(h/t to Stewart)
Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese term for forest bathing, or basking in the presence of trees and plant life. I’m so glad there’s a word for this, because let me tell you a little story.
For two years I lived in China, in Ningxia province. If you look at a map of China, it looks like it’s situated in the north central part of the country, just south of Mongolia; but when you take into consideration the immense population density of the eastern provinces & the comparative sparseness of the rest of the country, it’s no wonder that it’s considered part of the Northwest (or XiBei) region. Ningxia is an arid place on the edge of the Gobi, relatively rural & poor. How the stalwart farmers eke out an agricultural existence there is beyond me. Not that I lived in the countryside. I lived in Yinchuan, the provincial capital city, a mere dwindling of a town at 1 million people. Being the capital city, of course there were parks and even trees, irrigated & carefully tended by the citizens. But not enough to balance the perpetual gray & brown of concrete & earth. It was colorful in its own way, but dust veiled every tint of green.
If you know me, you may know that I need plants to thrive. I have been surrounded by them - wildernesses, gardens, houseplants - my whole life, and we get on well. A house is not a home without them. So in Yinchuan, they filled the windowsills & corners of my apartment.
And it brought me joy to have them around. But it was only a small fraction of the greenery I wished for. Life in China was exhausting for numerous reasons, and I was constantly in need of calm & rest.
One weekend, the administration of the university where I worked decided to take us foreign teachers on an outing to a local sightseeing destination, just for fun. This is something they did on several occasions during my time there, because they were kind & generous people who tried very hard to take good care of us. We always had a fantastic time with them, and I still miss them. This particular trip, they took us to some hills that surrounded a deep ravine. I believe there was a river nearby. Anyway, the remarkable thing about this visit, and the whole reason I’m writing this ridiculously self-revelatory post, is the feeling I got when we entered the park. I know I’ve felt it before, but never so strongly, probably because I’d never been so starved for it. The hillsides were wooded, and the sheltering canopy they provided allowed several layers of undergrowth to flourish. There were trees, vines, shrubs, flowers, even moss - it was by no means tropical, but compared to what I had grown accustomed to, it was Eden. Real wild nature, subject to no man’s pruning hand.
With every step further in, I felt what I can only describe as my soul expanding. My heart, my psyche, my consciousness, whatever word you use for the part of me that carries on the business of living, I felt it drinking deep as if after a long drought. My friends noticed that I felt more alive & more relaxed than I had in months. I felt nourished, I felt at home. It was amazing. And it was a drastic enough sensation that I’ve wondered about it ever since.
So now I have a name for what that was (a better name than midichlorians, at least). Thank you, Internet.