Immerse Yourself

With International Forest Bathing Day falling on 12 September, I thought I would explore this intriguing idea, which for many people has become a way to improve wellbeing.

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The expression “forest bathing” is memorable and striking, but could also be confusing. Not only is there no need to get wet, but you don’t even have to be in a forest. The expression is used to cover different ways of connecting with nature and the outdoors. Thinking about bathing, I think of words like cleansing, immersive and soaking. So maybe this is an opportunity to feel your mind “cleansed” as you “immerse” yourself in the natural world, and “soak in” the sights and sounds of a forest, a field or a single city tree. Unlike a shower, where the focus is on speed, bathing is more about slowing down and going deeper, absorbing: as is forest bathing as a form of nature connection.

And why forest bathing? Forests do have a particular place in popular imagination. They are hushed, places of stillness, a world of their own. They enfold you in their shade. So again there’s the idea of an immersive experience of nature – but as we know, that’s in no way limited to forests themselves. I used to walk regularly in a wood. There was a hush, a feeling of being enclosed, away from the open fields which surrounded the wood. Walking there regularly I got to see it in all different moods and times of year. But now that I live nowhere near a wood or forest, I still immerse myself in nature all the time.

Founded two years ago, the Forest Bathing Institute is working to develop forest bathing in the UK: running forest bathing gatherings at places like Leith Hill, Kew Gardens and the RSPB Sandy reserve, and training people to become forest bathing guides themselves. Another important aspect of their work is cooperating with six UK universities on research into the impact of forest bathing. Lived experience and testimonials can be powerful, but assessment, monitoring of measurable impacts, is needed if forest bathing is to gain the recognition and funds it deserves. To this end, the UK’s first peer-reviewed research paper into forest bathing’s health benefits has recently been published. It reveals clear impacts on mood, emotions and also heart rate.

And forest bathing is growing rapidly. Organisations like the National Trust & Forestry England promote and explore forest bathing. Many Forest School programmes in different locations draw on forest bathing. With forest bathing videos on You Tube, you don’t even have to be in nature – instead you can try immersing yourself in the natural world from your desk or chair.

The more forest bathing grows and the more research is done, the more questions will be answered. I wonder if people who live in urban areas benefit most from forest bathing, as a welcome contrast to their everyday? I wonder if forest and woodland will be proven to have a stronger impact than other natural settings?

Thinking of forest bathing reminded me of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire: trees planted to form the shape of a built Christian cathedral. As in a built cathedral, this becomes a reflective, contemplative space, somewhere to think what matters.

Do you have any experiences of forest bathing to share, or thoughts or questions? It would be great if you’d like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Climbing On Camera

Imagine mountain climbing and photographing your way around the world and you have some idea how US climber Jimmy Chin has spent the last twenty or more years. I first heard of Jimmy Chin last year when he published There and Back, a photographic book which also shares his life story. Photographs and documentary films like his open to me, and to many others, terrain I or we are unlikely ever to experience for ourselves. They allow me a glimpse of a very different way of living and being. They draw the extreme into the everyday.

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Many of us like to experience nature at first jand, maybe to explore wilder or remote landscapes or just to get outside to the park. Many of us also enjoy being active in nature, maybe running, walking, cycling or wild swimming. And many of us like to photographor video what we see. All these experiences can draw us out of ourselves. Some people take them further than others, pushing boundaries, undertaking extreme or adventure sports, going higher, further, deeper.

Jimmy Chin has climbed on all seven of the world’s continents, on rock, ice and snow, narrowly escaping death on different mountain ranges. Initially a “dirtbag climber”, living in his car for several years, a life he now misses, Chin came to others’ notice as his climbing progressed. Inspired by the wildernesses he inhabited, he began photographing his own and others’ climbs as well. He has gone on to shoot some of the world’s most extreme terrain and scenery, and some of the daring and skill of the people who climb that terrain. Looking at his images, nature stands out, but so too do human experiences of nature: in the vastness of the mountains, the climbers stand out, small in scale but drawing the eye in their colourful gear, bold against the monochrome landscape of snow and rock.

