40 min read

We Need Nature

We Need Nature

Many of us live in a fast-paced, technology-driven world dominated by urban landscapes. Having built a world of skyscrapers and digital screens, we've lost touch with the earth beneath our feet and the trees that breathe alongside us. It is telling that we often refer to "civilization" as a sanctuary from the untamed wildness of nature, vividly described by Tennyson as "red in tooth and claw." Yet, we are part of nature. As much as we may want to separate ourselves from it, we know deep down that we can't do without it.

The renowned biologist E.O. Wilson coined the term "biophilia" to describe the inherent human inclination to connect with nature and living systems, an affinity deeply embedded in our DNA. This concept goes beyond mere aesthetic appreciation of nature; it speaks to a fundamental bond between humans and the natural world, suggesting that our health and well-being are inextricably linked to our relationship with the environment.

My guest this week discovered this principle early into her career, and today it has become central to her work.

Jennifer Walsh is a renowned entrepreneur, author, and media figure, whose story is as rich and varied as the landscapes she loves. Jennifer's narrative takes us from the world of finance to the beauty industry, charting the birth of Beauty Bar, a pioneering retail brand that embraced the principles of biophilic design, highlighting the essential role of natural elements in crafting spaces that are not just visually appealing, but also nurturing for the soul.

Beyond the world of retail and design, Jennifer immerses us in her personal journey, which is profoundly marked by the influence of her twin sister with special needs—a relationship that profoundly shaped not only her sense of empathy and but her understanding of the beauty of presence. She also talks about her family's tradition of spending summers living in a tent. This bold embrace of the outdoors highlights her deep-seated love for nature and its inherent beauty—a love that she now channels into her "wellness walks." These walks are not just strolls through the park; they are immersive experiences that underscore the power of nature to soothe, heal, and reconnect us to the world around us.

Jennifer's work is informed by the cutting-edge insights of neuroscience, which offer a scientific lens on how nature impacts our well-being. She advocates for a deeper educational approach to understanding and appreciating beauty in our lives, particularly in urban environments where nature's presence is often subdued or overlooked. We also discuss her new project, the Lost Art of Being Human (LABH), which aims to bring people together through nature immersion experiences, biophilic spaces, and impact media that opens us up to the beauty of nature.

You can watch our conversation below on YouTube or listen to it wherever you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to subscribe and leave a review, since it helps to spread these discussions to a wider audience. An unedited transcript follows.

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Interview transcript

Brandon: Jennifer, it's so great to see you and to meet you. Your work is so inspiring. I'm so delighted we could have a conversation.

Jennifer: Oh, the feeling is so very beautiful. I'm so honored to be a part of this platform with you, because I have loved listening to your guests and the stories that you have and beautiful conversations that really expand our minds, which I think is really important.

Brandon: Awesome. Thank you. Well, I'm really delighted. Let me ask you a little bit about your background. The first thing that I want to ask you about was your twin sister, who in many ways I think inspires your biophilia. Could you say a little bit about her and your journey together?

Jennifer: Sure. Thank you for asking that. Danielle is really special. She is my twin sister. I'm the older sister. So I say I'm older, so I'm cooler or whatever. No, she's my North Star. She's an angel to me. She's been in a group home since we were two. She is profoundly disabled. She has no access to really use her legs, her arms. She can speak a little bit but it's more of a mental capacity of a six-month-old.

At a very early age, I was able to understand what it was like to have someone with such special needs, beautiful needs, that have really taught me so much about the world. She hasn't had to say anything to me, but I learned so much about life from her, from what she shared just by being silent and just teaching me empathy and kindness and compassion all the time. And so a lot of what I do and everywhere I've ever been in my life, I've always thought that I'd do it for both of us. She'll never have the ability to walk, or run, or see the places that I get to see. So when I bear witness to beauty every single day, I always just — I know she's next to me all the time.

Brandon: She loves being outdoors, right? Was that something that got you?

Jennifer: She does. Oh my god, Brandon. I'm so glad you said it, because it's so cute when she's in a wheelchair. She relies 100% on other people to take her outside because she cannot do it herself. So whether it be myself, my family members, or someone, a nurse or staff in the home, when the minute she goes out the door in her wheelchair, she squeals. She squeals with excitement and this joy. Sometimes the laughters, she can't breathe because she's laughing so hard because she gets so excited. So it's really a beautiful testament to how really beauty and the outdoors really changes you in such a profound way. Because I get to witness it. Just to watch her evolution from being indoors and wheeling her out into the cold or the breeze and the fresh air, she just loves it.

Brandon: I didn't know very much about disability until college when I spent some time with this community called L'Arche. It's a network of communities for people with developmental disabilities.

Jennifer: Yeah, I do know L'Arche very, very well. My parents were involved in Florida, actually.

Brandon: Oh, wow. Okay. I mean, they taught me so much. I would volunteer there. I read all of the books by Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen. They were very transformative for me. This insight that they have, that the people who are the most vulnerable, the most rejected, among us can be our greatest teachers.

One of my recent podcast guests, Esther Blázquez Blanco, in Spain has a story about her brother who's also severely developmentally disabled being her greatest leadership teacher who taught her that the true leader is the person who wants to know your name, who wants to know who you are.

Jennifer: Oh, yes. Beautiful.

Brandon: The kind of beauty that comes with having these occasions to get a different glimpse into our humanity.

Jennifer: That is so true.

Brandon: I'm curious about your family life. Growing up, were you all very outdoorsy? How did you get you're biophilia? Where does that come from?

