I’ve just finished reading E. O. Wilson’s book The Creation – An appeal to save life on Earth.
While it’s largely about, as you might glean from the subtitle, seeking to save life on Earth, there are parts that have got me thinking more closely to home, far more closely in fact.
I’m well aware of the wider importance of looking after our planet and how we can’t, as a species, go on over-populating it and plundering it until eternity. But there is something also about the harm posed to us as individuals from the very environments that surround us.
In ‘Rex Gordon’s’ science fiction story, The World’s of Eclos, that I finished reading at the end of last month, the author teams up his male astronaut for the long flight to Mars with a female companion for reasons based around the idea that he wouldn’t be able to cope, psychologically, on his own, and if paired with another male, they would likely beat each other to death. This novel was written over 50 years ago and I’m sure I’m right in thinking our modern-day astronauts must be far better trained to cope with the environments they are subjected to, such as being aboard the International Space Station for months at a time.
There is not only the mass of physical training these professionals go through, but also some psychological preparation also with certain individuals selected via a screening programme and psychological assessments; these people are away from their families and will be placed in, what is little more than a tin can, placed in earth’s orbit. They can’t step outside for some fresh air should something get a bit too much, they can’t give themselves much of a change of scenery beyond perhaps peering out of a different small window for a while, and they can’t just come home when they’ve had enough. The environment is unnatural, it is manufactured, it is simulated.
In The Creation, Wilson points out on page 68 that psychologists have realised that just a view of natural environments, such as parklands and savannahs, generally leads to a decline of feelings of fear and anger and creates tranquillity; this should be important information for those who suffer such things as stress, anxiety, and depression, but must be of consideration for those responsible for the well-being of the astronauts aboard the ISS.
I’m fortunate to live in the countryside; I can step outside and within a few minutes be surrounded by what can be termed ‘countryside’. An hour’s drive away and I can be amongst the mountains of Snowdonia, a beautiful place to walk (when the weather is right). Yet I still find myself experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, and even bouts depression. What gives?
I can more readily appreciate that people cooped up in an urban jungle of concrete and little in the way of greenery are surely more likely to suffer at the hands of their environment; perhaps some features of their environment work to counter this, or distract them. While the countryside that surrounds my home is green and refreshing it is, I realise, still manufactured. It largely consists of farmlands, which we must realise is an artificial environment. A field of crops, sheep or cattle are really unnatural spaces with nature largely tamed (although she could reclaim it in time). A field of one particular crop would sap-up the nutrients it desires within the space of a few years, hence the need to either rotate crops or replenish those nutrients artificially. Sheep and cows are kept segregated by gender for reasons taught by the birds and the bees, but I do wonder how depressing and anxiety-inducing this must be.
In trying to figure out what things cause my own heightened anxiety or bouts of depression (of which I’m fortunate to not suffer as severely as many), because it really isn’t so obvious to me, I have come to believe it is something to do with issues posed by being surrounded by (or surrounding ones self with) things one cannot obtain, or kept apart from.
Animals in a zoo are at worst kept in cages, and at best in an artificial environment that mimics a small segment of their natural habitat. Where endangered species are concerned that are in these places as part of a breeding project, the latter is all the more important, but the mental well-being of these creatures must be of importance because the chances of reproduction must be greatly reduced for the more unhappy animals. A similar issue occurs with us humans; for those failing to have children diet and lifestyle are often things that need to be addressed. Our artificial environments (and poor diets provided by them) are limiting factors not only affecting us in a physical way, but psychologically too – it seems only too obvious from reading Wilson’s book and considering such things that Mother Nature will seek to avoid bringing life into an environment for which is not suitable; we see this with plants we might try and fail to grow, and with the small creatures we might collect and try and rear as children.
