Discover your ikigai by spending time in nature

Blending ikigai (生きがい) with shinrin-yoku (森林浴)

waterfall ikigai shinrin-yoku
The unexpected waterfall that greeted us at the end of a hike

Over the last year and half, part of my regular routine each day has been to focus on my core values and what I find in my life that makes it worth living each day (my ikigai). This self-reflection happens at the beginning of the day, sometimes before the sun even starts to rise. I sit with my morning coffee and journal in the stillness of the morning. I write down some of my thoughts about the last day or week or what lies ahead.

I find this practice particularly meaningful when I am able to connect this practice with being in nature. My wife and I enjoy spending time backpacking, climbing, and adventuring in the mountains of Washington State. I don’t get to be out there nearly as much as I’d like to. But whenever I do it is always an amazing experience. What I have discovered though, is even if you aren’t able to make it out to the wilderness, you can still bring nature into your life.

The Art & Practice of Shinrin-yoku (森林浴)

There are specific exercises I have learned along the way for my own mental well-being that blend the idea of getting connected with nature and finding value in my day-to-day life. It is interesting to me that when you stop and smell the roses (or other plants) you gain a sense of calm. It calms the nerves, helps the frustration of the day fade away, and generally gives a sense of hope. All of which can support feelings of ikigai and a general hope for the future.

Those exercises that I am referring to are part the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (森林浴). Literally translated means “forest bathing”, but you may recognize the more Western label put on it as nature therapy.

This idea was originally coined by Tomohide Akiyama, who was the head of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982 in an effort to encourage more people to spend time outdoors.

Dr. Qing Li, a regular practitioner & world’s leading expert of forest bathing has been documenting the benefits of spending regular time in nature as a means for the body to heal and for the mind to find peace.

The thing that comes to mind though as we think about how this practice can benefit everyone, is that we all need to be cognizant of the impact we leave on nature when we go. If we do not respect the wild places we go to, they won’t be there for others to enjoy. So please practice Leave No Trace when you visit nature, whether this is a forest or a city park. It is vital for us to consider our impact on nature. Doing so will end up developing a deeper sense of understanding on how we can preserve it for others to get the same healing benefits.

I would like to leave you with an exercise that you can start practicing today in a local park or green space. The only requirement is that you get outside to do this practice.

Exercise: The Gentle Gaze

As you head into the park or forest, see if you can expand your peripheral vision or awareness beyond the “tunnel vision” we get used to from extended screen time.

Shift your eyes 10 to 15 times left and right, as far as you can without moving your head. Then look up into the canopy and beyond the highest branch. When you look down again, stretch your gaze as far into the forest or park as possible.

Bring your attention back to an object within several inches of you. Now try “seeing’ all that you spotted at once.

How long can you maintain this ‘gentle gaze’?

Observe things as if you are seeing them for the first time. Observe things as if you are seeing them for the last time.

There is a Japanese idiom “𝙞𝙘𝙝𝙞 𝙜𝙤 𝙞𝙘𝙝𝙞 𝙚” (一期一会) which when interpreted describes a cultural concept of treasuring the unrepeatable nature of a moment. We are not guaranteed tomorrow or even the rest of today. Treasure each moment and you will find that the world will become a different place.

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