On Forest Baths And Our Need For Peace And Silence
Today I tried something new: a forest bath, or shinrin-yoku. This is a Japanese concept that consists of immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way, using all your senses to be fully present in the moment. This practice was developed in Japan in the 80s and is becoming increasingly popular around the world, as societies everywhere feel a strong need to cope with stress, anxiety and other ailments of our time.
Nature heals. It helps us pause, breathe and relax. It has a positive effect on our body, mind and spirit. But when I decided to do this forest bath activity, I wasn’t sure how different it would be from just being in nature. It turned out being was the key.
I saw the difference between us and other people walking or cycling on the same path as us. I even saw a difference between some members of my group and others, and between my own self in memories of past hikes and the self who was there this morning. It all came down to one thing: Being in my body, quieting the mind, experiencing every sound, texture, colour, shape, smell… Feeling every sensation within myself and, at the same time, feeling the connection to everything that surrounds me and realising I am one with it all.
Cyclists and hikers rushed past us. Some members of my group talked the whole time. But I found joy in silence as I touched the rough barks of the trees, the soft moss, the velvety green leaves. I’m not saying the other people didn’t enjoy their own experience, but I found what helps me fully immerse myself in mine: Leaving my thoughts aside, dropping in my body and shutting my mouth.
This beautiful moment brought back a memory from two years ago when I travelled to South Africa and encountered the most impressive tree I’ve ever seen. It was ancient and had grown in an intricate way. There was simply a special kind of energy around it. It felt warm and inviting, like a hug that leaves you both comforted and energised. I had never had such a profound experience with a tree. I remember people came to see it and left soon after, but my partner and I stayed there in silence for a long time.
I’ve been thinking about silence a lot lately. Or, rather than silence, a type of communication that transcends words. I love words more than anyone, at least in the written form, but there is something very profound in being in silence and even sharing that silence with others. I’ve sometimes done activities where I was supposed to look into a stranger’s eyes without saying anything and it felt incredibly vulnerable. Once we made peace with feeling uncomfortable at first, I felt more connected to those people than I ever could if I spoke to them.
Before human language was created, we shared this type of visual/energetic communication with the rest of the planet. It came from our bodies rather than our minds. I feel a longing for this. I feel a longing for just being. I’m tired of seeing humans turning against each other and causing more and more disharmony. So I decided to start with myself and go back to the origin. And the origin can be found in the species that still remember how to live in harmony, in the present moment, mindful of everything and everyone around them.
The result is a deep sense of peace. That’s what forest baths are all about. That’s what the whole world is in desperate need of: Finding peace within ourselves and bringing peace to others and the world we live in. So, let’s turn to nature once more. Let’s go back to the origin.