Portable Peace

October 2012

Yesterday, I heard Krista Tippett’s “On Being” program about healing places. My favorite radio host interviewed Dr. Esther Sternberg, immunologist and author of Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well Being, about the impact physical places have on us. Our homes and offices, not just hospitals and gyms, can either make us sick, or help us to be well. In one study Dr. Sternberg cited, patients whose hospital room window looked out over a grove of trees were released on average a day earlier, used less pain medication, and had better outcomes than those patients whose room faced a brick wall. More and more scientific studies are helping us understand the physiological and neurological connections between stress, illness, and well-being, and the role that physical places have in building those.

Many of us have had the experience of feeling serene and connected when we are in a beautiful place in nature. Decades ago, I canoed on gorgeous Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff National Park. To this day, when I think back on that afternoon, I am instantly enveloped with a sense of peace. My brain relaxes, and stress falls away. The wonderful thing about our brains is that we can create what Dr. Sternberg calls “portable healing places” that we can carry in our memories. If we pair that memory of place with a particular scent (say, of pine trees of the Canadian Rockies), or sound (the hush of all but the birds), or physical sensation (the warm sun on my face, the feel of the icy cold lake on my hands, the pull of the oar through the water), our perfect place is even more strongly anchored in our mind. In finding your place of peace, there is also an element of forgetting time, or having it slow down.

In today’s office environment (even those lovely new spaces that some of you are building out), it is rarely possible to have a view of the water, or a lush expanse of green lawn to look out on. See if you can create your own place of peace in the office with plants, subtle scents, natural light, beautiful pictures. In my office, I have a beautiful photograph a friend took of a sunrise kayaker. It is directly in my line of sight, and I often spent a minute gazing at it to bring me to a more peaceful place. Even if your office environment is sterile and austere, you can create a “Zen place” in your mind’s eye that you can visit anytime. Practice creating your own mental personal place of peace, and going there for a few minutes each day. Notice how it makes you feel and how it impacts your work. If I can help you in designing such a place in your mind, please ask.

Warm regards,

Sharon Keys Seal

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