Politics, Halloween, and a Back-forty Bath

This election campaign has been good for those who enjoy cynicism, sensationalism, and hyperbole. I imagine sales of stomach antacids have risen, and psychiatrists have scheduled more therapy sessions: “No you weren’t hallucinating. That actually was a presidential debate you saw. But remember, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their ‘debate,’ so it could be worse.”
My unofficial polling—with an unusually large margin of error—has determined that a majority of Americans feel stressed about the election. But as Alfred E. Neuman said, “What, me worry?”
Farmer Optimism and Zen Bathing
Americans have been known for their upbeat spirit, and let’s face it—farmers must be optimists whether they admit it or not. When the weather, pests, or prices ruin crops year after year, it takes a hopeful outlook to plant those seeds each spring.
So even when the prospects of a “bountiful harvest” look mixed, it might be time for some positive waves–time to “take a bath.” The Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku roughly translates into “forest bathing.” The idea is that a person can take a nature hike—preferably in the woods—to replenish one’s peace of mind. This is not a walk to air out grievances or plan company meetings–it is designed to get us in a “forest state of mind.” Many think the immersion not only calms the soul, it also lowers blood pressure and improves a person’s overall physical well-being. The senses get awakened and the troubles of a hectic world fade.
Depending on where someone lives, the location of this “bath” could vary. Most folks don’t have Pooh Bear’s Hundred Acre Wood nearby, but city dwellers and rural residents alike can still slip into the water. You don’t have to shed your clothes, but you do have to shed your digital security blankets. No smartphones in these waters.
Take a Bath
Obviously, the countryside offers prime bathing opportunities. For me it centers on a walk around my parents’ farm. Occasionally I hike across the back forty acres to the small virgin prairie at the far end of the land that’s been in the family for five generations. As I explain in this previous blog, the five acres don’t look special, but the untouched area features tangled bluestem grass swaying in the wind, gold finches flitting from milkweed to mulberry tree, and narrow muskrat trails in the mucky area near the middle. If I let my mind float, the place also features echoes of stampeding buffaloes, native Americans on horseback, and newly arrived pioneers ready to homestead.
During the walk I might see a combine harvesting corn—the machine’s silhouette against the red glow of sunset as the grain dust hovers and yellow kernels flow into the hopper. Maybe I loop back along the creek bed where poplar trees sway on the bank and a blue heron rises in a low, slow flight. As I walk back to the house, I might think of the World Food Prize I attended last week and the hundreds of people from around the world focused on getting food to those in need—the Hunger Summit, the visiting youth groups, and the scientists working on nutrition. In a time of toxic political banter, plenty of folks are working on ways to make the world better.
If I’m lucky, the bath ends with a golden rinse as a full moon rises in the east.
I Ain’t Scared of No…
Not everyone has access to rural walks, but “neighborhood baths” in town might be feasible. If the scenery along the way includes intrusive political campaign signs, bathers can just think of them as Halloween decorations—a bit scary, but an American tradition that will end in a trick or treat session. Forest, farm, or back streets—a successful bath is filled with the serenity of nature and the knowledge that most people are doing good things.  
by dan gogerty (top pic from stonemountainreiki.com and bottom pic from commons.wikimedia.org)

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