What does “forest bathing” conjure up for you? It may be one of your spiritual practices–even if you never heard of this growing global pasttime.
In The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams describes the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, of immersing oneself in natural woodlands as an antidote to urban stress.
Based on ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, forest bathing allows you to let nature enter your body through all five senses. I think of it like seaside sunbathing–but with more shade.
THE HEALING POWER OF FORESTS
Did you know that spending more time in green spaces can lower your stress levels and your risk for heart disease and diabetes, among other benefits? Even without data, you may already have felt the uniquely restorative power of forests that elevates them “sanctuary” status.
My favorite refuge has always been the family cabin in Yosemite, a legacy from my great grandmother’s 1920’s Montessori camp. All my senses awaken as I walk on the spongy forest floor, breathing in the pungent scent of Ponderosa pines, listening to the rush of the Merced River’s rocky south fork. I live in the present moment!
In the nearby famed Mariposa Grove*, I always smile when I observe noisy, running children slow to a quiet walk while their chattering elders mute themselves, all craning their necks as they leave the parking lot and enter this natural cathedral of ancient, majestic sequoias. (That this never happens at DisneyLand tells me something about the power of a mighty forest for human re-creation and restoration.)
EXPLORING CLOSER TO HOME
Closer to home, the Pickering Creek Audubon Center has become my personal forest sanctuary. Last Sunday evening on dock’s end, I sat in quiet stillness, gazing at the sun slipping away. Leaping fish punctuated the glassy, pink-hued waters as darkness invaded the trees. How is it possible to feel more at home than at home?, I asked myself.
The center, with its eponymous creek flowing through a gauntlet of mature woodlands, offers boundless opportunities for soul time in a kayak or on trails. Time spent there always leaves me with an overflowing heart, albeit beathing more slowly, and a feeling of being firmly grounded in the mystery of nature’s web. If you go, enjoy it with a two- or four-legged friend or all by yourself.
Where do you find sanctuary? What restores you? How can you visit it more often? These are among the questions and activities posed in the October Soul Matters booklet. You may use the booklet for self study or join the Soul Matters small group which begins Tuesday, October 23. (Register after the service or contact facilitator Kara Crissey at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
On a timely note, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Book Club will be discussing The Nature Fix at the Talbout County Library in Easton on Thursday, November 5, at 6:30 p.m. To attend this free event, RSVP to Hilary Gibson at email@example.com.
*UU connection: John Muir, who “discovered” the Mariposa Grove, was heavily influenced by Henry David Thoreau, who was raised a Unitarian. Muir once gave Ralph Waldo Emerson, who began his career as a Unitarian minister. The latter were central figures in Transcendentalism, which taught that divinity pervades all of nature and humanity, something many contemporary UUs affirm.
~ Gayle Scroggs, Adult Enrichment Coordinator
Photo credit: Gayle Scroggs, Wawona Dome and South Fork of the Merced River.