by Sister Laureen Marie Painter, OSF
A few weeks ago, my classmate, Sister Paula, told me about an interesting podcast she listened to mentioning the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku wherein we are invited to simply be in nature, connect with it using our senses, regain some calm and serenity, and take a break from the busy-ness of life. What a gold-mine idea…not new to me but one that I wanted to know more about from the eastern perspective. As I studied the goals and effects of Shinrin-Yoku, I realized it was all about creating a bridge between the busy-ness and the calm of life much like our Franciscan approach to a healthy spiritual life, the blending of active and contemplative aspects.
Shinrin-Yoku creates a partnership with nature, a sensory immersion, an internal connection that leads to a captive meditation on what God, for we Christians, has gifted to us through creation. So very Franciscan…reflect on the “Canticle of Brother Sun.” Franciscan scholar Regis Armstrong wrote: “This magnificent hymn expresses the mystical vision of the Saint of Assisi and, since it springs from the depths of his soul, provides us with many insights into the profundity of his life of faith in the Triune God, Who so deeply enters into creation.” Creation enables us to connect to the moment of the now, to open ourselves to its Maker, to be cuddled by God. As I visit the woods here in Sylvania and spend time “forest-bathing,” I am caught up with the bursting trees whose leaves provide shade from the heat and am amazed at the peace and stillness that quickly encompass me. But then I realize that in the not-too-distant future these same trees will be letting go of their leaves so as to rest from the giving and enjoy the nakedness of nothing on them. For me, a genuine example of the bridge between the active and the contemplative in our lives…so Franciscan, so Shinrin-Yoku.
Our brains are bombarded with decision-making, strategizing, and planning while our spirits cry for a break, a pregnant pause in life, a time of comfort if only for a few moments. It has been scientifically proven that when in nature our brains behave differently, blood pressure decreases, sleep improves, stress and depression lessen. The path to healing and wholeness lies within us and we carry the forest with us. “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he [she] seeks.” (John Muir)
So where do Shinrin-Yoku and Francis of Assisi encourage us to go when the noise in our heads and the hurts of our hearts need to be healed and our spirits refilled? Possibly to creation and all its glory for therein is God.