Jennifer: Yeah, that's funny. Because yeah, I always say it. I'm a simple girl from the Bronx that fell in love with nature. I grew up in the concrete jungle of the Bronx really. But it's because of my family's love of the outdoors that we would be playing outside all the time, granted some of the outside time would be on invent pavements. I mean. That was all we really had. Even our school yard was cement, a wall of just cold and metal fencing. My mom and dad would always take myself and my little sister and my twin when we were young enough to the botanical gardens in the Bronx, or the Bronx Zoo, or Central Park in New York City. Thankfully, to them, if it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have had this exposure and this love of the cold and the heat and the changing of the seasons, which I really attest to them.

Brandon: Tell us about the tent living. You spend every summer in a tent, right?

Jennifer: Yes.

Brandon: What is this, and how did this come about? It just was so fascinating to read about that.

Jennifer: I get a lot of questions about the tent life, which has been funny. Because a lot of people now, especially since the pandemic, are very interested in van life or outdoor living. We've had this tent in my family for almost — it'd be 35 years next summer. It's a very small town called Ocean Grove, New Jersey, which is a very historic town. It's been there since 1855, '59. The town was formed by Methodist campers, if you will. They want to set up a place where they could grow a community. They found this town, and they established it as Ocean Grove. They formed tents, and the town grew. I think at one point, there were 400 tents. There are only 114 left right now.

The town is beautiful. It's like stepping back in time where they have a very old Victorian homes. The homes are closer together, and they're closer to the street. I say it's like one of the very first wellness communities. Because everything about this town is what makes us that human connection to, we're closer together, so we get to know our neighbors better. The homes are closer to the street, so you wave to the people that go by. You're talking to one another. You see the people. The tents that are there had been there since the 1800s. The tents are only open from May 15 to September 15. We have a cabin. So the tent is usually like a 20 foot by 20 foot structure. It's attached to the cabin in the back. The cabin has a kitchen, bathroom, and a living room. There was electricity, and there's Wi Fi. So we have all the creature comforts of home, just of a smaller space. It's really special.

Brandon: Wow. That's super fascinating. I grew up in the Middle East. I grew up mostly in Oman. I did spend a lot of time outdoors, but I don't have pleasant memories. So I was curious. I was growing up in the desert, and it was scorching heat. I remember regularly being sunburned and being kicked in sweat. And so I wonder. I want to ask you how you got into this field of encouraging people to walk in nature. I'm just curious as to whether you've always had this affinity for being outdoors. Because I think I read somewhere, you burn very easily. Did you find it challenging?

Jennifer: Yes, it's this Irish skin, Brandon. I burn very, very easily. I was a lifeguard as a kid. I was called a tomboy as a kid. I love the outdoors. That was the phrase back in the '70s and '80s, it was the tomboy. I love to play dress up. But my friends, usually, I had a lot of male friends. We would always be doing sports outside. Then it kept growing. I've done a lot of marathons and triathlons. Every sport I could try, I tried — tennis, soccer, and archery. I really did love it. I loved orienteering, getting myself in just trying to get lost in the woods. It was a time for exploration for me, so I really enjoyed it. I didn't really fear it. I love the cold. I always love to be cold. The heat? I lived in Florida for 15 years, so I know what the heat is like. But I really prefer the cold, to be honest.

Brandon: Okay. That's great. I have a daughter who has moved to Alaska because she loves the cold.

Jennifer: Oh, wow.

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Brandon: If it's snowing, she's out in her shorts. I can't do it. I have a very poor — what do you call it? My extremities get very cold. Circulation, it's just not very good. It's just very, very funny. Tell me about your foray into the beauty industry. How did that happen? How did you start your career? What led you to start Beauty Bar, and then how did all that come about?

Jennifer: I was actually in finance right out of college. I went from finance to beauty. It's really interesting. But my mother was a makeup artist, so I learned a lot from her about makeup artistry and color. Again, I was this tomboy but I still loved makeup. I quit my job at Merrill Lynch in my mid 20s. To my parent's dismay, they said please don't leave your 401K behind.

I decided to go out on my own. Again, this was in the mid to late '90s when there weren't many female entrepreneurs that I knew about. But I knew that I loved makeup and I wanted to — let me backtrack a little bit. When I was working at Merrill Lynch at night on the weekends, I was interning everywhere I could to learn about makeup application for magazines, for photoshoots, for concerts. I was just doing everything I could for free just to learn about what it was like to be on the set. I fell in love with the process of photoshoots. Again, I was doing the makeup artistry. I was just carrying the makeup for people, or cleaning the carpets, or carrying coffee. I didn't care. I just wanted to be a part of the process so I could learn and build the portfolio of work, of things I used to work on.

a woman holding a compact compact compact compact compact compact compact compact compact compact compact compact
Photo by Peter Kalonji / Unsplash

Brandon: What drew you to that?

Jennifer: I think I've always loved artistry. I loved art. I've always loved art. As a child, I was always in sculpture class or art class and drawing and sculpting and pastels. I love artistry. I thought of it, I guess, as a form of artistry. I was able to start painting the faces. Then I was called to do some concerts. At the time, it was like 98 Degrees and Jessica Simpson and Molly. Oh, my gosh. I forgot. Not Molly. Anyway, there are lots of actors and actresses and singers I started to work with. That's when I quit Merrill Lynch. I was doing a lot of makeup artistry for TV production and movie production.

