Sensual Gardening ~ Part 4 ~ Sight

Looking into nature

I suppose that our sight is probably the sense that we most often take for granted, purely because we’re always using it. We wake up in the morning and perhaps after a stretch and a yawn the first thing we do is to open our eyes and ‘see’!  We continue our day continuously ‘seeing’ until it’s time for bed and we close our eyes again. It’s also the sense that will arouse our interest in things, make us want to take a closer look at something that has caught our eye. The act of ‘looking closer’ at something will arouse our sense of touch, smell and in certain circumstances, taste. Hearing is the odd one out as the speed of sound is faster than the speed of light which is why we’ll more often than not hear something before seeing it and then be drawn towards the sound to see what made it. Sensual teamwork in action! But let’s get back on topic and concentrate on sight and investigate, explore and discover how it affects us and how we can enhance it through nature and other simple means of ‘sight therapy!’ But before we head off in that direction I’d like you to take just a few minutes to remind yourselves of what ‘seeing’ involves and how our senses are linked to our brain, our memories and other cognitive processes which give us our initial perceptions of what we see; and why our perceptions of reality are rarely what they first appear because it’s the focus point (sorry for the pun!) of what’s to come. So I’ll see you after class!

Right, if you’re back with me, let’s move on ….

When you look back throughout the history of mankind you’ll soon realise that the men and women who have made the biggest leaps of discovery in the natural sciences and that the majority of our celebrated artists, writers and philosophers have all had two things in common. The first is a deep connection with nature, and the second is ‘observation’. Curiosity combined with observation develops creative thought and stirs the imagination into endless possibilities of wisdom, beauty and wellbeing.

homboldt  lily-pond-monet  constable-landscape  picasso-landscapes

  • Alexander Von Humboldt who turned his scientific observation of the natural world into poetic narrative, and his writings inspired naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth and Goethe as well as politicians such as Jefferson. It was also arguably Humboldt’s influence that led John Muir to his ideas of preservation and that shaped Thoreau’s ‘Walden’.
  • Landscape artists such as Claude Monet, John Constable or Pablo Picasso who observed nature and depicted it from their own distinctly different creative minds onto the canvasses we know and love today.
  • Albert Einstein who stated that, ‘reality is merely an illusion albeit a very persistent one’ and ‘look deep into nature and you will understand everything better!’

I could go on and grow that list, but I’ll leave it there for you to think of other ‘observers’ you know of who may have influenced some of your own visual perceptions and outlooks on life.

Observation is the focussing of our sight on the small details we see and bringing them into the bigger picture that we call reality. It’s why an observer will ‘see’ much more and understand better what is going on in the world than a mere ‘looker’. I’m sure we’ve all come across the phrase of someone having a ‘trained eye’ from time to time; and that trained eye is the eye that every single observer has developed and used to bring us the world as we know it today. The great news is that with time and practice we can all become observers simply by using the camera lenses of our eyes to focus for a while on the smallest details and then slowly panning out to reveal the bigger picture, bringing the awareness of the connectedness of everything we see into focus. The more we practice this the more information we will send to our brain, enhancing our memories and the clarity of those energy driven images we call sight.

4 seasons

There are a couple of posts here on my blog which show how I do this when connecting to nature called ‘Magical Freeze Frame Moments’ and ‘The Bigger Picture’ which you can check out in your own time. But here is a quick example of what I mean; the next time you see a tree that catches your eye in some special way don’t just stand there and admire it. Widen your perspective of it, walk around it, view it from different angles and degrees of closeness. Look up into it and ‘observe’ how it changes in the light, observe the direction it leans, which side has more foliage or buds and observe the direction the branches point! You’ll not only be learning about the tree, but you’ll also be learning about the direction of the prevailing winds, start to recognise the direction of North, South, East and West without a compass and you’ll also discover that moss doesn’t just grow on the North side as the old myth tells us it does! There’s a plethora of knowledge to be gained from a single tree, especially if you observe it throughout the seasons, just imagine if you took that observer’s eye and directed it at the world as a whole. You would be training and developing your brain, getting a better perspective on all manner of things as well as enjoying, understanding and appreciating the time you spend in nature a whole lot better.

