Forest Therapy for the Mind, Body and Soul
It was the Horopito that called me to this particular ngahere. I drove 3 hours to connect to this old ancient being. To sit with her and immerse myself in her wānanga. In my mind I had been planning this hikoi for a year. I wanted to see her in flower. The first time I came to this ngahere I was with whānau and I couldn't give her the time that I wanted to so I put this kaupapa to the side until the time was right. A year later and the time was perfect! I booked myself into accommodation that was in the ngahere and stayed for 3 days. I thought about inviting other people to come along with me but in the end I realised that this wānanga was for me.
I arrived a couple of hours before check-in so I popped into the ngahere to feel it. I had sent a karanga out to it to let it know I was coming. I said a karakia before I entered. I hadn't quite put my feet in the ngahere when I was stopped to take in the Kohukohu (moss) that was lining the rākau and forest floor like a korowai. Oh my! I had to draw breath and acknowledge this primordial being. I could feel the Kohukohu as one being and it seemed to be a major contributor to the mauri of the ngahere.
As I walked further along I could see the Horopito (Pseudowintera colorata). It was a bright red hue pulsing in the mist. Just looking at the leaves I could feel the intensity of the heat. It was fire in a leaf. It stood in its mana like it had been doing so for millions of years. It had stood the test of time building a strong and mighty resilience. Science has got hold of this rongoaa and it's even commercially grown. Seeing it in its natural habitat is a sight to behold because you see the sentinel. You sense the whakapapa of every other living being growing around it supporting each other as a ngahere does. Remembering that it is the mauri and the wairua of the plant that holds the potency of rongoaa. The karakia that allows entry into its world and tiikanga that keeps us safe. When we go to harvest we ask the plant and the kaitiaki of that plant. We seek permission from the ngahere itself and look for the tohu (signs) to show us if it's ok to harvest. When it's a "no", it's a firm "no". Be prepared to walk away. There could be a number of reasons why it's a "no". We don't go through a checklist to make it a "yes". When you are given a "yes", then sacred ceremony is performed to give reverence to the kaitiaki (guardians) of the plant. This is how we work with the plants. Constantly in communication with them and the taiao (environment) they grow in. Being one with them, merging into them. This is Rongoā Māori.
I walked on slowly, sensing my surroundings and building whanaungatanga with the ngahere. I felt a different sensation in here or was it me that was different? I was in awe of the mauri of the ngahere. A collective of plants and trees, moss, lichen and fernery. It was as if I was feeling the whole forest system as I walked. It was vast and expansive and I could feel the sensations in every direction. I was the compass and every way I turned I could feel for miles. I could sense the smallest flutter from a distance away, I would have heard a pin fall onto the floor. The birds were silent except for the odd flutter of wings. I felt like I was melting into the forest. And my wānanga had begun ...
Entering the ngahere is like entering your soul so reverence must be adhered to.
Entering is a soulful practise. The mind takes a backseat and the heart leads the way. The more you enter the more relaxed and tranquil the mind becomes. The ngahere makes it so easy to forget the past. There is only the present with inspiration to move forward. The silence can be challenging if you are new to this experience but with practise the silence becomes what you yearn for.
Stand at the entrance to the ngahere and offer a Karakia (prayer) or waiata (song). Let your kaupapa or intention be known to the mauri of the ngahere. Wait for a tohu or sign before you enter. Is it a manu or a branch or leaf waving in the wind? Is it a fly landing on your nose? You will know the tohu and the meaning behind it. The more you practise this art the more you will trust the tohu and you will become more precise over time.
When you step inside notice the temperature of the ngahere. Notice the light and sounds. Observe the types of rākau there to greet you. What is special about the ngahere? The rākau will guide you the deeper you walk into the ngahere. Pay homage to the manu that you hear. Acknowledge the whenua and all those who walked here before you. Be in awe of the holy ground that lies before you. Do your best to become one with the ngahere. Try not to disrupt the balance of the woven cloak laid down long before you came into being. There is no need to speak in here unless it is to the ngahere.
Slow your pace down as much as possible. Sit if you need to, to quiet your mind. Hang out with Angiangi (Hanging Lichen) and watch how they drape over the rākau. Hongi the kohukohu (moss) and take the mauri deep down into your belly. That mauri enlightening your body is 360 million years old. It knows stillness and silence. And even though you may not be able to see them (yet) honour the spiritual beings of light that make up this sacred sanctuary. To them you are an intruder and they will watch you closely. Are you going to disrupt the silence and reverie? Do they have to be on guard? Do they have to withdraw? A panui has gone out and spread throughout the ngahere through the underground network of fungi. The manu are observing you. This is why we send a karanga out before we enter and place a karakia at the entrance to announce that we have arrived. You will still be watched and it will be your actions that determine whether the ngahere guides and teaches you.
What do you offer?
My offering to the ngahere was my reverence and a promise to share the sacredness and beauty that it holds. It's offering to me was a contemplation of how the mind can be like the ngahere and how this can be applied for healing. Forest Therapy for the Mind and Soul
Next year, 2024, I will be hosting Rongoāa Mauri Wānanga with a focus on the forest as healing therapy. The mind can be like the mauri of a ngahere. We just need to learn the tools and resources to be in that space and the ngahere is the best teacher to show us how.
I have been tuning in to forests around Aotearoa to hold spiritual retreats. Excited to start the year off at Waihoanga Retreat in Ōtaki (this has sold out). Then we are going to Lake Okataina (Rotorua) in April where we are immersed in the forest with access to a very special lake. In October we head to The Caitlins in Te Waipounamu (South Island). This is a ngahere I have been wanting to go to for some time. In November we are in Te Tau Ihu (top of the South Island), still confirming details. I will be in Tamaki (Auckland) around September also. To learn more about these retreats go to Events.
HOROPITO - Hot Pepper Body Balm
I use this rongoā in my clinic on kaumataua and kuia to warm up their hands and feet. It's excellent for circulation. They absolutely love it. I always give them a small jar to takeaway with them so they can use it at home. They come back for a refill. They love that it's natural and rongoā that they have whakapapa to.
Christmas Gifts from the Forest
If you are looking for a gift to give for Christmas or to fill your staff Christmas stockings, remember we have our Rongoā Gift Boxes available.
All of our products are organic and made in small batches. The plants are harvested by hand while following tīkanga. No machinery and chemicals are used. The whenua that I harvest from is known to my whānau for hundreds of years.
Joanne Hakaraia xx