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The Integral Map - Part 6 - Environment


In its broadest sense environment includes every aspect and detail of our physical context.  This means every “thing” in the universe.  Let’s narrow this down a bit, however, for the purpose of an orienting map that will be helpful for providing care.   There are a number of physical contexts that are more immediate to our personal experience.  These are the spaces we occupy most frequently, such as:

  • Home
  • Neighborhood
  • Work
  • Transportation (i.e. car, bus, subway)
  • City or town
  • Recreation/entertainment
  • Nature

This is a very limited list, but if we pay attention to the qualities of just these seven spaces, we will know a lot about a person’s environmental situation.  Different kinds of environments will have a different impact our senses, minds, behaviors, and relationships.  What we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and encounter affects the quality of our lives.  If we live in the heart of the city and take a subway to work at a factory, our experience is much different than someone who lives rurally and walks a dirt path to work in an apiary.   Both of these people will have a different experience than a homeless, unemployed person who hitchhikes to southern states in the winter.  If we take a finer look at environments in terms of our senses we can notice the following qualities.

  • Sight: shape, texture, light/color, order/chaos, space.
  • Sound: volume, consonance/dissonance, pitch, variety, silence.               
  •  Touch: hard/soft, rough/smooth, hot/cold, wet/dry.

 Maybe this all seems very obvious, but I am often struck by how much of the environment goes unnoticed when we care for others, particularly in hospitals where it ought to be a high priority.  Because our surroundings can have such a profound impact on our experience and our behavior, and because it is often easy to change them, I believe it is worthwhile to take some time to stop and observe some basic environmental qualities.

The qualities of smell are also important aspects of any environment.   The different experiences stimulated by the following smells suggest how much we can be impacted by this sense.

  • A dewy spring morning
  • Diesel exhaust on the highway
  • Rotting garbage
  • Fresh baked bread
  • Overpowering cologne or perfume
  • A smoky bar
  • A bouquet of flowers
  • New carpet

There may be times when we actually taste our environment, but usually this comes through our sense of smell, so we will forego an exploration of the various qualities of taste.  I will leave it to the reader to imagine the possibilities.  (Lick any trees lately?)
On the other hand, we could consider eating and drinking (or consuming anything) as ways that we taste our “environment”.  Of course, once we have consumed something it then becomes a part of our body; just as once we eliminate it, it again becomes a part of the environment.

When we consider all of our senses in all of the environments that we inhabit, we begin to realize how much there is to notice.  We are constantly impacted, for better or worse, by the kinds of environments we choose to create occupy.   Since we all exist within a particular society, we will find ourselves in environments created by our society.  This includes the physical infrastructures and institutions that we interact with.  Depending on our economic status we will have different options for where we live and spend our time.  But no matter where we live, we can chose to care for our environment and enhance it according to our own sense of what is functional and beautiful.  Our environment is not just a static place that we passively occupy.  It is a space that we can have a relationship with.  To some degree we can create and maintain it as we choose.  For some, caring for others is all about improving environments and has little to do with attending to individuals.

When caring for others we could notice and attend to any of the following six general environmental needs:

  • Safety
  • Cleanliness
  • Provisions
  • Order
  • Functionality
  • Beauty

Please visit Part 7 - Synchronizing Mind, Body, Speech, and Environment

Reference to “The Tipping Point”- section on context.  Provide a quote.

Mention of aromatherapy and any research on the impact of smells

Reference on environmental medicine


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