Eco-Human Theory and Practice
ISSN 2713 – 184x
Ecophilosophy
Ecopsychology
Ecotherapy
Eco Art Therapy
Ecological Education
The "Green" Arts
Eco-aesthetics
Home \ Актуальное \ Kopytin, A. FLOWERS AND HUMANS: CULTURAL, ECOPSYCHOLOGICAL AND THERAPEUTIC ASPECTS

Kopytin, A. FLOWERS AND HUMANS: CULTURAL, ECOPSYCHOLOGICAL AND THERAPEUTIC ASPECTS

« Back

FLOWERS AND HUMANS: CULTURAL, ECOPSYCHOLOGICAL AND THERAPEUTIC ASPECTS

копыт

Kopytin, Alexander

Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor at the Department of Psychology, St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Studies (St.-Petersburg, Russian Federation)

 

Abstract

Today national and international policy supports the inclusion of the natural environment in holistic health promotion [25]. It has become more evident that “greening” public health by providing green spaces could promote the health benefits of interacting with nature. In this article, flowers are featured as an integral part of natural green spaces and cultural ecology and as a vital health resource from a multidisciplinary eco-human approach which considers ecological, cultural, aesthetic, and ecopsychology factors.

Keywords: flowers, beauty, aesthetic response, aesthetic responsibility, eco-human approach, eco-identity, ecopoiesis, poietic ecology, ecopsychology, nature-assisted ecological art therapy, horticultural therapy, botanical arranging, subjectification, ecological consciousness

 

Introduction

Flowers are integral to human cultures globally, accumulating a rich heritage of human experience in its close connection to the world of nature. Far beyond providing material and physical sustenance, flowers fulfil a human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and spiritual meaning and satisfaction. The human inclination to gather and grow flowers, create botanical decorations, and use them in healing and spiritual practices can be considered an expression of our instinctual symbiotic relationship with nature and healthy resonance with flourishing plant organisms abundant in the natural world.

It appears that human relationships with flowers are reciprocal: we receive them as “gifts” of beauty, vitality, healing, and nutrition, and, in return, we take care of them:

From an evolutionary perspective, the flower as a species uses, among others, the strategy of activating humans to grow and to propagate it, just as it activates insects with pollen. The plant thus uses its aesthetic characteristics to attract humans. [7, p.7]

Our pervasive attraction to flowers is well-known and perennial; to us, they are gemstones of nature. However, the current ecological crisis necessitates our relationship with flowers be reconsidered from the perspective of the multidisciplinary eco-human approach [11], taking into account ecological, cultural, and ecopsychological factors. For many centuries, flowers have been revered as an expression of life. Their intrinsic beauty and cultural value evoke erotic and aesthetic responses that offer a “sensory-emotional experience which is literally ‘breath-taking,’ which makes us stop and compels our attention to what is happening in the moment” [14, p.19].

Flowers invite us to move towards them and get close to nature in order to admire, smell, nourish and harvest them, perpetuating them as something valuable and having some powerful meaning.

All of this embodied interaction makes them excellent examples and receptors for the experience of embodied aesthetics. Tending to and enjoying flowers thus enables us to interact in a skilled fashion with the environment and to engage with the world. [7, p.7].

This aesthetic response becomes a starting point for “aesthetic responsibility,” which is an essential component in all artistic actions that aim to bring about change [10, pp.136-145].  Aesthetic responsibility calls for us to shape our world, not as a wilful imposition of form upon the materials of a life, but rather as a “letting-be” analogous to the ways in which images appear in the process of art-making and flowers gradually blossom when their time comes.

Following our aesthetic response to flowers and other expressions of natural beauty as a quality of vitality, a significant life-affirming principle, we can speak of an aesthetic responsibility toward the earth as a part of our experience of being alive and encountering the aliveness of other beings. This is our responsibility to shape the world in a way that “makes sense,” i.e., that is pleasing to the senses and beautiful. Flowers invite us to overcome the traditional opposition in aesthetics between “interest” and “beauty,” between what we need and what we value in its intrinsic form.

This vision of beauty, evoked in our relationship with flowers, can serve as a guideline for all our relationships and actions, particularly those with culture and the natural environment. Beauty appears to be a core quality of life and one of the key definitions associated with ecopoiesis [11,12,14]:  the eco-poietic attitude of a person interacting with the environment, combining the worlds of nature and culture, which serves as a mechanism of co-evolution and co-creation of humans and nature. Creative acts, from the ecopoietic approach, are rooted not so much in need for individual creative “self-expression,” which often narrowly focuses on the self but in the motivation to support and serve life.