To me photography is all about the moment, being so focused on that moment that you want to preserve and hold the moment so it stands outside time. But Jimmy Chin writes how he has struggled with the way photograph took him out of the moment, when it was living in the moment which was a spur to his climbing. Maybe it’s all how you understand being in the moment. Maybe wondering when and where to shoot, what to leave out, you are thinking and assessing instead of simply being there. But in another way I feel that you are all the more in the moment as you observe more closely.

Jimmy Chin makes documentary films for National Geographic and co-directs cinema and streaming films with his wife. Extreme skiing is another of his pursuits, skiing down no less than Mount Everest some years ago.

Few of us will climb mountains let alone on every continent. Few of us will spend time in such wild terrain. Few of us will photograph such landscapes. But images and films like these can inspire with their power and otherness and scale. Simply looking at these photographs can become in itself an encounter with wilderness and adventure. They might also inspire us to seek out our own experiences of nature, maybe closer to home, but still an encounter with the wildness of all nature.

You may have thoughts on these, or other ideas – It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Call Of The Wild

Awe, wonder, empathy, caring – just a few of the ways you might respond to animals. Maybe you like interacting with them. Stroking an animal’s fur, grooming a horse or feeling a pet or companion animal’s warmth beside you can all be reassuring and therapeutic. It’s interacting with another living being, a feeling of connecting and relating. There’s no need for spoken language, which can also be helpful if people have speech or communication issues. Some people take therapy animals into care homes, and more schools now have a school dog. Care farming creates opportunities to relate to farm animals, maybe familiar ones, like cows and pigs, or the less familiar, like alpacas.

Roe Deer, Giant Panda and Leopard by Isobel Murdoch

Some of us respond to wild animals: to the unknown, the elusive, the thrill of a sudden glimpse, sheer wild and untamed nature. The UK has comparatively few wild mammal species, but still a sighting of a stoat perhaps, streaking across the road, is possible, or of an urban fox, kindling your imagination. Even looking out for signs of wildlife – burrows on a bank or mole hills on a roadside verge – can open a window on a different, hidden world. I remember once seeing a mole above ground during daylight, alive and moving but out of its element, and it set me imagining what its underground life is like.

Like birds, animals add movement and energy to the outdoors. They live their lives largely unaware of us, wild and free but alsp dependent on getting through each day. They are unpredictable. They open up new perspectives on life, for they’re oblivious to issues which might preoccupy us.

Wildlife film making and photography open up another world of opportunity to experience wild animals, wherever you are. Watching wildlife on screen is stimulating, a burst of colour and movement and life. Photography itself is powerful, and some images stand out. I was immediately struck by a 2005 photograph I saw by Paras Chandaria, of a giraffe on the edge of Nairobi, amidst low trees, with the city’s skyscrapers silhouetted behind. The image was taken to highlight all that could be lost to a new railway line. And yes, the more we see wildlife’s fragility the more we might treasure what we see.

For me and for many other people, art becomes a way to interact with wildlife. It’s an opportunity to observe more closely, to focus on what truly sets an animal apart, to enter their world. Trying to capture an animal’s expression or the look of their fur can become very absorbing! And in that time, other issues can recede for a time and you can zone out and concentrate on creativity. Participants in my Birds A-Z Challenge last year shared how alongside the art itself, learning about the world’s birds was a very positive experience. Now it’s the animals’ turn, as my Animals A-Z Art For Wellbeing Challenge is set to start on August 4.

There’s no need to commit to the entire A-Z, participants just sign up and then take part as and when they want to! From alpaca to zebra, via donkey, gorilla, giant panda and tiger…Each week we’ll focus on a different letter of the alphabet, to draw, paint or occasionally craft animals beginning with that letter. Participants will receive ideas, and an example image with instructions, by email each week, and there will be a dedicated private Facebook group for participants to share artwork, tips and ideas. It will also be an opportunity to explore how and why wildlife (and art) help boost wellbeing, so you could also share sightings or photos…– to sign up please go to Animals A-Z Art For Wellbeing Challenge Tickets, Thu 4 Aug 2022 at 15:00 | Eventbrite

Or if you would like to share thoughts now about how animals impact on wellbeing, then it would be great to hear them in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

On A Different Note

Yes, music’s impact on dementia is well known, and there are many different initiatives and opportunities. But there’s also growing need and demand as dementia becomes ever more common, and here I’m thinking about some different ways of sharing music and sound, and how these could impact people in diverse ways.