I started making makeup for women. There were these things that you could buy that you can actually mix makeup for people. Back in Avon back in the days, I would go home-to-home and start making, whipping up makeup for people in their kitchens. That was the beginning of wanting to get more involved in makeup. Then on a fluke, a friend of mine was a TV producer in ABC affiliate. I was living in Florida at the time. He knew that I was doing makeup artistry for these artists. He said, "I need you to come on air with your makeup kit and talk about what you're using on these celebrities because our actual guest fell through." To be honest, I cursed at him. I'm not going to say it. But I cursed. I said absolutely not. There's no way I'm going on TV to talk about that. I do the makeup for the people on TV. This was back in the day when there weren't people really on TV, except for the anchors that were on TV. He threw me in front of the camera. I wound up saying yes. That segment has led me down a path where I've been on TV almost 27 years every single month since.

It changed everything for me because that segment had turned into a weekly segment. Then people were calling the studio saying, "Why is she talking about these products? I've never heard of them." You can't find them anywhere. This was pre-Sephora and pre-Today. You can only find products in a department store. So it gave me this idea. If I can use the TV segment now as an educational tool, what if I open a store? That could be my sales channel. So that's what I did. Everyone said, "Don't quit your day job." It's the dumbest idea they've ever heard. No one's going to leave a department store to buy beauty products. I did it anyway. I had $30,000 in savings and said I'm going to try this. What do I have to lose? I felt so badly. Oh, my god. I just felt like this would be something important and meaningful. So I took the leap, and I did it in 1997.

Brandon: Wow. You were making these products yourself, right? You were mixing them yourself.

Jennifer: At the beginning, I was when I opened Beauty Bar. Then I was bringing in brands, very popular brands. Luxton, Fresh — these are very popular beauty brands that were just starting at the same time I was. The ability to just sell these products, I didn't know how to sell beauty products, but I want to create a space brand that made people felt comfortable and welcome. I was creating a space for biophilic design without having a title for it or a word for what I was trying to describe.

I was putting in wood features, hanging up shelves I got at Home Depot. Everything was made from — I either grabbed it from my home, or my parents helped me hang things from Home Depot just to decorate, handpaint the store itself. The business really exploded. It took around a year for people to understand what an apothecary was, because the brands were really so new and unheard of. I had men's products, and no one had ever bought men's specific products yet. So I wasn't making any of this anymore. These were all brands that were available around the globe that I was bringing in to sell.

Brandon: Say more about the biophilic design. How did that component come into your sets or where else were you incorporating it?

green plant on brown woven basket
Photo by Stephanie Harvey / Unsplash

Jennifer: It was interesting time because, again, I was in my 20s. I was just going up what I felt, and I really wanted a space for all to be welcome — all people of all ages, of all backgrounds just to come and be welcome and feel comfortable and not feel like they're being sold to. But I wanted people just to be and not do. I just want people to feel like they could be there and not have to shop, but they could converse with others that were there. I always say it was like my living room. People would come in, and they introduce me to out-of-town neighbors and friends and family members. It was this beautiful space that was warm. I had green on the wall. As I grew the business, I opened more locations. So I was able to open or move my first store into a bigger location. That became my flagship headquarters. I remember when people would come in, like experts — again, I was on my late 20s or early 30s then — they would say, Jennifer, you're doing all of this wrong. You're putting way too much emphasis on the space. And you should — I was should-ed to death. "You should have a chandelier. You should make the walls pink. You should, you should, you should."

Thankfully, Brandon, I didn't have any investors. So it was up to me. I could make all the decisions myself. I was able to say no. I feel this in my gut. I want to keep it. I want the slate walls. I want the green. I want plants. I want water features. I had a friend of mine that worked at a radio station. So he kind of put these sound beats together that were very unique. It was almost like binaural beats. It was a mix of music that was very temporary but from Europe mixed with nature sounds and different beats that he would form. People would say, "Can we buy your music?" I'd say no, I can't. I can't sell you. I wish I could. I even had one of the CDs still here. I still have one. He made hundreds of them for me. So we had a very unique sound.

Of course, the flagship was across the street from the beach, so we had the ocean air coming in and the scent. It was very sensorial. The experiences were very sensorial. Every event that we threw was mixed with — we were selling fragrances. Like, can we mix that with chocolates and wine that would pair with the fragrance that we were selling? It was just really beautiful. Because I realized, Brandon, it wasn't about what I was selling. It was more about how people felt in the space, in themselves, the beauty of experiencing the beauty around them really, and being witness to how people felt in their own skin when they felt comfortable with my staff, with me, with the neighbors that would be there with their pets. It was a welcoming place for all.

Especially having a twin sister with disabilities, I want to make sure that everyone could access. It was a gift. I felt like it was a gift to have this for myself. I'm just so lucky that I got to live like that for as long as I did. I really enjoyed. It was hard. Don't get me wrong. It was very hard to grow a business that no one had ever heard of and to try to do something new that wasn't normal, or no one had really seen before. But then, it became a great online business. We had multiple locations. I had quite a few staff members, and we grew it. It was really a nice time. It was really a nice time.

Brandon: Well, it sounds like it's almost like you wanted to share a gift that you've been given, right? I mean this whole desire to make other people feel welcome is, I think, a reflection of you can't make other people feel welcome unless you yourself feel at home. And so there's a sense in which what you want to convey is a gift rather than create some kind of gimmick that'll make people buy more stuff.

Jennifer: Yes. Oh, my gosh. Exactly.