The ecological idea of ​​beauty is not limited to the sphere of cultural experience. It is not tied to the notion that beauty is inherent only to humans with their ability for artistic and aesthetic activity, but recognizes it as a universal property inherent in all living things, of which humankind is a part. At the same time, one can talk about natural beauty as a manifestation of natural life and beauty as part of the cultural experience: the cultural activity of human beings with their ability to aesthetically respond to the world and organize it in accordance with their ideas and experience.

Beauty could thus be said to be the apprehension of earth and life in the world. As an environmental category, beauty expresses the ability of life forms and ecosystems to continue to exist, adapt, cope with challenges, flourish and multiply. Beauty, as a property of nature and culture, is not limited to the states of childhood, youth, and maturity but characterizes the whole lifespan of any organism. The ecological idea of beauty is connected to the idea of the limitations that are inherent in any living organism. These limitations are inherent in the ephemeral nature of flowers and their ability to exist within their limits and respond with passion. We express our own aesthetic response to these limits through our human resonance to flowers which include a mixture of trepidation, delight, and humility.

The erotic response to flowers and their beauty is also a part of the story about life on our planet, how life determines the finitude of any living organism, and how life expands itself through the acts of creation and recreation. The flower is the organ of seed reproduction of angiosperms. Flowers have a modified, shortened, and growth-limited spore-bearing shoot, adapted for the formation of spores, gametes, and the sexual process, culminating in the formation of a fruit with seeds. The flower’s combination of sexual and asexual reproduction grants its exclusive role as a special morphological structure. It differs from the cone of gymnosperms in that, as a result of pollination, pollen falls on the pistil’s stigma and not directly on the ovule. During the subsequent sexual process, the ovules in flowering plants develop into seeds inside the ovary. The fruit is a flower modified in the process of double fertilization, the reproductive organ of angiosperms, which is formed from a single flower and serves to grow, protect and distribute the seeds enclosed in it.

Flower cultures and art forms

Flowers are an integral part of human culture represented in the arts and literature, myths and fairy tales and used as powerful symbols in world religions. Meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years, and some form of floriography has been practiced in traditional cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Roses, apple tree blossoms, and fruit are used as symbols in the Torah, particularly of love and lovers in the Song of Songs, as an emblem for the Israeli people and the coming Messiah. The lotus in Hinduism holds similar importance to the plants and flowers in the Torah. Most of the supreme gods of India are often depicted with a magnificent lotus flower. The image of the lotus can be found in temples, literature, ancient frescoes and bas-reliefs.

In Japan there is a longstanding tradition of creating flower arrangements called Ikebana. This revered practice extends across the social structure of Japanese society. Its focus is a blend of aesthetic and spiritual expression, seeking composure, balance, and clarity in a structured reflection of the fully formed self.

Ikebana is one of the important traditional Japanese arts and has been in existence for 600 years. Made of ikeru (生ける, keep alive) and hana (, flower), the word Ikebana means “giving life to flowers”. It is also called kadō (華道 or 花道) – the way of the flowers. Ikebana originated from China, deriving from the Buddhist tradition of offering beautiful objects to the dead mainly in the temples. In the 7th century, Ono-no-Imoko, an official envoy, brought the practice of this Buddhist flower arrangement on an altar from China to Japan. While Ikebana continued to be part of Buddhism in China, it became a real art in Japan. It was an early sign of the Buddhist integration into Japanese religious and social practice. [13, p. 33]

Ikebana involves ‘human interventions’ of cutting and arranging flowers in accompaniment to spaces. However, this process can be reframed as an interaction with nature and a process for us to learn to realign humanity with the laws of nature rather than human intervention. This process can be interpreted as the practice of wu-wei, widely described as “non-action” in the Taoism tradition [12].

In Eastern Europe, the fern flower is a revered traditional ancient mythical flower that reveals to its owner the treasures and secrets of the world, granting clairvoyance and power over an unclean spirit. According to Slavic beliefs, the fern blooms for only one moment, on the night before Ivan Kupala, a June celebration of the summer solstice. It is very difficult to pick this flower, especially since its evil spirit prevents and intimidates the person, in some cases depriving them of reason, speech, and memory.

диадема

Figure 1 "Ascension of Alexander the Great" golden diadem, Kyiv. 12th century. Detailed with the popular fern flower motif (Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine)

Flower symbology is abundant in Gothic architecture, most notably in church and cathedral stained glass rose windows. During the late Gothic period, rose windows often resembled a flower with petals bursting out from the centre. Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle royal chapel is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The windows of the upper chapel depict scenes from both the Old and New Testaments which culminate in the Apocalypse, or Final Judgment, displayed within a magnificent rose window.