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Three possibilities stand out. I know some people find it helpful to experiment with playing an instrument, rather than listening, particularly in the early or middle stages of dementia. This specific area could develop. Musical instruments tend to be expensive, and someone new to music might have no idea which to try. Subsidised instruments would be great, as well as support and guidance on which to try, which might be most suited to improvisation – maybe percussion or keyboard. This could open up new opportunities and enable active music-making which could be empowering.

The second area which stands out is the need to find imaginative ways to share music with people who have dementia and are housebound. So much music for dementia focuses on care homes (inevitably there are more opportunities here as they are organized group settings) or day centres or groups like the Singing For The Brain groups run by Alzheimer’s Society. But many people who have dementia live in their own or their families’ homes, and are largely or entirely housebound. When they – and their family carers – struggle their way though each day’s routine tasks, getting to experience music could seem unimportant or irrelevant and a sideshow. But it is far from that. There are now more opportunities to enjoy music at home through technology, with streamed performances. There are also tools like the BBC Music Memories web app, a great way to locate music from a particular era, maybe when the person who has dementia was young, and BBC Memory Radio. More such initiatives would help. And as more events and groups return to being in-person now that Covid has moved to a new phase, it’s so important that virtual, online and streamed alternatives continue as well. It’s also good to highlight how listening at home can even be more positive, as it’s more flexible in time and taste – we all have strong likes and dislikes and music is very personal.

Nor should we assume that every person who has dementia will want to listen to music, all or even any of the time. Silence can be important as well, and some people may find music too loud or distressing. Listening to sounds of the natural world can also be very helpful as an alternative, such as recorded birdsong, a waterfall or waves on a seashore. It would be great if online recorded sounds were more widely known and shared with this use in mind.

There are so many different impacts music and song can and do have. I’ve only highlighted three specific areas – support to play an instrument, more specific opportunities for people who are housebound, and a flexible focus covering natural sound as well as music. You may have thoughts on these, or other ideas – it would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Under The Microscope

Maybe you too have seen the dazzling images just released from the James Webb Space Telescope, and wanted to discover more? When connecting with nature is recognised as a powerful way of boosting wellbeing, then experiencing and learning more about science could also do just that. It’s a way of deepening nature connection, but it’s also more than that.

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Science is so immense and diverse that it’s an endless stimulus. Stimulating our minds can ease depression, improve cognition and also reduce overthinking, as it inspires different thoughts. Yes, focusing on those different thoughts can be impossible when anxiety, depression or illness take hold, but sometimes they can and will help.

Every science will differ. Think about astronomy and space science. These can open up an entirely different perspective on the world and on life. Learning about the vast expanses of space or the mystery of space time, anxiety might shrink, issues may look different. Watching the night sky or following news of space research like the James Webb Space Telescope could become an escape, a refuge. And on the other hand, looking at the tiniest details of an item under a microscope, like pollen grains, can also create a different perspective.

Science can enhance life on so many different levels. Discover more about meteorology and suddenly watching a weather forecast has more significance. Science can become a way of taking any interest further – enjoying sports, say, might spur you on to learn more about sports science and about physics, the laws of movement and motion – or a day at the coast fossil-hunting could get you learning what palaeontology is really all about. Experiencing trees is known to be calming, so go on to learn more about them and gain more from the experience.

Then there’s the science of wellbeing itself. You might like to discover more about why nature connection is known to improve wellbeing and recovery, or why arts have an impact on mood and why music releases the “happy” hormone dopamine.

Some people respond to science in creative ways, and this can further deepen our experience. Try listening to music inspired by science or the natural world, such as Holst’s Planets, or Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or Deep River, or River Deep, Mountain High, or The Spaceman Came Travelling, or Dark Side Of The Moon. You could listen while you learn more about outer space, or rainbows, or rivers. Or learn about the science behind music itself, how an instrument is made or how hearing works or about beat and rhythm.

