Powering Down

Academic Dean Denise Savidge

Academic Dean Denise Savidge

“You aren’t depressed; our brains just aren’t equipped for 21st-century life.” This quote comes from esteemed health expert Andrew Weil, M.D. from his new book Spontaneous Happiness. And since we really have no choice in which century we’re destined to exist, that statement sounds like it could be a major bummer … sending us all into a tailspin spiral of, well, DEPRESSION.

But wait, there’s more. “In my experience, the more people have the less likely they are to be contented. Indeed there is abundant evidence that depression is a ‘disease of affluence’,” he adds.  To which I breathe a huge sigh of relief, because everybody knows teachers don’t typically drive Maseratis and earn salaries in six-figure range. However, the population that does still has an out … specifically the outdoors.

Dr. Weil goes on to discuss the overload of information and stimulation present in the age of the Internet. Very few of us these days are far removed from our email, mobile phones, texts, televisions or tweets [information surfeit]. Meanwhile we’re missing out on very important time spent outdoors [Richard Louv has coined it “nature deficit”]. The combination is causing us problems. He further explains, “This kind life simply was not an option throughout most of human history,” and therefore the brains we’ve developed just aren’t equipped to handle all this chaos we’ve created.

Weil’s solution? Since throwing away the communication links would make it difficult for most of us to keep our jobs, he offers five Tips for Modern Life. Paraphrased, they are:

1) Bring more of your awareness to the present moment and train your mind and concentration on one thing.

2) Sleep in complete darkness. Try to be out in bright light during the day.

3) Reach out to others. Be social.

4) Avoid disturbing sounds. Try to cultivate silence.

5) Set limits on the amount of time you spend with modern technology.

His advice reminds me of the Cherokee Creek Medicine Wheel and many of our underlying philosophies for helping boys reach a state of good health. On campus one will often hear, “Be present in the moment.” We arrange outdoor activity for our boys numerous times during the day, including PE before class to prepare our learners to learn and even off campus wilderness Treks on the weekends. We live in social “packs” and advocate community-cooperation. And we severely limit television, video games, and internet usage. Using Weil’s standards, our therapeutic program is the perfect storm toward curing depression.

As adults, it’s important to remember that modern technology is a little like, “too much of a good thing,” kind of like a goose laying a golden egg every minute and a half instead of once a day. Soon we will be spending our time gathering the eggs and find we have no time left to enjoy the rest of our life! And that’s depressing.

In what area could you let go of a few eggs? And might there be platinum or rare jewels awaiting you in the outdoors?

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (4)