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health + well-being

Where Is Your Safe Place?

September 1, 2016
Feeling mentally or physically displaced? We prescribe a healthy dose of finding your safe place to cure what ails you.

To be displaced is to be moved or removed from a usual position. To me, this can mean many things. It can mean physically being removed from your home for whatever reason. It can mean you were replaced with someone else. Or it can be a displacement that occurs in your psyche. No matter the cause or condition, displacement is unsettling. I have recently undergone all manners of displacement and can attest to its unpleasantness. When the rug is pulled out from under you, and your world is turned upside down, no matter the displacement, you must seek a place of comfort.

R22-00802-005A Photos by Beatrice Helman

Recently, I was displaced from my normal feeling of safety when I was diagnosed with cancer. Next I was displaced for good from my home due to a neighbouring fire. What followed was an intense time of discombobulation and a feeling of being completely displaced from any sense of control or calm I had known. The stress was immense: I couldn’t sort my thoughts out, I couldn’t see how things might work out, and physically, I was run down. A combination of pain from surgery, anxiety about upcoming treatment, an ever-climbing heart rate, and a fierce restlessness. I needed a port in this shit storm that my life had suddenly become, and I knew just the place.


My ancient shack of a cottage, in the woods of Algonquin Park has always been my safe place. I feel a beautiful slowness and calmness – strolling through the natural landscape, floating in the water, unwinding in the sun – that is always restorative. Upon Googling this hunch, it turns out there was more truth to this natural therapy than I had realized. Shinrin-Yoku, a Japanese term, translates to mean ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’.


This natural therapy was first developed in the 1980’s in Japan and South Korea, where the legitimate health benefits of spending this peaceful and meditative time under the forest canopy have been researched in-depth. While myself and others who find their bliss in nature have always felt this intuitively, researchers have actually found the evidence of what we thought to be true. It has been scientifically proven that spending time consciously forest bathing boosts immune functioning, increases the count of cancer-fighting ‘Natural Killer’ cells, reduces blood pressure, decreases stress, improves mood, and accelerates recovery/healing. Exactly what I needed.


Each time I went into the woods I tried to be cognizant of my body and its surroundings (note: this is way more bohemian than I actually am, but I did it anyways). I walked with purpose and slowed my breathing. I closed my eyes to focus my thoughts, and opened them to take in the beautiful forest. When the mosquitoes weren’t ruining my zen, I can honestly say it was an incredibly meditative experience. By the time I was back to my *real life* I felt as though my whole being had relaxed. My stress had (for the most part) evaporated, my incision more healed, and my mind more at ease. The sense of being on the verge of blowing a fuse had disappeared.


When you’re feeling that sense of displacement, especially mentally, it’s as though a spring loaded mechanism has been activated, and everything about yourself and your life suddenly shoots off into opposing directions. You can try to reel each piece back in, but your focus shifts from one piece to another, from one problem to the next, and making sense of it all becomes a futile task. Finding that place, whether it be a physical destination, like Algonquin is for me, or a state of mind, helps to release that mechanism of chaos. That feeling of being lost in the woods dissipates, and you’re able to once again find your way.