Monday, January 3, 2011

Thinking about vitality and wisdom with so much inspiration from nature

"And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." (Shakespeare, AS YOU LIKE IT, Act II, Sc I)

I’ve always loved hiking, and have recently returned to this beautiful conversation with nature after so many years away. Yes, the trees do speak to me, the burgeoning winter streams tell me stories, and the moss-covered boulders and stones inspire.

I had convinced myself that working hard at Botany with focus and little distraction equals good business sense, and perhaps eventually a good life. But it is clear that we Americans work too hard, and in the process, we are sterilizing our minds of inspiration and deep aspiration. And we are making ourselves ill in the process. Returning to nature and appreciating the lessons it offers willingly to the attentive student has amplified my inspiration, and I now aspire to balance work and pleasure, especially in nature.

And we at Botany are on a renewed mission to bring this inspiration and aspiration to all of our lovely clients and friends; and we ask you to consider the following. We all recognize the refreshing feeling of renewal when we enter green spaces whether they be a forest, a garden or a favorite café which has paid extra attention to detailing with plants, but research has documented that plants offer further benefits including:

Reduced stress. Blood pressure and muscle tension are lower when people are around plants, both indoors and outdoors. Stress is reduced when people have window views of plants and gardens. People performing stressful tasks recover from that stress more quickly and completely with plants in the room where they are working. And walking in gardens is particularly beneficial.

Better health. When stress is lower, stress-related illnesses including headaches and backaches are fewer. Improved air quality results in fewer respiratory and skin problems. Pain perception is also reduced when plants are present, so people feel better. Working in nature or spending significant periods of time in nature has an even greater impact and evidence suggests that this can lessen the risk of developing serious illness. Also now being pioneered are health care programs where doctors refer their patients to forest-based health projects. Here, access to woodland is being improved and activity in woodlands is being encouraged. Following the results of such programs shows that people are becoming healthier due to the exercise and fresh air.

Improved productivity. Productivity on repetitive tasks is higher when performed with plants present. Even cognitive capacity has been shown to be higher in the presence of plants.

Reduced mental fatigue. Mental fatigue, which is increasingly common with the constant intrusions from e-mail and cell phones, is lower when plants are present. People are more attentive when they are in environments with plants.

Enhanced moods. People are happier and feel friendlier when plants are present. They also are less sad when plants and trees are nearby.

We lament that in the last few hundred years, there has been an extraordinary disengagement of humans from the natural environment; due mostly to the enormous shift of people away from rural areas into cities. In evolutionary terms, the urban environment is a spontaneous, changeable and historically unfamiliar habitat. Never in history have humans spent so little time in physical contact with animals and plants, and the consequences are unknown. Already, some research has shown that too much artificial stimulation and an existence spent in purely human environments may cause exhaustion and produce a loss of vitality and health. Modern society, by its very essence, insulates people from outdoor environmental stimuli and regular contact with nature. And the question arises, are humans fully adapted to an urban existence? With parks and public nature reserves often their only means of accessing nature, the majority of urban-dwelling individuals may have all but forgotten their connections with the natural world. And at what cost?

And so I return to my hikes in nature and I seek the wisdom it offers, as did the Celts over 2000 years ago. We know that the Celts had a wealth of knowledge about trees and the human relationship with them. This was passed down through generations in poetry by specially trained elders. When the Celtic way of life was lost in Roman times, much of their knowledge was lost, as well. However, we can pick up remnants of this lost knowledge. We find that each species of tree was important to the Celts in particular ways. They provided shelter, energy, food and medicines as did other plants in the landscape. Each tree species also had certain wisdom and healing qualities associated with it. The Celtic Druids (specially trained elders), had a secret form of written language called ogham. The earliest known form of this was the Tree Ogham or Celtic Tree Alphabet. Each letter was associated with a tree and had a wealth of symbolic wisdom behind it. Further, each month of the Celtic calendar and therefore different seasons and festivals throughout the year were associated with a particular tree.

I recollect those I’ve known who exhibit a particular vitality or a rare wisdom, and I find a commonality—a deep connection with nature. We certainly could as a society benefit from increased vitality and more wisdom. So a renewed vision from us to bring to you this very special conversation with nature in hopes that beginning now in the freshness of 2011, you all shall find enhanced well-being in increased vitality and wisdom from a deeper connection with nature. May you all find yourself hiking in nature soon. Come home inspired, and contact us to help you design your new garden, install a completed plan, or maintain a beautiful garden that has been neglected.