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etwilk00's picture Eric Wilkinson, MSW, LCSW
Mental Health Therapist
College or Department
Work-Life and Well-Being
Breckinridge Hall, rooms 203 and 204
Phone Number
(859) 562-2592
Email Address

As we move into the holiday season, many of us tend to spend less time outdoors. We often carry stress in our bodies and feel exhausted from running around and meeting the emotional needs of others, while ignoring our own needs. Worry about the pandemic and the tough decisions we all face this holiday season can add to normal holiday stress. Many of us simply need to recover from nine months of "Zooming." 

I started a meditation practice 23 years ago, with the guidance of my friend Amy, whom I met serendipitously at a local record store. Since then, my practice has always involved elements of experimentation and playfulness. Early on, I became fond of meditating outdoors, inspired by reading Buddhist sutras and western poets like Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, and Gary Snyder. I've learned that immersing myself in the sounds and sensations of the fresh air, sitting in direct contact with the Earth or leaning against a comfortable tree can help restore me and open my heart to connections with the world. This type of practice can be described as "forest bathing."

Meditation and mindfulness are evidence-based practices that help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Combining nature and mindfulness to form a forest bathing practice can lower stress hormones like cortisol, lower blood pressure and pulse rate and increase parasympathetic nerve activity, which promotes rest and relaxation.

Additionally, creative practices such as expressive writing can create an increased sense of psychological well-being. So this holiday season, I invite you to combine meditation outdoors with a spirit of play and creativity.

We are true nature
We exist throughout nature
Go outside and sing! 

Let's Haiku together! 
Help us build a collection of holiday haikus. Over the holiday season, plan a 20-30 minute observation meditation outdoors. Then, write a haiku and take a photograph with your phone to document the scene. Here's how:

1. Observation Meditation

For an observation meditation, find a comfortable place to sit outdoors with good posture. Set a timer on your phone for 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure to put your phone on airplane mode so that you will not be interrupted during this time. I recommend downloading a meditation app with a meditation bell that sounds at the end of your chosen meditation time. 

You can close your eyes if this feels comfortable or allow your gaze to soften and drop to a few feet in front of you. Focus on what you hear (birds, wind, traffic, machines, animals); feel (sun, wind, coolness, warmth, the ground, sensation in your body, the texture of your clothes); and smell (fresh air, trees, grass, flowers, rain, snow, chimneys). Follow the outdoor sounds and physical sensations that arise in your body. Notice things as they come and go, including thoughts, emotions or physical sensations. Watch thoughts bubble up and dissolve. Observe the physical sensation in your body get loud then quiet down. Feel the emotion as it morphs, changes and shifts. 

If you notice being stuck in a train of thought, acknowledge “thinking” to yourself. Allow your attention to the thought release, and then shift your focus back to your physical senses (hearing, touching, smelling and seeing, if your eyes are open), or shift to what you feel in your body. Cultivate an openness to whatever arises in your physical environment, in your mind and in your body. Allow these experiences to come and go, like leaves floating down a stream. If you become interested in an experience that arises, allow yourself to stay with the experience for a short period of time, and then release it.

Thoughts or feelings like boredom, discomfort, grief, restlessness, sadness, anxiety or tension may arise. Remember this too has a place; this too belongs. Be curious about the experience and allow it to be. Allow the experience to shift and move and keep your heart open for other experiences in nature, your body and your mind to enter into your awareness. 

2. Haiku Writing 

After the meditation, open your eyes and see the world new again. Set to writing a 3-line haiku that describes what you see and feel. Be simple. Be bold. Be honest. 

Haiku is a “three-line, beautifully descriptive, form of poetry, intended to be read in one breath.” You can read more about writing a haiku here.

3. After the Haiku

After writing the haiku, take a photograph of what you see with your phone. 

If you want, we invite you to share your haiku and nature photograph with UK HR Work-Life. You can email the haiku and photograph to We may be able to exhibit them in the future, with your consent. You can also share your haiku and photograph with friends and family. Or, savor it for you alone and let it go. 

I wish you peace and happy holidays!