I am notorious for letting my computer and cellphone batteries die out, almost making a game out of how long I can push them till they give out. It’s not just my devices. It sometimes feels like I am constantly running out of battery power myself and I’m playing the same game. “How long will you last?”, I seem to be asking myself.
My trip to Sydney in March last year to see my sister ended up becoming a valuable lesson on what was draining me, what would recharge my batteries and what needed to change in my life in this regard. At the time, I was inexplicably exhausted and ready for a break. I wasn’t working the hours I did when I was in consulting but the symptoms of physical and mental breakdown were evident. I couldn’t understand what I felt and why I felt it but it was clear to me that I couldn’t function in my current capacity.
My first morning in Sydney, I woke up to the sounds of birds and sunlight streaming through every possible space between the curtains. Almost immediately after I pulled open the curtains, I knew what was going to be the objective of my trip – communing with nature. As a long time city dweller who wakes up to the sight of high rise buildings and the sound of the fire engine, the spectacle of the forest behind my sister’s home in its morning glory was like seeing God. Since that morning, I made it my single objective to spend as much time as possible around the trees. They had something to say to me and I needed to hear what that was before it was time to be back in the concrete jungle.
I began noticing something interesting as the days went on – every walk, every sight of the forest energized me. At the time I was attempting a writing challenge and to my utter shock I managed to sit down and write every single day that I was there. The words tumbled out of me once I managed to focus and stay present. My energy levels were increasing too and it helped me embrace the new experiences (that often come with travel to a new country) with excitement instead of my usual response – fear and dread. One evening after we came back from a blissful walk in the forest I looked up the term “forest therapy”. Turns out the Japanese have studied this practice of strolling through a forest and seen similar things.
The practice of walking through a forest for recreation and relaxation is known as “Shinrin-Yoku” (forest bathing) in Japanese. A study in Japan analyzed the physical and mental effects of taking a relaxing walk through a forest. (The important term to keep in mind here is “relaxing walk” – they’re not talking about a run or power walk or a working lunch through a forest.) The forest environment was found to promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity than city environments. It was also found to be helpful to manage chronic stress.
Finding nature again has been one of the most satisfying rediscoveries of my adult life. Sure, I am not about to camp in the wilderness anytime soon (if you know me personally you will agree that I am not *that* person just yet) but after getting back from my trip I realized I could no longer live like I did before, surrounded by a mess of straight lines in glass and steel and constantly feeling on high alert because of the noise. This desire led us to our new place when our lease expired and it was everything my heart longed for – An apartment on a quiet, tree-lined street only steps away from the lake. Home was always a place of contemplation, rest and relaxation but the surrounding trees (even the bare ones in the winter) and the lake thats a short walk away have given me a new reason to love being home.
You never realize what you really need until it finds you. I’m glad to have found a place to recharge my batteries.