By constantly practising the art of observing life, of participating through our sense of sight to its fullest and stop ourselves from being mere onlookers we can improve our perceptions of it through a better understanding and grasp of the bigger picture. This visual activity will give a boost to our already powerful brains, improve our memory and energise our own individual creative imaginations; to bring a clarity and reality to our perception of life that we never recognised or thought possible before. We will also feel a greater sense of mental wellbeing by feeling more in touch with our true-selves, others and nature in its completeness of separation. But there is so much more we can do to maintain and in certain cases enhance our sense of sight. There is far too much to discuss right here and now so I’ll just mention a couple of them for the moment.

                                        eat-your-greens   yoga-eyes

Developing a sensible healthy diet and ‘eating our greens’ like our Mothers and Grandmothers drummed into us has many more positive benefits than just giving us curly hair! As my own new interest in healthy and appreciative eating has shown me, a home cooked meal tastes so much better when it’s presented well and eaten at a restaurant style table setting than on a tray on your lap in front of the TV?  There are also eye exercises that we can do on a regular basis, how about trying some Yoga for your eyes?  We can also use the simple common-sense methods of wearing eye protection when in bright sunlight or dusty atmospheres and of not staying up all hours staring at those alluring blue screens on our cell phones and other devices. Our eyes need rest just as much as our minds and bodies do so with that in mind I’ll call it a day and we can all close our eyes and our laptops for a few well deserved moments of recuperation!

Sensual Gardening ~ Part 3 ~ Touch

touching water

To me our sense of touch is possibly the most sensual of our senses, it’s not necessarily the most important because as we are discovering our senses work as a team, allied with our brain to bring us those everyday sensations of perceptions we call our reality. Touch is an inherent human need, we also desire (often without realising it) to touch and be touched. From a baby reaching out for its Mother to those hugs we give and receive out of friendship and of course love. They are vital to each and every one of us and are the fundamental building blocks of good health and feelings of well-being. When we are stimulated by touch, whether that be a caress from a loving partner, a relaxing massage, the feel of freshly laundered sheets or the simple act of stroking our pets, the sensation we feel releases a wide range of healing neuro-chemicals which strengthen our immune system, improves blood circulation, aids our digestion and can help us get a better and rewarding nights sleep.

Touch is also one of our natural defence mechanisms, we quickly draw our hand away when we touch something too hot, cold, sharp or that gives us pain such as the sting from a nettle when walking in the country or perhaps the feel of rough/unstable ground beneath our feet warning us to take extra care. All are instinctive reactions created from the signals sent from our skins receptors (nerves) to our brain which then tells us to act to protect ourselves from further harm. However touch is much more than just a means of enabling us to stay safe and ‘feel our way through the day’ as I hope I’ll help you to discover in these posts. Today more and more research is showing us the benefits we can get from the healing and communicative powers of touch and are being recognised and used in therapeutic treatments of emotional, physical and mental healthcare; with plants, gardening and nature being major players in the process. All of which is why I’m a great supporter and advocate for getting youngsters into contact with nature as much as possible and as early as possible. Check out the ‘research & studies’ available on the amazing Children & Nature Network webpage and I’m certain that you’ll soon recognise why I believe that getting children to discover the world around them for themselves, to play ‘together’ in and with nature is the beginning of achieving the changes we all want to see in the world …. our natural, physical, emotional and mental worlds of wellbeing. 

tree bark  Feeling Grass  walking in a stream  Petting Zoo

Nature is a fantastic resource we can all use in enhancing our sense of touch. It’s certainly what provides me with the connectedness I feel with the world when gardening. It educates and thrills me, it leaves me wanting to experience, experiment and touch it more and more every single time. Its lessons are wide and varied, from knowing the condition of the soil by  squeezing and rolling it around your hand whilst at the same time letting it trickle through your fingers will (with practice) tell you the story of what lays hidden beneath its surface, at root level. Getting to know which plants like certain conditions by feeling their leaves; whether they are waxy, furry or smooth give you the signs of their preferences and connectedness with each other (species connected to species). From this knowledge we can supply our gardens with all the organic matter and other environmental nutrient providers (light, shade, warmth, minerals and water), that like our own bodies and brains, it needs to thrive and grow into the healthiest and best it can be. In fact one of my own personal and newly rediscovered touch sensations is in the preparation of a healthy meal full of natures own natural nutrients!   We can all become more aware of our sense of touch, that wonderful feeling of getting to know the world by exploring nature. Simply by touching a few different kinds of trees you will experience varying textures of bark; rough, smooth or rippled. Experiment and try ‘seeing them through your fingertips’ instead of your eyes; practice again and again until you can recognise them blindfolded. Of course whenever I refer to ‘nature’ I’m talking about everything that connects us as humans with the outside world, so if hugging trees isn’t your ‘thing’ then here’s a great video that may help you to find something ‘in nature’ that does, it shows you ‘Your Brain on Nature.’ Although it covers all of our senses, touch is that vital tactile ingredient that brings the outside, in!

