Nature And Emotional Health
Last week, a friend kindly shared a phone app with me that’s intended to help train our anxious, busy minds to slow down and relax. After several frustrating false starts (involving endless loops of the same annoying suggestions) I set my phone aside (I didn’t throw it!) and went outdoors. The irony of becoming even more upset and irritated by this helpful app was definitely not lost on me. I walked down to the local waterfront and strolled along the beach for a while, and within in minutes, I found myself laughing at the absurdity of my morning’s “meditation.” When I got back home, I found that the app had corrected itself and now works perfectly. Might there have been the possibility of user error? Hmmm. I’ve certainly noticed that my rather limited tech skills tend to evaporate when I’m stressed and/or tired and it’s all too likely that I was causing the problems myself. I have to wonder how many other issues might be similarly self inflicted.…
Though our garden is tiny, it still gives me great pleasure, but a longstanding issue with vertigo often limits the amount of bending and stooping I can do. A wise older gardener once told me two secrets to gardening comfortably into old age: When you get down on your knees, do everything that needs doing at that level before standing up again(!) Also, always keep a five gallon weed bucket at your side so you can hoist yourself back upright(!!) Both those little tips have been very helpful and probably kept me from quite a few tumbles. My daughter, who also has the familial vertigo issues, also has long covid, and for over year now, she’s been even less steady on her feet than I am on a rough day. Recently, she slipped and fell into my little garden bed, fortunately not hurting herself badly, but she said it took her quite a while to get herself back up. A bucket might have made that less arduous, but we don’t always expect to fall or be prepared to crawl around.
Anyway, in the process of getting herself upright, the back of the bed got pretty thoroughly crushed. It took me a while to tidy it up, as every time I saw it I felt sorrow both for her disability and for the mashed plants, which were already not happy in the sudden heat. For several days, I watered the mess with averted eyes, not wanting to know the full extent of the damage. Instead of gardening, I practiced a walking meditation suggested by the app. I’m very fortunate to be able to walk out my door and be among trees or by the waterfront in a matter of minutes. I remember in the early days of covid isolation worrying about the people stuck in small urban apartments with no place safe and calming to go. I also recall crossing the street hastily if I saw anyone coming up the sidewalk, and feeling scared when cyclists tore past me. For all we knew then, everyone was streaming viral droplets and everything we touched might be contaminated, from groceries to door handles. Right? We all learned to be afraid of each other, to back away when approached by a friend or neighbor, to stay apart and let no one in our homes. The only time I felt safe and comfortable was when I was at home or walking in a natural environment.
I was certainly not alone in this; every park all over the country was quickly packed with people seeking refuge in the natural world. Gardening, too, became more popular than ever as people discovered the pleasure and comfort that comes from being around plants. A recent study found that gardening creates peace of mind even for newbies; a series of 8 twice-weekly gardening sessions significantly reduced stress, anxiety and depression for women who had never gardened before. Another group were given art lessons instead and had similar benefits, but though both activities combine learning, planning, and creativity, the physical activity of gardening gave that group an extra boost of energy and well being.
Back To The Garden
When I finally got up the courage to clear away the mess, the damage wasn’t as extensive as it looked. Maybe all the broken stems protected the underlying plants from the heat and dry winds, because they look surprisingly healthy (if somewhat smaller). The resilience of the plants gave me hope for my own resilience, and my daughter’s as well. Covid caught her as she was slowly coming off decades of trying to be a man and feeling desperately wrong in that role. Several years with a wise and perceptive therapist helped her unwind the tangle of thoughts and ideas that held her frozen until she was able to realize that the core issue was false identity.
Even after just a few months as a woman, she became happier than I’ve seen her since pre-puberty. As she blossomed into her true self, even the relentless depression that’s held her hostage for decades began to ease. Getting breakthrough covid last June was painful for her and the ongoing physical symptoms remain uncomfortable but though the virus has taken a terrible toll on her energy and ability to get around, her mood remains largely positive. That’s more than I can say for myself (obviously), but she makes me hopeful that I too can learn to stay positive despite all the dreadful things going on in the world. At least some of the time (right?). I keep thinking about annoying slogans like ‘happiness is an inside job” and ‘you can be right or you can be happy.” Humph. Shades of Bobby McFerrin; don’t worry be happy? But, ok, yeah. I’ll give it a try, and also I’ll get my poor neglected garden back in shape. After all, there are many kinds of meditatin, and weeding and tending plants is right up there on my list. Onward, right?