готич роза

Figure 2 Sainte-Chapelle’s stained-glass Gothic rose window (Photograph by Weston Westmoreland)

Shakespeare used the word "flower" more than 100 times in his plays and sonnets. In Hamlet, Ophelia mentions and explains the symbolic meaning of pansies, rosemary, fennel, columbine, rue, daisy, and violets. The powerful floral imagery of Shakespeare’s dramas inspired many artists, particularly those who found the story of Ophelia as simultaneously a source of tragic and the most beautiful iconic images of youth, beauty, and innocence in their confrontation with insurmountable obstacles in human life.

офелия

Figure 3 John Everett Millais, Ophelia, c.1852. [Painting]. Tate Gallery, London.

Floriography (the language of flowers) (https://sffallshow.org/floriography/). is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers in Victorian England and the United States during the 19th century. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to a recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in Victorian society. Armed with floral dictionaries, Victorians often exchanged small "talking bouquets," called nosegays or tussie-mussies, which could be worn or carried as a fashion accessory.

флориограф

Figure 4 One of the books on floriography by Mandy Kirkby [9]

Flowers can be preserved in a herbarium, which is devoted to the cataloging of specimens. As a botanical history, herbariums showcase the legacy of life through collections of flowers. They may denote an association to a life event or significant time period. Flowers in herbariums reflect the data of life for future reference. They are immersive, activating human senses and potentially the quest to grow and blossom.

дикинсон1    дикинсон2  дикинсон3

Figure 5 Dickinson, E. (1839-1846). Herbarium by Emily Dickinson [Preserved flowers on paper]. Houghton Library, Harvard University. https://library.harvard.edu/collections/emily-dickinson-collection

In an era when the scientific establishment barred and bolted its gates to women, botany allowed Victorian women to enter the world of science through the permissible backdoor of art. This art-science corridor within botany held an improbable yet impassioned practitioner in one of humanity’s most beloved and influential poets: Emily Dickinson.

Long before she began writing poems, Dickinson undertook a rather different yet unexpectedly parallel art of contemplation and composition—the gathering, growing, classification, and pressing of flowers, which she saw as manifestations of the Muse similar to poems. Dickinson’s herbarium is a masterpiece of uncommon punctiliousness and poetic beauty: 424 flowers from the Amherst region, arranged with a remarkable sensitivity to scale and visual cadence across 66 pages in a large leather-bound album. 

Slim paper labels punctuate the specimens like enormous dashes inscribed with the names of the plants—some colloquial, some Linnaean—in Dickinson’s elegant handwriting. What emerges is an elegy for time, composed with passionate patience, emanating the same wakefulness to sensuality and mortality that marks Dickinson’s poetry [19].

Flowers assumed a special meaning associated with the flower power slogan during the late 1960s and early 1970s and became a symbol of passive resistance and nonviolence rooted in the opposition movement to the Vietnam War. The expression “flower power” was coined by the American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles. In a November 1965 essay titled How to Make a March/Spectacle, Ginsberg advocated that protesters should be provided with "masses of flowers" to hand out to policemen, press, politicians and spectators” [6, p. 209].

Anti-war activists of the 1960’s and 1970’s embraced flower symbolism by dressing in clothing printed and embroidered with brightly colored flowers.  They also wore flowers in their hair and distributed them to the public during peace and anti-establishment demonstrations. These protestors became known as “flower children”. The term “flower power” was later generalized as a reference to the hippie movement and the counterculture of drugs, psychedelic music, psychedelic art and social permissiveness. Flower children were cultural revolutionaries who aimed to challenge authority and power through peaceful and cooperative means. Cultural activism and experimental living blossomed in association to quests for harmony, communal living and an expansion of consciousness [5].

ткань

Figure 6 Cotton print fabric, late 1960s (USA) (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Late_1960s_cotton_print_fabric.jpg)

The avant-garde art of Milton GlaserHeinz Edelmann, and Peter Max became synonymous with the flower power generation. Edelman's illustration style was best known in his art designs for the Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. Glaser, the founder of Push Pin Studios, also developed the loose psychedelic graphic design, seen, for example, in his seminal 1966 poster illustration of Bob Dylan with paisley hair (Figure 5). The posters by pop artist Peter Max, with their vivid fluid designs painted in Day-Glo colors, became visual icons of flower power. Max's cover story in Life magazine (September, 1969) as well as appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show, further established the "flower power" style of art into mainstream culture.

дилан

Figure 7 Glasner, M. (1966). Bob Dylan poster for CBS Records. MOMA, New York (https://www.moma.org/collection/works/8108)

Flowers can evoke socio-ecological dynamics that bring new life to old premises and express “the promise of happiness” [21, p. 66], particularly for damaged or neglected lives, supporting their resilience both on individual and communal levels.

