she has blond dreadlocks and is anything but a typical “church lady.”  She chronicles her struggles with faith, everyday life as a single mom, and the life of her anything-but-conventional local church.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (2007) and An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (2010).  Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and rock star preacher who takes a break from institutional church life to explore faith in other settings.  An Altar in the World presents spirituality in simple, everyday acts of real life.

Sara Miles, Take This Bread (2007).  I can honestly say this book changed the way I think about things.  Sara Miles is a war correspondent and cook who had a conversion experience while taking Eucharist for the first time after stumbling into an Episcopal church in San Francisco.  She then went on to start a hunger ministry – serving the hungry food off the actual altar in her church. She now has several other books in print, also recommended.

Blessings on your own spiritual journey,

Cindy Coe

Read A Novel, Learn About Creation Care: A Book List of Favorite Environmental Novels

Getting our heads around environmentalism can be tough.  News reports may focus on places and problems far away from us.  The science of climate change is debated back and forth, perhaps leaving us frustrated, confused, or just plain exasperated by all the conflict.

An easier – and undoubtedly more enjoyable – way to get our heads around environmental issues is to read a good novel.  Here are some of my favorites, great for a book group (or just plain enjoyment):

Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer   (Set in the wilderness of Appalachia, this beautiful book celebrates the natural world. Written by a marvelous writer and book club favorite.  Be sure to check out her other books, too.)

Anna Patchett, State of Wonder (This is a page turner. Set in the rainforest of South America, the story is an adventure story involving the hunt for a miracle drug.)

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (The author of Eat, Pray, Love is such a good writer that she carries off this story of a middle-aged spinster who watches moss grow.  I kid you not.  One of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.)

Theresa Weir, The Orchard  (This was a Target Club Pick I ran across.  Lots of human drama, along with why you really need to rinse apples before eating.)

Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard  (The real Johnny Appleseed stars in this novel, set in the pioneer days of Ohio. The story is gritty, with abusive and alcoholic characters who are not part of the usual Johnny Appleseed tall tale.  Just published in Spring 2016)

And…News Flash: I’ve just reduced the prices of Kindle editions of my two new creation care books.  Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth is now $3.49.  Earth Our Garden Home: Creation Care Lessons for Children is now just $2.99.  Perfect for gifting all your teachers or youth group members.  If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app for free.

Happy Reading!  If you have additions to this list, please feel free to comment and add your own favorites.  Blessings, Cindy