Finding Peace On Earth
You may have read about a University of Leicester study that found that swimming with dolphins greatly improved depression scores. Researchers divided 30 patients into two groups; one literally swam with the dolphins an hour a day for two weeks, and the other swam and snorkeled dolphin-free in a natural setting. At the end of two weeks, the dolphin group had reduced their depression scores by half vs. a third in the control group.
Media accounts created the false impression that it’s all about the dolphins, which is bad news for those of us who don’t have a spare hot tub to frolic in with Flipper. Actually, it’s not about the dolphins. It may, in fact, have a lot more to do with something called “love.”
Occasionally, researchers are allowed to speculate. In this case, the editors of the British Medical Journal, where the article appeared, gave the authors of this study incredibly free rein. In explaining their findings, the authors noted that rates of depression are higher in industrialized societies than developing ones. "Biophilia," they say, is what Erich Fromm describes as "the need for cultivating the capacity for love as a basis for our mental health and emotional well-being."
Biophilia literally means “love of life.” Humans, animals, plants, you name it. Here the authors focus on nature. As they explain it, "Human health and well-being are strictly dependent on our relationships with the natural environment."
In other words, it’s OK to hug a tree, no matter what Rush Limbaugh says.
Not only that, hug your kids and your cat. If you don’t have a cat, get one. If you don’t have kids, well, think very carefully first.
The Buddhists teach “loving kindness” meditation. This involves quietly working at extending the range of your compassion beyond your own selfish concerns to include your loved ones. Then you kick it up a notch to embrace people you don’t necessarily like so much. That’s just the warm-up. The real test is to mentally embrace people you actually despise until you become a fountain of unconditional love radiating kind thoughts to all life forms, including animals that aren’t as cute as baby pandas.
I will be the first to admit I have a long way to go before I become proficient at even the more intermediate levels of this particular meditation. But when I first tried it nearly 20 years ago, I came to a stunning revelation that changed my life. I was jobless and friendless, the result of a devastating manic episode that had turned me into a social leper. I was mad at the world. It was everyone else’s fault, of course, not mine. Then I tried the meditation and realized I had far more hate in me than love. Even I knew there was something drastically wrong with that equation.
Life is tough enough without us acting as our own worst enemy. Hate is a luxury I simply can’t afford. Love, like everything else that is good for me, is something I need to keep working on.
From me, my wife Susan and our cat Holly, may there be peace on earth and good will to all men and women (and dolphins and pandas and the entire biosphere).
Published On: December 22, 2005
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