“Friluftsliv,” “Shinrin Yoku”
These were the answers to the question. A friend had just asked me what I did to stay centered and grounded. I knew what I wanted to say but could not remember the words. I said that my soul was renewed, that my spirit was refreshed, and that my batteries were recharged by being outdoors. I told him that for me daily dog walks were a sort of living rosary – a moving meditation, experience of quiet, and a time of prayer.
I have long been aware that if I have a day off or want to spend special time with my family, my first choice is to go on a hike or hop in a boat. I knew that the American Heart Association had shown that walking lowered high cholesterol and high blood pressure and decreased the risk of diabetes. I had read that scientists at Stanford had shown that being in nature reduced depression. My personal experience had shown that the spiritual benefits were equally strong. What I was missing was the vocabulary to describe what was going on.
Not long ago, I discovered two words that fit perfectly. Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word that describes a spiritual connectedness with the environment and a way of life based on the idea that returning to nature is to return home. The BBC describes Friluftsliv as somewhere between a hearty pastime and a state religion in Norway. Shinrin Yoku is Japanese for “Forest Bathing,” a sort of mindfulness meditation in the woods that is the source of spiritual refreshment and connection. It is said to produce many health effects, including building the immune system. Those who want to use Shinrin Yoku to help others can even get certified as “forest therapy guides.” Imagine that. In learning these words, I not only found affirmation of my spiritual practices, I also found a possible job in retirement!
These are anxious times, when things change markedly from day to day. What keeps you grounded and centered? What feeds your soul and reconnects your spirit God? If I had remembered the words, I would have answered these questions saying Friluftsliv or Shinrin Yoku – time with nature, and time in nature with God. What would you have said yourself?