Brandon: Did you lose something in the transition to the online space then? Were you still able to create some kind of hospitable—

Jennifer: Yeah, I had the online space just a year after I opened. Thankfully, my little sister at the time had a boyfriend that was very — again, this was late '90s. Everything was so new, and so there really wasn't anything online yet. We were one of the very first online retailers in beauty. Growing that was in tandem with the store itself. So I was able to kind of storytell.

I love photography. I love art, so I was always taking photos of the products I'd sell and put them in different ways. Then the brands started hiring me to either buy our photography or use our photography in their ad campaigns because they love them so much. It's all about storytelling. I always say I've never sold a thing in my life. I just told stories all day long. It was really fun. People resonated with certain things because I said, oh, this was created in Switzerland. Or, this was a lavender field in France, and it was created by those who are blind. That's why the packaging has Braille on it. And so when people resonated with stories, it just change the whole dynamic when people really know the story of where they come from and why it changes everything.

Brandon: Wow. Fantastic. Well, talk about your journey from there to Walk with Walsh and the walking. I mean, how did that transition come about? What inspired that change?

Jennifer: I was in Florida. I sold my company to a business up here in New York. I left my 14-15 years living in Florida to come back. I'm from New York originally, but here I am now at 40 years old coming back and really starting over. I thought I was just going to be here for a year selling Beauty Bar. It was going to be a year-long transition for the buyout. That was 14 years ago. So I'm still in New York, obviously. It was really interesting. Because honestly, it was a very hard time. It was, I think, the most tumultuous year of my life: selling the company, and going through a divorce, and moving 1000 miles away from what I had had. I had a great community. My family was living in Florida.

What really happened was, it was really hard. I was having some hard moments. So I would go for a walk in Central Park every day with my dog. We would walk for an hour or more, depending on the day. It made me feel good. I felt comforted in these walls of Central Park where I felt no one was — there were no lawyers. There's no one coming at me for anything. Because it was really a challenging time in my life. I thought, oh, my god. I'm 40. What am I doing? I've changed everything. What have I done? Have I made the biggest mistake? But I know I had to sell the company for lots of reasons. But then, I worked for some CPG brands. I went overseas in Amsterdam. I worked there for a client. I've consulted for brands all over the world for beauty and how did they tell their stories. Story is really important to me. Art is very important on how do we feel. I always felt like the brands, they're really committed to something beautiful more than just selling a product. How do we make people feel about where they are in their lives?

What happened was, I was in Central Park a lot during that year. People kept saying, how are you getting through this really challenging time? What kind of drugs are you taking? I always said it was nature. Nature was healing me just by the walking, just by being there, and being witness to the snow and the beautiful change that I was experiencing. Because here I am walking through life. It's new, this new way without my family next to me, without my husband, my stepchild, my immediate family. I'm getting new friends. I'm getting my feet acclimated to this new place that was my old place, which is home. That opened the door of how good I felt.

Then oddly enough, a Facebook Live came out. I'd already been doing TV for so long. I thought, oh my gosh. I can have interviews with people in Central Park as we walk and talk about their stories. What was really interesting was, every person I talked to were talking about nature connection and being a healthy leader. But every single person I interviewed said, "This feels so good. I never get outside." I thought we're talking about being a healthy leader. You're talking about nutrition and stress and cortisol levels and all these things, but nature is never a part of that conversation. So I thought, okay, there's something to this. I jumped in headfirst 2016, 2017. And the rest is kind of history.

I've been down this path now really educating myself as much as I can and researching as much as I can, and then trying to share that. Because once you learn, you can't unlearn the power of beauty in a way that you're witnessing beauty. It's not just a product. I realized beauty has always been at this core for me to really help people experience the beauty of the natural world around us no matter where we are, no matter what kind of hardship you're going through. There is profound oh, god moments that just take your breath away, if you let it, if you just feel the gift of grace within you, to give yourself permission just to be there in that moment in time.

woman hands up in front of green meadows
Photo by Ben White / Unsplash

Brandon: Yeah, that's absolutely true. I recently organized a retreat. We were in the Hill Country of Texas. The thing that occurred to me to start with was to immerse ourselves in this experience of givenness. We didn't put this here. There's a way in which the natural world is. We're part of nature. We like to separate ourselves and pretend we're not part of it. But we are. We are nature. We've built all these mechanisms to alienate ourselves from it. Of course, there's like sunburns and mosquitoes and all kinds of other things that also don't help. But just the very fact of being in a place where you can acknowledge and recognize I didn't put this here, and there's something I made off this stuff and to just, in some sense, to be back in communion with it seems really vital.

Jennifer: Yeah, it's beautiful. It is vital. That's exactly the word. It's vital. Because without it, we are not well. We are unwell. Brain health is such a big part of that, because we are so separate from what is life giving, what is soul giving, what is heart giving. Because we're so in our four walls so often, and we're so attached to our tech that we don't give ourselves that permission to just be.

I talk about this all the time to friends of mine, to strangers, on how hard it is for people just to be quiet. I find that fascinating. Especially since COVID, my life became very quiet here in New York City, as many did. But I really was able to witness this profound beauty in the midst of chaos during that year of taking photos. I've photographed almost every day what's the New York City, what it was like to be here. I walked the island of Manhattan, or I ran it every day. It was hard to get to walk through. But I realized the cadence between my heart and my mind and the breath I was taking, and I witnessed the architecture that I never really noticed as a New Yorker. Growing up here and coming back here, I never noticed that because we're in such a frenetic space here, that busyness of your chaos, you're running from one thing to another. But you never bear witness to the beauty that were given in that moment. All of a sudden, that peeling back the layers, I was able to see for the first time. Like brand new eyes. It was really an interesting time.