Lisa Waud, based in Detroit, Michigan, also explores the reviving power of flowers and nature in her botanical public art installations, which explore the brief space between living and decay. She aims to showcase nature as a cleansing reset.      

Built on her background in professional garden and floral design, Lisa’s work intervenes within existing architecture mimicking natural armatures as a rare pause button in the context of perishability and impermanence. Heavily influenced by land art and large-scale installation artists, Lisa is drawn to create ephemeral works with plants and flowers that immerse and engage the hosting community throughout the project—in the planning process, throughout the exhibition, and in the project’s afterlife.

Lisa’s current focus is aesthetically supporting musicians and performing artists designing sets for videos and live online performances, and prioritizes collaboration with artists from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. Striving for zero waste throughout her practice, Lisa sources from local growers and vendors, utilizes found and foraged natural items, buys used and reusable materials, composts organic matter, and recycles what remains (Waud, n.d.). (About Lisa Waud Botanical Artist. Retrieved April 1, 2022, https://www.lisawaud.com/about).

дом цветов1

Figure 8 Morrson, N. (2019). Best life, floral set design for video. Floral designer: Lisa Waud. Music: Danny Brown. [Photograph]. (https://www.lisawaud.com/best-life)

In October of 2015, Waud’s Flower House in Detroit was a celebration of how flowers could commemorate the lives of former inhabitants of abandoned homes. It was an extensive collaboration between floral designers exhibiting their art form for the purpose of honoring the former role of the house as a family home.

Flower House evoked pride of place through flower installations that were immersive, transformative and offered a heightened sense of occasion. Lisa Waud, the visionary behind Flower House, hoped the Flower House installation could be breathtaking and memorable. Flowers covered the wounded interior of the house—its scars, brokenness, abandonment and loss. After the exhibition the house was repurposed as building materials, deconstructed in order to be reclaimed (P. Whitaker, personal communication, February 19, 2022).

дом цветов2

дом цветов3

Figure 9 Sounders, H. (2015) A team of designers and volunteers of the Flower House and the interior of the Flower House [Photographs]. https://www.lisawaud.com/flower-house

The healing and therapeutic properties of flowers

Various cultural traditions spiritually infuse flowers with significant healing properties that are well-represented in mythology and magical practices. Often, flowers are believed to be a manifestation of the sacred, creative and spiritual forces that enable transformation and healing.

Human encounters with floral healing powers and beauty are not only a part of past cultural traditions but also exist in the present-day human experience. One such example includes Rollo May’s floral encounter amidst his deep crisis at the age of 21, when he collected the heads of poppies and made a drawing of flowers in his notebook. He presents his memories in his travelogue entitled My Quest for Beauty [15], along with his painted and drawn flowers. In his travelogue he recounts his memories as a young man, teaching English at Anatolia College in Saloniki, Greece, which became a pivotal moment on his psychological path.

маки

Figure 10 Poppies, drawn at “White House”. Source: Rollo May, My Quest for Beauty [15]

As he writes in this book:

I experienced a nervous breakdown. Which meant simply that the rules, principles, values by which I used to work and live simply did not suffice anymore. I got so completely fatigued that I had to go to bed for two weeks to get enough energy to continue my teaching. I had learned enough psychology at college to know that these symptoms meant that something was wrong with my whole way of life… I walked mostly around the surrounding hills. Ascending one hill I found myself suddenly knee deep in a field of wild poppies covering the whole hillside. It was a gorgeous sight: brilliantly crimson and scarlet, the poppies were lovely forms as they bent delicately in one direction and then another.

I realized that I had not listened to my inner voice, which had tried to talk to me about beauty. I had been too hard-working, too “principled” to spend time merely looking at flowers! It seems it had taken a collapse of my whole former way of life for this voice to make itself heard. This inner voice hereafter would always be redolent with the slight perfume that covered the hillside that morning [15, pp.5-6].

Today national and international policy supports the inclusion of the natural environment in holistic health promotion. “Back-to-nature” movements, inspired in part by ecopsychological ideas, support initiatives to address the estrangement between humanity and nature that contributes to degrading ecological and psychological health. The estrangement from nature arrests healthy psychological growth and identity formation, leaving a psychological void that many people try to fill through compulsive consumption. While back-to-nature and ecopsychology initiatives are diverse, the motivation undergirding each of them seems to be similar: reconnecting humans to nature on a cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral level. It is believed this reconnection, in turn, will boost ecological and psychological health.

