As if I could really get more inefficient, I have a new commitment to walking. Last week when I was going to see Dave in the hospital, I rode the train to 5th and Market so I could go to my bank (which Wells Fargo closed), so I ended up traipsing all over the place figuring out how to make my deposit. It was good for me. There are many advantages to traipsing. For one thing, I discovered a bakery that had “communal table” in their title and bought my cell the largest loaf of bread I have ever seen in my life. But the best thing about traipsing was being out in the sun, being with people, getting exercise. It was good for my soul.
In the latest Newsweek, Andrew Weil verifies scientifically what most of us know instinctively. The modern world is not really that good for us. We experience what Dr. Weil calls, “nature deficit” and “information surfeit.” As a result, a lot of us are depressed. Depression is a “disease of affluence.” In general, people who live in places that are furthest removed from modern standards have the lowest rates of depression. Amish people are ten times less depressed than the “English” who live in Philly. The human body was never designed for the postindustrial environment. We were not designed to be indoors so much, to eat industrially-altered food, to be isolated with our machines swimming in a deluge of electronic info. We all know we should be running around in groups hunting mastodons or sitting around in groups sorting seeds. Instead, we are vainly trying to adapt our brains and bodies to do what they can’t really do and they are rebelling by making us depressed.
My favorite solution to this dilemma is moving to Samara beach in Costa Rica and increasing my vitamin D intake enormously via my new-found skill of wind-surfing. Given that I sense God’s call to maintain my part of his mission to the megalopolis, I need to exercise some other options and so do you, probably. Let’s maintain ourselves well so we have the brain-health to be creative lovers in the Philly region! The church, as it turns out, is right in line with the scientists in this pursuit. We Jesus-followers, knew a lot about positive psychology before UPenn’s Martin Seligman and others popularized it sans Jesus. Here is a list of things we can do to encourage our mental health:
1) Practice meditation. We do this in our meetings sometimes. We’ll have an Advent day retreat to teach it and do it. As an every day discipline, meditation is a strong antidote to the brain-poisoning modern world. Our brains overeat mental junk food. Meditative prayer helps us develop concentration and the ability to attend to ourselves and to God. Rather than multi-tasking our way through life, we learn to be aware in the present moment.
2) Sleep in the dark and get out in the sun during the day. Walk somewhere! Our sleep rhythms are impacted when we spend all our waking hours in artificial light and extend that into the dark. If the city lights are getting through your blinds at night, get some blackout curtains. Better sleeping means less depression.
3) Stay social. This is a gift the church gives big time, since we make community a priority. It is a powerful safeguard to emotional well-being. The way of post-industrial society is toward more atomization all the time. We are often locked up in machines or relating through them. It is isolating and dangerous.
4) Cultivate silence. Listen to pleasant sounds. Again, the church is good for this. We often practice silence together. Sometimes our music is beautiful; at least it is human and allows us to experience some natural sounds that relate to who we are most deeply. Some noise-cancelling headphones might be nice to have if you live in a noisy neighborhood. Making regular field trips to places where you can hear the wind blow or listen to running water is a good idea. Fortunately, we have Fairmount Park. Just sitting by one of our rivers can absorb a lot of sound and cultivate some inner silence.
5) Discipline your devices. The mobile internet so many of us have now dilutes our attentiveness even more. Info overload cultivates ADD. There has to be some limits to the amount of time we spend on the internet, with email or on the phone. Some of us have more capacity to work the machines than others. All of us, however, need to be the masters of our machines and not vice versa.
On another walk the other day, I passed by St. George Cathedral and the doors were open. It was time for daily mass. I had never been in the building so I decided to check it out, even though I was a bit afraid that I was interloping. They did not kick me out and I had a few minutes of quiet, listening to the priest chant the mass. I felt invigorated, like I had been hunting mastodons and stumbled upon a beautiful waterfall. The city is full of healthy things to do. The church is a big help.