Brandon: Wow. Tell us about the wellness walks. What exactly do you all do?

Jennifer: It's akin to forest bathing. If you know forest bathing, it's very similar to Shinrin-yoku. But I didn't want to call it. I'm not a certified forest bather, but I've studied under Dr. Li. I've read everyone of his books. I've spoken to him on countless occasions. Dr. Li is the one who really studied forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku, and what happens to the human body when we're exposed to certain terpenes. I was really fascinated by his work. But I didn't think forest bathing was the right word for me to use. Again, because I'm not certified. But also, I knew that my clientele is mostly here in New York City. When people are asked to hug trees or touch water, I know many New Yorkers are not going to touch water or hug trees. So it's baby steps, Brandon. I was like, okay, you can touch a tree if you don't want to hug it. But you can touch the plants. Touch the living things around us because we're so afraid to touch anything.

The wellness walks were really just a way of — I kind of call them my classroom. It's a mindfulness walk. It's a slow walk. It can be anywhere from a half an hour to two hours, depending on who wants to walk. But it's usually hotel groups, corporate clients, individuals, activations for brands, whether it be a shoe company or what have you, or a beauty company that wants to get people outside. It's a way for me to educate with people what's happening to the human body and the brain when we do experience beauty. What is it that's bringing in this calmness that's coming over us?

Thankfully, I had been studying for so long about the brain on beauty, the brain on nature, what's going on. When I get to do that, I love hearing the oohs and ahhs. I know. I knew it always felt good, but no one ever told me why. I'm basically giving them permission. That's what I feel like I've always been just able to be that conduit, to giving people permission to slow down and take witness of what they're feeling in their bodies.

Brandon: Say a little bit more about the educational component and what you've learned in your journey about neuroscience. Certainly, we have some friends in common like Anjan Chatterjee. I'm curious to know how you've incorporated that into your work.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Well, when I first really started studying and researching — as you know, it's what you do in your work — it's one thing to say something is great, or it's one thing to say something feels good. But it's something totally other when you can say this is backed by science, and here's the data. Here's the research.

When I really started out on this journey, I was trying to find someone that I could really talk to or partner with that would be on the same path that I was on. I was having a hard time finding someone that was studying the neuroscience of nature. I couldn't find anyone that was really talking about nature exposure, whether it be outside and inside. I knew there's lots of science already done, especially back in the '80s. E.O. Wilson was that grand leader for all of us who took the work from Erich Fromm from the '60s that really popularized Biophilia in the 1980s through his work. Biophilia is really our innate connection to all living things and our love of life. Then biophilic design is bringing those natural elements we find outside indoors.

So when I really started studying Stephen Kaplan's work, so many things that were happening, I happened to be on a panel in Italy in 2018. I was on a panel about beauty as wellness. Who was sitting next to me on the panel, but a gentleman by the name of Dr. Anjan Chatterjee? We met in Italy. I was listening to him speak. Here we are. I thought, oh my gosh. This is exactly the person I want to talk to more. We became friends. I really want to learn more about his work. A few years ago, I realized he had been studying biophilic design. He knew my work was already committed to biophilic design 20 some odd years ago, so we really understood one another. I got to read his books and learn more about him. Now I'm just doing some more things with him that we have, hopefully, in the works down the line for 2024 which I can share at a later time. He's a wonderful person. He's introduced me to so many great people.

It's really when you have the science, there's so much more that you can share. It's important to share that knowledge. Because we aren't taught in school what happens to the body when we're exposed to nature versus going through what Richard Louv, the author, Richard Louv coined nature-deficit disorder. So it's really interesting to know. When you know, you can't unknow.

Brandon: Right. Wow. Do you have these walks, the wellness walks, in other cities? Is it just a New York City thing? Are you doing this elsewhere?

Jennifer: Yeah, they're everywhere. I did it in Italy for the global wellness summit. I do them all over the country right now. A lot of the time, I'm speaking around the country around when your brain is on nature. At the same time, I'll either lead a walk in the morning. Or when I'm there, I'll lead a walk for that team. Because again, I think it's one thing to say it, but it's another thing when you experience it. I love being able to talk about it and then take that group out for a walk either beforehand or after to say, okay, now can you feel what that's like to just be in that presence?

It's great to be in these different parts of the country to really then access what it feels like. I was in Wisconsin a few weeks ago. I was in Colorado before that, in Florida, in the different heat and the cold. I was in Miami two weeks ago leading a walk. So it's very different going from Wisconsin one week to Miami and the shifts in temperature. Yeah, it's beautiful.

Brandon: Are there places where you've struggled to appreciate the beauty?

Jennifer: Oh, of course. It's interesting that you say that because there's a lot of talk about biophobia. I know Dr. Anjan talks about not all nature is beautiful. It can be scary and hard. There's been a lot of talk. I learned about biophobia early this year that I never really thought about, because I've been such a — I apologize for the noise because it is New York City still.

Brandon: No, that's fine.

Jennifer: Biophobia, I guess, is this real fear of nature. More and more people are staying indoors. Before the pandemic, 93% of our time was being spent inside. I think that's even more so now than ever before. So there's this new feeling that people are afraid of nature. They don't want to. I understand that coming from the Bronx. There isn't a lot of access to the natural world.

