Have you ever wondered, “Why, even in the midst of astonishing natural beauty and wondrous life cycles, do I feel so stressed and out of touch?” As a former farmhand and current farmwife, I have often found myself disconnected from that which brought me to this livelihood.
Droves come to our region to vacation in the agrarian countryside, to eat good food, to hear the glorious racket of August insects, see clouds and stars, inhale what the woods and fields breathe out, feel dewy grasses swipe along ankles and thick earth cushion feet, have the stunning feeling that the cows and deer and pigs and hawks are gazing right back. Unlike some visitors, this is a farmer’s experiential bread and butter, or can be. Sometimes we’ve got to work harder to bring it home.
Beyond this essential matter of personal connection to place, there is also the challenge of managing the complex, interdependent relationships that make a farm hum along. How could I possibly understand, and therefore manage, the farmscape when I am disconnected from the living, breathing, happenings of it?
A few years ago I came across a practice known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, forest therapy, or the medicine of being in the forest. It is an approach to wellness that immerses people in a nature-rich environment (traditionally coniferous forest) through a series of guided meditations, or ‘invitations’, that focus awareness through the senses. Whether phytoncides specifically or just good old, vitamin N, the forest offers its medicine to those who show up, become present, to accept them. However, an important part of the forest bathing practice is to reciprocate. To become fully present, be curious and loving with our attention and give thanks is good human-made medicine for the forest.
If I can only say two things about my forest bathing experiences, I will say that:
1) The practice is an incredibly fast way to deeply plug into what’s happening in the world around me. And there is an overwhelming amount of life happening. I cannot say quite how astoundingly much is revealed in plain sight.
2) When I notice life happening, I love it. I want to take these happenings on dates and learn about their families, their hopes and dreams, make plans together, or just get myself out of their ways so they can do what makes them shine.
At the Institute for Mindful Agriculture, my colleagues and I incorporate forest bathing into our meetings throughout the year as a way to connect with ourselves and with the other lives in this place where we live and work. We have a profound feeling of wellness and calm after these meetings. "Forest-therapy" is the most common term now used for shinrin-yoku and we can attest to the therapeutic value.
In between a personal, therapeutic relationship with nature, and the, ideally, reciprocal value our loving attention offers back to nature, there is this realm of human-nature action. What can a practice like forest-, farm-, place-bathing do bring more awareness to the way we interact, engage, manage the rest of the natural world? We see a great potential in this forest-bathing practice of two-way medicine as a method for farmers (and other members of the foodshed) to survey the many lives of the farm. Farmers are life-cycle managers, and from that perspective, it’s our job to take the pulse and care for the farm organism. “Farm bathing” is a good way to do just that while also connecting ourselves back into the whole we are living and working with.
As we continue to work with this "place-bathing" practice, I wonder if and how it connects with biodynamic practices, such as applying the Three Kings Day preps. What beings are living and working on our farms that could benefit from our notice, and how have they been benefitting the whole farm already? What ‘data’ does this sensory and mindfulness approach offer a farmer or ecologist as a complement to other methodologies? How does the kind of attention we use and experience within a shinrin-yoku invitation relate the kind of attention we use in other ways of observing? (See here and here.) Can it contribute to developing intuition as a serious farm tool?
Shinrin-yoku has opened up a lot for me. Whether as a path for cueing an inner connection to nature, forest, place, or as a method for cultivating curiosity and love for the life of a farm, maybe it will be a guide for you, too.