Photosynthesis of prayer: on exchanges of energy and healing gardens

In his article on nature and hospitals, Roger Ulrich writes about how windows with views of nature speed healing (1984). The notion that nature was important to healing has been around for thousands of years: see, for instance, how the temples in honour of Asclepius -the Greek god of healing – were built high up on hilltops overlooking the sea (Sternberg, 2009). It is not a surprise then that, on the third floor of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, there is a garden. It is an indoor garden that our project participants have extensively talked about despite their religious or non-religious affiliation. Benches are surrounded by plant pots and many staff members come here, as one of our spiritual care practitioners told us, to relax and to “unload”:

 “[nature is important] especially for other faiths because they might be able to connect with God our Creator through the beauty of nature, especially Buddhists and Hindus. Some Sikh doctors or nurses may come here. Sometimes I come here when I’m tired and I need some quite time so I sit down here, it’s often on my way to somewhere else, you go around the wards for one hour or one hour and half and then you need to unload and you stay here”

He also mentioned that coming to the garden was inextricably connected to his cultural and spiritual background:

“We associate so much being in touch with nature to get good spirit and release bad spirits…vibes. We do believe that the earth and the soil and the ground, the plants will take our bad energy and then we will get from them [plants] good energy, it’s like carbon dioxide and oxygen. I grew up like that, that’s our belief, so that’s why we keep in touch with nature. (…) [being here in the garden] is relaxing, the beauty of the plants and the green, especially in the middle of these towers in the city, so these kind of plants can really help to relax and especially to help you to appreciate nature (…) I do believe that I get bad energy from people I meet, especially if you talk with people, with some of the patients,  I do believe that some of the energy taken during the interaction with patients, unconsciously you are receiving some of this energy, good or bad and you are giving also, every person I encounter, I talk with, there’s always an exchange of energy (…) [human beings] exchange energy and I come here [to the garden] to unload this bad energy”

From these comments, we see that gardens can be important not only in the healing process of patients, but also for staff members’ well-being. Moreover, gardens can serve as meaningful metaphors to talk about social relations of prayer in health care settings. For example, moments of prayer may be conceived as exchanges of energy and the gardens as a means to find harmony again, showing how engaging in prayer and spiritual care with patients may at times feel like an emotional burden that requires “unloading” through therapeutic spaces such as healing gardens.

References

Ulrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery. Science, 224(4647), 224-225.

Stenberg, E.M. (2009). Healing Spaces. The Science of Place and Well-being. London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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