07 June 2010

Taking Care of Ourselves

I believe it was the Bhagavad Gita that said, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

Well, given the tone of my post last week (and no, I didn't spend the week in bed with the covers pulled over my head), it's no wonder the Universe sent this article my way: Restoring Mental Vitality in an Endangered World: Reflections on the Benefits of Walking.

It's a journal article by Professor Raymond De Young in the Environmental Psychology Lab at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, published in the March 2010 issue of Ecopsychology [DOI: 10.1089/eco.2009.0043]. 
"Given the reality of a climate-disrupted planet and a decline in resource abundance, it is crucial that we maintain our abil- ity to cope. The urgency of getting started with the transition to sustainable living might have us think that taking time for mental restoration is self-indulgent. In fact, the opposite is true."
"Self-indulgent." Perhaps that is what's been going on in my mind and heart. Perhaps I've been conflicted, knowing I needed a break but feeling guilty for it. So while mind and heart were duking it out, my body took over and just crashed instead.
"This transition is crucial and overdue, but hard. The process requires that we think and act in clever, clearheaded, and new ways. Yet such thought and action can wear us out mentally. Burned out people cannot help heal the planet. Thus, we need to know specifically what mental capacity is wearing out, how it wears out, and the conditions under which it can be restored. This article explores these issues and: 
1. Suggests that coping with the environmental challenges we face demands a number of distinct mental and behavioral abilities. 
2. Suggests that these abilities each draw upon a mental resource defined as the capacity to direct attention. 
3. Explains what directed attention is, how it differs from another form of attention, how it fatigues, and the environments that help to restore it. 
4. Provides a prescription for maintaining this vital mental capacity. 
By following the prescription offered, we can restore and better manage our mental vitality. In a restored state we will have a greater ability both to pursue behaviors that heal nature and to learn to live well, within limits, on this one planet."

As you can tell from the title of the article, Prof. De Young's main prescription is walking. In natural areas. 
"[T]he simple activity of walking in natural settings, particularly walking mindfully, may be all that is needed for restoration." 
It sounds so, well, easy! But I have to admit, when I walk every morning along my favourite trail, I am happier (heart and spirit) and fitter (body), and I feel much more resilient mentally (mind).

It turns out that self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence. We must take care of ourselves if we are to take care of the future. 

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?