The Stillness of the Living Forest: A Year of Listening and Learning
by John Harvey
It started with a personal commitment to sit an hour each week for a full year in the same spot in the woods. John Harvey's intention was to reconnect with nature and observe the flow of natural life through the four seasons. As Harvey settled into his weekly routine of visiting his "sit spot" and fully engaging his senses, rich and illuminating experiences began to unfold. His encounters with nature included seeing and listening to a plethora of birds, from tiny wrens to large hawks, from sweet-singing warblers to rattling woodpeckers; enjoying the sight of seasonal plants such as wild violets, trout lily, and skunk cabbage; sitting out in the open during weather events that ranged from glorious warm summer sunshine to an Alberta clipper in the winter; and spotting the occasional deer and even a black bear. In all cases, Harvey sought to observe, listen, appreciate, and learn. Learn he did—about the birds, animals, plants, and trees that surrounded and intrigued him. But his remarkable encounters with nature also facilitated self-discovery, fostered insight, and nurtured empathy and intuition.
NATURE / Animals / Birds
ISBN: 978-1-947067-59-2 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Released November 2018
John R. Harvey, Ph.D. is a naturalist and consulting psychologist who resides in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. John grew up in rural Wisconsin where, with the encouragement and example of his parents, he developed a lifelong interest in the outdoors, conservation, and understanding the natural world. As a psychologist Harvey works with children and adults with developmental and acquired challenges of learning and memory. He has an abiding interest in relaxation training, stress management, and personal development. He is the author of Total Relaxation: Healing Practices for Body, Mind and Spirit; Deep Sleep: Complete Rest for Health, Longevity and Vitality; and a contributing editor for The Quiet Mind: Techniques for Transforming Stress. Obtaining his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harvey served for many years as Director of Psychology at Allied Services in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Scranton. His years of experience as a clinical psychologist help him to appreciate the healing potential of a nature connection. Keep up with John’s latest sit spot adventures at www.foreststillness.com.
The Stillness of the Living Forest is a delightful surprise. By sitting still, John Harvey takes us on a journey into the richness of a growing awareness. While ostensibly about listening to the rich variety of bird songs, this book is really about the power of attention and the real wealth of nature. Harvey shows us a way into the richness of perceptual reality, and thus, a way into the richness of our own mind and spirit. As Harvey points out, everything and everyone in nature wants to reveal themselves, but few are really paying attention. Harvey shares his own expansion, from thoughts about what he notices to a wonderful sensory description as he experiences a greater awareness of the nature around him. Fortunately for us, he shares the impact this has on himself and his own mind. Harvey provides us with a powerful lesson about the benefit of attention and the power of nature to delight, to heal, and to teach us about ourselves. It is a deeply spiritual book without trying to be one. To quote from the book, “It seemed that giving (from abundance) is the nature of nature, . . . the bond that binds all living things.” What a wonderful world this would be if we all could learn and live this lesson.
In The Stillness of the Living Forest, John Harvey takes us along on his journey of discovery into the world of bird communication that is occurring all around us, revealing the simple power that spending time alone in nature has to enrich our lives. By practicing and developing our observation and listening skills, Harvey shows that we are all capable of developing a deeper connection with nature (and improving our birding skills in the process). Nature really does reveal itself if you take the time to listen.
In The Stillness of the Living Forest, Harvey deftly places us at the threshold of adjacent worlds, the meeting point between places designed and occupied by humans and a natural world that arguably thrives on human absence. It is a place of solitude rather than isolation, and with each reflection and observation, he immerses us further in its vital sensorial reality. With touches of existing practices ranging from Japanese shinrin-yoku to Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening to Arne Naess’s Deep Ecology, Harvey ultimately guides us to our own experience, encouraging us to take in the world with all our senses but sympathizing with how difficult that can be in the midst of our daily tasks and distractions. He paints detail over time, each of his chapters adding another layer to what becomes a uniquely complete picture. We experience musical phrasing on the small scale of songbirds and the global scale of seasons. We see intricate details in leaves, feel damp soil at water’s edge, hear creatures that hide beyond our vision, and sense changes in weather well before they touch our skin. We relish in the ephemeral and seek the fine line between presence and absence, sound and silence. Through his careful observations and visceral descriptions, Harvey invites us to reconsider our surroundings and ourselves—what is immediate, what is proximate, what is distant, in our lives and in the places we inhabit. He reminds us that our fundamental need for time in nature can be met with relative ease, that our local environments are rich in moods and energies, that what is essential is our willingness to engage and absorb, to linger, to look, to listen, and to feel.
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