Riding high on the great news that we're going to be able to trial prescribing nature, I accidentally got lost in social media and saw a tweet that brought me crashing down to earth. Quoting an article from The Guardian about nature prescriptions, the tweet was somewhat scathing about what it called the commodification of nature. I got a bit rant-y and then moved on, especially as the article itself was broadly very positive. Then today I found myself equally rant-y but on the other side of the argument. Another Guardian article, this time about the Royal Horticultural Society who are working with scientists to engineer the perfect garden to elicit the most calm and joy for people's wellbeing. Of course this isn't inherently bad; how wonderful it would be if schools and hospitals and community centres had gardens designed to make us feel better, it just seems a little fake. One of the reasons that forest bathing is so beneficial for health is the presence of phytoncides, volatile oils released in the aromas of plants and trees which when breathed in boosts the immune system and lessens inflammation; and one of the reasons people go forest bathing is because it makes them feel better, but in my head at least, the actual chemical action going on inside seems more like magic and less like engineering. Whichever it is though, it's true, nature heals. Let's spread it about as widely as possible, there's enough for everyone. Sometimes though, we need to do to put ourselves in the position to experience nature, whether by looking at the clouds out of the window or by going to the forest. We need to make it our practice.
I've been reading about nature too. I finally got Awe out of the library. Obviously I turned first to the chapter on Wild Awe, and whilst flicking through the pages, a couple of words in capital letters stood out:
I can't complain about that sentiment! In a whole range of experiments, from just getting people to stand and observe some trees, to white water rafting, they discovered that people felt better and acted less egotistically. I should also add, that in one of their experiments they showed participants a video of Planet Earth to evoke awe, so strictly speaking, wild awe is also available from your sofa.
When Dacher Keltner, the awe researcher and author of the book was in deep grief after the death of his brother, he says he felt aweless; because of his research he knew what he had to do, he had to find awe. So he went in search of it. He took a moment each day to be open to awe. He made it his practice. And it worked. He felt connected to his brother and to something bigger as he hiked on trails, watched the sunrise or felt the breeze.
One of my favourite quotes is from Alice in Wonderland where the Queen says "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." It popped into my head this morning as I came home from my walk in the park, having gasped at the colour of the sunrise, stood and wondered at the sound of the woodpecker and a moorhen sitting in a tree, and marveled at how bulbs actually work. When I opened my email there was more awe in form of a newsletter from Katherine May, author of Wintering, writing about her new book Enchantment; she calls it "a treatise on the urgent need for wonder in dark and uncertain times" and describes two occasions that have summoned awe for her; one an etching of a crowd observing a powerful meteor shower, the other her discovery of the tiny star shaped fossils from marine creatures called crinoids. The final line of her email says that both these things connect her to something bigger than herself, which takes us back to the researchers' definition:
Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.
I think I've experienced awe six times before breakfast today. And let's face it, breakfast itself is pretty awesome too! Where else can we find awe today?