To find beauty, you have to really seek it, especially in places that are dense. There's like food deserts. It's like there are deserts. There isn't enough nature in some places. People are fearful of what's around that corner, or I don't want to walk through that park because it's a certain time of day. That could be dangerous. I understand when people are having that. I walk in certain places; I'm seeking the places where people are not going to be turned off by all the noise and the sound of the traffic. You have to find it. You have to look for it.

people sitting on bench near trees during daytime
Photo by michal dziekonski / Unsplash

Brandon: Yeah, I mean, cities have to really value that and prioritize that into urban design.

Jennifer: 100%. Absolutely. It benefits the customers. It benefits the employees when biophilic design is involved. Of course, it benefits the community because it's beautiful. You don't have to tell someone it's beautiful. You just feel it. You feel when a place is beautiful. You feel when a person is beautiful, not just by what they look like but how they make you feel. That's real beauty.

Brandon: Another place where I've been encountering some of this is — I've been doing some research on scientists. We did this big study in a number of countries looking at where scientists encounter beauty in their work and workplaces. We spend 12 to 14 or even longer hours a day in the workplace. Scientists, especially who are bench scientists, are in these dark, dingy basements with no access to natural light or to plants or anything. So it helps if you are on a campus that has some sort of verdant environments. But often, they're not. We had a lot of complaints about just being in a concrete jungle, in ugly buildings and no sunlight, feeling like you have no idea what time of day it is. They're well aware that it's affecting their mental health. It's just very clear that this is not good in the long run. Unfortunately, a lot of our workplaces are not really—

Jennifer: It's so true. They're not. Thankfully, I think there's a lot more awareness and there are changes that are happening. I know you see that in your work with architecture — architects, I should say — and what they're doing for city planning.

We have our podcast, Biophilic Solutions, where we talk about the city planners and what are they doing, and how are they making changes? That way, everyone, from young children to seniors, can benefit from this more nature exposure and not be afraid of getting outside, not being afraid of the colder months ahead. I feel like there are so many people. There's this interesting — I hear it here in New York City — anger that winter is here. I hear almost like this screaming at the top of the lungs that people are mad that winter is here. Yet in Colorado, they celebrate it. They can't wait because they get to be outside and enjoy the seasons. But here, for some reason, I'm hearing it more and more, louder and louder. They're fighting. People are fighting the seasonal change as if it's never happened before.

How do we equip these people to understand a little bit more? Where's that coming from? Is it coming from a cultural thing? I'm Irish. I like the cold, the damp, the wet. Some people might be from India, and they like the warmer, dry conditions. I like to peel back the layers on where is this coming from. Is it a cultural thing? Is it in your family that your parents didn't take you out, or you just didn't like where you grew up? It's just interesting to peel back the layers of why people feel the way they feel about the changing of the seasons and the wintering, I like to say.

Brandon: Do you have then some recommendations for people who are saying, maybe biophobic say, I would imagine a summer, or a fall, or a spring day is more easy to appreciate I suppose than the cold right now? Here, it's cold and rainy. Especially if you're in a city and you're in New York or DC in November, December, January, what do you recommend? What kinds of tips can you give people to help them in those times?

Jennifer: Yeah, it is that time of the year where people just want to go inside and get cozy. I'm all for it. What I do suggest for people, because it is getting lighter in the morning — of course, it's darker in the morning, I should say. But if you can get some early morning sunlight on your body, if you can go outside if you have a dog or if you have something else — I apologize. That's ringing. So if you can just get some sunlight early in the morning, that's really, really helpful.

I know it sounds crazy, too. Fresh air is really, really important. If you can get some fresh air throughout the day, whether it be if you, again, have a dog, or if you're at work, if you're able to just get a quick walk around the block, or go to a sunlit room in your office or your home, the sunlight really plays a very big part of how you feel. You know that as well in your work. Sunlight really plays a big part of our circadian rhythm, how much we're sleeping at night. So if you can get that sunlight, bring more nature in your space, you can have more plants.

Also, bringing sounds of nature in. Because here, I had that ringing bell that I couldn't shut off. That was my doorman. We have honking horns and jackhammers. So how do we protect our space with music or sound that's more natureful? I love the sound of a fireplace. I play on my television, YouTube, the fireplace. So I can hear the crackling sounds and I can see it. I can't smell it. But at least, it's that visual and the sound. So whatever it might suit your space is really important as well to make you feel a little more connected to nature. Whether it be the beach sound or a beach visual, a roaring river, whatever it might be, that really calms you and really relaxes you also will help you get through these months that seem to be darker. It's really, really important.

Brandon: That's great. You have another initiative called the Lost Art of Being Human.

Jennifer: Yes.

Brandon: Talk about that.

Jennifer: This was an idea. It was these conversations that I've been having the past year. People keep speaking about humanity and being human. Not really a fear for the unknown of the future, but there is this uncertainty of what AI is going to bring with it. Incredible technology, incredible feats of hopefully helping us with so many things. At the same time, it's that unknown variable that people are a little worried about. I thought, well, wouldn't it be nice to have a place where people can feel safe and have conversations and come together on what it means to be human, which I think is a connection to one another together.

We need to be back together again. While I love technology and I get to do this with you now, I think it's important that we witness one another in the space of uncertainty and give each other grace to get through things and have hard conversations and not judge. I think there's such a speed to judge right now, instead of just hearing people and listening to people from where they're coming from and just have open conversations. I really want to show the people products, places, and spaces that are reconnecting us to ourselves and make us feel good, that are inspiring, that are beautiful, and that are uplifting. That's really going to be the place. We're going to have a lot more immersive experiences going forward.

