I love to travel to wilderness locations such as the ones I described in my previous blog post, where one can be overwhelmed by the size of the landscape and feel for a time, completely alone, lost in the vastness. It's partly to do with the silence in such landscapes, where you can almost hear your heartbeat.
I consider the idea of visiting remote places an aid to helping artists develop a more mindful response to the land, and as well, to find a visual vocabulary to express that connection. Mindfulness is the key. Not only being mindful of your own body, feelings and thoughts, but becoming mindfully aware of nature. And then, finding ways to creatively express that connection. I find it so easy when I go for a walk to forget about where I am and think about my problems, or worries or get lost in daydreams.
There are many ways of developing a sense of place. One way to connect that I've discussed in previous blog posts, is to spend time in one location, a practice called Sit Spots. The idea is to choose a spot in nature that you respond to in some way and to sit in this same spot daily or on a regular basis. We only have 4 or 5 days in a workshop for this exercise. But it's a beginning. For the sit spot exercise in my workshops, I suggest sitting outdoors in the same spot each day for 20 minutes, just observing, and then, perhaps painting or sketching in a journal for another 15 or 20 minutes, abstractly recording feelings and experiences.
Another way of relating to place is through the Japanese concept of Shinrin-Yoku, a term coined by the Japanese government in 1982, which translates as 'Forest Bathing". It involves quietly walking and exploring, with all senses open to every sound, colour and feel of the forest. In this practice, mindfulness meets nature and the goal is to 'bathe' yourself fully in the essence of the forest. You wander very slowly, breathing deeply and mindfully and stopping to fully experience what deeply interests you, the texture of the bark on the trees, a mushroom or wildflower.
Today, the research database PubMed lists 85 studies on the health impact of forest bathing, including studies indicating that it significantly lowers blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels and sympathetic nerve activity compared with city walks, while also alleviating stress and depression.1 The most provocative of these studies conclude that exposure to phytoncides, the airborne, aromatic chemicals/oils emitted by many trees, have a long-lasting impact on people’s immune system markers, boosting natural killer cells and anticancer proteins by 40 percent.
Working with this idea, I'm in the process of booking a wilderness lodge that is deep in a forest for a workshop in 2020 that includes a forest bathing program, led by a naturalist. So exciting.
But besides the idea of nature healing us, I wonder; what if we were all more mindful of this earth? What if we gave back?
"To be struck by the magnificence of nature is to be returned again and again, in all-too-brief moments, to the innocence in which we were born. Awe. Wonder. Humility. We draw them into us and are altered forever by the unquestionable presence of Creator. All things ringing true together. If we carry that deep sense of communion back into our workaday lives, everyone we meet benefits. That is what we are here for: to remind each other of where the truth lies and the power of simple ceremony." Richard Wagamese, from the book, Embers