A growing branch of therapeutic approaches embraced under the umbrella term ‘eсotherapy’, based on supporting human interaction with the world of nature (and plants in particular), is gaining prominence. It has become more obvious that “by promoting the health benefits of interacting with nature, green spaces could provide the innovation required to advance the ‘greening’ of public health” [2, p. 27]. Various ecotherapeutic interventions are an outgrowth of nature’s innate ability to support mental health in multiple settings. Some interventions, especially horticultural therapy and nature-assisted/ecological arts therapies, use the therapeutic potential of human interaction with plants and flowers.

Relf [20] writes that the “basic premise behind horticultural therapy is that working with and around plants brings about positive psychological and physical changes that improve the quality of life for the individual” (p. 4). In horticultural therapy, the process of the plant-person relationship is the nexus of focus by creating botanical arrangements as a form of therapeutic activity. Horticulture utilizes the therapeutic potential of creating artworks of flowers and other botanical ephemera, connecting horticultural therapy to art therapy.

The scent of flowers and other plant parts has demonstrated therapeutic value. According to Diehl [4], flowers can release neurochemicals that help to “eliminate pain, induce sleep, and create a sense of well-being” (p. 170). Flowers also possess many significant motifs that can be related to an individual’s lifetime frame of reference.

For example, colour, smell, and shape connect to autobiographic memories and stimulate the recall and accessibility of long-term memory [17]. Autobiographical memory is important for this understanding of flowers, as flowers triggers a sensory aesthetic experience that connects to previous autobiographical memories of interactions with them.

Flowers can evoke memories and fantasies and facilitate expression of feelings and the search for meaning associated with the interconnected human and ecological lifespans. Flowers together with their natural environment serve as metaphors enabling people to “express the inexpressible” and sometimes help them to depict what words are unable to convey, irrespective of a person’s language, background or beliefs. Bringing flowers to therapy provides an opportunity to identify with them and supports eco-identity as a necessity of ecological/environmental consciousness and healthy personality development within a wider matrix of being—the web of life.

[Flowers] acquire metaphorical vitality that individuals may experience at different conscious and unconscious levels of experience. Within this interwoven relationship, it is unsurprising that botanicals become signifiers of specific human events as a part of the common language... Simply touching, smelling, and arranging botanical ephemera into pleasing symmetries can bring pleasure, alertness, and a sense of accomplishment [16, p.19].

There is a wide spectrum of ways to engage with flowers through the arts in nature-assisted therapies and involves the participant engaging in different roles from objective observer to active intervenor. Making art in the form of drawing and photographing flowers can help people to recognize the meaningfulness and beauty of this botanical ephemera. Getting involved in nature-based meditations, ceremonies, celebrations, rituals, and other practices with the use of flowers is also possible.

The human inclination to establish non-pragmatic relationships with nature and healthy resonance with plant forms can be explained from the perspective of the biophilia hypothesis, which explains a pervasive attraction that draws people to nature with its different mineral, plant, and organic forms as a representation of healthy and contained life. The biophilia hypothesis is based on the presumption that our relationship with natural forms can be mutually supportive and go beyond their practical value as food or medicine and perceive them as emotionally compelling symbols.

Formulated by Wilson [23] and then elaborated by Kellert and Wilson [8], the biophilia hypothesis is described as the “innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms” [8, p. 31]. Creating botanical arrangements, drawing, photographing, taking videos, or even mindfully contemplating flowers are forms of creative interaction with natures that align with the biophilia hypothesis and ideas of ecopsychology. As with any other method or instrument applied in ecopsychology and ecotherapy, these therapeutic uses of flowers are based on the idea of synergy between the well-being of humans and nature.

Our attraction to flowers can be also explained from the perspective of mandala symbology. The visual elements contained in flowers and the centripetal principle of their visual organization absorbs us in a meditative state in which we feel harmony, inner peace and wholeness.

Flowers are like ‘green mandalas.’ Contemplating on flowers and being involved in various forms of expressive activities such as drawing flowers and creating botanical arrangments can be understood as a psychodynamic process, whereby individuals externalize inner processes and states of the mind, integrate certain idiosyncratic experiences and qualities and rely on the transpersonal ecological self which is defined as “a wide, expansive, or field-like sense of self, which ultimately includes all life-forms, ecosystems and the Earth itself” [1, p. 95].

Huss et al. [7] emphasize “the relationship between people and flowers goes beyond the synergetic connection between the visual characteristics and the social meanings of the flower, to the relational, embodied element of person-flower connection that is embodied in physical characteristics” (p.7).

Our perception of constructive human interaction with flowers through the arts can be enriched by the subjectification of nature. Subjectification involves both empathy and identification with natural objects and plays a critical role in the process of developing human relationships with the more-than-human world; it also enables an ethical perception of nature to be established. According to Deryabo [3], the process of human subjectification of natural objects has the following basic functions: a) to provide people with an experience of their own personal dynamics, b) to act as an intermediary in a person’s relationship with the world, and c) to act as a subject of joint activity and communication. Subjectification of natural objects increases well-being and actualizing eco-identity, as the internal dynamic structure of our relationship with nature embraces both the human and more-than-human worlds and serves as one of the significant foundations for self-perception and self-conception. This is the kind of self-understanding that is linked to one’s mutually sustaining relationship with the care for nature.

Case example 1: Creating a personal green mandala as a result of a meditative journey in a community center green area accompanied with selection of natural materials

A diverse group of helping professionals took part in a brief wellness-focused supportive art therapy program with the goal of learning ways to develop self-regulating, stress-management mindfulness skills based on their creative interaction with the environment [17]. The 3-hour weekly sessions balanced time between mindfulness-based exercises and creative expression and implemented nature-assisted art therapy. Together these interventions actualize nonverbal creative expression with embodied practice, staking a claim for art making with the use of environmental materials and space as a mindfulness practice. Additionally, the outdoor walks, exploring and selecting natural materials, and creating green mandalas invite a practice of mindful attention.

At the beginning of one session, the therapist offered the possibility for the group to spend one hour outdoors to explore the institutional environment of the community center where sessions took place: an enclosed field with sports ground and some wild plants and apple, pear, and birch trees. The therapist explained that the participants are allowed to select and use any types of organic materials available on the community center’s ground including vines, leaves, fruit, branches, seedpods, wildflowers, and other botanical ephemera, as well as stones, soil, sand, and water.

Participants were encouraged to take a meditative journey through the environment and find some natural materials and objects in order to arrange a small personal green mandala. The therapist recommended participants use small ceramic containers, plates, or cups up to 12 cm in diameter to hold their botanical arrangements. The therapist also encouraged the participants to find someplace in the environment to install their creations and arrange the surrounding area, if needed. Later, they were invited to present a brief performative ritual in the environment, and interact with their green mandalas as meaningful objects. This part of the session followed by participants’ sharing their experiences and meanings implied in their performances and creations.

When the group completed their green mandalas and were ready to perform, one of the participants, a school teacher, invited people to stand in the circle to pass her green mandala through their hands. She said:

I was sitting on the ground watching the environment around me in the beginning. At a certain moment I got a feeling that I’m dissolving in nature. When I stood up and started to search for natural materials around, I noticed small plants and shoots. All of them are so beautiful, tiny, and wonderful, but I didn’t notice that before.

It was a spontaneous process of selecting natural forms which I found most interesting and attractive for me in the beginning. I didn’t want to rip and destroy plants, so I preferred to take the whole plants including their roots, and transport them into the environment of my green mandala. You can see the two little plantains inside. I planted them in the soil which I put in the vessel and sprinkled with water. These plants can grow now. Everything is so small and has certain Japanese quality. This evokes a special feeling.

When I completed my creation, I started to walk around carrying my creation in a meditative state of mind with me. I realized that I can take a small part of this beautiful wonderful natural environment in my hand and even share it with other people. I can pass my green mandala through the circle of people now. You can feel its warmth created with my hands and a little candle burning in the middle. I can later put my creation somewhere. I can separate from it now and it needs separation too. It has its own life now and it is free. Perhaps I’ll take it with me and put it on a table during lunchtime.

зел мандала1

Figure 11 Green mandala created by a school teacher   

Case example 2: Taking photographs of lilac flowers as a form of nature-assisted art therapy in the rehabilitation of those who use psychoactive substances

Another nature-assisted practice was implemented in a day hospital in accordance with the principles of ecological art therapy, which involved photographing the environment directly adjacent to the building where sessions took place. At different times of the year during the course of the rehabilitation program, participants were repeatedly asked to go outside to photograph any interesting natural and non-natural objects and places for about 30 minutes. In the process of photographing the environment and objects, the participants touched on personally significant topics. Sometimes the group leader suggested paying attention to certain objects in the environment, for example, lilacs when they were in season in May.

After taking the photos, the participants could choose some of the most meaningful images or create a sequential series from them. In some cases, narrative therapy techniques were used based on the photographs taken in the environment. The narratives were relatively short texts, an essay or a poem, written in a notebook either during the photo-walk or immediately after it.

This type of creative nature-based activity allows one to realize the meaning and beauty of nature, supporting the development of personal and group identity based on meaningful connections with the environment. Viewing and discussing photographs allow participants to better understand their past, present, and future. Photographing the environment also provides significant opportunities for developing a sense of physical and emotional presence in the environment, stress relief, and sensory stimulation.

At one of the sessions, held in May, the group leader drew attention to the blooming lilac, which was growing in abundance on the territory of the park, and suggested a 20-30-minute walk through the area where it was blooming. He recommended photographing the lilac bushes and making notes of the thoughts and feelings that arose when contemplating the lilac bushes.

The group was then asked to read aloud their notes, accompanied by their photographs. At the end of the session, the participants noted the strong emotional impact associated with both walking and taking photographs, as well as sharing their thoughts and feelings from their notes. They paid attention to meaningful sensations, emotions, and thoughts evoked through their contact with lilacs as an amazingly beautiful natural object, showcasing the effects of subjectification.

Ivan (name has been changed) created this text:

Lilac color is a happy sunrise from my past!

Like an echo of distant childhood days ...

Though the years have gone so far

I always remember this wonderful smell.

Oh, Lilac flowers, people and nature,

Thank you for my sobriety,

Oh, lilac branch, thank you

For my belief in changes coming in my fate!

сирень

Figure 12 One of the photographs of lilacs created by Ivan

Case example 3: Green mandala as a symbolic representation of experience related to aging

A 72-year-old woman participated in the nature-based art therapy group session. Though the session took place indoors in Manhattan, New York, participants were encouraged to use various botanical ephemera found by the leader in Central Park and brought to the session. Some greenery materials for this session were purchased at one of the nearest markets. At the beginning of one session, the therapist suggested the group explore the natural materials available and then select and use them to arrange a small personal green mandala. The therapist recommended participants use cardboard circles up to 25 cm in diameter as a holding space for their botanical arrangements.

Upon completing her artwork, a 72-year-old woman commented on it in the following way:

I could say that it was an organic and unconscious process, led by the textures and colors of the materials. I was aware that it was a bit 'off-center", in that it didn't have the usual symmetrical form of a traditional mandala. I actually enjoyed that it seemed to 'flow' off to the right and was a bit whimsical and light. It also has a strong feminine quality, which pleased me too as I had been exploring that side of myself. It feels grounded and also has a quality of releasing and flowing, which mirrors my life at the moment. I enjoyed the tactile and sensorial experience of working with the natural materials even though the workshop itself was held in a rather sterile interior and urban environment. 

I find my mandala to be a good representation of complex meanings related to aging. I can refer to Wabi-Sabi, beauty found in the simple, imperfect, old, worn, weathered objects and natural forms. These qualities of “beauty consciousness” that were revealed through the process of creating my green mandala can assist us in seeing beauty in the older human being and guide us toward recognizing this beauty within ourselves as we age. These forms of aesthetics and philosophy of life can help us to become aware of aging as a creative act.

зел мандала2

Figure 13 Green mandala with a rose petal in the center made by a 72-year-old woman as a symbol of her experience related to aging

Conclusion

In this critical period of human existence, when populations all over the world and the global web of life are being threatened by the environmental crisis, which has a wide-ranging social, psychological and economic impact, the question arises, what is our creative response to all this? What is our foundation for human and environmental healing, one that supports resilience and capacity for a life-affirming response to environmental destruction? A holistic response would be the practice of ecopoiesis, exemplified by our natural aesthetic and creative response to flowers, reclaiming our poetic way of dwelling upon the earth.

Flowers significantly influence aesthetics, culture, therapy, and health. They imply a rich meaning associated with both planetary and human history. Our kinship with flowers dwells in the heart of natural and cultural ecology, which is intrinsically aligned with the state of the ecosphere’s health, resilience, regeneration and sustainability.

Our ecopoietic resonance is essential to our relationship with flowers and our encounter with their beauty. It enables our aesthetic response to them, but not “in the sense of a form that one beholds from a distance in a disinterested manner, but rather a bodily-affective experience of what has emerged.” [13]

Our ecopoietic resonance with flowers makes us capable of creative acts and shaping the world in harmony with nature when our creative behaviour relies on aesthesis, our experience of the world, and its embodied beauty.

Our human resonance with flowers extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical sustenance and embraces our craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and spiritual meaning and satisfaction. The human inclination to plant and grow flowers, create various decorations made of this botanical ephemera, use them in healing and spiritual practices, meditate on them and glorify them in art can be considered as an expression of the human instinct of mutually supportive relationships with nature.

