Open Voices Blog

News and conversations about the growing evidence of the healing power of nature and green development in cities

Take a deep breath, listen to your self.

Posted on 06/02/15

In our Open Voices blog we typically share insight from community leaders. This month, we shift our focus from the designers and researchers and take a moment to examine the real, lived experience of an open, sacred green space.

Last week our hearts were moved by the inspiring and revealing journal entries in a West Baltimore Open Space Sacred Place.

Throughout the country, small public green spaces offer a moment of respite and a place of healing. These spaces, supported by the Nature Sacred program, feature a bench with a waterproof community journal tucked inside and available for anyone who wishes to contribute their thoughts. Fern Shen of the Baltimore Brew writes:

“One way to learn what people are thinking and feeling in Baltimore’s struggling Westside, where worldwide attention has been focused since Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, is to go to a tiny pocket park called The Choose Life Memorial.”

An entry in West Baltimore's Choose Life Memorial park. Photo: Fern Shen

An entry in West Baltimore’s Choose Life Memorial park. Photo: Fern Shen

 

For more than 20 years the TKF Foundation has partnered in the creation of over 130 Open Spaces Sacred Places. The benefits of these places are often discussed in terms of measurable benefits. Does our heart rate improve when in these spaces? After resting in a park, do people go on to have a better and more productive work day? But, what is often difficult to measure and describe is the holistic, emotional experiences and life transformations that occur when we spend time in a green space. Researchers are developing novel ways to capture these experiences. One avenue of research is to analyze the journal entries using natural language processing. For example, the Green Road project will combine this qualitative metric with combined biomarkers of stress response and advanced genomics to understand green space visitors’ whole body transitions from illness to wellness.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of amazing journal entries showing the depth of experience when we take a moment to breathe and listen to our selves:

Today is a day of loss and a day of found. The life cycle continues on and I am a part of something beyond my understanding. The only thing that makes sense to me is love.– St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Families at St. Luke's in Bethesda, MD

Families at St. Luke’s in Bethesda, MD. Photo: St. Luke’s.

In green places like this it’s as if I can let out a breath I did not realize I was holding; worries drop away and I’m at peace. I am reminded of what I tend to forget, that people are ultimately the most important things in our lives.– UMBC: Joseph Beuys Project

I’m overcome by questions when I’m in this place that is quiet enough to let me hear my mind.- Chesapeake Bay Foundation

I’m not the kind of person to normally write in a journal or care about doing something like this but I had a baby boy born today at 3:08 pm and it’s one of the most beautiful things and joyful moments in my life.– Franklin Square Hospital Center

The garden is beautiful; it has come so alive with life – flowers blooming, birds singing, sun shimmering, and the little stream running through. What more do we want or need? Nothing – this is the sustenance of the human spirit.– Anne Arundel Medical Center

Anne Arundel Medical Center Healing Garden. Photo CRGoodman Associates.

Anne Arundel Medical Center Healing Garden. Photo: CRGoodman Associates.

 

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    We are a private nonprofit that supports, informs, and inspires the creation of publicly accessible urban green spaces. We believe that every city resident needs nearby green space to provide opportunities for mindfulness, respite, and renewal. The Foundation has issued its final grants to build five Open Spaces Sacred Places and research the impacts on a variety of users with the hope that the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human wellbeing will be scientifically proven.

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