Slow down, make time for yourself

Entering this time of the rolling year here in the Hickory Nut Gorge of western North Carolina, and moving into the months of September and then, October, is a wonderful time to begin to slow down, and make time for yourself.

For me, it is a time for noticing. The shifts—some subtle, some bold—the lengthening evenings, the shortening days, the way the light slants differently now and the changing sounds of early morning and evening. Can you feel the hush and sense an increasing stillness inside, as well as outside? I begin a ritual of lighting a candle in the dark of early morning or as dusk begins in the evening and find this so comforting and soothing. A friend of mine years ago in the North Georgia mountains, every September would put a small tin can on her stove filled with whole cloves and water and let them simmer and fill the house with those aromas. Better yet are the smells from the damp earth outside and leaves beginning to gather and feed the ground with richness along with the acorns, hickory nuts and walnuts. Perhaps you have a favorite such ritual. I also dig out my books and favorite quotes. Reading, and writing, or sketching and doodling can be ways to slow down and simply “be”.

I love this quote from John Muir’s journals: “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” (John of the Mountains, The Unpublished Journals of John Muir; 1938). Time to oneself, even for a little while, can bring a heightened awareness and mindfulness of ourselves, our own presence we may have missed in the bustle of life.

I guide walks throughout the four seasons, in all kinds of weather, so I dedicate time each week for walking and sitting in the forest, on trails and along the Rocky Broad River. As we become aware of our feet being held by gravity, and our breath taking in the mountain air, and really awaken all of our senses, I watch participants become visibly more relaxed, and more aware, not only of their experience with all the elements in nature but also, in themselves.

Afterward many write in their written responses of surprises they found, for example, in answer to the question of “how they feel now at the end of the walk compared to at the beginning of the walk”:

“I have noticed a sense of renewal of my spirit and a connection to the present. I feel like I should stay in a quiet space and spend time journaling about the experience”; and, another,

“I feel more grounded, and part of something much larger.”

One wrote: “the tension in my back and shoulders seems to have lessened.”

As I witness this kind of relaxation and insights gained, it makes me want to encourage these practices with anyone who might simply set some time for themselves, spent deliberately in their own setting in nature nearby. These things seem so simple and small, but it is truly remarkable how taking time for ourselves—to do nothing but simply notice… the nature about us, or out a window, or wherever we find ourselves, can become a powerful elixir to calm and comfort. Even inspire. A cup of tea, or coffee, perhaps, sipped slowly and mindfully may help us awaken to coming home, perhaps, to ourselves.

Mattie Decker is a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide certified with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) and teaches Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness meditation. To contact Mattie: or

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