I am always talking about how simple things can be the most impactful, and yet I can be guilty of not following my own advice. A couple of weeks ago I had an incredibly busy week, and I neglected not only my own biological needs … like sleep, water and food, but I was so busy that I neglected those of my plants as well. Those of you who have been to my home know that I am a plant lover, and I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 houseplants. Well, after that irresponsible week … a few of my little friends were looking incredibly sad. Since then I have devoted myself once more to really caring for these wonderful beings that provide me with such consistent joy. It occurred to me that there is a magical type of inherent wisdom in each of them, if only I were paying closer attention.
Here are some simple things we can learn from our plant friends:
We all need sunlight to thrive. Some of us are sunbathers who like being out on the river tubing all summer, and others of us prefer the filtered variety, sun rays finding their way through the trees and onto our skin as we are out for an early morning run. Either way, just like plants need sunshine for photosynthesis, our bodies need it to synthesize vitamin D for our immune systems, to help build stronger bones, and to make feel good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Sunlight also structures the water surrounding our cells and is largely responsible for maintaining our cellular batteries, the mitochondria. Vitamin D deficiency contributes to a higher risk of cancer, and recent studies show that three out of four Americans are deficient in vitamin D. So, like plants, we all need a little smart sunscreen-free sun exposure every day.
When my plants need a perk up, I put them on the outside patio for a day or two to get some fresh air. The fresh air always brightens them up. I get the same effects by getting outside and taking a walk in the greenbelt, or even just sitting out on the patio reading. The fresh air produced by photosynthesis is great for our lungs! If I need to be inside, I normally keep my windows open, with the ceiling fans on to simulate a soft breeze.
Plants and humans need water. But … what my plants have taught me is that not all water is the same. During a recent construction project on my building, all of my outdoor plants had an extended pajama party at my boyfriend’s house with his plants. There they drank collected rainwater instead of the filtered tap water they get at my place. Upon their return, they expressed grave disappointment at having to drink the chloramine-infused water at Mama’s. Humans are no different. Structured water, for example, provides more bio-available hydration to our cells than water that has been mechanically filtered or treated. These processes change the molecular structure of the water so that it is no longer the most beneficial to our cellular matrix. In the absence of structured water, alkaline water is more healthful to humans than standard tap water as the optimal PH level for best functioning is slightly alkaline.
Like me, my plants like food. Like me, the best recipe is being mindful of moderation and seasonality. My natural tendency is to go overboard with fertilizer or compost tea, much like I personally do with chocolate and macadamia nuts. Overdosing on our favorite foods, while ephemerally satisfying, is not in our best interests. The dose makes the poison. Optimally, my plants and I enjoy our food pleasures in moderation, paying special attention to seasonal cycles and nutrient density.
In this family, we like a few hours per day of medium-volume music.
There are a few theories as to why and how plants respond to music, whether it’s due to the sound frequency activating growth genes or resonance at the molecular level. I won’t pretend to fully understand this, but I know my plants love their Sonic Bloom “Whistling Songs to Grow By”. They grow better when I play it for them in the morning, just for an hour or two. Studies have shown that plants grow best with this music but not necessarily if it’s played continuously. They need silence and quiet time just like we do. I follow a similar program: I listen to playful music at the gym and mystical music while I massage. The rest of the time, I enjoy quiet time, which gives my nervous system time to relax.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing plants can teach us is the need for patience. My indoor plants generally grow continuously, but the progress is slow and it can’t be rushed with more water or fertilizer. Cultivating the sense of calm necessary to simply allow them to grow, at their own pace, has proven to be a wonderful antidote to today’s instant-gratification culture. I am reminded of this continually in my running and weight lifting: real progress is slow and requires patience. As far as the outside plant crew, their growth cycle is not linear, but dependent on the season. They may flower beautifully for just a day or two and not again until the following year. They die back as it gets colder, and sometimes require a drastic (and scary) pruning just before or after the cold season. They flourish again when the conditions are right, but in the meanwhile there is not much to do but wait. Sometimes, like humans, plants get an infection and require nursing back to health. Most of the time, my plants want a gentle nurse, willing to wash every leaf with organic soap and water, sometimes multiple times, rather than simply treating with an aggressive chemical. The real healing is not an overnight process.
Those of us lucky enough to be able to share our lives with plants have respect and awe for these magnificent beings. They have much to tell us, if we are only listening.