A Time for Reflection

Today's post will be a little out of the ordinary.  Rather than information, tips, and tools for your daily life - I'm going to do the opposite.  I'm going to lob an idea out there and everyone may do with it what they choose, no tips, no tools, just some thoughts.  I suppose it is not unusual that I feel the need to reflect during this time.

I have been thinking about the families in Connecticut a lot lately, as I did with the families in Aurora, as I did with the many families all over the country who have been affected by violence in the past.  I have felt real sorrow, and also anger, despair, and other natural responses for grief. What is interesting is that I feel as a nation, we are in a bargaining stage of our grief.  What if we change gun laws, will that make it better?  What if we talk about mental health stigma, or parenting, or security, will we be able to avoid this feeling, this sorrow, again in the future?  It's a normal part of the grief process to seek answers and hope for things to be different.  I'm not writing today to offer words of advice, or suggestions for dealing with a tragedy - those ideas are readily accessible through many great resources, like my friend Tara's blog, or here.

I think today all I want to do is plant a seed, or perhaps, I am just selfishly using my blog as a forum for thinking in print.  For the past couple of months I have been exploring an idea, and then tragically, this event in Connecticut happened and reinforced my desire to continue my exploration.   The idea begins with culture...how and why did we get to this point, is this really where we want to be, and do we have the power to change it?

I am no expert on culture, anthropologists and sociologists study for lifetimes to get a handle on culture, I will not make any claims here about historical fact or evidence.  What I will say is from this therapist's perspective, we are getting off track.  I see depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and fear like they are epidemics - sweeping through our population with no end in sight.  Would conversation about mental health issues help? Certainly.  Would it change the fact that the number of mental health diagnoses occurring in our country are growing exponentially?  Probably not.

Here comes the flyball, catch it if it resonates with you, drop it if it doesn't...please don't chuck it at my face if you dislike it.  My growing feeling, as I age and as I practice therapy, is that as a culture we have gotten away from many things that make us caring, social human beings.  For 99% of our human existence we lived close to the land, we engaged in physical labor, we knew where our food came from, we knew where our children played, we knew who lived next door (or in the next hut, or tipi, or cave..)  Since the industrial age our lives have changed radically.  The concept of community has almost all but left us.  My mind boggles at the idea that my actions can affect someone thousands of miles away, and that they can affect me in return.  Were we ever meant to have such power?  And then, what is the psychological impact of all of this change?

I have been reading lately about the concepts of ecopsychology, ecotherapy, green therapy, and nature-based therapy.  All are different names for a pretty similar idea - basically, that in all our ingenuity and excellence, we've lost our connection with the natural world, our environment and all the living things in it, including other humans.  It used to be that we spent all our time outdoors, in the elements, we knew the direction of the wind and the phases of the moon.  We worked alongside each other and among other animals, sweating and seeing the product of our labors.  I don't mean to romanticize life before the industrial age, it was certainly much harder in many ways, but there was a lot of good there too.  In a very short period of time, life has changed so much.  We now spend most of our time seated, indoors, in unnatural lighting, alone, with multiple electronic stimuli coming at us at once.  Is it any surprise then, that loneliness, depression, and anxiety are at an all-time high? What about ADD and autism? Or that relationships, both intimate and communal, are suffering?

Are human beings really built to live separate from all other natural life, indoors, sheltered and entirely unaware of the natural processes they affect or that affect them?

In my own life, I have made the commitment to at least pay attention to the way I live, and attempt to live closer to nature; nature in the sense of the outdoors, and nature as in my own nature, human nature.  Any therapist will tell you, awareness is the beginning.  I pay attention to that restless, slightly depressed feeling I get when I haven't gotten enough exercise outdoors and all I really want to do is go for a horseback ride.  Or that distracted feeling I get when I'm overwhelmed by obligations and need a quiet walk out of sight of the traffic and bustle of the city.  I pay attention to when I feel tired, and I try to let myself sleep right then, not in two hours when everything is done.  I try to eat real food, with ingredients I've heard of and can pronounce.  I remind myself to talk to my neighbor, instead of just nodding hello.  To really hug someone and look them in the eyes, try to see them as they are.  I water my plants and I feel the heartbeat of my dog.  I remember to breathe...to slow down.

For some of you, these things I am working on are already a part of your life, for others, these things may seem unimportant or unattainable.  The reason I write about them now, in the wake of such tragedy, is because I feel that the experiences that connect us to each other, to non-human creatures, and to our natural world, are the threads of humanity that keep us from ignoring, hurting, and destroying each other, and ourselves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter...I could have written on and on for pages, but had to stop somewhere.

Take care.