Some days, when I was very ill, fatigue swept over me like a giant wave, leaving me stranded on the shore like an unfortunate starfish desiccating in the sun.
On such days, I could do nothing. Reading was exhausting. Even watching the television or listening to the radio was more than I could manage. It all felt rather terrifying, but I was rescued by the view from my window, by what my husband humorously referred to as caveman TV. There was only one channel, though it served an endless supply of beauty and action.
At that time, I had a day bed in the bay window of my lounge overlooking the rear garden. Lying down, I could not see the lawn or the flower beds, but I could see the sky. The heavens that I had seldom checked, except to assess the weather, were now my obsession; the shape-shifting clouds, the play of light on their edges, the subtly changing hues of the sky itself my consolation and companions.
This natural panorama calmed my frayed nerves, making my bed feel less of a prison and more of a viewing platform. And if the skies were an ever-changing backdrop, the birds were the performers that peopled the stage: their antics as entrancing as any trapeze act.
The sky at night
Night skies were no less dramatic. Now that I am able to go for walks outside, I love them even more. Each night, I trace the phases of the moon; the shapes of constellations and am disappointed when cloud or fog obscures my view. The mystery of this vast space inevitably creates a sense of awe and awe, it turns out, is good for us. According to Jo Marchant, author of The Human Cosmos, watching the night sky stimulates our creativity and lessons stress; increases our sense of self and our connection with others. By reducing our egotism, it makes us, quite simply, nicer people.
Those periods of extreme lassitude are infrequent now, thankfully, but my craving for nature has never waned. Should a morning go by without a visit outside, I feel unsettled and unhappy. Now we have a puppy, there is no chance of not going outside. Rain, snow, wind or sun, I am out for an hour or more each day. If the weather is too inclement, I retreat to the shed; if fine, I’ll tour the garden and might pick the odd weed on my wanderings. My gardening role is more supervisory than hands on, and unlike most gardeners, I spend most of my time admiring the view rather than working on it.
This quiet watching has proven incredibly therapeutic. I initially thought it might be because it reminded me of so many happy hours spent outside as a child. It transpires the reason is more scientific. Studying nature is what our brains are designed to do. The very composition of trees and flowers align easily with the pattern seeking element of our minds and quite literally soothes them. Being in nature reduces our stress and increases our sense of wonder and gratitude, all of which have a positive impact on our mental health. Fresh air and sunshine both contribute to our physical well-being. And if we can add a little physical exertion, a gentle walk around a garden or park or spot of gardening, we are engaging in the perfect holistic healing activity.
Why don’t you…?
When I was a child, I loved a programme called, ironically enough, Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead. In my mature years, I do just that. Being in nature is the ultimate immersive experience. It incurs no cost and is available to all. Whether we are feeling our best selves or our worst, we can still benefit from its healing qualities and the joy it brings. Which leaves only the question: Why don’t you …?