'Lucky' Olive Tree Leads Mindfulness Sessions in Italy

In Molise, an innovative project aims at reducing the level of stress, anxiety and depression with the support of augmented reality and a historic olive tree.
Mindfulness meditation in the Olive Tree Park in Termoli
By Ylenia Granitto
Aug. 10, 2023 15:30 UTC

As oleo­tourism gains pop­u­lar­ity, a grow­ing num­ber of activ­i­ties that seek to fos­ter healthy lifestyles are being hosted in the olive grove.

Olive oil tast­ings and other food-and-wine-related expe­ri­ences, as well as activ­i­ties, such as hik­ing, are increas­ingly pop­u­lar in olive groves, which have proven to be an ideal set­ting when it comes to prac­tices that pro­mote men­tal well-being.

The heal­ing effect of the con­tact with nature is widely sup­ported by research.- Nicola Malorni, psy­chol­o­gist and pres­i­dent, Kairos

In the cen­ter-south Italian region of Molise, an olive tree is at the cen­ter of an inno­v­a­tive project aimed at reduc­ing the stress of par­tic­i­pants with the sup­port of aug­mented real­ity.

We had begun to exper­i­ment some years ago with inter­ven­tions in the olive grove aimed at pro­mot­ing the well-being of indi­vid­u­als and groups,” said Nicola Malorni, a psy­chol­o­gist and pres­i­dent of the social coop­er­a­tive Kairos.

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It all started while car­ry­ing out the social olive farm­ing Aspem project, aimed at female vic­tims of vio­lence,” he added. They par­tic­i­pated in the pro­duc­tion of high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, which, along with ther­a­peu­tic pro­ce­dures, helped them to rein­te­grate back into soci­ety and to recover their self-esteem.”

One day, while work­ing in an orchard in the vil­lage of Guardialfiera, one of the par­tic­i­pants bumped into an old olive tree that a light­ning bolt had struck. Despite the dis­rupt­ing event that left deep marks, the tree con­tin­ued to live and thrive.

This encounter imme­di­ately trig­gered emo­tional res­o­nances in all of us, mainly in the woman who had dis­cov­ered it, who was strongly impressed by the resilience of this liv­ing being,” Malorni said.

The tree soon became a point of ref­er­ence for oper­a­tors and par­tic­i­pants, who gave it the name Fausto, from the Latin word faus­tus, mean­ing lucky or aus­pi­cious. They started to carry out ses­sions of med­i­ta­tion and yoga, dis­cus­sion groups and even super­vised activ­i­ties for the psy­chol­o­gists involved in the project under its branches.


Yoga in the Historical Olive Park of Venafro.

With the use of active imag­i­na­tion, a Jungian method that pro­motes trans­for­ma­tion and explo­ration processes of the uncon­scious through imag­i­na­tion, we had con­ver­sa­tions with Fausto, which have been tran­scribed and also inspired a short movie, Gocce (Drops),” Malorni said.

The Aspem project was so suc­cess­ful that it was widely rec­og­nized as a best prac­tice. Buoyed by this expe­ri­ence, the social coop­er­a­tive responded to a call by the Ministry of Culture and received fund­ing for a project that will begin this autumn – with the help of aug­mented real­ity devices, Fausto will be able to speak and lead groups through med­i­ta­tion prac­tices.

It will truly become a col­league since it will lead med­i­ta­tion groups just like us psy­chol­o­gists,” Malorni said. This will be pos­si­ble thanks to a device that emits a recorded voice inserted inside of it. Fausto will there­fore be a mind­ful­ness facil­i­ta­tor for 20 peo­ple, which will par­tic­i­pate, after an open selec­tion, in this project that will last 18 months.”

Based on a wide range of med­i­ta­tion and yoga tech­niques, mind­ful­ness finds appli­ca­tions in clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy and psy­chi­a­try. It is used to pro­mote bet­ter man­age­ment of stress, anx­i­ety and depres­sion. It is also effec­tively used for patho­log­i­cal addic­tions and other prob­lems in adults and chil­dren in inte­gra­tion with other ther­a­peu­tic means.