Art too depends on science. Think about how paint is made, or how to dye fabric, or how specific colours complement each other. Or try painting, drawing, colouring or crafting animals, birds, plants or insects, or scientific phenomena you learn about. Find out about art installations on a science theme, like the Museum Of The Moon which recently toured the UK.

Science has come to life for me more as an adult, and there are so many areas to explore. Stimulus, wonder, wellbeing.

It would be great if you would like to share in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 how you respond to science: do you find science can improve wellbeing? Thank you.

Painting An Idyll

While many people know from experience how doing art and craft themselves can boost wellbeing and absorb their minds, there still seems far less interest in the impact enjoying other people’s art can have. Lots of peple who enjoy being creative might never think to look at a famous painting, or if they do, might never consider that it too might lift their spirits or be calming or positive.

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All art will have different impacts. I’ve been thinking about the art of one of France’s most famous painters, Claude Monet, and what impact it might have on wellbeing. As one of the leaders of the French Impressionists, Monet helped transform and liberate art, making it more experimental, colourful and everyday.

So many of Monet’s paintings exude light, colour and life. He painted outdoors a lot of the time (itself an innovative way of working) and experimented with brushwork and use of colour. Look at some of these paintings (just search for them online) – The Terrace At Sainte-Adresse, Woman With A Parasol (Madame Monet and her son), Regatta in Argenteuil, and Monet’s Garden At Vetheuil. Light sparkles on the water, clouds scud across the sky, flowers and grasses add shades of colour. Just looking at these paintings lifts the spirits.

Time spent with paintings like these can be calming and restful, because they transport you to a rural or waterside idyll. Mostly the sun shines, the sky is blue, plants grow and thrive. And as you might guess from an Impressionist, what Monet paints truly are impressions, panoramas, glimpses of a moment. He recreates nature on canvas, but there’s little specific detail, more an impression of the wider scene. For us, these scenes can become time out. Maybe you’re in a city, or it’s raining, or you’re anxious or depressed. Looking at Monet’s paintings won’t solve any of this, but they can become a space a way, a haven for a few moments or for a while.

Monet’s own life was no idyll. For years he struggled to make ends meet as his painting earned him little money. His first wife died aged just 33, leaving Monet with two young sons. Later in life he endured further bereavements and his sight declined so that he struggled to paint. Maybe art helped him through. It clearly gave him purpose and direction, as he committed endless hours to painting and experimenting.

Maybe the most absorbing of Monet’s paintings to enjoy are his series paintings. In these he painted one motif time and time again, each at a different time of day or in different weather conditions. There was a haystack series, a series of views of Rouen Cathedral, and of course his famous water lilies. These can be very calming – “immerse” yourself in these pictures to experience the still water, the reflections, the subtle shades of colour. Water and lilies take up entire canvases, with no horizon. Some people call them dream-like and mesmeric. And I think another way Monet’s series paintings could help wellbeing is by inspiring us to look more closely at nature, at light and shade, at one view or plant and how it changes – don’t just glance and walk on by.

Is there a Monet painting which boosts your mood? How do you think looking at other people’s paintings compares to being creative yourself in helping wellbeing? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Music Of The Night

Do music and nature seem worlds apart to you? As I think more about how art, music and nature can all draw together to enhance wellbeing, I’ve seen how music and nature in particular can be interwoven on different levels. Song titles might reference nature: think Nat King Cole’s Ramblin’ Rose or I Talk To The Trees from Paint Your Wagon. A piece of music might set out to present a particulat species or other aspect of nature, such as Saint Saens’ The Swan or Holst’s Planets. Sometimes musicians set about transcribing nature’s sounds into music, such as the 20th century French composer Messaien’s Catalogue d’oiseaux, or the present-day Australian musician Hollis Taylor, notating and composing around the song of the pied butcher bird. And then I heard about folk musician Sam Lee.

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Sam Lee mirrors this interplay in a different way. He duets with nightingales, arranging nighttime woodland performances in springtime, when nightingales sing. Guest musicians attend, and a small audience. During lockdown, performances (like so many others) moved online, once Sam created a digital studio in the woodland where he could stream the performances.

