Dr Stewart Hase - Psychologically Speaking

The sounds of silence

Mostly I walk and jog for fitness and health. In fact I prescribe exercise for nearly all my patients who are able to put one foot in front of the other, stay afloat in a swimming pool or not fall off a bike. There is mounting evidence that exercise can directly help improve depressive symptoms it seems to positively affect the chemicals in the brain that become depleted in depression. There is no need to go fast (I was overtaken by a elderly lady on a Zimmer frame the other day while going up an particularly steep hill) just get the heart rate up for about an hour if exercising at walking pace and perhaps 30 minutes if more vigorously.

Anyhow, this last week my better half and I have been travelling around the South Island of New Zealand in a campervan. If you want to test your relationship spend 11 days in the confines of a campervan with very little opportunity for respite care. Mind you after 34 years I guess there is not much more to test for us other than learning how to grow old gracefully fat chance of that so far! But there is still much to learn from each other and this trip was no exception. Because I have a focus on fitness I walk quickly and my spouse complains, when we walk together, because she has much shorter legs and has to rush to keep up. On several walks, as I dragged her along in my slipstream, she pointed out that she would much rather look at the scenery, spot birds, examine the fungi on trees, and generally become engrossed in what is around her. And she told me that I was missing things by being in a rush. I guess, like most things, it is a question of motive or purpose that directs what we do and how we do it.

Its true though isnt it? We are so often in such a rush that we miss things; important things perhaps that others are telling us, things that we can learn from or just simply enjoy and revel in. Funnily enough I had a dream a couple of days into our trip about the Buddhist notion of being in the moment, so I must have been thinking about what she had been telling me. Its surprising how much thinking we do when we are asleep although I wish the dreams that result from this thinking wouldnt be quite so weird.

Lake Matheson is on the West Coast of the South Island and underneath, although some kilometres from, Mt Cook and the two famous glaciers (Franz Josef and Fox) that glide very slowly down the mountains. I went for the hour-long walk around this lake late on a rainy day so there was no-one else around. Hustling along I suddenly remembered my dream (and her) and just stopped. Surrounded by dense rainforest on one side and silky smooth lake on the other it was absolutely quiet and I sat down to listen to nothing. The sound of silence was overwhelming; magnificent and confronting at the same time.

Of course being occupied is a way of avoiding things. It gives us a reason for not noticing things that are happening around us. A reason for not responding; for not attending to things that are perhaps a little difficult or that dont come easy. Being occupied also means that we dont spend time with ourselves either; time in quiet reflection about what we are doing with our lives, our behaviour, our relationships, about us. Like getting into an exercise program, not doing things and taking notice of things around us and ourselves can be pretty difficult to do. But very worth the effort and also part of the equation for mental health.


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