How does one discover and make the decision for a new life path? And what does that look like to embark down that road?
Robert Frost's famous poem tells us about his choice to take the least traveled path at his fork in the road. These moments of decision-making can happen all day, every day in our lives. Yet our decisions are likely based on our previous life experiences and a risk association of which path to take when at that fork in the road.
My Fork in the Road
My previous life of more than two decades in academia was like a battle saga that I never agreed to enter into. These life experiences in that challenging environment made me analyze what I truly wanted out of life. It came to the point where I didn't think I could survive toxicity much longer and made the impetus for a drastic change. I describe this as forging a new unpaved path after being trapped in the h.o.v. lane with barricades and limited exit ramps as I found on the road to Boston from Rhode Island where I used to live.
Get lost! Rewarding experiences occur when we get LOST – lost in thought, lost in a good book, lost in translation, lost in conversation, lost in place. Immerse yourself in nature's wonder and allow yourself the experience to wander. This is my mantra.
Once established firmly in the new unpaved path in a beautiful location of rural rolling hills of the Western Highland Rim in middle Tennessee where the skies remain mostly free of light pollution, I began to recuperate from more than two decades in the toxic work environment of the mental psychological battle that wore me down. In making this decision at that fork in the road, I reflected upon my childhood and teenage years with the most joy in my camping and scouting experiences. I wholeheartedly believed I needed to return to nature and allow myself to get lost.
My Japanese Inspirations
My first exposure to Japan was as a young child while my family resided in Okinawa, not once, but twice. The second time I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. I have vivid memories of walking from our house on a hill through sugar cane fields into the nearby town to buy uniquely designed pencils and erasers. I've had an interest in Japanese aesthetic since then from objects to philosophy. While in graduate school in the late 90s, I dreamt about one day returning to Japan and I often thought to myself maybe an eventual sabbatical. During my role as a graphic design professor, I taught design history and became even more interested in Japanese aesthetic including design. My meandering path of life-long learning included being accepted into a 10-month-long study with other educators in East Asian studies. I then also spent three weeks at the East-West center in Honolulu for their infusing institute to study all aspects of Japan and Korea. After that I audited an Asian film studies course and still to this day love to watch Japanese films.
I am not sure exactly the moment that I learned of the forest bathing technique and process. Their connection to nature is exemplified in Studio Ghibli movies and haiku among other creative productions. Further inspired and motivated, I eventually was able to travel and immerse myself in Japan culture and landscape soon after those formal education studies. One of the most impactful moments of my first experience in Japan was walking into the Meiji-jingu shrine in Tokyo. As you enter under the first large 40 ft tall Torii gate made from Japanese Cypress, you are surrounded by a forest. On approximately 170 acres of the grounds of this shrine complex there is an evergreen forest that consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species. It's breath-taking. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and was under construction from 1915-1921 and fully completed in 1926. They believed that the trees would take 100 years to develop into a diverse eco-system and forest canopy, but it only took about 50 years. This is quite a magical place. You can sense it when you walk down a very wide gravel trail through this forest. You leave the fast-paced world just outside the edge of the forest most exemplified by the bustling Harajuku district and JR train system.
I've been to Japan now 8 times in 10 years as of this writing. I have traveled in different parts of the country and am still in awe of the connection to nature. It permeates even the goodies in bakeries and the kimonos worn on the streets. In Kyoto, there is a walk called the philosopher's path. It's a meandering pace along a creek between numerous shrines. I received creative and nurturing inspiration from the botanical gardens, the natural environment, and the manicured shrines.
I have wanted to bring this sense of nature and it's importance to my own property and even have my own bamboo garden to manicure.
My new path
In establishing a rural creativity retreat center forest bathing has been a goal to integrate formally or informally. I had heard and seen stories of it becoming more popular in the everyday person's vernacular. I think there was a story on NPR a few years ago about the health benefits. In early stages of the pandemic shut down of 2020, I stumbled upon a course online for 'forest bathing' which seemed like just a little webinar course, so I decided to pop into it to get more formalized with shinrin-yoku. It was in the reading for that curriculum that I discovered there is actually a certification process to be a guide.
That led to my discovery of ANFT and my certification this February 2021 to be a Forest Therapy guide. One of the requirements at the end of the course is to create a web of inter-being. As we enter the training, we learn various aspects of the ANFT version of the inspiration of forest bathing. In the web of inter-being, we acknowledge more than just the trees, but many creatures that share this space. My collage is at the start of this post.
I'm really looking forward to growing with the forest and land that I now caretake and share with others in guided sessions. My career in academia was marked by points in which I tried to get students to disconnect from their technology or even the technology required to do their work in the labs. I gave them evidence that getting up and moving or going for a walk would help their brains in the creative process. It was met often with resistance. Now I can assist people in learning how to go slow and to disconnect in a more practical and meaningful way.