The needed lightness of flowers

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day

The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

Dear Prudence open up your eyes
Dear Prudence see the sunny skies

The wind is low the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?

Look around round
Look around round round
Look around

Dear Prudence let me see you smile
Dear Prudence like a little child
The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile…

John Lennon 

I feel the urge to call the people to play after all what we have gone through. Whatever the future is. Now it’s almost the summer solstice, the heat is likely unbearable, but I love it. The sun is up, the sky is blue… the clouds will form a daisy chain, so please come out to play like a little child.

Billions of people suffered emotionally as a consequence of Covid-19 pandemic, young generations, adults, elderly people and health care providers, all over the planet: but there is a time in which lightness is needed, maybe fostered in our hemisphere by the good coming season. Stop go fanatically to read about the new variants (yesterday there was a new one, discovered in Perù), maybe we could start a new collection game, I know it sound ironical, but every new variant now is bread and butter for the titles of the newspapers. We have been lucky: we are here, with some vaccines which seems to work. We do not know for how long, but they do for some months: let’s be Prudence, but let’s put together also this Daisy chain. It’s not insanity to form a daisy chain, or every flower chain, is to start to rejoice to the beauty of the world around.

The word Daisy comes from “day’s eyes”, which close at sunset. In Italian the same flower is called with a name which has the meaning of a treasure: “margherita” from margara, that was pearl. In both culture this flower means purity, and innocence and hope; maybe the laughter of the children when they run in open fields. They are tiny flowers, that one cannot pick up since they don’t’ resist in the water of a glass: they close immediately since they need their humus, their green grass. Their colours, yellow and white are lightful and somehow the shape resemble the way the children draw the sun with its rays. 

Let’s have a look to the symbolic meaning of flowers (note simply in the lore way, red rose means romantic love, black rose the magic, gardenia secrete love). There is more than those artificial connections: the very interesting book The Well Gardened Mind, a book written by Sue Stuart Smits, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, gives us deep insight about the human relationship with the flowers. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, said that we love flowers «freely and on their own account», where a free beauty is regardless of any utility.

Moving from the beauty concept we arrive to an evolutionary possible explanations for our love with flowers: Stephen Pinker, a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and author of a wonderful book The Instinct of the language– strongly recommended for who wants to deal with Humanities for Health – in his investigation over the theory of human evolutions calls in action the power of flowers: Human became attracted to flowers because this represented future food supplies: hunter collectors knew that from flowers fruits were expected afterwards. And as an immediate gain, where there were flowers also bee with honey is present.  

And from the neuro-aesthetics point of view, we learn from Semir Zeki, that where flowers are around us and we see them, the mere seeing of their colours and shape, we feel in a comfort zone, and our occipital visual cortex is activated releasing dopamine, which relieves stress, and puts as in a contemplation and resiliency mode.

And possibly this is due the golden section ratio, 1.618, can be observed in branching systems, phyllotaxis, flowers and seeds, and often the spiral arrangement of plant organs (Modelling golden section in plants, February 2009, Progress in Natural Science).  When we are playing with the golden section we feel at home; possible our universe is based on the golden sections, from galaxies, to flowers, to snowflake, to proportions in human body, to DNA. Therefore we love flowers, they are in our inner inherited language, they bring lightness, not new complexities to face. And in particular daisies have 34, 55, or 89 petals. All of these are Fibonacci numbers, related to the beauty of the Golden Section. Not only their colours and shape reassure us, but their mathematic gives us a safe space. 

But I have started this little reflection including the word lightness which meant at the same time brightness and the contrary of heaviness; petals of the flowers are so delicate and so ephemeral: they can live only few days remembering to us the existential cycle: the Wabi Sabi  is at the core of a Japanese philosophy, which means the contemplation of the ephemeral: ‘Wabi’  connote  simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects as an expression of understated elegance, and I think that simple daisies belongs to this category. ‘Sabi’ refers to the beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs. In their lightness, flowers come to remind us of beauty as well impermanence, to leave space to the future. And also, to seize the moment of the daisies, the eyes of the day, sacred to the Freia, Goddess to Love and Fertility. 

Daisies means a new beginning, a new game to play. Please now, close your eyes and first spell the name of the flower that you wish to have now, and second, what would you like to play, maybe listening to the awesome song of the Beatles, Dear Prudence, in the meanwhile.

Let me finish these short reflections quoting fragments of the guru of language and lightness, Italo Calvino, who wrote, in his American lessons, those for the third millennium, an essay on lightness:

Lightness for me goes with precision and determination, not with vagueness and the haphazard. Paul Valéry said: “Il faut être léger comme l’oiseau, et non comme la plume” [one should be light like a bird, and not like a feather. […] First there is a lightening of language whereby meaning is conveyed through a verbal texture that seems weightless, until the meaning itself takes on the same rarefied consistency. I leave it to you to find other examples of this sort. Emily Dickinson, for instance, can supply as many as we might wish: “A sepal, petal and a thorn / Upon a common summer’s morn– / A flask of Dew – A Bee or two – / A Breeze – a caper in the trees – / And I’m a Rose!”. […] astride our bucket: we shall face the new millennium, without hoping to find anything more in it than what we ourselves are able to bring to it. Lightness, for example, whose virtues I have tried to illustrate here.

Italo Calvino, Lightness, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

Empty the cup: maybe it is too heavy for making a light daisy chain. 

Maria Giulia Marini

Epidemiologist and counselor in transactional analysis, thirty years of professional life in health care. I have a classic humanistic background, including the knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin, which opened me to study languages and arts, becoming an Art Coach. I followed afterward scientific academic studies, in clinical pharmacology with an academic specialization in Epidemiology (University of Milan and Pavia). Past international experiences at the Harvard Medical School and in a pharma company at Mainz in Germany. Currently Director of Innovation in the Health Care Area of Fondazione ISTUD a center for educational and social and health care research. I'm serving as president of EUNAMES- European Narrative Medicine Society, on the board of Italian Society of Narrative Medicine, a tenured professor of Narrative Medicine at La Sapienza, Roma, and teaching narrative medicine in other universities and institutions at a national and international level. In 2016 I was a referee for the World Health Organization- Europen for “Narrative Method of Research in Public Health.” Writer of the books; “Narrative medicine: Bridging the gap between Evidence-Based care and Medical Humanities,” and "Languages of care in Narrative Medicine" edited with Springer, and since 2021 main editor for Springer of the new series "New Paradigms in Health Care."

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