Opening words of IFTDays 2019

Dear Friends of the Forest,

11 months ago we were opening the first IFTDays. Somewhat nervous, but driven by a need to arrange this gathering of people. A year later, we are still somewhat nervous but something is different. We have experienced how this community carries.

Immersion day activity: Metsämörri came for a visit

Our team has grown from two stressed out women to 8 stressed out men and women (except for Nitin, who does not do stress).

Last year we came together with an audience of 90 people in the seminar and 44 in the retreat. This year, we have gathered here with 83 of you and are expecting 39 of you to the immersion days. You know it´s hard to top a good opening night.

We wanted to bring back the best of last year: community – expertise – time spent outside in nature. And also improve based on last year´s feedback:

We have changed the setting to include a workshop day, in order to make space for more talent and more stories to be told, and also to give more people the opportunity to participate, even if just for one night, in the feeling of community and bonding, that can be created when we come together as a group of forest friends.

This year, where we  are lacking in the indoor space, we make up in the surrounding environment. We’re currently at an old game research center, that used to be part of the natural resource institute. The estate has now been turned into a private holiday destination, rented to numerous different kinds of groups.

In a year a lot has happened. New schools of forest therapy have been started and new guides are being trained. Forest and heath themed conferences have been held, scientific papers and books have been published. The scientific research has told us that  roughly 20 minutes of nature a day is enough for healthy life.

Forest therapy guide is really becoming a profession that one can train in on several continents and countries in various price ranges. The curricula differ, as do the prerequisites for the trainees, as do the qualifications of the graduated guides.

Reflecting on the changes in this dynamic field, you have shared with us your hopes regarding forests and health. Majority of the themes you mentioned dealt with the equal access to forest healing, the possibility to connect with self, nature and each other. And our shared worry for the Earth.

You have also shared your fears regarding harnessing forests for health purposes. Many of you feared that nature would become another commodity, to exploiting others and to exploit nature. You worried that it would become an industry using “scientific tricks”; misinterpreting the effects of forest therapy on humans and exaggerating the effects of forest therapy, and collecting way too high fees for just accessing forest. Though it is generally hoped that forest therapy would become integrated  in the conventional medical system, it raises the question whether, in becoming fixed,  it loses its vitality. On the other hand, some feared that offering forest bathing without the appropriate training and experience, would be a risk to entire practice.

Last year we ended with the acknowledgement that there is need for this type of gathering, a safe space, if you will. This year, the need is perhaps even greater. There is much healing work to be done, with room for many kinds of thoughtful and sincere measures.  We are in the state in this field, where we need the we need the grassroots, the scientists, the practitioners, the ones new in the field, the experienced ones with deep knowledge, the certified and the uncertified guides, to exchange and learn and grow together.

We need to work on local levels, and internationally.

From our bubble it looks like the world is starting to believe in the power of nature – not enough, granted – but more than before. Even the royalty has been sold on the subject.

We have heard from many leading figures talk about the importance of nature. One of the influentials of our time is the Greta Thunberg. Greta has managed to mobilize the young and the old around the issue of climate change. It raises new kinds of hope and despair to see the young take to the streets to protect their future and demand us adults to take responsibility for it.

The youth and the children have not been forgotten in this year’s ́ IFTDays. In workshop and immersion days, we will hear from people working with children to help them sow the seed of nature connection. Equally important is allowing the childhood nature connection to flourish in the later years of our lives, especially when going to the forest is no longer as easy for us. Today we get  to hear about nature connection with the elderly. Finally,  we get to think about ways in which newcomers who have left or lost everything, can find support from nature and  grow roots in their new home.

We can all agree that we have the responsibility of enabling nature access and nature connection for all groups, even the smallest and the weakest.

But it is tricky to talk about responsibility when we ask people from different countries to fly, in some of your cases, halfway around the world to fly Finland and spend a week taking saunas in the forest? Where do we draw the line in what is worth investing in, and where are we being downright wasteful?

Like the leading artificial intelligence researcher in Finland , Timo Honkanen said, we have been able to model x, y and z, but where the artificial intelligence and ourselves are struggling is understanding cultures and individual differences.

Though the online world offers us a world of possibilities to keep in contact, support and exchange, it´s in those moments of experiencing together that the magic happens. Therefore, we will continue to meet in person once a year to share ideas, experiences, practices and research, to advance our thinking and synergize our efforts” . And within our means, we will do our best to limit and be mindful of our carbon footprint and reciprocal relationship with the natural world. We want to support grassroots initiatives and include them in our IFTDays community as message carriers, pollinators, local initiatives, carpoolers and treeplanters.

This year we launched the concept of IFTDays ambassadors. These people are individuals or organizations who share our mission and who have volunteered to be the message carriers of IFTdays in the world. Sini, who you can ask anything about the Finnish nature and how to light a fire without matches, among many other things, is one of our ambassadors. Sini will guide us to a refresher later in the afternoon.

On top of the annual IFTDays event, we support the satellite events that are like mini IFTDays with emphasis more on the experience. The first satellite event will be held in Belgium in October, the Bos+badweekend, where the emphasis is on experiencing different ways of forest based health promotion.

We have partnered up with BOS+, a forest loving organization active Belgian Flanders – one of Europe’s least forested regions – as well as in the world, by raising awareness for more and better forest. BOS+ aims to keep conservation of forests, reforesting and sustainable use of forests high on the political agenda and works to increase the amount of forests in Belgium and abroad.

Together with BOS+ we are able to do something concrete for the forests of the world. This year, we plant a tree for each seminar guest. Around 100 native trees will be planted in a corridor that BOS+ has started with local organizations in Ecuador. Your presence here will contribute to this corridor. Next year we hope to do something even bigger . We are excited about this collaboration.

So, warm welcome everyone for this 2nd IFTDays, and now for the practical items…

IFTDay team 2019