They talk in breathy voices and say things such as, Come on baby, we love you. Sometimes the mom and newborn are in bed. Sometimes they are in a bath. Spectators are gleeful. When the dust settled, Jamie's despair centered not so much around his dating other mothers at her boys' school, but on how she wound up choosing such an angry and aggressive man to marry in the first place. When she reread her journals from their dating days, she saw that she was very clear about looking for a man who could provide for her financially, and that's who she found. Doug took her to fancy restaurants, and Broadway plays, and sent her flowers at work. At the time, she glossed over the fact that he was rude to the waiter, snapped at the usher, and that her friends didn't like how he treated her. Working a low-paying job while living in an apartment with three other women and eating ramen noodles every day, Jamie had ignored the warning signs about Doug's temper. She was focused on the good things about him and the life he could provide. His two-carat diamond proposal seemed like a lifeline. She had always thought of herself as meek. She was a quiet, gentle, and conflict-averse woman who married a loud, angry man. It took some time for Jamie to accept why she chose Doug in the first place. Low levels of cortisol and many other stress markers. Greater risk of mental illness. Noise and tension. Connecting with multitudes, but surrounded by strangers. Lack of the color green and predominance of gray. Straight lines and edges.

These five places, home to the longest-living people in the world, are all relatively undeveloped and in natural environments. We visited one of them when we were writing Ikigai. The so-called Village of Centenaries is in northern Okinawa, and its residents live surrounded by the jungle and the sea. The four other Blue Zones are also places in the country where residents are in constant contact with greenery. Everything's reversed. Just to be clear, Newton didn't discover gravity. It was already there. We're soaked in it. If a caveman kicked a pig's bladder into the air, it came back down again, in exactly the same way that a modern-day football does. It's just that Captain Caveman never thought it through. In the same way, Syd Banks didn't invent his so-called three principles. To be fair to the canny Scot, he never claimed he did. They've always been there, hidden in the very best place, in plain sight. He didn't discover' them, heuncovered' them. Everybody is encouraging. Babies slip out. Moms are calm. Blissful is a better word. Dads are helpful. Freebirthers have had two conferences.

About 40 couples showed up for the first one in 1998 in Charleston, South Carolina. Some 50 adults along with their babies attended the second one in July 2001 in Louisville, Colorado. Rixa Freeze, for her PhD thesis, interviewed more than 200 women who delivered their own babies successfully. Still, statistics are unreliable because the data do not differentiate between an intentionally unassisted birth from an unintentionally unassisted birth, the kind born in a taxi or airplane. It seems sad to say, but the truth is that I didn't think I could take care of myself, Jamie says. The irony is that now I'm responsible for myself and my two boys, working more hours than ever before, and up for a promotion at work. The act of leaving revealed a courageous side that Jamie didn't know she had and encouraged her to take other steps out of her comfort zone. Jill found her way to acceptance once she became sick and tired of hearing herself talk about her ex. It didn't mean that he no longer upset her. What changed was that she stopped waiting for him to act differently. I gave up saying, `If he would just . Instead, I dealt with whatever was happening in a rational, detached way. That gave me a feeling of being on solid ground. Suzanne was able to accept her ex exactly as he was and have a more peaceful relationship with him when she gave up expecting that they would see things the same way. In the Nuoro and Ogliastra provinces of Sardinia, there are many small villages where 100-year-old residents walk back and forth over the countryside, and even some who still shepherd their flocks of sheep. Loma Linda in California is another one of the Blue Zones. With a population of less than 20,000 inhabitants, close ties are maintained through neighborhood associations, and residents are surrounded by forests and green spaces dotted here and there with small houses. The peninsula of Nicoya, in Costa Rica, is another place where inhabitants practically live in the jungle, much like the Japanese of northern Okinawa. And, finally, the fifth Blue Zone is Ikaria, in Greece. This mountainous island has small villages scattered throughout the forests but with views to the sea, and a total population of less than 10,000 people.

In addition to the direct benefits of shinrin-yoku these people enjoy, another important factor in their longevity is the food they consume, which they grow themselves. Even though only a tiny part of the world's population lives in Blue Zones, urban planners are increasingly conscious of the need to integrate nature with cities. Japan is a good example of this. Although Tokyo is a megalopolis with thousands of skyscrapers, almost no one lives in its vertical spaces. I don't want to big him up too much but he's rather Messiah-like - beard, sandals, softly spoken, lots of followers, that kind of thing. I'm not sure he ever walked on water but he used to work on water, a welder in the Glasgow shipyards by trade. Then, one day, he had one of those wakey-wakey moments that all reality is an illusion. That's a pretty big thought to have on a rainy Tuesday in Scotland. I'd say he had a riveting day in all senses of the word. Syd's insight was around the three principles of mind, thought, and consciousness, so we need to unpick those. Your mind, it's the spark. It connects you to life, your own and other people's. Your mind allows you to have thoughts, roughly 80,000 of them per day, a continuous stream, some good, some bad, some downright dangerous. The 80k are the ones you get as far as thinking - there are another million potential thoughts buffering, ready to step into your life if chosen. Some freebirthers worry they may be breaking a law, so after the baby is born, they get a licensed midwife to sign the birth certificate. In some states, such as New York, it is illegal to give birth with an unlicensed midwife but not by yourself. Do-it-yourself deliveries are not illegal precisely because it would be impossible to prove that a woman intentionally chose that path. Safety records are misleading because some women intend to deliver unassisted but if things are not going as smoothly as planned will rush to a hospital and call a midwife. Judy Seaman, the writer, producer, and director of the documentary A Clear Road to Birth, said that of 54 women who planned unassisted births, 2 called a midwife and 8 went to the hospital at the last minute. The rest had successful births.

The records, if there were any, would have shown 44 successful unassisted births. Long before the Web sites, videos, and freebirthing associations, there was one lone mother who gave birth to seven of her nine children without any help at all. In the 1950s, Pat Carter, of Titusville, Florida, refused to have doctors and midwives help her. Birth is easy, she said, if you don't let yourself gain too much weight and the whiskey helps you relax. When differences cropped up, Suzanne no longer tried to cajole, influence, or change her ex. Instead, she accepted him as a unique person who marched to the beat of his own drum. If there was something that I wanted done in a certain way, I would now do it myself, Suzanne says. I stopped trying to convince him of anything. When they accepted their exes for who they were, Suzanne and Jill were surprised how much closer their own friendship grew. They no longer focused every discussion on the men and were able to talk about other interests, their kids, vacation plans, and their hopes for the future. With more space and energy, they started to explore creative projects. It was during their walk and talks that they realized how much they got out of sharing their challenges and solutions. They started to daydream about how to share this kind of support with other women. They were excited about what they could do to spread a message of optimism around the challenges of divorce. The majority of inhabitants live far from these centers, many in small houses on the outskirts of the city. As soon as you leave the main train stations, you see streets start to curve, and you get the feeling that the parks are like magnetic fields around which everything else has been built. The residential neighborhoods of Setagaya-ku, Nakano-ku and Bunkyo-ku are perfect examples of this phenomenon in Tokyo. You can't walk five minutes from house to house before you come across a temple surrounded by trees, or a garden that makes you forget you're in a huge city. Maybe that's why these are the places where many of the main characters in Murakami novels roam. Aerial views of Tokyo show a city with fractal, irregular shapes highlighted by three major green spaces: the Imperial Palace, Yoyogi Park, and the gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen.