Diagnosis: Disconnected. Plants: Prescription.

By January 10, 2019 December 8th, 2019 No Comments

Everyone agrees [by everyone I mean the authors I read, the documentaries I watch, and the podcasts I listen to as I drown myself in my blissful universe of confirmation bias] that we have never been more disconnected from one another. This happens to be the title of a sobering HBO documentary highlighting our modern-day reality of isolation, loneliness, and withdrawal. This has repercussions far beyond what we can imagine with regard to the future of our well-being (and disease-care). And that of the planet.

It has kept me thinking. A lot recently. I am convinced this is the direct result of our disconnection from the land. The truth is this is the only rationale I can find to try to understand our complete disregard for the earth and the desecration of our oceans, air, and land inhabitants, and one another.

Think about it. Our norm has become to be insulated from nature. We move inside a metal cube: car, bus, train, plane, or rocket. We wear shoes. We live inside concrete walls that block the noise, the sun, and life. We kill everything that “disrupts” our jaded programming. We use machines to communicate with one another. (My kids message me from their bedrooms. Sometimes from the sofa across the room. They wear headphones in the car on the way to school. They talk to me with their eyes on their screens. They learn in virtual classrooms for Gods sake.) As we distance ourselves from the land, we slowly begin to chip away at the connections we have with each other, until one day [today], we find ourselves alone in front of a screen watching life.

Please bear with me. I know what you must be thinking. I am speaking/writing of disconnection while I am on the machines I am bemoaning. Those of you who know me also know that I communicate by text messages most of the time. [This is true, but only because I dont like to talk on the phone. My favourite means of communication is a one-on-one conversation on my kitchen counter with a huge mug of coffee in one hand and a home-cooked plant meal in the other. These moments are becoming rarer and rarer, as priorities shift and we get sucked into the metal.]

This will not be a discussion of smart-phones and the current reality of our lives. This is specifically about our disconnection from the land and how that has slowly eroded our connection with one another. We unlearned the human art of communication, curiosity, and conversation. I learned recently of someone who chose to lock herself in an office over having to face a conversation with people who did not dress like she dressed, live around where she lived, and speak like she spoke. Instead, she stared at her smart-phone dreaming about exotic adventures and far-away lands watching life while the experience life unfolded outside her wooden door.

My proposed solution is plants. Plants have the power not only to heal our guts, but our lonely souls.

This is a call for community gardens, one small plot at a time.

Ron Finley calls himself a guerilla gardener from South Central (LA). He serves his community by empowering people to grow their own food. Around the same time I watched his widely viewed TED talk, I read Michelle Obamas book Becoming in which she also talks about the power of growing ones own food. Her modest White House kitchen garden started out with $200-worth of saplings that first yielded around 80 pounds of produce. Today, it yields 2000 pounds of food a year. Humans planted that garden, and every community garden Ron Finley designed around South Central. White House staff (in their suits and high heels I am assuming) and kids and grandmothers in LA took time to connect with one another, the soil, and the plants they nurtured. The children who witnessed kale grow from a seed to a plant were curious enough to eat the kale. As guts welcomed the healing nourishment, hearts gradually began to expand.

It works. It beautifies the dreary concrete. It feeds everyone, including the environment.

I have 4 small pots outside: they provide our house with all the kale we need for nourishing breakfasts, a few lemons when we run out, and all the mint, basil, and sage required to garnish our food. 4 small pots. In my concrete, tiled, urban citadel. My friend recently asked me if I felt like it hurt the plants when I plucked them (or ate them.) At the risk of sounding woo woo, I said it was the exact opposite. The more I consumed the kale, the more it yielded. When I neglect it, it withers.

Like my friendships.

I decided to pause my writing for an hour to take my dog for a walk, my ritual for the past few months since this beautiful being came into my life. I choose to listen to audio books and podcasts on my walks, my machine in my pocket filling the void. I think it is the bookworm in me wanting to soak wisdom every second. I still take in the sky, the trees, the earth and the piles of garbage.

What are the odds that the podcast I choose to listen to is a conversation with Zach Bush MD, who has this to say:

The simple reality of the brokenness in the system has to do with the isolation of human relationships. If we dont reconnect with nature, we will just destroy it again.

What are the odds?

The state of the soil is a reflection of the state of humanity: barren, hardened, dry, lifeless, and suffocating under piles of plastic. It is desperate for air, for touch, for biology. It is broken but not hopeless.

Yuval Harari writes in 21 Lessons for the 21 Century that the only jobs that will not be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in the near future are ones that require emotional skills like empathy and compassion. AI will replace doctors but cannot replace nurses. We dont need scientists. We need care-givers. We don’t need teachers. We need mentors. Emotional skills are about relationships and connections, conversations and physical touch. They are about eye contact and body language. Coffee and kitchen counters.

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.Joni Mitchell


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