I’m going to assume that by now you have some great ideas of your own on how to enhance your sense of touch, but here’s one more little tip! After you’ve experimented and experienced all you can take for one day of being out and about in nature or wherever your choice may have taken you, why not stretch your sensual-self just that little bit more and take the opportunity to relax and recuperate at the same time. Have a long lingering bath or shower, close your eyes and focus on how the water feels on your skin. Each part of our body/skin surface detects and reacts differently to touch, so go ahead experiment and enjoy the full experience!

Whether it’s in the shower or out in nature, Enhance Your Senses and Enhance Your Life!

Sensual Gardening ~ Part 2 ~ Sound & Hearing

city soundwaves

You don’t need me to tell you that sound and our sense of hearing play a big part in our everyday lives. But have you considered how influential it is to our sense-of-how-we-feel and affects the way we react to certain situations and people? Some sounds (often from nature) can calm and soothe us, our favourite music, a child’s whisper or the crackle of a log fire on a cold winters evening can fill us with a deep feeling of harmony and wellbeing. Others (usually man-made) can set our nerves on edge making us feel frustrated or even angry; the old finger nail scratched down a chalkboard syndrome! Of course many of the ‘disturbing’ sounds we hear are there to do exactly that. They warn us of dangers and/or the need to take action. Think of those shrill sounding fire, car and shop alarms; car horns and those seemingly ever-present emergency sirens echoing around every town and city both day and night. Sound is basically a form of communication (as are all of our senses), bird song is not made purely for our benefit but as an interaction between themselves.

happy whispers  music headphones Emergency nails on blackboard

By learning which sounds turn us on and make us feel good, and then using that awareness to fine tune our hearing we can begin to have that sensation of ‘feeling good’ for longer and longer periods throughout the day. As I’ve mentioned in past posts in this short series, our senses are the pathways to our brain, they carry the messages they pick up from the outside world into along our neural pathways via  electro-chemicals and into the cognitive world of perception; memory, judgment, and reasoning which all combine to paint the world as we sense it, our own personal reality.  In our hearings case you could say that we ‘Hear with our ears but Listen with our Brain!’  If we can tune into far more positive vibrations than we do negative ones the pictures our brain present to us as reality will also become more positive and create more of the Neuro-chemicals we need to improve our health and general sense of wellbeing. ~ So how do we do that?

Here is an example of how I have enhanced my own hearing experience as well as deepening my connection with nature simply by changing the way I listen. I expect most of you can identify the songs  of the birds that frequent your garden or neighbourhood park, but how many of you can recognise the differing calls and understand their meaning. I’m not saying that I’m a Dr Doolittle and can speak ‘bird-ese’, but I have trained my hearing to differentiate between an alarm call, territorial warnings, feeding chirps and a few more besides. By spending time in the garden watching and listening to the antics of the birds that pass through it I have, over time, been able to associate each call with its appropriate action. Now I’m able to sit indoors and hear them without seeing them and know precisely where they are in the garden and what they’re getting up to. I have been able to tell people to, “Look up and you’ll see a Falcon or a Hawk,” without having looked up myself. Whenever there’s a bird of prey in the vicinity the local Gulls will mob it and give out a very distinctive  cry. A case of hearing the Gull and seeing the Hawk. This simple but beneficial process of re-tuning my hearing, or hearing with my ears and seeing with my brain, has been one of my ways of feeling a part of the natural world that surrounds me. It makes me feel good and definitely gets my ‘happy’ neuro-chemicals kicking into action!