It’s now ten years since Sam Lee entered the music scene, when his debut album, Ground Of Its Own, was shortlisted for a Mercury Music Prize. Over this time he has recorded, performed, collected, performed and shared songs. His connection with nature has seen him mark Earth Day and now interact with nightingales.

For folk music is rooted not only in community, people and heritage but also in the land and the cycle of nature.It’s these roots Sam draws on as he sings with nightingales, perhaps the bird species most famed for their song. This is far more varied than the song of most other species. As migratory birds, they are seen and heard here in the UK only in spring and summer, and sing only at night, all of which has added to their allure.

Folk music’s oral tradition, shared and passed on from one generation to another, has become very important to Sam Lee, who absorbed this tradition during childhood – going to Forest School Camps with his family – and also through time spent seeking out Gypsy and Traveller communities.

In 2021 Sam Lee published a book, The Nightingale: Notes On A Songbird. This, and most of all his night singing, have become an opportunity to celebrate the nightingale and also to raise awareness of the decline of this now rare bird: as when he led a concert in London’s Berkeley Square, highlighting how the famous song now represents a lost world.

I feel that interlinking music and nature in such innovative ways has real power – also – in lifting mood, boosting wellbeing. It’s multi-sensory, particularly in outdoor performances like this, where the audience experiences sights, sounds, the feel of the (night) air…It combines subtly different soundscapes – the soundscape of the natural world, calming to most of us, and the music that it inspires and feeds. It’s interactive so it responds to nature. I wonder whether there’s a particular species you would like to duet with, or a natural sound you particularly respond to, like wind gusting through a tree or what music it might create. It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

To learn more about Sam Lee, go to https://samleesong.co.uk

Any Time Or Place

You may know the work of photographer Oliver Hellowell and his striking, memorable images which enable the viewer to immerse themselves in nature wherever they are. When I recently came across his photography and his life journey, I wanted to discover more.

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Born in 1996, Oliver has Down’s Syndrome. He began photographing at the age of 11, and over the years his skills and style have evolved as he’s become a well-known and award-winning photographer. While he has used different models of camera, he mainly uses a Canon 100-400 and a Canon 17-40. With these he captures images of real clarity and impact. The natural world is his main subject, and he has a particular interest in portraying birds as varied as the mute swan, peacock and robin. I was struck by one image of a coal tit and its reflection in water, and by a montage of photographs of robins, showing such life. Water is another of Oliver’s main interests. He is drawn to portraying detail, in plants, light and water for example, and also line and form. Oliver particularly likes to photograph from ground level, creating a distinctive perspective.

Oliver has an annual exhibition of his photography, in different locations, has large followings on Facebook and YouTube, and gains regular media coverage. In 2019 a mountain view Oliver took in Tennessee won Best Photographic Feature at the USA/UK Media Awards in London. So he photographs further afield as well as close to home in England. And he photographs not only nature but also buildings such as Wells Cathedral, a sight very familiar to me as it is near to where I grew up.

Oliver Hellowell is a photographer of real talent and skill. Each image stands alone in its use of perspective, focus, colour or light. Once you learn that he has Down’s Syndrome, this only adds another layer to all that Oliver is doing. In 2015 he won another kind of award, the National Diversity Award for UK Positive Role Model for Disability. This highlighted how Oliver’s life story so far has inspired many other people who have a disability – and their families – to think widely, to experiment, maybe to dare.

The commitment and support of Oliver’s family shine through clearly as well. Oliver has endured heart and speech issues over the years and a diagnosis of ADHD. On his website his mother shares how photography enhances his life in so many ways.

It’s possible to buy Oliver’s images as prints or canvases from the gallery section of his website, while in the shop section you’ll find greetings cards, calendars and books like Oliver’s Birds and Oliver’s Britain.

Oliver’s photography makes me think again how art and creativity open so many doors, build opportunity and deepen how we experience the world. It also demonstrates what power images of nature hold for many of us. I like to stand and just watch a patch of grasses sometimes, or a tree, stilling my mind. Photography responds to this instinct, creating a store of images to allow us to experience nature at any time, in any place, in new and different ways.

