A WALK IN THE WOODS: A SYMBOLIC JOURNEY WITH PICTURES – Marilyn Armstrong

There used to be a game we played. Not so much a game as a mental imaging exercise. I originally heard it in the 1960s when I was in college. I was told it wasn’t psychology, but rather drew on symbolism, images out of mythology and folklore. And, of course, our subconscious.

If you feel inclined, come along with me. The meanings, to the degree I understand them, are at the bottom of the page after the photo gallery. I’m pretty sure if you Google this, you’ll find other versions.

1. Imagine you are going to take a walk in the woods. What kind of day is it (sunny, cloudy, raining, warm, cold, summer, winter, autumn, spring)? It can be anything, whatever you see.

2. There is a path ahead of you. Describe the path (open and clear, full of rocks and other hazards, overgrown, etc.).

3. What is the woods like? Pine? Oak? Lots of shrubs? Does the sun filter through the trees??

4. As you walk along the path, you see a structure. What is it? It can be any kind of structure — house, shed, ruin, church, modern — anything. Describe it, please. Does anybody live there? Are they home? Do you go inside? How do you feel about the place?

5. Now it’s time to leave the house. You are back on the path and you come to a body of water. What kind of water (stream, river, ocean, lake, puddle, creek, swamp, etc.). You need to get to the other side. How do you cross the water? (Let your imagination roam free!)

6. Having crossed the water, you rejoin the path. As you stroll or stride along the path, you look down and see a cup. What does it look like? Do you pick it up? Keep it or not?

7. Further down the path, you spy a bear. What is the bear doing? What do you do about the bear?

8. You have passed the bear and you have walked a distance until you come to a wall. What does the wall look like? Can you see over it? Do you know (or can you see) what is on the other side of the wall?

What it means? This is what I learned. If you know another interpretation, you are welcome to tell me about it. I’ve been trying to find out the source of the “walk” for a very long time. Most of my adult life, actually.

1. The walk is life and the day is how you see life — dark or bright, shadowy or sunny. All that you see is part of your vision of life. Whether or not there are obstacles in the path or the path is clear are also parts of it. The nature of the woods is also descriptive of how you see life.

Little house and big maple tree

2. The structure is your childhood. Many people see a storybook house, gingerbread or the woodsman’s cottage out of Hansel and Gretel. Some people find it terrifying. Some people go inside and don’t want to leave.

3. The body of water indicates how you feel about the challenges in your life. The body of water can be just a puddle you step across or an ocean that requires you conjure up an ocean liner to cross. It can be deep and dark, scary or someplace lovely into which you want to wade or swim. How difficult (or easy) it is to cross the water talks about how you feel about overcoming obstacles you {did, are, will} face.

4. The bear equals responsibility. Some people run, others freeze. Some people make friends with the bear and it accompanies them for the rest of the walk. It’s all in your imagination and there are no limits.

5. The wall is death. The most common things to see on the other side are a beautiful mansion (heaven?) … more forest (reincarnation or just a continuation?) … the ocean … One guy saw a burning forest (ouch). What you see is what you see and it may not be what you expect.

I have done this several times at different ages and stages of my life. My answers were different each time, reflecting my current self and shows development. What little I know of this and its origins makes me suspect it was created during the 1800s.

I hope you enjoyed your stroll.

7 thoughts on “A WALK IN THE WOODS: A SYMBOLIC JOURNEY WITH PICTURES – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. I should mention that in at least one story, she didn’t see anything on the other side of the wall. The wall went up forever it seems and we had to imagine a helicopter to fly her to the other side, but when we got there, she said there was nothing there. “Nothing?” I asked.

    “It’s just empty,” she answered. I think the two most unique answers were the burning forest (yes, Catholic, but not a devout) and “nothing at all.” Personally, I have seen more woods, very much like the woods I walked through or a beautiful, green meadow. I was also terrified of the house. Something evil lived inside. My forest has changed over time from a bright young forest with sunlight drifting through branches to a darker forest … but the path was always clear, the water was just a puddle. As for the bear, I left him to do his thing and quietly walked on without disturbing him.

    My favorite answer for the bear was my friend Susan to whom the bear was friendly and accompanied her for the rest of her walk. There were also people who couldn’t get over the water. It was a vast body of water with no end in sight. We had to get very creative to move them forward.

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  2. I love this meditation walk. I used to play it with my students, except my trip ended in entering the house filled with objects and names of larger objects or gifts such as patience, joy, etc., the intangibles. They could select only one to take with them. Afterwards, we discussed the walk and why they chose that particular object. The choices and explanations were extremely interesting. We had other meditations as well, not as intricate but fun.

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    • i knew there were other versions of it and I suspect each of us changes it a little bit to fit the area in which we live and the people with whom we are going it. I’d love to find out where it started. I don’t remember where I got it in the first place — it was a lot of years ago — but I’m guessing in some college English class. I’ll have to try it again and see what I see this time 🙂

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