When I first heard of earth bathing as an assignment I thought, “what hippie shit is this”. Not in an angry tone or anything一i was actually super intrigued because it didn’t sound like any other school assignment I’ve ever had before. Earth meant I wouldn’t require a laptop, a Wifi connection, text reading materials, and a boring desk to sit on. Earth meant outside, and while living in a metropolitan city in China where the sky around you is a never-ending jumbled mess of new and old sky-high structures and apartment complexes all sharing a small pot of land, outdoors was an assignment I was happy to go out of my way for. But again, what the hell is earth bathing.
To my happy surprise, it was exactly that. Earth bathing is going out in nature, in the rawest of forms. This assignment required absolute silence. No distractions. No activity. No friend or neighbor to accompany you, no music, no reading, no talking. Nothing. Just you, cross-legged on the floor beneath you. Perhaps a picnic blanket if you are so inclined to do so.
At the time, I lived 5 subway stops away from the heart of the city and the bottom foot of the city’s largest mountain and hiking destination for locals. Just a 5-minute bike ride from my apartment complex landed me in a huge park, centered by a medium-sized lake and reaching hike trails towards the inner edges of the park. This was glory.
The only downside of this activity at the time was the bugs. Nanjing, China is very humid during the summer, and no limited amount of clothing can help escape it. And so, although there was a lot more wildlife to bask in, it came with a few annoyances throughout.
I initially struggled with keeping my hands free and mind from wandering onto things I shouldn’t be focusing on. Much like when meditating, my mind tends to wander towards my to-do list or replaying a scenario in my head assessing how it was received by both myself and the other person involved. Naturally, my mind struggled to not pick up my phone during this time. But after 2-3 sessions, I began to enjoy the luxury of detaching from the business of life. I never stopped to think about how even if you walk down a busy street without your phone or mind-wandering elsewhere一you’re senses are still pretty heightened due to all the traffic and motion passing by. I personally love people watching and enjoying all the chaos that is happening before my eyes: life. But this was different. There wasn’t much human traffic to distract me and so I began to focus on the sounds around me. The small bugs and faraway ducks and birds start their day at the first few hours of the new day. I noticed time and time again, the way the wind caused ripples in the lake water and how different birds flew down to catch their meal. I could still hear the traffic of people but the sounds were distant. Very distant.
For 3 months I did this twice a week for 30 minutes. I accompanied my trip with a food item or water bottle in hand. Maybe a book to enjoy after the 30 sessions were over if I’d decided that I wanted to stay an extra bit. The truth is this activity later turned into a ritual that helped keep me sane during 2020 when so many things felt uncertain and new challenges presented themselves more regularly than not. It was more than a meditation practice. Meditation for me tends to help clear my mind and stressors for the moment. The effect will last up to an hour depending on the business of the moment. But this fueled me in a very different way. Instead of feeling clear or alleviated of stressors, I felt fueled. Energized, not in the “I feel relaxed” kind of way but in the “I feel rejuvenated” kind of way. It was a new umph. Something I quickly grew to love. The challenge of it and the transformative experience it nourished me with felt like something special and sacred.
Since 2020 I haven’t continued the practice. Last year, 202, has been one of the hardest years I’ve had, and it’s bleeding into 2022. But maybe, it means I just need to prioritize earth bathing and reconnect with the earth beneath my feet in the simplest, purest forms.