Since ancient times, nature has been an original source of inspiration for humans seeking physical, emotional, and spiritual nourishment. A mindful sit in nature was often the precursor to improved health, better problem-solving, higher moods, and greater imagination. Nature has come to be synonymous with the tenets of well-being for its healing resonance that feels at once intimate yet expansive.
This powerful resonance is a form of experiential well-being that has captured the attention of humans throughout history. Across different cultures, spaces, and traditions, a gradual awakening of experiential well-being began through the exploration of its sensory dimensions and their consequent modalities. These modalities borrow nature’s framework as ingredients of the elemental—fire, earth, water, wind, light—and the ephemeral—time, matter, space, presence.
Our curiosity as individuals to explore the conditions which manifest deeper states of well-being is a foundational journey in step with our collective human effort towards greater healing, purpose, and connection.
One of the most popular dimensions of experiential well-being centers around the element of heat and fire. Sources of thermal reprieve were believed to treat ailments, cleanse the mind, and purify the soul; a notion so popular as to have developed during ancient civilization and persisted throughout time and across a huge span of cultures as traditional rituals, from the Finnish sauna to Mesoamerican sweat lodge, Japanese onsen, Turkish hammam, Russian banya, and Korean jimjilbang.
Among other elements such as light and sound, these modalities became more popular as a source of healing with the rise of technology, where innovation allowed their capacities to be more commonplace and accessible. In the late 1800’s, after the invention of domestic electricity and lighting, scientists took an interest in the healing capacities of light, giving way to John Harvey Kellogg’s invention of the world’s first infrared sauna, which sparked a revolution in domestic health tools as a way for individuals to bathe in their own source of heat and light.
The use of color as an added dimension of light followed suit with the artistic awakening of modern light artists who would use colored light as a sensory bath, much like how heat functions in a sauna. One of the most well known light artists is James Turrell, who constructed large-scale installations of light to alter sensorimotor experiences and explore the depths of human perception. In similar fashion, sound artists like La Monte Young in the 1970s were exploring the depths of audio as an experiential medium to awaken interiority, and such artists were paving a movement around sonic healing using space, light, and vibration as an intersectional experience to awaken consciousness and evoke the sublime.
Indigenous Sweat Lodge
Naked Sweat, Mikkel Aaland
The Way of the Japanese Bath, Mark Edward Harris
Incandescent Light Bath, John Harvey Kellogg 1852
Escape From The Pressures Of Modern Life - " ‘Bye for now,’ says the man of the house as he retreats into think tank." 1970 Popular Science
Aten Reign, James Turrell
The parameters of experiential well-being are the parameters of our inner container: how deeply, frequently, and vibrantly we can experience ourselves at a state of inner attunement, awareness, and alignment.
Like the ancestral draw towards nature and elemental forces, our sensibility as somatic creatures rely on the senses to be our peripheral tool of perception. Our senses are the portal with which we see, perceive, and embody the entire human experience. Quite literally, our sensory well-being is our experiential well-being. When directed skillfully, with intention and awareness and kindness, our senses provide the entry to our own capacities of presence, spaciousness and connection.
While the specific ingredients to experiential well-being have always evolved and will keep on evolving, we are collectively arriving at a unique landing point where media and technology have saturated our everyday way of life to such a degree that our needs have vastly outgrown traditional means of relief. On an individual, social, and cultural level, new frameworks and counterbalances are necessary to help us navigate modern challenges on the journey towards greater well-being.