We started creating recharge rooms back in 2018. It was almost like having my tent indoors. I took my tent life and brought it into activations. People could come from their offices for 10 or 15 minutes and sit in a tent, listen to nature sounds, and then go back to their desk. So we're going to be doing a lot more of that again in 2024. Lost Art of Being Human (LABH) is just a connection of humaneness to the beauty of the world around us.

Brandon: Okay. Amazing. The need for connection I think is another really critical thing, right? We're connecting to each other. Connecting to nature, connecting to each other, I think you're right. It is a lost art. I think we're really struggling.

Jennifer: Yeah, I think we are. The loneliness, the struggle. The struggle, I see it. I see it every day here with young people in New York City, in older people in New York City. There's this uncertainty. That lack of connection really harms us. We can even help those that are more in need. I think whenever I'm feeling down on myself for whatever reason, I think what I try and do is go to the local senior home, or go help the pets, or whatever I can do to help someone else. That always helps alleviate that sense of maybe a sad day I'm having, or a lonely day, or whatever I might be going through. How do I help someone else to alleviate their pain? It makes me then in turn feel content.

Brandon: Yeah, that's amazing. Looking back on all of these different initiatives you've done, it seems the word beauty takes on some different valences. Do you have a common thread that you see running through it all as to what beauty means? Looking back on everything and what beauty means to you, why do you think it matters and ought to matter?

Jennifer: I think beauty is everything. I think it's interesting. Being in the beauty world for 25 plus years, beauty is always about this thing that we sell or we buy and how it makes us, whatever we're putting in our face or our skin.

But to me, beauty has always been how we treat one another and how we feel when we're in presence. That is so beautiful to me when you can witness someone else's gift of their life. They're giving their gift. Whether it be a song, dance, music, their joy, storytelling, the gift of maybe cooking, I think there are so many beautiful moments in life that we overlook as just the mundane. But there are so many beautiful moments just even like sitting quietly and watching a sunrise, or a sunset, or just seeing these beautiful moments play out around us. That, to me is what life is all about. It's this experience.

And being the recipient of that beauty is what — it's like, oh my god. It just moves you to tears. Because life is beautiful. It is hard. It is messy. It is not easy. But if you can also step back and say, wow, that was a beautiful conversation I just had, or that was a beautiful moment I just had, or I just witnessed something beautiful between two people passing off the street. There's this woman who lives in my neighborhood. I don't know her name. I don't know who she is. But she has to be in her 90s. I love watching her. I passed her once in a while. She always looks just her hair is cloth beautifully as her lipstick and blush on. She's always smiling. Every time I pass her by, she just looks beautiful and radiant because she's always smiling. She just looks happy. That makes me happy seeing others. Because we all should be there for each other to help each other get by.

I think the beauty is that doorway to feeling good within our own bodies. No matter what's happening around us, it helps us put this — the word I'm looking for, but help us put the spot of like, okay, I'm okay right now in this moment. Let me be present and just be thankful for it. We don't know what tomorrow is going to bring, so we need to be thankful for what we have today.

woman in brown floral dress standing and smiling
Photo by Joel Mott / Unsplash

Brandon: Yeah, that's great. There is an aspect of beauty, I wonder, which might be linked to hope. I think of examples like Eddie Rama, the former mayor of Tirana in Albania who used to paint these buildings bright orange when they were just coming out of the communist regime. Then people were feeling really hopeless. Just these splashes of color could instill hope in people that there could be literally a brighter future in front of them. I wonder if there are ways in which you see beauty as providing potential for almost like a promise, that there's more and that could even pull us out of ourselves, that could be transcendent?

Jennifer: Yes, oh my gosh. Yes, all of that. I think that's exactly what beauty does. It is that conduit to transcendence, to awe, to inspiration, if we give ourselves permission to stop and witness beauty. I always just say to people just give yourself permission five minutes a day, if you can. I know people have babies and family members that might be ill, and you're going through your own illness. But if you can find the pathway to just seeing beauty, even if it's just for a few minutes a day.

There's a great book by Dr. Phil Tabb that wrote Thin Places. It goes back to Celtic times. They call it when heaven kisses the earth. It's like this real transformative moment. Whether it be a sunrise or sunset, just the way the sunlight comes into a room during the day and maybe cast a rainbow on the ground in your living room, you say, oh my gosh. It's beautiful. There's that moment of that sunlight coming in. Because, again, every day is different. That sun is going to change throughout the year. How we go into churches or synagogues or places of worship, that make us feel inspired and moved beyond words almost into tears, because it's so awe inspiring. It's a great book, and it really helps you understand the profoundness of what beauty can give to us and not just products that we buy in the shelf, but really the experience of beauty in a chaotic world.

How do we experience beauty in a chaotic world? We have to really bear witness to it and look for it. I would say, seek beauty and you'll find it. You just have to look for it. Sometimes it just shows up on you. You're like, wow, I wasn't expecting that today. That was lovely. It was lovely. Even this conversation right now, this is such a gift. This is beautiful to me. I so appreciate you and your time on what you do, because you help open that doorway to what beauty — when I found out about your work, Brandon, I was so moved because I've been in this industry for so long, but beauty has been about sales and about ROI and KPIs. To me, that's never been beauty. Beauty is exactly what you do in your work. It's to open your eyes to what life is. That is the gift of beauty of living, of experiencing what it means to be human in our human bodies, which sometimes are great and sometimes not so great. But it's that understanding of like, wow, we are here right now.

