A Bridge Between Worlds
The natural world has always been something I’ve indulged in and I am more than confident when I say that my happiness and self-concept are directly correlated to this environment. I did not come to this realization until a few years ago, but there is no doubt that nature has been an influential guide on my personal journey. I’m extremely thankful for this epiphany as I dealt with identity issues growing up. This problem was mostly due to the fact that I am bi-racial with two very different cultures clashing together. My mother is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Oklahoman who is an ex-lawyer turned teacher while my dad was a construction worker born and raised on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. The environment I grew up in reflected my mom’s side as I grew up in a suburban area of Colorado, but a lot of my summertime was spent on the rez where our closest neighbor was half a mile away. We did not have wifi, cable, or much service for that matter so it was hard to make an excuse to stay inside when I visited. This created a new sense of appreciation for me as I was around technology all the time back in Colorado. And even though the reservation was and still is a very dangerous place, the peacefulness and solitude of my family's property was something I found nurturing even from a young age. As I got older, I carried this ideology back home and found myself in the backcountry more and more.
Then, when I made the decision to go to college, I realized I wanted to be closer to my family in Arizona while still having access to a rural area. Lucky enough for me, I found a new home in the heart of the Colorado Rockies; which happened to be closer to the rez and a fraction of the population of my hometown. I was never a big city type person, but the clarity I find living in a mountain town is indescribable. The individuals I've met here are like-minded which makes everything that much easier as your peers affect you just as much as your environment. Work life is another aspect I don't ignore as the majority of us work from inside a building and an environmental reset can be essential for those who burn out easily from behind a desk(me). I'm also finishing up my undergraduate in psychology which has drawn me to the scientific side of this practice, and it is safe to say that the research is there to back it up.
With that being said, I was directed to an article by Time magazine on the health benefits of “Forest Bathing.” After reading, I could not be more of an advocate for incorporating it into one’s life. The author, Qing Li, is a scientist from Japan who has studied this practice for years which is referred to as Shinrin-yoku. The beauty of it is that you don’t need to be miles away from the closest person or go on some extreme trek to experience its benefits. All you need are your basic human senses along with intent. He describes Shinrin-yoku as a bridge between us and the natural world which is absent of materialism.
Even living in the city, this balance can be found through creativity with a park or stream as an example. His directions for beginning this journey are simple: “First, find a spot... Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.” I found this description almost as comforting as the act itself in that the focus is on releasing what you already have rather than chasing a specific state of mind. And if you're having trouble on your own, the access to therapy in this field is ever growing with guides to help you interpret your experience. If you do decide to indulge on your own, one of the most important aspects to remember is that complete serenity is ideal, but even a modest change can be significant to one’s well-being. Now picture your “forest.” Whether it is a city park, river, mesa, or even a singular plant, you can find your own inner peace with whatever your heart and mind is drawn to and I hope it benefits you as much as it has for me. You can also check out the author’s informational links attached to the article for in depth studies as well as a book he wrote solely dedicated to the practice of Shinrin-yoku. Happy bathing!