What Inspired B.Willow

Hi! My name is Liz Vayda, creator & owner of B.Willow. First and foremost, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this. It means a lot to me! The last 5 years of my life have been a whirlwind, but I’m finally at a point that I can focus more on writing- something that I have been intending to do more of, but haven’t really had the energy or focus to do.  The inspiration behind B.Willow is a subject matter that I think about mostly all the time, and is something that I feel very passionate about educating people on. I’m looking forward to using this blog as a way to express myself through writing, and to hopefully be a source of information and inspiration to others. I’m so beyond grateful for the growth that B.Willow has experienced since I began this project in 2014, especially as I imagine all of the plants we’ve sold in people’s homes, or the joy we’ve sparked by tending to them. Connecting with people over plants feels so genuine and carnal. It feels good to share this love with so many people, and to know that our shop is a source of inspiration and education, for everyone. We see such a diversity of people, which makes me so incredibly happy. Inclusivity and accessibility are just as important to me as selling healthy plants.

I’ve had the chance to speak about our larger mission on multiple occasions, whether at the start of a workshop or while chatting to a customer about plants and life.  But...I often feel discouraged that our overall mission isn’t necessarily something that every customer leaves with an awareness of. In some ways it’s communicated to them indirectly through the experience that we create.  Our intentions don’t necessarily require words to be felt or experienced. So...I get that no matter what, we’re providing more than just plants, and people do recognize that.

When I started B.Willow in 2014, I had one goal in mind: to inspire others to contemplate their level of connection to the natural world, and to teach them why such a connection matters so much. Everything we do is very much linked to this underlying mission. During my undergraduate years at Earlham College, I spent 5 months abroad in New Zealand studying Environmental Science, philosophizing about nature, studying sustainability, and having immersive experiences with indigenous Maoris. A large focus of our class discussions was pondering the role of "nature" in our lives. We were asked questions like, “what is nature?” “What does it mean that we are inherently part of nature, and that our evolution is inextricably linked to the ‘more than human world’?” “How is our current lifestyle problematic, when one considers the separation that most of humanity experiences from the outdoors?” In short, we are nature. Nature is not the “other.” Humans are not superior to anything else that exists on planet Earth. We are part of a larger whole that we have co-evolved with for millions of years.

Before having these discussions, I had never really considered how connected (or disconnected) I was to the "more than human" world. I hadn’t really thought about myself as a species, with a brain and body crafted by thousands upon thousands of years of coevolution with other species and life forms.  Growing up, I was lucky enough to live on 9 acres in northern Maryland, 2 of which were wooded, with horses next door, giant boulders to climb on and fields to run through. My senses were constantly engaged, in ways that I would never fully appreciate until my trip to New Zealand in 2008. I realized how my use of technology (beginning in middle school, when we first got the Internet) had effectively stolen my attention away from the effortless sense of awe and wonder that I had for the outdoors as a child. I can recall a marked switch in my brain. The lure of the outdoors was quickly replaced by computer games and instant messaging. These instant forms of gratification (for an insecure middle school-aged brain) was too much to compete with. I would still go outside, but I was much more enthralled by the internet. I think the only thing that helped me maintain some sort of mental balance was the fact that I had 3 siblings to share one dial up computer with, so I inevitably lost my turn throughout the day.

A large part of starting B.Willow was not to sell plants, but to make societal changes regarding our disconnection from nature. I wanted to find a way to approach the subject of how the majority of humans are sensorially engaging less and less with the “more than human” world (i.e., anything that is NOT human or human made…looking at mountains, feeling the wind, hearing birds singing, swimming, etc). Today’s typical human sensorial experience is increasingly more human-derived. Staring at screens all day sums this up. Engaging with the natural world is linked directly with our evolution and how we learned to cope with the difficulties of everyday life. We obviously weren’t studying it at a time when we were totally immersed in the outdoors/when nature probably had the most sensorial impact on us (as hunter/gatherers, for example, when some might argue that life was much more difficult on a daily basis than it is now in the 1st world). Humans (biologically) haven’t really evolved much more beyond our hunter/gatherer ancestors. Our capacity to learn was similar to our capacity now, we’ve just created tool after tool to keep expanding on our understandings of the world around us.  So… if our not-so-distant ancestors were a product of our co-evolution with the outdoors, what makes us think that we might have different needs (when it comes to maintaining mental health)? Why does this matter? What is the big deal with getting outside and having these experiences? There’s a lot to unpack there, but here are a few reasons:

  • When we turn our devices off and we get outside (or we tend to our houseplants), we are allowing something psychologists call “effortless fascination” to occur. We are on one hand in awe/seriously impressed by what we see when we climb a mountain and look out at a beautiful vista. On the other hand, studies have shown that these moments of awe don’t rob our brains of energy like our cell phones do when we stare at them. These moments are effortless.

  • When you allow these effortless moments of awe and wonder to occur, we experience numerous benefits:

    • We're happier (more serotonin produced)

    • We can focus and concentrate better

    • Cortisol (aka stress hormone) is reduced

    • We physically heal faster from illness

    • We’re less aggressive and irritable

The underlying factor enabling these mental and physical benefits is the reduction of directed attention that nature gives us. We spend so much time staring at screens, with our attention constantly distracted and monopolized, in ways that exhaust us. We don't often allow our minds to rest. Being outdoors gives us limitless moments to engage our senses, and allows our attention to be captivated by a sense of effortless fascination and awe. Nature makes us feel good, because we are inherently part of it, and it offers something that we cannot provide ourselves.

I’m looking forward to sharing more on this subject. Feel free to email me with any questions or ideas at Liz@bwillow.com!