Saturday, July 15, 2017

TUNING INTO NATURE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME

A few evenings ago, Brenda Lowry and Joshua (Bubba) Murrell from New Iberia, Louisiana, stopped by en route to the 2017 Summer NAMM in Nashville, Tennessee, an event featuring all aspects of music. The two talented musicians and songwriters brought us a bag of fresh vegetables, rather than the guitars they usually transport on their travels.

“Those vegetables are from Bubba’s garden,” Brenda explained. “Gardening has been his project this summer.”

Bubba, a Grammy award winner, has a gracious plenty of interests — music, electronics, skills as a computer technician and game creator, writing, guitar making…The fact that he is now a successful gardener is not surprising. I noticed him stopping at our back door to inspect the overgrown herb garden we had planted near the entry to the kitchen. Before coming into the house, he showcased his knowledge of taxonomy.

“What kinds of mint did you plant?” he asked.

I looked around for my resident botanist, Dr. Sullivan. “I know we planted chocolate mint,” she answered, and Bubba then named another variety. He identified every herb we had planted, except for the weeds we had allowed to grow. I was impressed.

Bubba is probably up to date on the news about Americans suffering from Nature Deficiency Syndrome and the evidence that we spend 80-99 percent of our lives indoors, which has resulted in a lifestyle that affects our psychological and physical health. According to one of the many articles published about therapy for treating this syndrome, gardening is among the cures — an activity that helps humans recharge and elevate their bad moods. In fact, Craig Chaiquistone, a psychologist at the California Institute of Integral Studies, reports that we have all the antidepressants we need “in the ground.” Therapies for nature deficiency disorders range from green therapy to earth-centered therapy and can result in decreased anxiety and depression, as well as improved self-esteem.

As I live in a small wooded area on campus here at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, I surmised that I could probably benefit from the Japanese method of “forest bathing” that is part of their national health program. So after Brenda and Bubba left, the following afternoon I went out on the porch to be with nature. When I stepped outside and sat down to be with the wildness of my overgrown garden, I felt at home with ideas I had read about this therapeutic discovery regarding the nature deficiency syndrome.

For thirty minutes I enjoyed the scents of rosemary, dill, mint, and other herbs and watched skipper butterflies and bees dipping into the blooms of Dianthus, breathing in the fresh air that is reputed to cure our nature deficiencies. While I didn’t scoop dirt from the garden and hold it in my hands for twenty minutes (part of a process called “earthing”), I did “clean my mental windshield” as touted by David Strayer, another cognitive psychologist. And the sounds of insects thrumming their mantras helped me switch off after a morning of research and writing.

My garden still needs weeding, but I felt in step with Henry David Thoreau’s sage words: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” I suggest that you turn off your smart phones and need for instant gratification and step outside to get in touch with the pulse of nature. An article I read about nature deficiency suggests that observing nature can lead to an increased tolerance for slower paces or the development of patience. For more skeptical readers, scientists now report that they have been able to see biomarkers of the changes in people affected by immersion in nature. For more verification, read the works of Transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Photography by Victoria I. Sullivan



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