The nourishment and replenishment of Summer is coming to its close; many children in my neighborhood are returning to school next week already. As we savor precious moments of warm weather and being outdoors, I’m reminded of this story of the importance of nature in renewing our joy in life and restoring our souls. Decades, ago, when Russian cosmonauts were circling the earth in their space stations for five months at a time, one of their experiments was to grow peas in outer space. And one of the ways they sustained a lifeline to their home on Earth was to sleep with their heads near the photos of loved ones — and near the growing peas.
We know for ourselves the grace and inner peace we come to when we have a few moments in a forest, by a stream, when we take time to stop and smell the roses. Researchers have found that besides peace of mind, spending time in nature restores the energy of mind as well. Cognitive functioning improves more when people’s apartments face a garden than when they face a parking lot. Cognitive functioning improves more when people spend ten minutes walking through a park rather than walking through a mall or on a street downtown.
Researchers have also found that “ownership” of something green and growing helps people live longer and function better. Residents in nursing homes who were given the responsibility of watering the plants in their rooms lived longer, on average, than residents whose plants were cared for by the staff.
I saw a poignant example of “ownership” of something green and growing in the film Dancing in Jaffa, a documentary about a ballroom dance world champion returning to his birthplace in Palestine, now Israel, teaching elementary school children ballroom dance as a path for Arab and Jewish children to be in the same room, talk, touch, dance, laugh, and become friends. In one scene, a young Palestinian boy is showing his Jewish girl dance partner “his tree,” a small weed growing through the crack between his home and the ground. He was so proud! And she got it and was appreciative.
Exercise: Recovering Resilience Nature-ally
- Find a living, growing plant/tree in or near your home, or on the way to work, or in a favorite park or trail. Adopt this plant for a month.
- You may care for the plant, watering and weeding. You may simply visit. Spend a few moments each time you visit relating to “your” plant/tree. You may meditate; you may converse; you may reflect on your own inner self as you commune with your plant/tree.
- Notice any changes in your relationships with your plant/tree over time; notice and changes in how you relate to your self, to life, over the month’s time.
I once had a friend who adopted a tree she came to call the tree of lamentation. Whenever things in her life became overwhelming, confusing, or simply deeply sad, she would hike to her tree and sit under it, resting her back against the trunk, feeling the energy of the tree support and comfort her. As things eased in her life and she became quite happy again, she would still visit her tree from time to time, simply to reflect on her journey, with gratitude for the healing of nature.