I’m a fan of Ryan Holiday and his Daily Stoic endeavor. Today’s thought was both a challenge and a provocation to think deeper about our lives this past year, and how those lives should change as things move towards ‘normal’.
Let’s take a short survey – everyone who would like to go back to the non-stop hamster wheel of burnout, overbooked lives, and keeping up with the Joneses, please raise your hand? I don’t. One of the benefits many discovered was that long-lost sense of balance that pervaded our lives, that they didn’t miss the FOMO one bit. We finally felt that we might not die of overwork – an actual thing in Japan. It even has its own word – karoshi.
While we can all agree that the past eighteen months was no walk in the park – that is one of the few things we literally could do – and did! Visits to parks and green spaces shattered attendance records. Why? Because as Holiday says “We had time, so much time. We felt things we hadn’t felt in years, got into a groove that hadn’t been there for a long time.”
It felt good to get outside. Even as restrictions loosened around the country, many of us kept up our newly discovered outdoor walks, discovering new parks and trails and campgrounds. I have a friend who diligently documented her daily walks in Central Park, a practice that is still feeding her soul. Some even tried out another phrase from Japan – Shinrin yoku – also known as forest bathing. The definition of forest bathing is ‘taking in the forest air with all your senses’. This immersive forest experience is the farthest one might get from karoshi, and that is the point.
Researchers in Japan, in order to help shift their country away from so many deaths and so much exhaustive work, began conducting research into what benefits forests and green spaces could offer people. I like to say the metrics finally caught up with our intuitions. We all know in our heart of hearts that being outside in the thrall of nature is good for us. Humanity is also a species that likes to see proof. And that, is what we now have. Thanks to decades of research in Japan, and increasingly around the world, we now possess solid metrics that prove out the benefits of spending time in the woods. One of the best findings, especially during a pandemic, is that being in the woods boosts our immune systems. We absorb compounds in the forest air called phytoncides, either via our skin or by inhaling them. When we do, they boost our immune systems too. Best part, they’re free!
To close, I go back to Holiday’s provocations: “As the cases drop precipitously, there will be temptation to want life to go back to normal; for you to abandon the bubble you have created. Pause before you do that. Which parts of this slower, stiller life are worth protecting? What did you stop doing in this last year that doesn’t need to be resumed? What did you start doing—out of necessity—that’s worth continuing?”
I encourage everyone to keep their connection with the outdoors, the forests, the woods, the lakes, and rivers. Continue taking yourself on adventures outside with my guide on places to forest bathe here in MSP, or sign up for an upcoming guided walk with me. Even if your adventure is just to sit for a few minutes in your back garden listening to the birds as you sip your morning coffee, you’d be surprised how good that is for your mind, body, and soul.