Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Forest Bathing-Walking with No Destination in Mind
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Saturday, May 29, 2021
 

STORY BY ALEX duMAURIEE

PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

 We might imagine forest bathing to be running nymph-like through the woods tossing leaves in the air and spinning around under the shower of them all.

 We’d be wrong, although the freedom of that kind of unleashed spirit is appealing.

 Forest bathing is a thing. The Japanese have coined this term and the process as being an important way to heal physically, psychologically, spiritually and emotionally by sensory emersion into nature.

 It’s called Shinrin-yoku.

 But don’t those of us who spend time on the trails believe we understand that already? We here are a bit spoiled by the surrounds of forests and access to trails, just steps away, that can lead us to solitude. Searching for solitude seems a bit overkill after a year of just that.

 Still, the trailheads are crowded with vehicles leading us to realize the numbers of walkers and hikers out there scattered among the hundreds of foothill paths and forested mountain trails.

 Well, there is solitude and there is Solitude…the kind where walking alone is done with the intention of piquing one’s sensory acuity.  We all know what it’s like to go from point A to point B and forget the journey. So, noticing is an important way of imprinting our information banks for future reference as well as locking into the here and now.

Most of us would like to reach the end of our lives having actually seen it.

 I decided to do a few days of forest bathing myself to better speak to it.  Alone is not a new concept for me and I’ve been writing about conscious observation for years. What was different this time was following my internal GPS and wandering with no destination…except to find my way home. My usual is to set a goal, touch something that proves I did it, then turn around and go back. If I head out for a particular place and don’t reach the end goal, I’m weirdly bugged by a sense of incompletion. Don’t say it. I know there is a term for it.  

 The key is the intention to have no intention. Walk alone without distractions of phones, cameras and headsets. Walk slowly. Walk with no particular destination in mind. Let yourself be guided by whatever nudges you...that little voice that says, ‘go left’.  Notice your breath. Slow it all down. Now let your senses come out to play.

 I heard, the other morning, a cacophony of twitters, chatter and songs that filled the trees. It was actually noisy with joyful sound. Rather than allow it to be just background noise, I allowed myself to seg out the different tiny voices near to me and far off.

 I stood still. No footsteps.  Barely breathing. As I tried hard to see the birds in the foliage, the branches and leaves moved in with such clarity. I was soon disappearing the edges of my being and joining up with what we call nature. It’s a broad net and includes all six of the senses.

It is as easy and as hard as slowing it all down, noticing, consciously observing with no judgment. What is there to judge out there? “Hey! Ya shoulda’ given this bird another tune in its repertoire!!”

 I laughed at myself because I really did think that bird was croaking. He puffed up and hollered out to the others like that one kid in choir who doesn’t know or care he is off-key. At the same time, as I was feeling bad for the l’il guy, I realized the lesson. His intention was joy. Who cared if he couldn’t sing.  La, la, la.

 Researchers are studying the ecotherapy of forest bathing. Nature and plants enhance the cognitive portion of the brain. The clarity of mind and destressing aspects of wandering, with no particular destination and no particular agenda is well worth the effort to make the time…any amount of time.  Some people experience an expanded spiritual connection to that undefinable thing that swells the heart.

 What if you don’t live near a forest? There are always houseplants if you are so inclined. Mine are on life support. Just sayin.’

 For years I lived in southern California at the beach, too far from a real forest. Our version of bathing in nature was full submersion into the Pacific Ocean where all clatter disappeared except for the chatter running between our ears. A womb-like sense of being home brought peace. The gentle caresses and rocking of the waves de-stresses and heals. Floating on our backs we let our spirits rise and move beyond the unlimiting vanishing points. The ocean was our forest.

 After five days of approaching my forest bathing walks with no blueprint or expectations, I have to say it brings another something undefinable to my excursions.  I listen with my eyes and see with my ears. On my way out of the woods I hug a particular tree along the way. His name is Bruce.

 

 

 

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