You might like to look at Oliver’s website, https://www.oliverhellowell.com

Do you enjoy photography, or looking at other people’s photographs? It would be good to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Not Going Out

Agoraphobia is growing. While it has roots in all different experiences, the Covid pandemic has intensified agoraphobia for many. One moment, everyone was being told to stay indoors and to see the outside world as an enemy. Now everyone is supposed to plunge back into getting out and about as if lockdown never happened. Not everyone adjusts as quickly as that. Lockdown was such an unreal and surreal experience that it’s gone deep with a lot of people. You might still be anxious about Covid, or you could simply have got so used to being indoors that going out now seems a big deal. And now that we can do so much online – even working from home – there’s less need to go out so that staying in becomes even more of a habit.

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This has all got me wondering how art might be useful for someone who has agoraphobia, whether since the pandemic or for a long time. If you have agoraphobia, you may find you have more time on your hands – time you might have spent going out. This is one way art can really help. Time can soon fly once you start drawing, painting, colouring or crafting, and you feel absorbed and immersed. This can become a refuge from the agoraphobia. While drawing or colouring, your agoraphobia might recede for a while as you focus on pen and paper.

While you’re enjoying art and craft, fear of going out isn’t an issue, because this is an activity you would probably be doing at home anyway. So there’s no pressure. If you have agoraphobia, pressure to go out (from yourself or others) can overshadow each day, whereas art can become a haven.

Are there other ways that art could help? It’s a positive to focus on, and it’s a constant, an activity you can come back to at any time. By absorbing your mind, art & craft can be very calming, easing any form of anxiety. If you’re trying ERT or other forms of therapy for your agoraphobia, art could help you set the therapy aside as you wait for the next time you’re seeing your therapist or supposed to try going out.

Loneliness can also become an issue for people with agoraphobia, as you may not be bumping into people outdoors, or able to attend events. Art can be a way to connect with others online from home, for example through a Facebook group or online art workshops on Zoom or Teams. Sharing an interest, you have immediate common ground.

There are so many different kinds of art and craft to try, whether you’re new to them all or have painted or sewn for years. This is also great stimulus.

Agoraphobia is obviously different for everyone. Is it about not wanting or daring to interact with other people? Is it about leaving the familiarity and security of home? Is it all the possible perils out there, imagining what might happen? Or does going out seem a hassle, so that you don’t feel you have the energy to get up and go? Maybe you don’t mind going out usually but struggle with particular settings, such as crowded spaces? Agoraphobia can also be connected to physical health issues like mobility problems or sight or hearing loss. Experiencing agoraphobia is not going to be solved by art, but in many different ways time spent trying art and craft can be liberating.

Maybe you (or someone you know) have agoraphobia, or other anxiety. It would be great if you’d like to join Think Art, my Facebook group sharing how art can help lots of mental health issues – just go to (1) Think Art | Facebook Thank you.

Wide Awake

If art, nature and music can all boost health and wellbeing in the daytime, as they do, then why should they not also help insomnia? I think there are three ways they could help: as a way to spend time, as a way to try and still your mind to sleep, and as a tool to use to try exploring why you might struggle to sleep. Maybe these could all help you, or maybe you’ll respond more to one or another.

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Art could be a great way to pass time when others would be sleeping, but it also helps as a tool, a way to explore and express why you might have insomnia. Drawing to express your feelings about an issue might be worth a try – and drawing with an art therapist can be particularly helpful. You could draw a scene to visualize your fears, or draw symbols of how you feel about a situation, maybe a closed door or a high wall. Or use colours that symbolize emotions, like red for anger. Journaling, or the quicker form, bullet journaling, can be helpful tools as well – writing down how you feel instead of bottling up emotions – and art really adds to journaling, making your journal colourful and attractive to use as it adds new ways of expressing yourself on the journal’s pages. You could try doing any or all of this at night – before or while trying to get to sleep – or if you find this focuses your mind more on these issues, not less, then try journaling or drawing earlier in the day or evening and then try to set this aside.

