NEWS – MAY 2021
A Place for Clear Thinking
The author takes a look at the Japanese concept of “shrinrin-yoku.”
By Bill Hensley
IN THE FIRST FEW MONTHS of the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us searched for that place to get some thinking done. Sometimes that search was for any room in the house with a door, anything that could create a little quiet while working from home when everyone was home. In many areas, as our kids went back to school, we squatted in their bedroom for Zoom calls — “You know Adam, that’s a cute bedspread and dresser. Is that Hello Kitty?”
Here in Northern California, we were in another rather dry year; it was good for hiking in the short-term but would later turn into a serious drought. But in that short term — March, April, May, June — it was the late afternoon hike that became my go-to sanctuary. Our neighborhood is blessed with abundant hiking trails in the surrounding forested hills. It’s about a 300-foot vertical hike up one of the neighboring streets just to get to the trail head. Once there, some of the trails were leisurely strolls, while others could be challenging with more vertical climbs. But none of them were well-travelled. This became my thinking place, with an emotional benefit that outlasted the forest walk itself.
The Japanese have a word for the restorative benefits of a walk in the forest — “shinrin-yoku” which translates roughly to “forest bath.” The term was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the early 1980s. The idea is that time spent in the forest and other natural areas is good preventative medicine, particularly good at lowering stress, which underlies many of today’s chronic health issues. Even the U.S. Forest Service speaks of the healthful benefits of the forest walk, including strengthening our immune system, reducing blood pressure, increasing energy, boosting our mood and helping us regain and maintain our focus.
I kept it up till the late summer weather turned hot and dry enough that the local path lost some of its charm. It might not have lost its restorative powers, but the tall dry grasses that began leaning into the trail often held one of the local species of ticks waiting to hitch a ride. Tick bites are best to be avoided. The trails had also regained their ample supply of mountain bikers. While generally quite good at sharing the trail, all are exceptionally good at breaking a solo hiker’s train of thought. “Shinrin” without the “yoku.”
In the upcoming issue of Technology Designer Magazine, we’ll dive deeper into shinrin-yoku and our need for exceptional outdoor spaces. But as I came down off the mountain last summer, I realized that working from home efficiently was going to mean having a real place to work. Thus began the planning for the home office. The solo project got started in December and is finally nearing completion. Being impatient, I moved the desk down into the new space as soon as the carpet was in. The positive effect was immediate, even while looking at the items yet to be completed: trim, baseboards, door hardware. By the time you read this it will likely be finished.