Thursday, August 25, 2011

Creation Restoring Lutherans? Creation Corner Column, August 2011

An article in the September 2011 issue of ODE: for intelligent optimists ( piqued my interest. Its title is "Take a Hike." The subtitle, "How attention restoration theory shows that nature sharpens the mind" and the pull-quote on p. 25 ("...exposure to nature restores our cognitive functions, enabling us to concentrate better") seemed to be ancient biblical wisdom that we all have experience with (see examples in The Green Bible: NRSV). And now it is being put to the scientific test.

For Lutherans, and anyone else, having trouble concentrating, cannot focus, perhaps diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), being mentally restless, unable to problem-solve, having mild memory loss, having "brain-fade" as our brains are being overloaded with our "multi-tasking" amidst a glut of information (sensory overload) in a complex world, all leads to our being "stressed out."

The "take-a-hike" solution comes from the therapeutic application of "attention restoration theory" (ART): a walk in the woods, perhaps sitting at the seashore, gazing at clouds, tending a garden (horticultural therapy). Nursing homes provide an "Eden" setting, trying to replicate some of the outside nature, inside. Post-surgical improvement may be enhanced in natural scene settings.

Spending time in some environmental or natural settings (nature, God's creation) potentially restores us. Green space within urban environments, green housing, urban forests, "certified" tree cities, parks, provisions for bike lanes, the relationship between how neighborhoods are designed with walkability and obesity in mind, anti-noise ordinances, architecture that is "open" to the outdoors, et cetera, may all point to what the field of environmental psychology says are "conditions under which people are more reasonable and more environmentally responsible" and "where the influence of fatigue-producing environments are reduced."

Perhaps our experience of "flow", a psychological concept proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "a mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity" can be facilitated by attention restoration therapy in nature.

Perhaps we are genetically "hard-wired", given our origin "in the garden," to seek and experience benefits that are stimulated by our exposure to, and involvement with, creation (aka nature, the natural environment).

More study is warranted, of course. One "ecopsychology project "seeks to unravel the factors that either enhance or detract from an individual's sense of feeling connected to nature." There is the biophilia hypothesis to explore: it posits, according to Edward O. Wilson, that there is an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems (a "love of life" that would lead us to protect what we love?).

What role does an environment have in prompting people to be more reasonable, effective and psychologically healthy? What are the implications of sprawl or non-sprawl on our psychological well-being and sense of community? How can the municipal planning process anticipate the consequences? What results from window-less environments, and does it make a difference to us what we see from a window? Is our identity improved through environmental stewardship?

Much of this work in the field was stimulated by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in their 1989 book The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. Today there is the International Association for the Study of People and their Surroundings. And many readers are acquainted with the phrase popularized by Richard Louv, nature-deficit disorder.

Note: ODE magazine, is according to the publisher, "the first independent, international magazine for positive change. ODE reports on whatever works in our world. It may seem strange but that is an exceptional editorial mission in today's world where most media focus daily on whatever, wherever wrong. ODE presents itself as the magazine 'for intelligent optimists'---for the people who know that there is (the beginning of) a solution for every problem.

ODE was founded in The Netherlands in 1995 and launched its first English edition in the United States in 2003. ODE is currently published monthly (except February and August) in Dutch and English from offices in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and Mill Valley, California.

The Creation Corner Column compiler, Michael Ochs, earned a B.A. degree from Gettysburg College in 1965.

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