Maybe music is particularly powerful because, while it creates all different moods, it can be specifically calming. Art might be too stimulating, making you less likely to feel sleepy, while you could listen to music in bed in the darkness, maybe slowing you down. Classical music can be calming, but I know that some people actually find livelier music, like dance music, can be more helpful when feeling tense. You could try different playlists or enjoy the serendipity of listening to radio and seeing what you hear.

Nature is one of the most calming and mindful tools we have, a great way to change perspective and let your mind drift away from the everyday. But obviously darkness and night time aren’t the best time to experience nature outdoors! There are other ways though: on a clear night, watching the night sky and tree outlines through the window can be calming. Technology helps as well. Now we can experience nature at any time of day or night through video or audio. I enjoy listening to nature’s sounds recorded online, on sites like Free Sound Library, where you can search for sounds like birdsong or sea sounds. Hearing these on their own, they have more impact than if I heard them outdoors, overshadowed by their setting.

So there are many different possibilities. Art could be important because it’s active and productive, but music and nature too have a part to play, maybe opening up a different perspective on life if you find that darkness and night time magnify issues, thoughts and fears. Sleep disorders have surged through recent years, especially since the Covid pandemic. I’ve recently heard about a new play called “Five Characters In Search Of A Good Night’s Sleep”, and a BBC documentary “Daisy Maskell: Insomnia And Me”. So using art, music and nature could be helpful for many people.

Have you experienced insomnia? Do you have ideas of how art, nature or music could help? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

A World Of Its Own

Taking part in No Mow May this year (although only in my back garden, so it’s hidden from view!) I’m enjoying seeing just what grows. There are flowering grasses which wave in the wind; dandelions growing taller than usual to reach the light; and some bush vetch and dove’s foot cranesbill add colour. It’s all so high now that I lose sight of a starling or a blackbird as they feed. I enjoy watching the garden all year, through the windows or while outside, but with No Mow May I’m seeing the garden in a new and wilder light.

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Gardens and the wildlife they support are also on my mind because next week is Garden Wildlife Week, an annual event as June begins. And I’m thinking not “only” how gardening for wildlife helps biodiversity, but more how it can boost our own wellbeing. It’s so easy, isn’t it, to take garden wildlife for granted. It seems so everyday, so commonplace, that it’s all too easy to lose that sense of wonder or to stop noticing what’s out there.

Some news about gardening and wildlife is positive. No Mow May itself has become a familiar initiative. All year, more people now try to leave a wilder patch in their garden or construct a bug hotel to encourage insects. As housing takes up ever more land, there’s growing awareness how important a part gardens play as habitat for so many different creatures. But there’s a negative side too, with more hardens being concreted over, used to park cars where there’s no other space – and with more urban living, lots of households have no garden at all.

For many people, gardening is or becomes integral to wellbeing. It’s fundamental, focusing on life and growth, light, water, earth and air, in touch with the elements. It can literally root and ground you. For others, a garden’s more important as open space, space to move, to see, to feel, to get out of their own four walls.

For garden wildlife, a garden is home, or part of a wider area they depend on, where they grow or feed or nest. They too will alter and shape the garden, as they pollinate, disperse seeds, prey on other wildlife or crowd out other plants. In the garden world there’ll be all kinds of cooperation and struggle. This in itself is eye-opening for us, creating a different perspective. What for us is a backdrop to life, is the world to a garden insect, plant or bird. See that world through their eyes, and a lot changes, growing or shrinking in importance.

The garden is a world of its own, a world to itself, but so too is every part and element of that garden: soil, every plant, every tree, even every stone where insects might shelter.

Could experiencing the garden as a world to itself make us more contented and less restless, even if only for a time? Could that time become a moment away from the everyday, space away from our wider world?

Community gardens create opportunities for people with no garden to experience this. Indoor or outdoor vertical gardening is also a way to use limited space more fully. For whether you’re in your own garden or in a communal space, a large expanse of garden or a tiny yard, I feel it’s the fleeting moments that matter, the sights and sounds.

Do you respond to the idea of a garden as a world of its own? Do gardens and their wildlife help your wellbeing? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002