“I’m in love with Mother Earth”
As I come back from a retreat in nature, almost fifteen days outdoors, sleeping surrounded by beautiful pine trees, swimming early in the rivers, walking, meditating, dancing, singing, tracking animals and sharing round the fire, contemplating the trees with their leaves dancing with the wind, listening to the birds, trying to understand Nature behaviours, rhythms, laws,… in this year of abondance after the long winter and rainy sprint.
And it appears to me as a huge evidence the feeling of connection arriving back home in my more urban home in the suburbs of Paris. What a peaceful and fulfilling feeling! How could I explain it? How does it feel? …
“I’m in love with Mother Earth” Thich Nath Han (1)
I’ve been into Nature thousands of times in my life before, I’ve always been passionated in being in nature and in outdoors activities. But from my practice on meditation the way I’m in Nature is completely new. I’m in Nature with all my body and mind, with all my senses opened, I slow down, every second is a new fragrance, new sound, new light, new feeling, and at any moment the surprise arrives: an animal moving, looking for food or traveling somewhere for a reason; or the colours of an incredibly sunset, or the shapes of the clouds and the fragrances before a little rain early in a cool morning,… So many things happening still as a huge mystery.
These days we can find beautiful books and interesting magazines speaking about the mysteries of plants, forests, tress and their healing and restorative capacities. Also many scientific studies focus and show the benefits of spending time in Nature. Lot of good news for our increasingly high-tech and “virtually connected” society. A synthesis of some of them here:
Amos Clifford, in his book “Your guide to forest bathing” (2) explains how “a range of specific health outcomes tied to nature is startling, including depression, anxiety disorder, various infectious diseases, cancer healing from surgery, obesity, birth outcomes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal complaints, migraines, respiratory disease, and others”.
He highlights that “Significantly forest bathing (described below) provides a boost to the immune system. Levels of “natural killer cells” (3) that attack cancer and harmful pathogens, increase after a forest bathing and the ripples of this single effect are wide reaching throughout our bodies”.
The National Health Service in Japan (4) confirms the positive effects of Nature on human health through a series of “biological key indicators”:
- Reduction of cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) more than 15% after a conscious walk in a forest compared to a walk in the city.
- Reduction of heart rate and blood pressure: more than 10% compared to a walk in the city.
- Increase of more than 210% of the HRV “Heart Rate Variability” one of the key indicators to measure the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (the one that controls and ensures all involuntary functions such as digestion, sleep, breathing and in a general way the functioning of our organism, cells, tissues, neurones, organs, …) and thus our capacity to recharge our batteries.
- The level of natural killer cells, after 3 days in Nature, it is increased by 138%
As an evident consequence being Mindful in Nature increased significantly our sense of relaxation and greater mental clarity,… With all of this, I wonder when we will see “green meeting with your teams or friends”? What can help your creativity and empathy more than feeling relaxed, confident and surrounded by beauty? I wonder when we will see doctors prescribing a dairy walk in Nature to fight stress or immune system weaknesses,…
“I think I can’t preserve my health unless I spend four hours a day at least in the woods” Henry David Thoreau (5)
Forest Bathing: (6) The Japanese term for this practice is “Shinrin-yoku” translates literally as “forest bathing”. The concept has been developed and practice in Japan in the early 1980 and it is recognised by the National Health System as a powerful therapy to relax the mind, reduce stress levels and improve the health system. Japanese Gouvernement recognise more than 60 Forest Therapy Camps by the end of 2016.
And thus, what does forest bathing means? The idea, more or less is to be in nature but a little more deliberately than usual. I would say it is a Fully Mindful Presence in a forest or in a place with abundant vegetation, when you immerse with all your senses, curiosity and attention.
- When you are conscious and focused only on the experience
- When you try to empty your mind or at least leave problems worries and projects out your mind.
- When you forget time and urgencies
- When you walk relaxed, stopping to breathe and feel the smells and fragrances
- When you practice silence
- When you contemplate nature
- When you anchor your mind in the present
- When you play with the forest
- When you forget the return home
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” Henry David Thoreau (5)
(1):Thich Nath Han is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. Thích Nhất Hạnh lives in the Plum Village meditation center in southwest France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks.
(2): Amos CLIFFORD, founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, he trains people in the art of forest bathing worldwide.
(3): Natural Killer Cells: These cells are a type of lymphocytes of our immune system that are important to keep us healthy. They are able to detect and eliminate cells infected by viruses and also tumour cells.
(4): “Shinrin-yoku, El arte japonés de los baños de bosque”, Editorial Planeta 2018, Héctor García and Francesc, page 91 and following.
(5) Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, development critic and historian. A leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings.
(6) Forest bathing: Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs link here
“The hidden life of trees, what they feel and how they communicate” Peter WOHLLEBEN, Penguin Books 2016
“Shinrin-yoku, sumergirse en el bosque” Annette LAVRIJSEN, Ed. Lince 2018
“Au contact de la Nature pour se faire du bien”, France Culture, 25/07/2018
Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash