As part of my personal practice, as well as the work I share with clients, the power of plants has a place dear to my heart. Eco-psychology is an increasingly studied field, about the deep roots that therapy shares with the skills required to make the earth grow. Although this basic lesson is something anybody (from children to grandparents) can teach you, we rarely find the time to put it into practice. Which is a shame, because spending more time with the natural world, whether that means potted plants in the living room or a small garden filled with soil, has a tremendous impact on our emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Research conducted over decades has shown that greenery, and even more importantly the act of caring for plants, could have a beneficial impact on our mental health. According to a survey taken by London-based institution Arboretum, over 40 percent of 2,000 participants reported benefits to their mental wellbeing simply by being around living plants. Why is that so?
One of the biggest reasons is the fact that gardening means we have to interact with nature, getting our hands a little dirty. There is something restful about all those leaves, in shades of calming green. The feel and smell of soil, and the gentle focus that accompanies the actions and activities of gardening. Even if you can only spare the space for a pot of herbs or a simple houseplant, learning how to observe its rhythms and take care of its needs can be a deeply healing experience.
Exploring eco-psychology and how mental health links up with ecological respect is a big theme in work being done here in Malta too, by the National Hub for Ethnobotanical Research. Under the facilitation of Mario Gerada, the Hub does research about how spirituality and ecology relate, for the benefit of individuals and communities. There is a social side to working with plants too – sharing seeds, fruits, and knowledge can be another way in which our gardening skills connect us with the world.
At its essence, giving ourselves the space to take care of our small garden is also an opportunity to tend the garden ‘within’ us. To do some weeding when negative feelings threaten to overwhelm us, and to water the seeds of our dreams and hope for healing. Gardening is a practice of mindfulness and calm, especially important when so many of us are spending most of our days online and integrated in a virtual environment.
Sometimes there is no better remedy than to be soothed by nature, to allow our minds and bodies to calm down and take on the more gentle rhythms of Mother Earth. By giving ourselves the challenge to care for plants, we not only create a source of food and oxygen in our homes. We also give ourselves a visual reminder of the therapeutic process at work inside us, as we heal ourselves and grow stronger and more resilient.
Pete Farrugia is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist. In his profession he explores the intersection of psychosocial wellbeing, spiritual development, and creative expression.