Gull mobbing

There are plenty of other existing posts here for you to check out how I heighten my sense of hearing both in nature and my garden so you can check them out later if you wish, but here’s a good starting place!  and of course you don’t need to be a nature lover to hone your hearing, you can do it pretty much anywhere. Even sitting quietly indoors and filtering out the everyday chatter that we’re usually tuned into. Our night-time hearing is enhanced by our visual sense being lessened in the darkness, more evidence that our senses are not just working independently of each other, but as a team. We notice all the groans and creaks our homes make in the silent world of the night. Outside sounds like the wind, rain or animals rummaging around the rubbish bins all get heightened as we sit and listen, undisturbed by noise of the day, to the sounds and vibrations that now reveal themselves to us in the silence. The more time we can spend listening-in to that hidden silence, whether that be whilst out and about in nature or anywhere else of our choosing the greater the range of sound frequencies we can tune into and develop our overall sensibility; of ourselves, others and the world around us.

crunchy food

Now let’s turn to how sound also impacts on our choices and preferences when it comes to food. I touched on this in my last post on ‘Taste’ where I shared an article with you and you’re welcome to go back and read it later. As I’ve previously told you I’m no expert in these matters so in a moment I will give you a couple more links to hopefully tickle your sound buds with, so  it’s enough for me to say that during my own new-found love of experimenting with ‘healthy food’ I really find it fascinating that the ‘crunch’ factor has such a big part to play in our choice of food. Why we prefer ‘crisp’ to ‘soggy’ or even one taste against another …. or do we? I’ll leave you to read this interesting (but long) article, ‘Eating With Our Ears’ by Charles Spence on the BioMed Central Open Access platform then you can pop over to the Gastropod Website where you can play around with your own ‘Crunch, Crackle and Pop’ abilities; have fun, you might just amaze yourself!

Oh and by the way, there are certain foods that are said to improve your hearing, but that’s for another time …. maybe!

Sensual Gardening ~ Part 1 ~ Taste

Blindfold taste test

Whilst doing some research for the follow-up of my introductory post, Sensual Gardening ~ A Taster, I’ve become increasingly aware that chatting to you about enhancing your senses isn’t going to be as straight forward as I anticipated and these posts are going to be slightly different to how I originally intended. But let’s just call that evolution. The more I learn the more I evolve and the more I am able to share with you all. Surely that’s an integral part of what we’re here to do, evolve and share our knowledge no matter how significant or insignificant we think that knowledge is. Anyway, on with the show and let’s see how it evolves ….

I’m starting off with the sense of taste mainly because I’m changing my eating habits and experimenting with a variety of new (to me) ingredients and flavours which has naturally piqued my interest in what taste is and how we sense the sensations we do. This is where the research distracted me away from my normal thoughts and perceptions of food and eating. All of our senses combine to give us the tastes we experience, our senses of sight, smell, touch and even what we hear all play a part. Throw the fact that our sense of taste has six senses of its own into the mix; salt, sweet, sour, bitter, fat and the one we often forget to mention, umami, you can see how and why these posts are becoming less straightforward than I thought. But I haven’t finished yet, let’s toss our memory into the pot, our childhood and other past experiences all affect our perception of what we are tasting. How many times have you heard yourself or someone else say, ‘Mmm, tastes just like how Mum used to make it’ (or not as good as ..)  So in this post I’m going to allow the links I’ve included to do all the hard work whilst I chat to you about my culinary education and gardening.

health on a plate

I decided to change my diet not only for health reasons but also to add a bit of spice and variety into my life, try new experiences in the comfort of my own home and garden. Notice another connection with ‘evolving’ going on here? For years I’ve grown a variety of herbs in my garden, mainly for aesthetic and aromatic gardening reasons, which I explained in my introductory post, than for culinary use. Okay I’d snip a few leaves and use them in a typical English salad then smother them in the ubiquitous shop bought salad cream. I’d make the occasional cup of mint tea, but not much else. That’s changing, and so is my garden. By experiencing and discovering ‘tastes’ that give me that hit of ‘Wow-ness’ allied with the sensation and knowledge that it’s doing me good has awakened my awareness to what other herbs and plants I can grow in my garden pantry. I already grow garden, apple and pepper-mint mints but there are so many others to try. It’s the same for many other herbs, there so many more varieties to be found and experienced in a collection of seed packets than the usual supermarket offerings of parsley, coriander (cilantro), chives and basil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything I’ve mentioned here is developing my senses. From growing herbs, vegetables and other edible plants, harvesting them, preparing them for a meal and finally eating them, involves the full range of my senses; touch, smell, hearing (yes, hearing!), sight and of course taste. Engaging with our food more connects us to and develops our senses. It brings new experiences into our lives and enhances our wellbeing at so many levels. So my latest catchphrase and message to you is “Enhance Your Senses and Enhance Your Life.”

