In 1989, husband and wife team Rachel and Stephen Kaplan published The Experience of Nature, an important psychological perspective on the role that nature plays in our lives. They identified a number of natural environments, or ‘restorative settings’, which contribute to human well-being. Here’s an example:
The Kaplans identified a condition which they called being away. It’s about being in a cognitive context different from your usual surroundings, somewhere completely unlike your everyday environment. It need not be a physical place, because they believe that we respond not just to what is going on around us but also what is going on in our heads, so mental distance can be as important as literal distance. The example they give is that even if you travel no further than your own garden, making the rounds to find new buds and make sure all is well ‘can feel like being quite distant from the world of pressures and obligations.’ (Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S. The Experience of Nature, p189). Furthermore, it’s important to note that being away is not always about the urge to escape your current situation; it can just as easily come from the wish to deliberately head towards a place of nature.
In the book I look at ways in which we practice being away in nature while we’re online, but it’s useful to think about how it can be applied to your physical environment too. Let’s return to their suggestion of taking a short break to walk around the garden. It could be a good idea to get into the habit (if you’re not already) of breaking off from your computer to make those regular rounds tending to your plants, as the Kaplans suggest, watering, picking off dead flowers and leaves, shaping and turning them when necessary. This advice will sound simplistic to any responsible gardener, but I for one confess to often neglecting my few houseplants because, quite frankly, when I’m busy online I easily forget my physical surroundings for hours at a time. Yet once I remind myself to make the rounds, I always enjoy those ten or fifteen minutes of being away – though I do still forget them sometimes – hence this photo of my neglected nasturtiums. (They’re ok now!).
So if you’re one of those people who usually pays no attention to greenery, why not give it a try? Even if you don’t have a garden or own any house-plants at the moment, you could invest in one or two spider plants and try scheduling in some green being away time. It might give your brain a short break without taking you too far away from your work. It could just soothe your connected mind…
My next post will be about Nesta’s upcoming FutureFest event. It’s happening on 28-29 September, which happens to be the same week Technobiophilia will be published in the UK, so I’m very excited that Pat Kane has invited me to take part. More tomorrow.