Last year I was visiting my friend in San Francisco. It’s an annual ritual. I go to the US every year where my siblings live, to escape the sweltering heat of Delhi. But this time, the agenda was different. I had chanced upon a quote by John Muir- ‘In every walk with Nature one receives more than he seeks’. I started to look up this visionary who had summed up a quest of a lifetime in one guileless yet profound statement.
The vacation itinerary was set then. We would go to see the Muir Woods National Monument (yes, it’s a national monument- the jungle) in SFO and the Redwood National Park in Eureka and spend some time walking. No mindless mall-hopping would allure me away from the magnificent outdoors.
And this wasn’t going to be a simple walk. We were going for Forest Bathing- a term that’s becoming popular as more and more people realize that being in nature can bring a bounty of benefits. The Japanese call it Shinrin Yoku, which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’. Tomes have already been written why even a little time in a forest can result in reduced stress, strong immunity, improved mood, good quality of sleep, increased energy level, etc.
The fundamental thought is quite straightforward actually- we humans have been living in nature for millennia, and that is our home- our ‘factory setting’ so to speak. When we go back to our home, we feel replenished, rejuvenated and a sense of belongingness. How do we do it? We awaken our senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste and through the bridge of heightened senses cross over into a liminal space, the sensory threshold.
And we do all this with a sense of awe and wonder. Not that you need to evoke these emotions under the canopy of redwoods. When you stand under a tree over 300 feet tall ( that is twice the height of Statue of Liberty), and more than 2000 years old, you appreciate your place in the web of inter-being. Did Lord Buddha too breathe the phytoncides (antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees) in the air released by these giant sequoias and redwoods!!
As we touched and felt the moist barks, linked our arms in an effort to hug the massive girths, climbed the fallen yet proud trunks and heard the susurrus of ferns on the forest floor…we understood what Muir meant when he said:
‘And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.’