Brandon: Well, thank you. I'm really glad it resonates. I have my doubts about this entire project. I'm a sociologist. Because we're very critical. We're trained to be just super cynical and critical just to shine a light on social problems and the injustice in the world. And so coming from that space, there's a lot of nagging critic in my head at all times saying this is just completely irrelevant. So I'm glad that it resonates with some people.

Jennifer: It's so not irrelevant. It's so important. The conversations you're having are with really interesting people from across industries. I think getting together and bringing these people together to have conversations about beauty, like you said, it's that hope. Beauty gives us hope that things can be better or will be better if you also be the start of it. You can be that fire start to help others see beauty in new ways that really open their eyes and their hearts to opportunity.

Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. It's odd for me. This entire journey started with scientists. Actually, it started with protest movements. I was studying protest movements. About a decade ago, I started to realize that a lot of the theory in the field at that time was the main driver, if you want to understand what fuels social movements, you have to understand moral outrage. There's a negative emotional shock, and that's the starting point. I was like, I don't think that's the case. I think there's something under underlying that. I think you can't have a negative shock unless something positive has been disrupted, which means there's an ideal of something beautiful that has been lost and that one wants to preserve and protect and regenerate.

Then the next thing I was doing was this project on scientists where we'd have long conversations with scientists hearing their life stories. They would tell us about the sacrifices they've made for the sake of their work and sometimes sacrificing their health. They could have been working at Google or something, and here they are working in a lab. When we asked them why do you do it, a lot of them would say because it's beautiful. I did not expect that word. And so that really was, for me, the beginning of trying to understand what does this word mean to these people and why is it resonant? And why do I not pay attention to it?

Jennifer: Right. It's an earth thing, this thing. What is beauty to different people? How do they experience it, and why? I agree. You have one thing. It's like, oh, this is ugly. But what was the beautiful side of that? There's always two sides to that. What's awful, or what's beautiful? It's different for everybody really, but there is that underlying beauty. It resonates within all of us. It's just a matter of peeling back the hard layers that some of us have built around us to protect maybe our heart or our body from things that might have hardened us. Children, when you see children around beautiful things like a stormy day or puddles, and they just want to lie in it, I said yeah, I'm with you. Eat some mud pies.

Brandon: Right. Yeah, I don't want to have to clean them after.

Jennifer: No, I don't want to clean them. Me neither. No, that's the hard part: getting them in the tub, hosing them down. That's never fun.

Brandon: I think you're right. I will confess. I've lost. In many ways, my kids, they find me rather annoying for that reason. We have cats here just outside. They have fleas, and I don't want to go anywhere near them. I don't want to touch them. But even if they didn't have fleas, I wouldn't want to touch them. So I have a lot to learn. I would like to open my heart to more biophilia and try to do something more.

Jennifer: Maybe the cats will teach you something. Who knows?

Brandon: Yeah, maybe. But yeah, even with people — going back to your sister again — that, for me, was just such a great example, and even my time with L'Arche. My mother lives with severe mental illness. She's been living with schizophrenia for 35 plus years. I've been learning over time slowly to see beauty in not the typical physical beauty that the beauty world, the beauty industry deals in but the kind of beauty that you see in your sister, recognizing that kind of delight that we can find in people who we typically have marginalized and then rejected.

I think all of that is important to highlight. That's where I'm trying to explore all of it. This one umbrella term, I think, gives us a lot of traction. I think it's a really fruitful lens through which to look at all of these things and tie them together somehow. So that's what I'm hoping to do. I'm really delighted.

Jennifer: Well, that story about your mother, it's so moving. Because that gives you this pathway to more compassion, the compassion and the empathy for others that you experience in your daily life. Having a mother who has needs that are intense, I'm sure that's taught you a lot over your years of what you do. How do you service her? How are you in service to your mother when she has such profound needs?

Maybe like the same thing with my sister. How am I in service to her with her needs? I think it's an ongoing conversation I have within my own body and my own head of, like, how do I show up for her? I know she knows I'm there when I'm there, but she can't communicate that. But I know having that presence with her makes me feel whole. Even though we can't really communicate together, I know there's this wholeness when we're together. Maybe I think your opportunity with your mother really helps you understand this wholeness that we have as humans to one another. That is that beauty that we don't have to say words all the time. It's just being in the presence of someone else is a gift. It's that beautiful moment that connects us to what is really important in the world. I deeply believe that.

Brandon: Yeah, I agree. Jennifer, thank you so much. It's been such a gift. It's such a pleasure. Where can I direct our listeners or viewers to learn more about your work?

Jennifer: Thank you. Thank you very much for this time. I've just so enjoyed speaking with you. I can't wait to speak more with you later. But I really appreciate this conversation. I really love the work you do, and I can't wait to discover more of that. Keep having these conversations, please. Because I really enjoyed listening to all your recordings. I think your work is very important. We need more beauty in the world. So you have in us and leading this conversation for more industries to be a part of, I think that then opens the door to so many others.

People can reach me on LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. I'm just LinkedIn, the Jennifer Walsh. It's thejenniferwalsh. I'm on Instagram, which I love to post pictures and videos of the beauty around us. That's also @thejenniferwalsh. Lost Art of Being Human is lostartofbeinghuman.com. I just came out with that. Those are the best ways to really reach me right now. Thank you.

Brandon: Awesome. Fantastic. Well, thank you. Yeah, I hope we can continue this conversation, too.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

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