“In forty years of medical practice … I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”
~ Dr. Oliver Sacks in Jones
We deal with stress and the hardships of everyday living in different ways. Some take a long walk in the park. Others lose themselves in their favorite songs. After my divorce, I took long walks and listened to jazz, blues and Chopin. I gradually shifted to Judy Collins and Joan Baez … then Jimmy Buffet, Bonnie Raitt, Heart, Linda Ronstadt and Willie Nelson.
As noted by reporter Jamie Ducharme, “Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness. It’s been shown to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate, while encouraging physical activity and buoying mood and mental health.”
Researchers Jeffrey Craig and Susan Prescott report, “We do know that a diverse ecosystem supports a varied and beneficial microbial community living around and inside us … We also know that exposure to green space, even within urban environments, increases our physical and mental well-being. Nature-relatedness, or ‘biophilia’ in which an individual feels connected to nature, has been linked with better health.” This effect is called “forest bathing” by the Japanese.
But nature isn’t the only path to improving mental and physical health.
Writer/Musician Josh Jones describes, “Several recent studies, for example, have linked drumming, the oldest and most universal form of music-making, to reduced anxiety, pain relief, improved mood, and improved learning skills in kids with autism. Listening to and playing jazz and other forms of syncopated music, have been shown in study after study to promote creativity, enhance math skills, and support mental and emotional well-being … But no matter the intent, or where we draw the genre boundaries, all kinds of atmospheric, instrumental music has the therapeutic power not only to reduce anxiety, but also to ease pain in surgical patients and reduce agitation in those suffering with dementia.”
Nature makes its own music: The wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, babbling of brooks and the rustling of small creatures in the forest litter. The crash of waves, hiss of outgoing tide on the sand, and the mournful cry of seagulls are universal rhythms and sounds of relaxation and peace.
Maria Popova quotes David Haskell, “living memories of trees, manifest in their songs, tell of life’s community, a net of relations. We humans belong within this conversation, as blood kin and incarnate members. To listen is therefore to hear our voices and those of our family.”
We are part of the family of living things and their environment. Community is what protects us, soothes us, supports us and provides an identity and the assurance that we are accepted. Haskell quotes a seventeenth century English gardener, “Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons”. And, per Hermann Hesse, “When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”
So, the trick to life is simply to listen to the music — whether made by man or by our environment.
“We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.”
~ George Haskell
Jeffrey Craig And Susan L. Prescott, Why a Walk in the Woods Really Does Help Your Body and Your Soul, February 1, 2016, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Conversation
Jamie Ducharme, Spending Just 20 Minutes in a Park Makes You Happier. Here’s What Else Being Outside Can Do for Your Health, February 28, 2019, Time Magazine
Josh Jones, The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How it Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma, July 30, 2019, Open Culture
Maria Popova, The Songs of Trees: A Biologist’s Lyrical Ode to How Relationships Weave the Fabric of Life, by David George Haskell, 12/08/17, Brain Pickings