References

  1. Bragg, E.A. (1996). Towards ecological Self: deep ecology meets constructivist self-theory. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1996, 16, 93-108.
  2. Burls, A. (2007). People and green spaces: Promoting public health and mental well-being through eco-therapy. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6(3), 24-39.
  3. Deryabo, S. (2002). The phenomenon of subjectification of natural objects: Doctoral Thesis. Moscow: MSPPU (in Russian).
  4. Diehl, E. R. M. (2009). Gardens that heal. In L. Buzzell & C. Chalquist (Eds.). Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind (pp. 166-174). Sierra Club Books: San Francisco, CA.
  5. Dunn-Froebig, E. (2006). All grown up: How the counterculture affected its flower children. (Master’s Thesis, University of Montana). https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6439&context=etd
  6. Ginsberg, A. (1965), "Demonstration or spectacle as example, as communication, or How to make a march/spectacle", Berkeley Barb, November 19, republished in 2002 in A. Charles (Ed.), The Portable Sixties Reader (p.208-212). London: Penguin Classic, 2002.
  7. Huss, E., Bar Yosef, K., and Zaccai, M. (2018). Humans’ relationship to flowers as an example of the multiple components of embodied aesthetics. Behavior Science, 8, 32; doi:10.3390/bs8030032
  8. Kellert, S. R. (1993). Introduction. In S.R. Kellert & E.O. Wilson (Eds.), The Biophilia hypothesis (pp.18-25). Washington, DC: Shearwater Books/Island Press, 1993.
  9. Kirkby, M. (2011). The language of flowers. A miscellany. New York: Macmillan.
  10. Knill, P.J., Levine, E.G., Levine, S.K. (2005). Principles and practice of expressive arts therapy: Toward a therapeutic aesthetics. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
  11. Kopytin A.I. (2020). The eco-humanities as a way of coordinating the natural and human being. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 1(1). [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://en.enecopoiesis.ru (retrieved 02.02.2022)
  12. Kopytin, A(2021). Ecological/nature-assisted arts therapies. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 2(2). [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru (retrieved 02.02.2022)
  13. Kopytin, A., Zhou, T. Yu. (2021). From ikebana to botanical arranging: Artistic, therapeutic, and spiritual alignment with nature. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 2(1): 33-41 [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru (retrieved 02.02.2022)
  14. Levine S.K. (2020). Ecopoiesis: Towards a poietic ecology. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 1(1): 17-25 [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://ecopoiesis.ru (retrieved 02.02.2022)
  15. May, R. (1985). My quest for beauty. New York: W. W. Norton & Co Inc.
  16. Montgomery, C. S., and Courtney, J. A. (2015). The Theoretical and Therapeutic Paradigm of Botanical Arranging. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, 25(1), 16-26.
  17. Nelson, K.; Fivush, K. (2004). The emergence of autobiographical memory: A social cultural developmental theory. Psychological Review, 111: 486–511.
  18. Peterson, C. (2013). Mindfulness-based art therapy: Applications for healing with cancer. In L. Rappaport (Ed.), Mindfulness and the arts therapies: Theory and practice (pp. 64–80). London: Jessica Kingsley.
  19. Popova, M. (2017). Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A forgotten treasure at the intersection of science and poetry. The Marginalian. https://www.themarginalian.org/2017/05/23/emily-dickinson-herbarium/
  20. Relf, D. (1992, April/June). Human issues in horticulture. HortTechnology 2(2), 4&9. Retrieved from http://www.hort. vt.edu/human/hihart.htm
  21. Stendhal (1975). Love. London: Penguin.
  22. Waud, L. (2015). https://www.lisawaud.com/flower-house.
  23. Wilson E.O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  24. Wilson, E. (1993). Biophilia and the conservation ethic. In S.R. Kellert & E.O. Wilson (Eds.), The biophilia hypothesis (pp.31-40). Washington, DC: Shearwater Books/Island Press.
  25. World Health Organization. (2021). Compendium of WHO and other UN guidance on health and environment: Nature and Health. https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/who-compendium-on-health-and-environment/who_compendium_chapter8_01092021.pdf?sfvrsn=9a08e16c_5

Reference for citations

Kopytin, A. (2022). Flowers and humans: Cultural, ecopsychological and therapeutic aspects. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 3(2). [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://ecopoiesis.ru (d/m/y)


About the journal

“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the first international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.

The Journal promotes dialogue and cooperation between ecologists, philosophers, doctors, educators, psychologists, artists, musicians, designers, social activists, business representatives in the name of eco-human values, human health and well-being, in close connection with concern for the environment. The Journal supports the development and implementation of new environmentally-friendly concepts, technologies and practices in the various fields of health and public life, education and social work.

One of the priority tasks of the Journal is to demonstrate and support the significant role of the arts in their alliance with ecology and the humanities for the restoration and development of constructive relations with nature, raising environmental awareness and promoting nature-friendly lifestyles.

The Journal publishes articles describing new eco-human concepts and practices, technologies and applied research data at the intersection of humanities, ecology and the arts, as well as interviews and conference reports related to the emerging eco-human field. It encourages artwork, music and other creative products related to eco-human practices and the new global community of Eco-Humanity.