Music & Gardens

It is always a delight to pick up a set of essays written by prolific writers  who are also curious intellectuals. These authors make me feel like I am reading the perspective of polymaths, and that in itself makes for a wondrous experience. The latest book that had me thinking and reading about things I had not thought about for a long time was the book, Everything In Its Place by Oliver Sacks.


Excerpt from Wikipedia:

Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE FRCP (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was a British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author. He believed that the brain is the “most incredible thing in the universe.”[1] 

He reminds us in broad strokes of his pen, the number of areas in which we can be curious. He reminds us about the vast capabilities of the human brain, even while reflecting on this particular author’s exceptional one. Reading about the brains many failings and flaws is both fascinating and eye-opening. (Oliver Sacks was a Neurologist who specialized in many neurological disorders, and writes from a place of curiosity and compassion for his patients).

His description of Tourette’s syndrome, for instance, certainly makes me think less critically of people I encounter on the public transit who have the need to shock the whole compartment with their absurd, rude and obnoxious statements, every few minutes. Sufferers of Tourette’s syndrome often find themselves cursing and shouting loudly, without being to help themselves. The shocked attention they gather seems to be the reward for their impulses.

He writes about a certain individual who exhibited severe symptoms in Vietnam and would make shocking exclamations in Vietnamese every now and then. But when he moved to the United States, his Tourette’s calmed down because people did not react as much as he thought they would in a country where his language was not understood.

I can now learn to see the person different from their symptoms, and for that I am grateful.

How can I not be fascinated as I read his sure voice confess that as a neurologist the only therapies he knows to work surely are Music & Gardens? I read his meditations on Why We Need Gardens and the words Biophilia and Hortophilia leap out and grab my attention. Nature is my soother, has always been my favorite soother, and it is refreshing to hear his perspective on the effect of nature.


Clearly, nature calls to something very deep in us. Biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition. Hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage, and tend nature is also deeply instilled in us. The role that nature plays in health and healing becomes even more critical for people working long days in windowless offices, for those living in city neighborhoods without access to green spaces, for children in city schools…..

The effects if nature’s qualities on health are only spiritual and emotional but physical and neurological, I have no doubt that they reflect deep changes in the brains physiology, and perhaps even its structure.

As he says in one essay, his patients even in advanced states of dementia always look forward to an hour outside amidst nature, and not one of them has ever planted a sapling upside down when given a sapling. It is almost as if we intuitively know what to do and our learnings from time may fall away from us, but our affinity to nature will not. 

In fact, he writes of one of his close friends, Lowell, who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, that while hiking in the deserts of Arizona, his ticks and urges almost completely disappeared. : Oliver Sacks

In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens

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