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Still one of those practices that raise eyebrows, even amongst free thinkers, tree hugging has, through denigration and misinformation, become, rather unfortunately, a derogatory term. On the other hand, recent studies and research have shown that hugging trees not only has a long and noble history, but also interesting benefits to one’s health. We shall, in this article, explore how the stigmatisation of tree hugging is now hopefully coming to an end, and how the Spiritual Renaissance we are witnessing around the world at the present time should take hugging trees much more seriously than has been the case in the last twenty-five years.
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Dating back to 1730, tree hugging has its first recorded note in history when sixty-nine women and two hundred and ninety-four men from the Indian village of Bishnoi, in Rajastan, are known to have hugged trees to protect them from felling in order to build a palace. These people were, sadly, slaughtered; however, their heroic effort resulted in a royal decree prohibiting cutting trees in the village. Their ante litteram activism inspired, in the 1970s, the Chipko Movement. Also known as stayagraha, roughly translated as “clinging” or “embracing”, it defines the resistance to felling trees by a group of rural women in Northeast India, who defended their local ash forest by, as one might expect, hugging them. This movement too, now virtually forgotten, has had amazing preservation results: it resulted, in fact, in a series of reforms which banned felling trees in the Himalayas. This movement, a mixture of social and green activism, as the the trees were seen not only as a resource from the local community, but as a gift from Mother Nature, which, in 1973, saw people from Mandal, a small village in the Alakananda Valley of Uttar Pradesh, under the leadership of a local lady, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, encircle trees to preserve them from destruction. Adopting the statement “What do forests bear? Soil, water and pure air,” they managed to save many thousands of trees from being cut down. Also known for bringing to the world’s attention, in their words, that “ecology is a permanent economy”, a phrase which nowadays would see many people nod with consent, they also inspired similar movements around the world, including later ones in Brazil, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Chipko Movement, born as a necessity to survive against harsh conditions and injustice, soon became an interesting breeding ground for ideas of eco-socialism, ecofeminism and the foundation stone of forest preservation beliefs in the Indian Subcontinent, and was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1987.
When the practice of tree hugging made its way to North America and in Europe, mainly through the hippie generation, it soon started facing denigration; by the 1980s, with its focus on material wealth and on careerism, a tree hugger was, by virtue of social media propaganda, regarded as little more than a deranged lunatic with odd ideas about how to relate to Nature. As has happened with many a lessons from the East in recent years, however, Western Science, through case studies and detailed research, has lately rediscovered the benefits of this practice.
Here, when we mention benefits, we need to stress some important ethical and moral issues; with so much disinformation even on the alternative media, where all things spiritual seem to have become a way of accessing a cosmic cash machine, that the word “benefit” should be taken with, for lack of a better phrase, a pinch of salt. Whilst it is now undeniable, as we shall see, that hugging trees has benefits to one’s health and wellbeing, one should always remember that, taking a hint from the Chipko Movement, hugging is, in essence, a sharing experience. Thus, in exactly the same way as with Humans, when you hug trees, you should think about their benefit as well.
At exactly the same time as the Mandal villagers were fighting to preserve their ash trees, a book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants, 1973, demonstrated scientifically and without any doubt that plants react to Human emotions; based on 1965 research by Cleve Backster, who studied how a dracaena in his laboratory, connected to a lie detector, reacted to his own very intentions, their text clearly details how this plant would understand and respond to the researcher’s will, not yet actualised, to burn its leaves: the plant would, surprisingly, send signals to the machine that it was sensing the man’s plans. This was then confirmed when the dracaena reacted to Backster’s actions, when attached to a polygraph, even when he was outside the room.
Yet another interesting study, Your Inner Fish by anatomist and palaeontologist Neil Shubin, published in 2008, demonstrated an impressive range of emotional and, one may say, though maybe not rational, thinking abilities of flora; amongst these, we may wish to mention that plants communicate with herbivores; they recognise their family members, as they communicate with them before they send information to other specimens of the same species when danger or disease is detected; they recognise wavelengths, even from planets, which they pick up from ultraviolet light; they, interestingly, grow faster before a storm; moreover, they can increase their growth patterns when stimulated by sound; finally, they display the ability to remember things, and they show clear “signs of fatigue when overstimulated.” All this tells us that plants have, unlike what mainstream culture would have us believe, sensory capacities, which, of course, can be shared with our species. The study concludes that “plants have the potential to make decisions [italics mine] based upon responses to gravity, light moisture and [significantly; italics mine] touch.”
This casts a new light on the practice of tree hugging; if plants can respond to Human emotions and touch, then hugging trees becomes, as stated above, a sharing experience. Stepping backward in time, to rediscover a 1950s study by an Indian botanist by the name of T. C. Singh, presented at Annamalia University in 1962, where he headed the Botany Department, shows that plants react to music; in his research, he found out that, using a violin, a flute, a harmonium and the Indian instrument reena played to flowers like petunias and marigolds, plants can increase their height by 20% and up to 72% in biomass when they are exposed to musical vibrations. Violins in particular turned out to be the most effective.
