Remembering the famous carol ‘The holly and the ivy’ got me thinking about the importance of plants at all times: and how trying to see and notice might become a practicable, everyday way to boost wellbeing.
In many woods (the setting for the carol), the holly and the ivy would stand out as the only plants to bear leaves in midwinter. So they embody plants’ power to enrich lives in myriad different ways, if only we pause to see. ‘Deck the halls’ is another carol highlighting the part plants play in celebrations, with holly’s glossy (if sharp!) leaves and red berries traditionally used to brighten and decorate homes. The carol ‘O Christmas tree’ demonstrates conifer evergreen trees’ importance in winter too, inside and out.
Thinking how plants contribute to the ways we celebrate, then, I wanted to explore how nature might be experienced at different levels, all the time.
More and more, I hear and see that people who might find connecting with nature (or music or art) helpful for their wellbeing, are too busy or too ill to focus on this. Their focus has to be getting through each and every day. Maybe they care for someone with an illness like dementia, or maybe they themselves live with the impact of stroke or disabilities. There are 1001 other reasons as well. So fleeting encounters with nature could be their only opportunity. Just noticing a plant or tree could create a different moment in their day, a moment away from everyday needs, tasks or struggles.
Moments like these connect us with nature’s cycle of growth and can create a different perspective. In a year like 2020 when so much has been turned on its head, plants have simply gone on growing.
Committing to attend a regular outdoor wellbeing group or to walk or garden might be out of the question for many people, either because of unpredictable health, the need to care for someone, work, or mobility or transport issues to name but a few. So instead, they could try to see and notice, to absorb what they come across in the everyday. Even in many cities, street trees or other plants could become a link to nature, seen through a window if it is impossible to go outside. Or you could look at images of plants.
Looking and seeing really are different, and I don’t always see when I look. As someone who walks a lot, I do try to see and notice. But sometimes I’m too busy thinking, or I have my head down against the wind, and I’m not open to what I see. Yesterday it was wet and windy on my walk, but I looked at the trees and thought how desolate they would look at this time of year without the ivy growing along their trunks. And then I saw the first, very small, early catkins on a hazel bush – a sign of spring.
You may have come across “exercise snacking”. No, not refuelling on pizza during a run! The idea is to try quick, simple exercises like leg stretches that you can fit in to a busy lifestyle or to help gradually recover from illness or injury. Tring to build simple, everyday connections with nature into your life could mirror this. It might seem obvious, but the obvious can be overlooked. It can be the simple that can make the most difference. Consciously being aware of what you look at could become instinctive, opening up a window on nature, clearing your mind for a moment and boosting wellbeing. Look and see.
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