Sensual Gardening ~ a Taster

Sensual Garden

To stand at the bottom of the steps that lead down into my garden each morning, taking in the array of colours, breathing in the air full with the perfume of awakening flowers, whilst listening to bird songs being carried on the breeze as it rustles its way through the willow leaves. To run my hands through dew soaked blades of grass and herbs that grow so freely at my side; all bring my senses back to life after having rested in stillness within me as I slept through the night.

Entering through the gate as I arrive back from work on a hot summers evening I rub the oil filled leaves of lavender and rosemary, releasing their therapeutic aroma as it mingles with the essence of basil, garlic-chives and mint that cling heavily to the warmth of the south-facing wall.  I linger for a brief moment to pinch out a few young green tips, feeling their individual textures embracing my skin before tasting the sensual aliveness that only nature shares for free. ~ Welcome home Steve, in many more senses than five!

This could have been a long spiritual uplifting post but I want instead to take you out of the spiritual arena and step alongside me into the world of You as a human being and into my garden for what I hope will be a sensual delight. Although it’s difficult to avoid a spiritual element when discussing nature and our connectedness with it I want to try if I can to detach you if only for a few brief moments from the land of spirit and light which we can often confuse with the feeling of it just ‘being a great day to be alive and enjoying the moment we’re in,’ and to draw you back into the simplistic childlike sensual enthusiasm for life and the world of nature we live in

smelling nature  touching nature  tasting nature  listening to nature

Spiritual or not we’re all human which is why I intend to start writing a series of posts based on improving our wellbeing; physical, mental and emotional without overwhelming you with clichés about reaching higher levels of spiritual awareness but by simply using nature from a purely human point of view as much as I can and based as much as possible around my own gardening experiences.

Gardens, gardening and horticulture in general are being used more and more as a therapeutic treatment in many areas of healthcare including rehabilitation centres of all kinds where they are used as a means of providing new life skills as well as providing therapy to those who find themselves unable to cope with life for whatever reason. Local community parks, gardens and schools are also being turned into what I term ‘wellbeing playgrounds’ by providing areas where we (especially our kids) can all have everyday experiences that connect us to and raise our ‘senses’  of awareness of nature. By nurturing our senses in the same way as we would nurture our gardens we can begin to regrow ourselves into the fully sensual beings we really are. By nurturing I mean touching, smelling, feeling and tasting for ourselves the nourishment that nature provides for us to be able to feel the very best we can!

brain connected to nature

The brain thrives on being nourished and it feeds off of the information supplied to it by our senses whilst creating a nerve tingling cascade of neuro-chemical stimulations throughout our bodies. So the more beneficial stimulation we can supply ourselves with on a regular basis the more our brains will stimulate our wellbeing on a regular basis too. I wont touch on the scientific, neurological, medical or nutritional research/facts here or in the future as I’m no expert in those matters but I will occasionally be sharing a few links to informed websites and other related resources with you, like the ones I’ve included in this post, but there is a whole wealth of great information out there on the internet if you want to explore any those topics further for yourself.

So what’s next; information, tips and anecdotes including ….

  • How to reduce and avoid urban noise pollution by diving into the sounds and even silences of nature.
  • How to enhance your visual and auditory senses by using houseplants, cut flowers and herbs to bring the garden indoors.
  • How to tickle your taste buds, often for free from natures’ own natural store of sensual deliciousness.
  • How to Invigorate yourself (and others) with touch. Which plants you’ll want to hug as well as a few you’ll want to shrug away!

In the meantime can I suggest that you take some timeout to sit, walk or play in a garden of sensuality near you!