This leads us to an extremely important point; plants can, and do, have their own vibrations; when hugging trees, we need to be aware that we share oscillations with our green friends. Trees have, one must point out, much higher vibrational levels than we do. It is therefore also in the light of recent studies on vibrations that we need to read the practice of tree hugging. Whilst healthy Humans usually have frequencies that range between 62 MHz and 80 MHz, and we become sick when we fall under 60 MHz, plants have much higher frequencies. Essential oils, for example, can vibrate at up to 118 MHz in the case of lavender and an astonishing 320 MHz when talking about a favourite flower, the rose. The frequency levels of some live plants is astonishing; for instance, bladderpod leaves can reach up to 500 MHz, whilst London rocket leaves have frequencies between 100 MHz and an almost incredible 1,000 MHz, as also reported in Shabala and Mancuso’s 2007 text, Rhythm in Plants. Thus, when sharing a hug with a tree, we need to remember that we raise our vibrations; however, little has been done to research how we, especially when not healthy, drop their vibrations. This leads us back to the moral dimension of tree hugging, which we will explore at the end of this article.
That hugging trees brings benefits to one’s wellbeing and health seems to be beyond doubt and backed up by both anecdotal case studies and research. Studies such as those by Matthew Silverstone, author of the aforementioned Blinded by Science, first published in 2011, show that hugging trees can raise our vibrations by 10 MHz; this, he explains, is enough to treat many an ailment; interesting research on seventeen infants suffering from ADHD, conducted between 2005 and 2007, shows that a twenty minute walk in a park alone can, and does, significantly increase their performance levels. Other ailments that are easily treated by hugging trees include headaches, stress and mental problems. Such studies are backed up by the personal experience of many, including that of Erica Sofrina, author of the 2005 book Small Changes, Dynamic Results! Stated in 2014 that our green friends can “facilitate the cleansing and revitalization of stored up negativity and stress,” as well as by many others who have, of late, taken to the Internet to reinstate this activity to its former glory.
Anecdotal evidence shows that tree hugging can also improve mindfulness; nevertheless, it is not strictly necessary to hug trees to improve one’s mindfulness; Eastern philosophy has dealt with this issue for a long time and, the reader may wish to follow the advice of Taoist Master Mantak Chia, who states that just by meditating by trees, a person can change one’s negative energy into positive energy.
However, and here we reach the key note of our article, we need to keep in mind that science often has a mono-directional moral vector; it tends, unfortunately, to think about the benefits to Humans, and not to our partners on Planet Earth. Thus, there seems to be the need for some research on how this activity affects trees, not just us, and this is the moral dimension which needs to be explored in far more detail. The Spiritual Renaissance mentioned above has, unfortunately, seen some influence from selfish ideologies; therefore, if the reader intends to practise tree hugging, it would be advisable to take into consideration their health and wellbeing as well. One may ask whether it is moral to hug a tree when feeling ill, not knowing whether we, too, have an effect on their happiness. This is a point that should not be forgotten.
There is a risk, easily foreseeable, that this activity, now perhaps at the point of being rediscovered, might be manipulated by selfish interests. This article wishes to warn the reader against such possible eventuality; there may be, in the near future, posts and videos that start proposing that we should go out hugging a tree every time we have, for example, a headache, which is easily curable with a glass of water. When hugging trees, one should always think about the plants’ own benefit. Thus, the reader may wish to consider the opposite direction; instead of going out to parks and woods to hug trees for one’s own interest, one may think about hugging trees for the tree’s own interests. Personal experience shows that many trees in urban parks are now ill; it is therefore possible to hug trees not to receive benefits, but to give them.
If everything works out as it should, this new phase in our history should see us more as contributors to the beauty and happiness of Mother Nature, rather than mere profiteers; thus, if the reader wishes to go out to hug trees, she or he may want to think about doing the exact opposite of what many studies have pointed out. Let us go back to the very meaning of the Chipko Movement in our conclusion; if hugging is a sharing experience, one has to offer something positive, of course, to the tree as well. Instead of seeking out strong trees to release one’s stress, for example, a person may go out and hug trees that call out to them; tree hugging was born as, and should remain, a warm and intimate, unselfish and non-egotistical activity which unites us with Nature.
About the author:
Adriano Bulla, a ‘servant of Calliope’ is a poet, novelist, non-fiction writer, philosopher and journalist. A voice for the alternative, both in themes and style, Adriano Bulla’s style has been described as “hallucinogenic” and “profoundly original”. Working to aid the consciousness shift through his writing, he has been publishing books since 2005, including Lucid Dreaming, New Age Spirit, The Road to London and Queer Poems. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7209201.Adriano_Bulla
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