Category Archives: Philosophy

Nature as a Mirror and Reminder to Be Resilient

Isn’t it interesting how natural patterns seem to represent something far greater than the self? Wind carved stone. Water tunneling through rock over eons. Clouds stretching into the horizon. Nature thrives through an ingenious balance of tensions. Though erosion and entropy enact their little dances, slowly whittling away formations and structures, the environment continually pushes back, hanging on in the face of conflict. There is a vibrant message we can glean from gazing at our surroundings. Each challenge posed in our lives is not a sign to give up, but rather, a unique opportunity to fulfill our human potential for greatness and beauty.

As a recent example of how nature can impart survival lessons, it’s instructive to consider the partnership of SF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland (CHO) Primary Care Clinic and East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). These two entities bring families to nature to restore health. A shuttle takes patients, their families, and the clinic staff to a variety of East Bay Regional Parks the first Saturday of each month to participate in guided activities, exploring the great outdoors. “We look to nature to help our patients become resilient. We believe nature has the potential to heal because it buffers stress,” writes Nooshin Razani. “When people have trees and vegetation around them, they have lower blood pressure, better emotional control, and improved attention and cognition.”

The partnership’s work is backed by studies showing children who live attuned to nature build more resilience towards strife, such as divorce, trauma and bullying. We live in a world of ever-increasing technology. Distraction after distraction compete for our attention in the form of screens to look at and updates to respond to, leading to stimulus overload and stress. In spite of this, we mustn’t lose sight of our connections to nature. There is so much to gain from detaching from the hustle bustle of modern life. Seeking answers from nature’s deeply communicative silence can offer lessons on how to overcome life’s difficulties, especially when it comes to our health.

As an illustration of this empowering phenomenon it is worth considering the case of Renee Davis. Diagnosed with incurable Lyme Disease, she received pessimistic messages from both establishment medical authorities and well-meaning friends to accept defeat. At first, she sunk into depression. Over time, however, she found untapped strength through a renewed connection to nature. “Night doesn’t last forever. The season of winter is finite,” she writes. “The morning comes, always. Spring is certain. And so it goes with the turning of the seasons; the wheel of life. Our connection to nature situates us in this ecological and even cosmic truth. Though we may feel dark, lifeless, hopeless, these seasons in us will not persist. We may feel limited in our physical bodies, but this is not eternal.”

Moment to Moment Mindfulness Produces Lasting Positive Effects

What is mindfulness and why does it matter? Rooted in Buddhist tradition, the practice is believed to be over 2,500 years old. Mindfulness need not have any religious component, however. “Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. “It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives.”

Another way of thinking about mindfulness has to do with considering the mind as a muscle. Chances are you’ve spent time training the other various muscles in your body: your biceps, your quads, your pecs, etc. You know how good it feels when these muscles are working at peak performance. If not, you at least understand the purpose of exercising them in order to feel healthy and strong. Now what if you could train your mind the same way? What kinds of benefits might you experience? Increased focus, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, increased empathy and more cognitive flexibility, according to the American Psychological Association.

Let’s go over the reasons why. Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention defined as a meta-cognitive skill. In simple terms, this means, “cognition about one’s cognition that focuses on the monitoring and control of your thoughts.” Nowadays, we need this skillset because our awareness of the present moment is under attack. Distracting stimuli come at us from all directions: push notifications on our phones, Facebook updates, Twitter Direct Messages, video games, not to mention all the work and school obligations vying for our personal bandwidth. Answer this question truthfully. When was the last time you sat through anything, such as a movie or lecture, and didn’t have a conscious thought about something else you need to do or someone else you need to talk to?

Living in the moment through mindfulness re-centers us. It turns off other competing thoughts. It roots us in the present, allowing us to better focus our attention. According to mental health experts, Dr. Kirk Strosahl and Dr. Patricia Robinson, “Research indicates that brain training involving mindfulness practices can strengthen areas of the brain responsible for attention, emotional control, and problem solving… There is even emerging evidence that mindfulness-based brain training produces permanent structural changes in the brain.”

In addition to increased academic performance, mindfulness can have tremendously positive effects when it comes to our emotional outlook. Dr. Patricia C. Broderick’s work in Learning to BREATHE: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance, explores this phenomenon. She suggests there is a difference between knowing “about emotions and knowing your own emotions as they are experienced.” Learning to observe what’s happening in the present moment can help us get away from simply reacting to what’s happening to us. When we practice mindfulness it allows for the opportunity to develop resilience in the face of uncomfortable feelings that might otherwise provoke a negative response. Studies have shown adolescents who display this kind of emotional control are less prone to acting out through violence and/or abusing drugs.

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How ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ Archetypes Shape Our Children

The term archetype is a concept that Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, coined to describe an idealized or prototypical person, concept, or object. In a nutshell, archetypes can be thought of as the general idea our mind conjures when thinking about any of the above. For instance, if someone asked you to visualize an object, such as a car, the first image that comes to mind could be considered your “archetype” of a car. According to Jung, these archetypes reside in our unconscious minds, not just as pictures, but as ideals for how people behave too.

There are four basic archetypical energies that represent family members. These ideals can help us understand the closest people in our lives as well as our own identity or role in others’ lives. They are the Father, the Mother, the Boychild and Girlchild. It is important to recognize that each archetype has positive and negative aspects. For instance, a loving, positive mother archetype nurtures, teaches, and guides with unconditional love. A negative mother archetype is controlling and abandoning or even aloof.


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It gets really interesting when we extend this concept to understand others surrounding us. Broadly speaking, the archetypal energy of a person can be seen as a guide for what they have in their lives and/or what is lacking. For instance, a teenage boy that is afraid to participate in school sports and has trouble test-taking may be responding to negative archetypal father energy. A positive father archetype is supportive and protective, but a negative archetype seeks to control through harsh criticism. It’s no wonder that a boy exhibits shyness and lack of engagement when his father presents major negative archetype energy.

Generally, neither parent is black or white with their archetypical energy aspects. There is a significant amount of both negative and positive qualities. It should come as no surprise that meaningful mirroring between parent and child of positive energies is key to success later in life. For instance, Jung discusses the idea that the “Good Enough Mother” archetype tends to produce an adult that can better negotiate their relationships. Why? Because at an early age, the child that received that positive archetypal mother energy learned to trust that his/her needs would be met eventually, if not instantly. This allows the child to learn trust. By trusting others, we can form strong, loving bonds of mutual support.

As to be expected, there can be problems when a child is not receiving enough of the positive archetypal energies from a parent. When we try to understand why some young men and women commit violent crimes, vandalize, or show self-hatred, we ought to look to the archetypal energies affecting them. Perhaps, the problem is not only that one or more parents in a troubled child’s life may be mirroring negative traits, they could be mirroring nothing at all. They may be emotionally (or literally) absent. In that case, what are we as a society to do?

One suggestion is to consider community interaction. If a parent is unable or unwilling to provide positive archetypal energy, it is important to offer this through other means: a supportive relative, such as a loving aunt or uncle, a teacher mentor, or even a community center that can provide needed direction and good role modeling and youth mentoring.

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