Human Hands + Nature

We easily forget that powerful wellness tools are attached to our bodies in the form of our hands, and we are surrounded by nature even in the most built environments. The pace of life and saturation level of technology keeps us distanced from these free, powerful tools.

As I’ve taken my loom around for the Weaving Water project and invited all kinds of people to take a turn at preparing fibers, dyeing them using the water of the location where we are gathered, and taking a turn at the SAORI loom, I’ve been surprised by the level of excitement people have at the experience of making cloth. For most, it might be just a pass or two on the loom before the person exclaims, “This is the MOST relaxing thing I’ve ever done!”

The loom offers a unique opportunity to engage the whole body in craft: arms, legs, hands, feet, senses, mind are engaged in the moment to create each new row of the weaving. It’s a full body puzzle of the type we evolved to excel at. Our minds are hungry for these challenges, and yet our lives are filled with more “conveniences” than we know what to do with. Pressing a button can result in so many instant rewards, from emotional encouragement to dinner. We literally don’t need to lift a finger (except that one for the button) to get all kinds of things accomplished.

But these shortcuts cheat us out of the mental workout that keeps us emotionally resilient, flexible problem solvers. I’m fascinated with the recent research on how handwork supports mental wellbeing. Kelly Lambert researches the Effort Driven Rewards Circuit, what I think of as a main “gear” in the mind that keeps us functioning in a normal way. When this gear’s motion gets interrupted, Lambert’s research as shown that symptoms of depression and anxiety appear. And when the wheel is made to get turning again, those symptoms fade.

The wheel starts to turn anytime we engage our two hands in accomplishing a task, however small. That might be folding laundry, making dinner, or participating in one of the many different kinds of creative handwork. When you add in the way that nature can be a salve to our psyches, combining handwork with looking at nature seems a particularly potent way to divert the mind away from stress and toward a little well-deserved reset.

It’s my mission as an artist to help people explore how nature and creative handwork might produce unexpected connections and joy. This post is for anyone who has taken a workshop from me and wants to follow up on reading some of the resources I share. I’d love to hear how this works for you! Please comment or follow me on Instagram @sarahjnassif.


Creativity, Happiness and Your Own Two Hands May 3, 2012; Carrie Barron, MD Psychology Today

Plants Make You Feel Better March 11, 2009; Jonathan S. Kaplan Ph.D. Psychology Today

Drawing on the Effort-Driven Rewards Circuit Aug 4, 2008; Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT Psychology Today

Sarah Nassif