Andersen: A prescription for well-being
November 23, 2015
It is a scandal that traditional medicine and Big Pharma hold so much sway when the prescription for health and vitality is planted in our deepest roots. We are all equipped with the means to living well, if we only knew it.
Keys to a life of well-being are found in the pages of a critically important book I recently discovered. "Your Brain on Nature" dispenses truths that counter the lockstep conformity of popular culture and the many untruths most of us have been conditioned to believe.
Written by Dr. Eva Selhub and Dr. Alan Logan, "Your Brain on Nature" takes us back to our ancient selves by linking us to 2 million years of evolution. Nature — not technology, economics or social media — made us who we are.
"Man is an outdoor animal. He toils of desks and talks of ledgers and parlors and art galleries, but the endurance that brought him these was developed by rude ancestors whose claim to kinship he would scorn and whose vitality he inherited and squandered. He is what he is by reason of countless ages of direct contact with nature."
That premise, written in 1902 for the Journal of the American Medical Association, challenges our dependence today on the techno-industrial world. It reawakens deep memories to our true heritage as people of nature.
We are organisms that formed long before industrialization or agriculture. We are primitive organisms that require connections with the natural world that nurtured us and fashioned us into homo sapiens.
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"Your Brain on Nature" warns that screen time is one of the greatest threats we face, and we face it, literally, from just a few inches away, gazing zombielike at our coveted devices. Most of us are screen addicts, and we don't have the vaguest idea what that's doing to us.
We face a similar threat from urban life and the tumult of stimuli that our brains must sort through for clarity and sanity. Nature is the most effective antidote to our growing psych-emotional ills.
Wilderness historian Rod Nash suggests that a wilderness can do more for mental health than hundreds of beds in a mental hospital. That's because our genesis as wilderness inhabitants remains deeply influential on our overall health. Nature is a necessary tonic against the barrage of inputs to which we are routinely subjected, usually for commercial profits and material ends.
The book is loaded with scientific evidence that our ancient selves possess native wisdom to which we give little credit today. The modern world overrules it with technological hubris — until something breaks down. That something is often the well-being of a stressed-out human organism.
An overtaxed brain leads to an unhealthy body, so corrective measures are often relegated to meds that merely cloak symptoms. We're pumped up by chemistry and filled up by processed foods. Health insurance is an expensive substitute when nature is there to heal for free.
Exercise in the woods, nurturing ourselves on wholesome, unprocessed foods, finding contemplation in natural settings — these are what our bodies, minds and spirits evolved from and what they still need.
"Your Brain on Nature" affirms that those in the best mental and physical health are more likely to be closer to the natural world. People of nature take roles as conservationists, land stewards, protectors of the biosphere. They have discovered their linkage to our collective, ancient past, and they work to protect it.
For others, industrial living affords little or no meaningful contact with nature. This is by design in a culture that favors virtual worlds over natural ones. The book suggests that we were never built solely for cities, machines, screens and the myriad stresses they produce. Technological life has knocked us out of balance.
We humans were built for pastoral landscapes, for sensory sensitivity, for physical activity in green spaces. We are best suited to landscapes that offer quiet, tranquility and repose. "Your Brain on Nature" is a paean to the beautiful and disappearing harmony of our ancient selves.
Sadly, this book is out of print, so I'm trying to import copies from Canada. Let me know if you're interested, and I will share them when I can.
Paul Andersen's column appears Mondays when he's not exposing his brain to something wild. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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