With its voice, Fausto will wel­come the par­tic­i­pants and give them tasks and direc­tions to prac­tice mind­ful breath­ing, the body-scan med­i­ta­tion involv­ing bod­ily per­cep­tions and mind­ful walk­ing through the olive grove.

One of the actions envis­aged in the project is to demon­strate that the inter­ven­tion of the facil­i­ta­tor Fausto will have ther­a­peu­tic effects on the psy­cho-phys­i­o­log­i­cal well-being of the par­tic­i­pants,” Malorni said. We will then exam­ine the ini­tial psy­cho-phys­i­o­log­i­cal state of par­tic­i­pants, namely the lev­els of stress, anx­i­ety and depres­sion, doing a sali­vary test for the bio­mark­ers cor­ti­sol and alpha-amy­lase.”

The expec­ta­tions of this research are that the lev­els recorded at the begin­ning will grad­u­ally and sig­nif­i­cantly decrease through­out the project.

The heal­ing effect of the con­tact with nature is widely sup­ported by research; we are already con­fi­dent of a good result,” he said.


Indeed, we are plan­ning to pro­pose this ther­a­peu­tic activ­ity also to the par­tic­i­pants of the Walking Among Olive Trees Day,’” added Malorni, who is the vice-pres­i­dent of the asso­ci­a­tion Città dell’Olio, which orga­nizes the hik­ing event in the Italian olive groves each year.

The fund­ing allows the asso­ci­a­tion to obtain aug­mented real­ity head­sets that will also be used to pro­mote tourism in the region.

With the movie direc­tor Simone D’Angelo, we will cre­ate scener­ies that each par­tic­i­pant will visu­al­ize through the head­set,” Malorni said. Fausto will inter­act with the char­ac­ters of Signora Ava and Le Terre del Sacramento, which are two his­tor­i­cal nov­els by the writer Francesco Jovine, who was born in the town where Fausto is located. As they talk about the ancient peas­ant world, this can be a way to con­vey impor­tant cul­tural con­tent that enriches the tourist expe­ri­ence.”

We also plan to use the income from the first exper­i­ments to mod­ify the scener­ies fur­ther,” he added. We also would like Fausto to become a pro­moter of the Mediterranean diet and healthy lifestyles.”

The aug­mented real­ity project is just the lat­est of a series of fruit­ful expe­ri­ences related to well­ness led by men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als that have been hosted in some groves of the region over the last months.

We recently had a great expe­ri­ence in the Olive Tree Park of Termoli, where I led a mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion on the occa­sion of the Merenda nell’Oliveta’ (Snack in the olive grove) orga­nized by the Città dell’Olio,” Malorni said.

Moreover, in the Historical Olive Park of Venafro, yoga ses­sions were car­ried out with Tibetan singing bowl music, gongs and other per­cus­sions.

There are stud­ies show­ing the effec­tive­ness of these musi­cal instru­ments in help­ing to reach altered states of con­scious­ness that acti­vate self-heal­ing fac­tors in the indi­vid­ual,” Malorni said.” These are fur­ther means that can be eas­ily used in the orchard in the frame­work of these inno­v­a­tive approaches to well-being.”

Olive farm­ing is giv­ing me the oppor­tu­nity to leave the ana­lyt­i­cal study of the psy­cho­an­a­lyst and explore the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing ana­lyt­i­cal psy­chol­ogy into nat­ural con­texts, just like Jung him­self taught us when he prac­ticed psy­cho­analy­sis in the gar­den or by the lake, where it is pos­si­ble to redis­cover a rela­tion­ship with nature, with the earth mother,” Malorni added.

In the set­ting of olive grove, our projects aim to pro­mote healthy lifestyles and a healthy rela­tion­ship with the envi­ron­ment, along with food and sport. Our view is that olive farm­ing can suc­cess­fully pro­mote human health,” he con­cluded.


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