Misty Blue Farm Blog
"....for we are but strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers, our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding...."
In Japanese and Mandarin it is called Shinrin-yoku. In Korean it is Sanyimlok. In English these terms translate literally to mean "forest bathing" or the gentle art of immersing oneself in nature. Also referred to as nature or forest therapy, studies have shown spending time, even just a few minutes, in a natural setting calms nerves, lowers blood pressure and improves sleep patterns.
Of course the Japanese would be the ones to turn spending time in a forest into a ritual. They are, after all, some of the most stressed out people on the planet. This is the society that invented the idea of capsule hotels, so it is no wonder Shinrin-yoku has become widely embraced as a cornerstone of Japanese holistic medicine for overworked and overstressed people.
Now you know we never miss an opportunity to extoll the benefits of fine country living here at the Farm, and here is clinical proof that spending just a few minutes a day in a wild place can ease the stresses of daily living and put you back on your path to living a clean, serene and healthy life.
Shinrin-yoku is something more than just taking a random walk in the woods, however. Like the tenets of many Asian disciplines, Shinrin-yoku is a deliberate and conscious act. It is a ritual and should be performed in a ritualistic fashion in order to be fully beneficial; and in order to be mindful in the forest, we must first be mindful of what we are leaving behind.
So what would the perfect place to practice Shinrin-yoku look like? Ideally one would have a place in the country or the woods where you can bolt when the need to cleanse your life arises - someplace private and quiet and cool and verdant. However, not everyone is so fortunate or lives close enough to a rural area to do this. But every city and suburb has some green sanctuary, some quiet corner where you can hear the birds and see nothing but jade-green leaf canopy if you look up. Few, if any people in the picture would be ideal, so you may need to consider an early morning hour to engage in your bathing ritual.
Preparing to partake in the ritual is, in and of itself, an integral part of the process. Assuming you have previously identified an ideal place in which to bathe yourself amongst the trees, you must then begin the process of deliberately peeling away the physical trappings of modern life which bind us all to technology - our cellphones, our fitness watches, our ipods, our kindles. We must toss aside the heavy purse, kick off the high heels and loosen the uncomfortable clothing. Could you practice Shinrin-yoku naked? If you can find a safe and appropriate place to do so, then yes, we would imagine that to be ideal.
After the physical preparations come the mental preparations of engaging in the ritual. Psychologists love to tell us to clear our minds if we want to relax. Well, how can we do that with mobile phones pinging, texts flying, children crying and bosses breathing down our necks? These elements need to be completely stripped away before we can even think about a blank slate in our heads.
Now, here is the hardest part - actually scheduling the time and showing up to soak up all those natural vibes into your core. Shinrin-yoku is not about physical exercise - take slow, deliberate steps and meaningful cleansing breaths. Stop and stare at something that catches your eye. Westerners, primarily for cultural reasons, have lost the ability to unselfconsciously stare at something and truly study it. Shinrin-yoku is your time to re-discover the lost art of staring.
Shinrin-yoku time is also time to engage your other senses. Close your eyes and feel the wind on your skin. Take off your shoes and snuggle your toes into the grass or soft loam. Eat some the ripe wild raspberries along the verges. Hum along to the bird song. Sit for a spell and just be.
This is what the ritual of Shinrin-yoku looks like - you - existing in the natural world with no pretense or preconceived notions. You are but a sojourner here, as were all our fathers. Now, head on out to the forest and take a bath.
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Who can say what leads us to certain points in our lives? I am certainly no philosopher. But when you need to make a change, sometimes you just know. This is how I found myself a few years back, along with my husband, standing beside a two lane country road on an uncharacteristically steamy mid-September afternoon...
Over the course of that summer, we had driven hours and miles looking at country properties all over upstate New York. Nothing was right. We looked at rocky hillsides, virtual sand pits, knock-down-drag-out falling down old places. It was enough to drive us mad.
But this day would be different.
The real estate agent led us through the waist-high grass, meadow bees buzzing around our ears. "No one had looked at this place in so long", he told us.
"Why was that?" we asked.
"You'll see", he said.
We followed him under the tree canopy, and that's when we heard the roar. He parted the dank green curtain of late summer vegetation to revel one of the most beautiful cascading streams I had ever seen. Framed by verdant lushness, the stream roared along like a freight train, swollen to the gills by the remnants of Hurricane Irene, that howling bitch that laid waste to half of upstate New York and most of Vermont just the week before.
My husband and I glanced wide-eyed at each other. I giggle like a giddy schoolgirl. "There's more", said the real estate agent with a knowing grin. He walked away to give us a moment.
We stood breathless in the mosquito-infested brush, under the jade green canopy of trees, just staring at each other. "Who would be selling this?" we asked ourselves incredulously. "This cannot really be for sale", we insisted. No, really. This could not be for sale. Yet it was.
After a few moments of this, we made an attempt to casually saunter over to where the real estate agent had planted himself. "Ok, what's the catch?" we asked.
"There is none", he replied.
"But you said no one has looked at this land in so long."
"Oh yes, that", he said. "Well, truth be told a place like this kind of scares people off."
"That's ridiculous", we said.
"Oh, but it happens. I've seen it with my own eyes", he told us. "There's a certain responsibility that comes with owning a place like this. A responsibility to not screw it up, if you will. Some people can't deal with that. As a matter of fact, a lot of people can't deal with that. They see it as a burden, and they can't handle the burden of the beauty of it", he explained.
I thought to myself this guy is either a zen master or one weird real estate salesman; yet something about the tone of his voice made his words ring true to me. How many folks before us walked this same path down to this same stream? And how many folks dashed their own dreams to death on these rocky banks because of their irrational fears?
The burden of beauty - what an interesting concept. Perhaps we had discovered a deep truth about the world right here in this tiny corner of farm country from this strange little man. What beautiful burdens do we carry with us and just as importantly, which ones do we not take on? Which ones are worth the price and which ones aren't? We were about to take a journey together to find out.
We said yes, yes to the craziness of buying 50 acres out in the middle of nowhere. It was 50 acres of beauty and hard work along with the crazy. Besides that beautiful stream, we got some unimpenetrable fields and 30 years of underbrush growth for our trouble. But the views down the Black Creek Valley were uninterrupted, like our dreams; and the pastoral setting we longed for was complete. We now had our foothold in the Hills of Hebron.
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