lean mindfulness nature-writing outdoors personal-development

Genba and A Walk in the Woods

An Exercise In Mindfulness

Somewhere Out There In the Pacific Northwest — Photo Courtesy of Scott Hisey (Author) 2019

To begin with, Genba is a Japanese word translating to “the actual place”. It is often associated with Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System. Genba is all about getting out of the office and going out to see something. Sounds simple enough however truly seeing something can be difficult as our minds are filled with thoughts, assumptions and distractions. Think about losing your keys or phone. No matter how hard you try to remember where you last saw them your memory just cannot recall.

As I work towards a life experience that is more integrated and aware, I wanted to write an article about observation. Working as a researcher, one would assume that my powers of observation are strong. This couldn’t be further from the case! My conscious mind is filled with “noise”. Learning to see is a challenge and just like any other skill, it takes practice and self-reflection to develop. Spending time in nature is a great way to improve one’s powers of observation.

When you take a walk in the woods alone, what is your experience? Are you overwhelmed with thoughts related to life and work or are you able to relax and enjoy nature? If the latter, how observant are you of the ecosystem around you?

I will confess that often I am part of the 1st category. When I start off on a trail, my mind is still clinging to the material world. I am thinking about bills, schedules, things to do, etc. It usually takes me a while to get into the zone and achieve some basic level of equilibrium with my surroundings. Our minds will create many distractions. In meditation or mindfulness exercises, one needs only to acknowledge these thoughts and distractions to begin opening up to see what is truly in front of them.

When I get started on a hike, I typically walk for 5–10 mins and when a spot “speaks” to me, I have a seat and spend a few minutes in silence. By simply observing how busy my brain is, I am able to continue on my hike more open and aware of the world around me. Walking in the woods is a great way to sharpen our powers of observation. If you want to take it a step further bring a sketch book, sit down, open it and sketch your experience.

In my work life, before going to Genba (the actual place) or beginning a research activity, I like to engage the research team in a little ritual. By spending 10–15 minutes writing down all of our presumptions and assumptions about our research subject(s), we are able to move beyond these distractions and approach our work with hopefully less cognitive bias. Becoming aware of our thoughts can help prepare us to “see”.

My intent here is to encourage you, whether in your work or your free time to let go of the thoughts which are ruling your experience. Find something which works for you to acknowledge your thoughts and then file them away for another time. Be open to the experience around you and enjoy!

Genba and A Walk in the Woods was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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