In 1982, Japan made shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” a part of its national health program. The aim was to briefly reconnect people with nature in the simplest way possible. Go to the woods, breathe deeply, be at peace. Forest bathing was Japan’s medically sanctioned method of unplugging before there were smartphones to unplug from. Since shinrin-yoku’s inception, researchers have spent millions of dollars testing its efficacy; the documented benefits to one’s health thus far include lowered blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and stress hormones.
That's the description given in a 2017 Atlantic article. Given those benefits, probably a great way to start my 2022 sabbatical is a morning walk in the woods. Afterall, a huge point of this sabbatical is that, after a couple of really difficult years, I just need a break.
My church newsletter column about my sabbatical plans was published today, so you can read more about the planning and thoughts that went into it here. Also, Facebook memories reminded me that today is the second anniversary of when I got shot by a pepper ball and tear gassed during the racial justice uprising. That neck and shoulder pain lingers, a reminder of one of the many difficulties of these past few years.
This morning I headed down to Fontanelle Forest. The morning air was crisp, the sunlight gentle, birdsong filled the canopy.
I started off by sorting through my thoughts on some recent family issues before entering into a time of prayer for this sacred time away. Eventually thoughts settled down and I could just wander with no particular mental focus.
I walked out to the river's edge and found a fallen tree to sit on. I sang a few hymns. Then just sat there for a good twenty minutes at least watching the water, a bird diving for food on the other side, and a raptor circling overhead. Walking I had been reminded of the Japanese concept of forest bathing, so I Googled to refresh my understanding, and then openly embraced the concept on my walk back through the woods.
Hungry, I decided on the Pastrami Burger at Stella's for lunch.
A couple weeks ago I got a head start on my sabbatical by reading the book I intended to begin the break with, Michael Ignatieff's On Consolation. I wrote about why that book, here. The book's intro contains this powerful statement:
To be reconciled we must first make peace with our losses, defeats, and failures. To be consoled is to accept these losses, to accept what they have done to us and to believe, despite everything, that they need not haunt our future or blight our remaining possibilities.
So I begin this time away with cleansing, calming, and consolation. With hopes for much to experience, learn, and enjoy in the weeks ahead.