This idea I posed regarding surrounding ourselves with things with cannot obtain may sound vague but it was recently given a nod in a dream I had that was presented to me in a form of lesson given to me by my dad. In this dream we approached a garden where children were playing and they were being offered colourful boxes, each of a different colour. Naturally the red box was deemed the most desirable colour and therefore only one child could have this. The boxes were all handed out, all really nice colours I thought, yet all the children with anything but a red box, when asked which box they preferred, wanted the red one; they weren’t happy with the coloured box they had and kept their eyes on the red one in the clutches of that fortunate child. I considered partly the jealousy that might ensue (although the children were all well behaved as they held their own boxes) but mostly the lesson to me seemed to be about the feelings of ‘anxiety’ that develop through not having what we want, the distracted thoughts this creates, and the inability to focus on something more meaningful. Wilson mentions a couple of times in Chapter 11 the idea of ‘Spiritual Energy’ that he believes we all have in superabundance; it seems to me that this artificial environment that has been developed around us is here to drain, deplete, and divert away such energy. We are subdued and stunted and left fatigued as we do battle with each day in an environment that no longer provides what we need to individually thrive; like animals in a field or caged in a zoo, we’re only given what we need to survive. (I should also mention that I’m also reading David Icke’s The Biggest Secret!)
All too often I see how people who aspire to expensive material things (for example) obsess over such things – this is encouraged through the likes of advertising, the media, and the artificial world portrayed around us. Perhaps this is borne out because these things might either be entirely unobtainable (because, lets face it, not everyone will become a billionaire), or would take ‘too much’ effort or maintained dedication to acquire. This likely leads to feelings of low self-esteem, and thus anxiety and depression. I’m no psychologist but this is how I’m relating my own such feelings.
A way to escape from, or at least reduce or bring under control such feelings would be to consider the environments we find or place ourselves in.
– Logging onto the internet and seeing a world of others with things and a life we don’t have; using it as an escape from getting on with our own lives
– Watching TV that portrays lifestyles we are encourage to desire, or watching depressing news that instils negative feelings, worry and fear
– Shops with a mass of stuff we don’t need but are there, still, surely because we should want them
– Seeing other people with things we don’t have, such as driving flash cars or having a nicer house
Those are largely material things and pose more of a jealousy issue I think, even if it simmers quietly, but how might our environments be better?
I’ve come to see that my own environment and routines at home in that environment are one of being shut away in a room with little view of the outside world; my office has two small windows and I sit facing the screen that sits in front of a wall – I can’t see outside. This is made worse through these winter months (which we are thankfully gradually heading out of, but I’ll try and remember this lesson for next winter!) If you want to change your habits then change your environment, is something I heard recently.
Obviously spending as much time outside, among ‘nature’ is the best thing, but when indoors the environment we surround ourselves with needs to be optimum for our own well-being, and surely many of us can improve this for ourselves.
I have recently been making a renewed effort to limit the time I spend sat at my computer, by way of an electronic timer, which has been making a difference; which it clicks off and my screen goes blank and anything I’m listening to falls silent, it provides a much needed switch in my awareness and a cue to change tasks to one away from my computer; I find myself looking forward to this ‘click’ or preparing for it. I don’t always finish what I want to finish in the time I have allocated (such as this blog post) but there is always the next two-hour slot.
Finding the brightest and most open room in my home to spend more time in, rather than spending it hidden away will be a step forward. One feature my home does sadly lack is a view of the distant mountains that I know are not all that far away, but I can develop and work with what I do have. And what I do have is a relatively bright/sunny room that has a wall of windows looking outside. Sadly I have avoided this room for a while since it is cluttered with materials for a DIY project I have also been avoiding.
My overriding thought regarding this topic is that it seems our environment is surely a cause for such things as anxiety and depression. These issues appear to be on the rise, along with cases of suicide, especially young men it seems, or at least more and more people are talking about this. Awareness is one thing, but actively addressing such things is another.
Well, my writing time is well and truly up for today, I hope these thoughts and ideas will be of use to you.