Ben Rheinheimer | October 30, 2020

Shinrin-yoku is a new concept to me but I am currently captivated by it. But a little background first. Over the past year and a half, I have worked on rekindling my love of camping and backpacking. So far, it has been mostly short trips to Michigan, a few overnighters in other locales, and dreaming of the bigger adventures but it is a start. It is what makes me happy and I am not exactly sure why. On the surface, it is quite unappealing. Ramen packet with bagged tuna for supper. Legs cut up from the thistles and thorns. Little padding between me and the hard ground. Mosquitoes constantly looking for a bare piece of skin to get a quick snack. Definitely not for everyone but I think I could make it a weekly occurrence if given the chance. It’s being outside with no other worries or timeframes. It’s carrying in only the essentials (and a few perks) and then relying on the what’s around you for the rest. It’s experiencing a different side of the world that I often neglect. The sounds of the birds. The calm of the air. The vastness of the trees. Just being present.

This is shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. The concept has been around for a while but I just happened to stumble across it hours before my last trip, when I came across a short video that talked about two people’s journey to work through technology and health. Amazingly, there is a lot of shinrin-yoku but I have just missed it. Forest bathing is the idea that we can experience amazing health benefits from spending time in nature, and more specifically forests. It is believed that forest bathing can relieve stress, open up space for creativity, reduce blood pressure, boost immune systems, and deepen your spirituality just to name a few benefits. And all that may be true, but for me there is a sense of peace, even in the uncertainty that the “wildnerness” can bring.

To sit in the middle of woods and be towered over by 100 foot pines offers me a sense of awe. I am just a small piece of a big world. Not a less valuable piece, not an unimportant piece, just small.

To tentatively unzip my tent to the fog of a cool, damp morning offers me a sense of wonder. What will I see or hear today? What unknown adventure waits for me around the bend or over the next hill top?

To be setup camp and fix my meager meals offers me a sense of simplicity. An appreciation for people who can live it more regularly and a sympathy for people who have no choice but to live with less.

To be alone in the woods offers me a sense of affirmation. Not only am I able to conquer things on my own but I can reflect on the person that I am and the person that I want to be.

When I take time to “bathe” in the forest, I feel like I am renewed.

I am renewed by the memories of the past. Camping out of the back of our family station wagon, a soggy backpacking trip with my dad, serving as camp pastor during summer camps, glamping with family friends.

I am renewed by being present in the moment. Watching a dear enter my campsite, hearing the rush of the stream that is just out of sight, watching the loon glide across the pond, feeling the cool dew from the plants as I begin my early morning adventures.

I am renewed by the possibilities of the future. Planning out my next trip, looking forward to bringing others into my experiences, spending quality time with good friends.

I am renewed through it all and it brings me peace. However, I understand that the woods and mosquitoes and cold hard ground is not everyone’s idea of renewal. So I encourage you to find your own place of renewal, your own place to “bathe”. A place that inspires a sense of awe, wonder, simplicity, or affirmation. Maybe it is in a good book that takes you to a new world or opens your mind to a new idea. Maybe it is in the company of loved ones who create a sense of support and care for you. Or maybe it is literally in a bath with some soft music and a nice glass of wine. Wherever you go to find your renewal, be present. Free yourself from distractions, especially those of the latest technological kind. Free yourself from the stress and chaos that might be surrounding you. Free yourself to find peace in who you are and what you love. This week take time for renewal and find a way to experience your own benefits of shinrin-yoku.

 

Ben Rheinheimer, Self-Efficacy Curator at ULEAD