It was during research for the Camden Children’s Garden that I first heard of a Three Sisters Garden and the Cherokee legend.
Once upon a time, there were three sisters. The first sister was very tall and strong; her name was Corn Girl, and she wore a pale green dress and had long yellow hair that blew in the wind. Corn Girl liked to stand straight and tall, but the hot sun burned her feet and hurt her. And the longer Corn Girl stood in her field, the hungrier she got. And every day more weeds were growing up around her and choking her.
The second sister was very thin and quick and fast, and her name was Bean Girl, but she wasn’t very strong. She couldn’t even stand up on her own. She was good at making food, but she just had to lie there stretched out on the ground, and she would get dirty and wet, which wasn’t good for her.
The third sister, Squash Girl, was short and wore a yellow dress. She was hungry too.
For a long time, the sisters didn’t get along. They each wanted to be independent and free, and not have anything to do with the other two. So Corn Girl stood there with her sunburned feet and got hungrier and hungrier. And Bean Girl lay there on the ground and got dirtier and wetter. And the little sister Squash Girl was hungry too.
So Bean Girl talked to her sister Corn Girl and said, “What if I feed you some good food, and you can hold me up so I don’t have to lie on the ground and get all dirty?” And Corn Girl thought that was a great idea. Then little Squash Girl called up to her tall sister, “How about if I lie on your feet and shade them so you won’t get sunburned?” Corn Girl thought that was a great idea too.
So the Three Sisters learned to work together so that everyone would be healthier and happier. Corn Girl helped Bean Girl stand up. Bean Girl fed Corn Girl and Squash Girl good food. And Squash Girl shaded Corn Girl’s feet and kept the weeds from growing up around them all.
And that’s why the Iroquois and the Pueblo people and the Aztecs and everybody in between planted their corn, their beans, and their squash together in the same field. – The Three Sisters.
As humans, we have an intertwined, three sisters experience of life. At some point, it dawned on me.
We live within three worlds—the inner world of the mind, the world of the physical body and the world outside which I call nature.
The world of the mind is a world that you make up inside your head. It holds the interpretation of your experiences, your stories, your thoughts, emotions and feelings, the ideas of love and fear and so much more. It can be a place of deepest joy, curiosity and wonder or a place of terror, uncertainty and chaos.
The world of your physical body is the structure that serves to hold you together in the material world. Your bones and muscles provide the framework through which the systems for air, blood, information and energy flow. Your body also is the temple within with your mind and soul abide and the vehicle that moves you through space and time to experience life.
The world of nature includes all that is outside your body— the natural world of forests and birds, the sun and oceans, sand and soft moss. It is everything the earth offers in all of its abundance beauty. The word nature here also includes the manmade build world that we have constructed for our comfort and survival. Complex cities, grand cathedrals, sprawling parks and gardens, inspiring schools and humble homes for us to live, work, gather and play.
Similar to the sisters, each of these worlds can seem separate and unrelated to the others. Through the lens of wholebeing, we, like the sisters, discover all three worlds are intimately connected.
The world of the mind
In 1968, Harvard researcher Dr. Herb Benson began his radical work around the Relaxation Response and how the mind and body were connected. He actually risked his entire career in making the claim that the body and mind were connected. He began to show with scientific studies that the way the mind works, how we think and the states of the mind, directly impact the physiology of the physical body. Today we know, and research continues to confirm, that how we frame and reframe the experiences of our lives, how much gratitude we express and the levels of compassion for ourselves and others greatly impacts our physical health.
The latest research on stress shows that stress is not what is killing us. What we think about stress, is it an opportunity for growth or a burden and barrier, is what can be dangerous to our health. The power of the mind to choose where to focus, what we believe, our perspective on aging, healing and the ability to thrive is not yet, and may never be fully measurable.
Yet, most people have experienced how the world of the mind shifts the physical body. Falling in love, everything seems more vibrant and you feel on top of the world. You see roses everywhere, hear birds singing and notice beauty all around you. The death of a close friend or family members and the sense of loss can leave you staggering even on the most beautiful spring day.
The world of the body
The second world, the physical body, is also shaping the mind. How we position our bodies, as shown by the work of Amy Cuddy, shifts the way we think and feel. A smile triggers positive hormones and makes us feel good, though we believe that we smile in response to feeling good. In studies about depression groups who exercised, compared to those who took medication has significantly lower relapse rates. How we move, feed and care for our bodies can create an environment that supports health and mental wellbeing, or can equally inhibit and damage the body’s carefully designed systems and compromise health and the ability to thrive.
The world of nature
The third world, including both the built and natural environment, is revealing our newest understanding of what influences our wholebeing. The field of biophilic design and other areas of research area documenting how and why when we interact with nature we feel good and our bodies work better. In Japan, a walk in a forest is more than simply a walk. Forest bathing, or merely being in the presence of trees, has proven to lower heart rates and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.
How much natural light is in your workspace, and the orientation of your computer monitor in relation to the window are also very subtle, but impactful ways in which the built environment around you has an impact. We are understanding how to intentionally integrate more elements of nature into our cities and buildings and Biophilic design is evolving as the Positive Psychology of the world of architecture.
Everything is connected…and whole
Like the three sisters, each worlds effects and supports the other, intertwined like a beautiful braid.
Wholebeing practices are habits of awareness for mind and body where we train, create, heal and grow within each of these worlds.
With this understanding, the toolbox of how we can enhance our ability to thrive expands.
How will you use these new tools?