Happy New Year Everyone!!
2020 was such a pile of garbage, it is nice to finally escape it. 2021 will still be affected by the goings-on of 2020, but at least we will be psychologically free of it in a manner of speaking.
Every year I choose a Japanese word to be the “theme” of my year, a word that will be the guiding principle to help me move forward with all the different aspects of my life: career, spiritual, financial, whatever it may contextualize and improve. This year I am thinking that I need a reset, a “getting back on track” kind of approach to things after having had my life radically altered by the events of 2020. Thankfully I was not personally affected by COVID-19, but it is no fun to constantly be wearing a mask, social distancing, sterilizing my living space, and so on. But the word ‘reset’ just doesn’t provide the full picture, the right nuances for the year. So instead I have chosen a word with a different meaning that can work as a good substitute of sorts.
When I was young I used to go out into the forest and sit under a tree, piling snow up around myself until I was mostly covered. As I was wearing ski pants, and snow works as an insulator, I was both cozy and hidden away from the forest animals and birds. After remaining motionless for a minute or two, the various denizens of the forest would be moving around again, now that the “danger” was gone. It is amazing how much Life is packed into a few square meters of prairie forest. Multiple species of small and large birds, rabbits, deer, skunks, beavers, coyotes, and if you are unlucky, bears, cougars, and lynx. Even just walking through the area you would see the tracks of so many different animals and birds, that alone was enough to put you into a tranquil state, reflecting on how amazingly lucky Canadians are having all these wonderful animals. This environmentally induced state of peace is known in Japan as shinrinyoku – “forest bathing” (森林浴), the act of going out into the forest and soaking up the fresh air, letting the light coming through the leaves and branches dapple your skin, listening to a babbling brook, and all the other wonder things that the forest can provide. In this case, the environment of the forest provides this effect, being settled amongst the trees, in the middle of all the Life going on.
I also used to get this feeling after cleaning my old apartment in Amagasaki, Japan. I was fortunate enough to have a nice sized apartment with traditional tatami mat flooring and antique, lacquered furniture (cabinets, table). I kept it extremely clean, and thanks to a perfectly placed balcony with sliding floor to ceiling translucent doors, my main living space was filled with wonderful natural light. I could look south across the rooftops towards the distant mountainous hills around Kobe, and watch the seasons colour the landscape. The walls of the main room were a kind of pale sea-foam greenish blue, and the evening sun lit the room up in the most gorgeous manner. I felt like I was “apartment-bathing” (アパート浴?), sitting on the floor with my girlfriend in the evening heat, keeping cool with a giant fan and the best beer on the planet (Asahi SuperDry, of course!).
I think 2021 is the right time to make sure we are keeping our physical and mental environment clean and orderly to the degree that it will have the same effect on us that shinrinyoku does on a nature walk. It was easy to let a lot of things go while being cooped up in our houses. And sometimes it is best to have a creative, inspiring mess going on in the places where we write, paint, practice music, and so on. Clutter isn’t always bad! But the right kind of clutter or the right kind of orderliness, the kinds that brings out the qualities that shinrinyoku does, these are worth reinvesting in. So for 2021 I am going to reinvigorate my household cleaning schedule, optimize my grocery list for health and savings, reevaluate my goals and strategies for becoming a better drummer and saxophonist, reorganize my language study materials; things that can make my inner and outer environments great places to “bath” in my best thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
I invite you to join me on this year long journey, since I am lucky enough to have a great little following of regular readers; artists, musicians, students, poets, and the like. After a sh*t year like 2020, wouldn’t it feel great to do our best living yet? Why don’t we give it a try?