Put your dilemmas in an expansive context by ‘sky bathing’
By Victoria Leo
Many people have taken classes or read books about forest bathing (FB), a specific discipline of soaking up the energy, the clarity, and the joy of the forest. Although FB began in Japan, particularly American versions have sprouted all over the country. Neurobiology and psychology researchers have documented significant changes in blood pressure, inflammation levels, cardiovascular outcomes, and overall physical and mental health among people who spend time with citizens of the “Green Tribe.” Trees, sure, but also shrubs, flowers, distant hills covered in grass — any conscious, intentional communion with living things (animals, too!) will evoke a feeling of connection with all of life, and the medical evidence shows that this road to inner peace is a road to inner health as well.
Here in the Rogue Valley we have Mount Ashland, Emigrant Lake, numerous parks and the greenways nurtured by the Rogue River and its tributaries. In addition to walking, bicycling, and engaging in water sports, you can also promote your inner peace through intentional explorations.
Yet there is something else that we need, in addition to connection, to bolster our souls. Inner peace also thrives on expansiveness — unimaginable vistas, distances measured in years that light spends traveling at 186,000 miles per second — sky bathing.
Psychologists help us to put our troubles in perspective by getting us to think of our dilemmas in a larger context. The immeasurable universe above us is the largest possible context. Find the constellation Andromeda, and then the fuzzy patch called the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest neighbor to our Milky Way. The light that enters your eye when you see Andromeda has been travelling for two million years! Our ancestors were Homo erectus living in eastern and southern Africa, with simple stone tools, control of fire, and the beginnings of shelters and (probably) language when that light left its starry home.
Breathe the cool night air, look at that ancient light and — in addition to marveling at the size and splendor of the universe — consider the arc of a human life in that context. Just as with forest bathing, sky bathing becomes more powerful with specific practices that take you from time-traveling to the past, all the way to tracing the light that leaves our star, pouring out to inspire wondering eyes on alien planets. Learning the constellations can be merely a joyful exploration of planets and star-patterns, or it can expand into an exploration of deeper roads to inner peace.
You can start your nature-bathing practice with an early-morning practice of five slow, deep breaths on your porch, bringing the cool morning air into your lungs, and all the sensations of early morning into your awareness. The smells, the sounds, a slow visual scan, noticing the colors, the shapes, the forms, and manner of living things. Breathing deep to expel concepts, ideas, preconceptions and ideology, so that you can merely observe — and revel. A similar practice, right before retiring, can include the late sunsets and brilliant dusks of summer and fall, or the brilliant night-sky of winter and early spring.
Do this dual practice for a month and see how your inner world shifts!
In online+ Zoom format, available anywhere you have an Internet connection, Victoria Leo presents “Forest Bathing, Sky Bathing” through SOU-OLLI in fall 2022 — go to inside.sou.edu/olli/index.html. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (firstname.lastname@example.org).