Updated: Aug 10
The Coronavirus has ushered us into a brave new world, affecting every aspect of our society. People are the first priority, but it is clear the world of work will be affected.
Can you think of two things that everyone in the working world has in common? 1) People are always looking for new sources of inspiration and 2) we are perpetually burnt out.
This dichotomy creates a vicious circle that actually blocks creativity. We all strive for solutions that are elegant, functional, and harmonious. But to find such solutions, overworked brains need time to recover: from stress, from burnout, from the seemingly insurmountable schedules that pack on not one or two, but perhaps 5, 7, 10 different projects at a time.
When we don’t allow ourselves the time to recover, work product and sanity pays the price. Our demanding work culture means we feel compelled to work through illness (hopefully no longer), family moments and the like. The underlying message is profit over product, at the expense of staff.
If we’re honest with ourselves, no matter your industry, you are likely relying more and more on already proven solutions. Instead of innovating, we revert to variations on a theme; like a Hollywood that continually recycles movies from the 1980’s. It is a far cry from the inspiration and idealism to change the world that first drew us to stake our claim in what we hoped was our vocation.
COVID-19 unexpectedly forced a slowdown that was greatly needed in our world. What do you think the workplace, and our designs, would look like if we took advantage of this time of cocooning now placed at our doorsteps? Like everyone, we are currently in physical isolation, but the time is now to cultivate better design thinking and creativity by concentrating on fewer, better projects. More importantly, we should embrace this time and solitude to creatively turn challenges over in our heads without interruption. Now is our time to think, to critique, to shape ideas that soar.
This is the positive outlook from the new frontiers of the COVID-19 world. When you are well-rested and refreshed, you have better focus and efficiency. When you are deep in the creative thought process, you can achieve a state of flow where time seems to stop. This is some of the most productive and incredibly satisfying time for a person motivated to innovate.
But it shouldn’t take such calamity to embrace this idea. We know there are companies that love and encourage the sense of community and intellectually stimulating dialogues that come from deep creative thought. We are now all relearning it in these early days of social distancing. The simple answer is to go #outside. Yes, as in, get up, walk away from your desk, and go outside!
Both ancient and modern thought leaders knew that the great outdoors feed us in innumerable ways. To go outside is to soothe oneself. Let’s go back and take a look at thoughts from them across the centuries:
“We ought to plan the ideal of our city with an eye to four considerations. The first, as being the most indispensable is health.”
~ Aristotle, 384 - 322 BC
“We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.”
~ Seneca, 4 BC - 65 AD
"The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803 – 1882
“…the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”
~ Frederick Law Olmsted, 1822-1903
“Nothing is invented, for its written in nature first. Originality consists of returning to the origin.”
~ Antoni Gaudi, 1852-1926
“Evidence is mounting that contact with nature is not optional, but essential to human health and flourishing.”
~ Dr. Tim Beatley, 1957-present
That is only a small sampling of historical insights dwelling on the importance of nature. The evidence is here now. Time spent in nature boosts us mentally, physically, and spiritually. There are also benefits to our creativity, focus, mood, and behavior, a natural elixir that should be embraced by every workplace.
DESIGN & THE FOREST
Forest Therapy, Forest Bathing, Shinrin Yoku, Nature Therapy – they are all names for taking an immersive, meditative, and intentional wander through the woods. This is a practice that could change the game for innovation.
Does this solution sound too good to be true? Skeptics may scoff at its simplicity, but logical thought retraces our evolution as a species. Did we evolve in cities, tucked into micro-units mainlining Starbucks? Nope. We evolved out there – in the forests, the jungles, the mountains, and the prairies.
Why do you think penthouses are so desirable, why we are drawn to rivers, lakes, or ocean-fronts? Marketing didn’t just invent that desirability. We lived in those environments for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s in us. How long has modern life as we know it existed? Arguably since the Industrial Revolution, since 1790 or 1800 onward to present day – so about 230 years.
It doesn’t take a scholar of Darwin to posit that the DNA encoding we have received from hundreds of thousands of years outdoors has not been quite yet eliminated by a short stretch of modern history. Granted, our growth in the industrial era has been systematic and exponential – the same systematic and exponential movement that keeps taking us further away from the natural world. This disconnect is bad for all of us, and for our creative output.
What we urgently need for a boost in creative and critical thinking is the quietude of nature, a greater incorporation of solitude. As Stitt relates in her series on solitude: “In his journal, Thoreau recounted listening to the ‘fertile and eloquent’ silence while meditatively walking through the woods: ‘I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive and to be heard. . . . The silence rings: it is musical and thrills me. A night in which the silence was audible. I hear the unspeakable.’ He understood that deliberate contemplation spurred deep thought.” One of science fiction’s most creative minds, Isaac Asimov, feels strongly that isolation is required for creative thought. You are able to tap into that deep well of your mind, the good stuff deep down that is usually drowned out by the ceaseless chatter of modern life.
We now find ourselves adjusting our lives to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Rather than cursing the complications of working from home, we should take a page out of Marcus Aurelius’ book. He knew that everything is fuel for the creative fire. No matter what is happening in our lives – quarantines, sheltering in place, social distancing, concern over our jobs, disinfectant patrols around the house, entertaining the kids – all of it can be used to make your creative fire burn brighter, more intensely.
Perhaps these lessons in solitude won’t be so easily dislodged when this pandemic finally disperses? We will recall the succor of our daily walks in solitude. These new habits will feed something in us not previously known. It is why we need to ensure this practice of connecting to quiet, and more specifically, the quiet of nature, continues.
Again, this solution may seem too simplistic for some. You may jog, or hike, or walk around a nearby park and believe you are getting the benefits of being outdoors. While there’s no doubt being outside is good for you, there are deeper elements you can tap by slowing down your outdoor experience. This is where a guided Shinrin Yoku (Japanese for forest bathing) walk can help connect you with a sense of artistry in a way jogging with headphones will never reach. During a guided walk you are given permission to disconnect, something often missing in an always on, always connected global culture. You are invited to regain the ties to all your senses and quietly pay attention to what they are telling you. You may be surprised at what you notice when your world slows way down, and your attention is tuned in.
A Forest Bathing walk invites you to experience the surrounding woods in simple ways, which catalyze your intuition. “What if’s…” and “Why nots…” will be more common. Cross-connections between seemingly contrary facts will birth new ideas. Only a Shinrin Yoku guide will frame invitations which are deliberately lengthy – 20, sometimes 30 minutes long. Why? Because our modern attention spans have become so fractured, we need to retrain them to settle into longer periods of focus. This goes back to the idea of flow mentioned previously. When one becomes so captured by the experience that the sense of time disappears, creative ideas begin to bubble up and be recognized.
These immersive walks end with an invitation to traverse a gateway of incorporation back into the tame world, an act of embodiment. This act allows forest bathers to consciously hold their experience within their minds and bodies for access in the future when it may be most needed.
A CREATIVITY-BOOSTING WELLNESS PRACTICE FOR TODAY
A commitment to Forest Bathing for your firm signals a commitment to join the vanguard of 21st century wellness by providing employees all the benefits our ancestors lived with each day; we are simply tapping into the most recent iteration. Forest bathing offers you and your staff a path to a deep and profound connection to nature.
You’ll rediscover a sense of creativity, calm, and peace amidst the chaos of modern life. You’ll emerge with a boost in your immune system, so you stay healthy. It gives you tools to feel less stressed. You will be kinder to your fellow human beings. And most importantly, you will start to experience the mystery and solitude of the forest, and that will lead you back to your true self.