Some time ago the forest offered me a gift of the kind that can not be easily rejected: to guide a forest bath for a specific group of teenagers. These were young people who, like so many others, are at risk of social exclusion. Adults describe them as rebellious and defiant. They say they do not pay attention. Criticisms that have their roots in the cultural values of modern societies, societies in which inequality and lack of equal opportunities are accepted as normal.
The teenagers were educated, fun and eager to have fun. The group, like any other group of adolescents, was open to the experiences, although at some moments they showed a lack of concentration. Are the challenges they represent the result of some lack? Or are they natural, even healthy, in response to the control mechanisms of the society in which they live?
Starting from the previous premises, I wanted to make sure to create a space outside the norms and the dogmas. No tasks to do or schedules to fulfill. The goal was to create an environment in which teenagers could have fun. A space where they can express themselves freely, be themselves, allow themselves to be vulnerable and show their wildest side, their untamed side.
Assuming that each of them has the ability to face their own problems and stand on their own. Once this environment was created, I assumed that adolescents should model their free will. I truly opened all the possibilities.
A fundamental aspect to understand is that adolescents have wild souls that live in a domesticated time. As guides, we are not part of the socialization process or part of the education system. Therefore, we do not have to transmit a previously established system of meanings and symbols that they use to define their world and even less to guide their behaviors and perceptions throughout their lives.
In the end, I needed more than ever to be strictly a guide, someone who through a series of suggestions has to hold a space so that they can awaken the senses. The goal was for the group to lead me.
And so it was, the boys along the walk created a space to share experiences, friendships and laughter. These spaces of conversation propitiated to connect with each of those present, its reparative effect allowed the experiences to settle and be consolidated. Through this process, the adolescents incorporated the changes they experienced, transcending their habits and their regulated world, and perhaps giving themselves the opportunity to find new and more authentic ways of self-regulation in the world around them.
That morning three or four years ago a question arose. And adults, do we also live in a time of domestication?
Alex is a Certified Forest therapy Guide. Trainer and Mentor of guides by the European Forest Therapy Institute (EFTI), being one of its founder members. Alex is the founder of the Instituto de Baños de Bosque and the Instituto de Banhos de Floresta de Portugal and collaborated as a consultant specialist in the expert group on Human Health and Well-being to the Forest Europe, Ministerial Conference on the Protection of forests in Europe.
Alex is the author of “Sentir el bosque: La experiencia del Shinrin-Yoku (baño de bosque)”, Grijalbo, edited by Penguin Random House Editorial Group.