Have you ever heard of “forest bathing”?
In Japanese, it’s called shinrin-yoku (森林浴). That’s what I’m doing right now,
or was doing a moment ago.
I’m writing this introduction in my notebook
while sitting here all alone.
My legs hang over a mossy, weatherworn footbridge
along a woodland path.
All I hear is an unidentified bird chirping,
the stream gently tickling the air beneath my bare toes,
and the sound of my own breath–
Today was my first time meditating in the middle of the woods
with my eyes closed.
As you may or may not already know,
I’m getting over a broken heart.
The numb ache of emptiness in my chest,
the loneliness of losing my go-to companion,
the questions left unanswered,
it’s all still in me.
Suffering likes to play its game of hide-and-seek
in the corridors behind my smile’s closed doors.
Back before I entered the forest,
when I was still in the car,
I’d been holding onto more than the steering wheel.
There was part of me that still clung onto my past relationship.
With it, I was holding onto the loss
and the suffering.
I held onto the worry and uncertainty about the future.
Deep down inside,
it was fear.
It was my fear of being alone,
and never meeting anyone else who would love me
like she did.
Back then, I couldn’t describe why I had to go meditate in the middle of the woods.
All I knew for sure was that it was meant to be.
If what I was afraid of was being alone,
then that’s exactly what I needed to go do–
The scared, little boy in me had always lacked courage.
How had I allowed fear to control my entire life until now?
All this time, I’ve been running away.
Cowardly ducked under my shield, powerless,
I guarded my heart from what I feared most–
Now, the time had come to confront my demons
once and for all.
To become a warrior, a boy does not put on his armor.
He takes it off.
I cried like a baby.
No one was there to hear me.
In the dark, I heard voices,
the low murmuring from a man.
I heard crackling footsteps on branches broken,
the rustling of leaves,
and a knocking sound that sent vibrations through the rustic wooden bridge.
I could feel it in my entire body.
I was afraid.
The voices went away.
When it was time to open my eyes,
nothing had changed.
It was me, alone,
with my friends the trees
and a little, black bird.
From up above the stoic trunks of fragrant pines,
I heard the birds rejoice.
Even though my heart was broken,
they still only sung songs of love and grace.
I witnessed life in nature–
nothing was missing,
nothing was wrong.
To the trees, all that existed was right there and now.
I didn’t hear the lines of pines fret in horror,
“What if summer never comes?!”
“We’ll be stuck out here in the cold, freezing!”
only when there was a breeze.
Now, I’m back home from my trip.
This morning when I reopened my notebook,
I found the miniature outline of a bug.
Had I inadvertently pressed its life away between two pages?
The tranquil silhouette reminded me of where I had been sitting
above the stream,
completely vulnerable to my surroundings.
I could remember how at peace it felt
to be detached from the human world.