Drawn to Water


I have always been drawn to water. I’m not alone in feeling this pull.

Perhaps there is something to that lunar pull that moves the tides.  The “lunar effect” is usually defined as a real or imaginary correlation between specific stages of the roughly 29.5-day lunar cycle and behavior and physiological changes in living beings on Earth, including humans. Examples of this belief have been found in ancient Assyrian/Babylonian writing.

There have been plenty of studies to consider any effects on humans. Some studies have found no correlation between the lunar cycle and human biology or on our behavior. One that I found seemed to indicate that there seems to be an effect on humans based on the amount of moonlight rather than tidal pull. An ancient belief that survived into modern times was that the monthly cycle of menstruation in women was lunar based, ut that is now considered a coincidence in timing without lunar influence.

I don’t feel any monthly pull to water, but like Ishmael in the opening of Moby-Dick, I do find myself drawn to the ocean several times a year.

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”

Maybe Ishmael was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As someone who grew up with time at the Jersey Shore every summer of my life, I find that “high time to get to sea” more of a spring event than a November one.

My most regular pull to water is to local waters. There are brooks and creeks in the woods where I frequently walk that I am always drawn to visit.  There is something in the tumbling water that I find very appealing.

That is magnified when I visit waterfalls nearby, from the small Hemlock Falls that was childhood destination to the Great Falls of the Passaic River. (Take a look at the Great Falls.)

There is science to this attraction. The dispersion of water from waterfalls, waves, or even lightning and water evaporation from plants, create hydrogen ions by splitting water molecules. The negative electrons join up with other free positive electrons in the air neutralizing their electrical charge. That is why people buy air ionizers (negative ion generator) which uses a high voltage charge to ionize air molecules and generate negative ions. Negative, in this case, is a good thing. A trendy, new-age version is the Himalayan salt lamps that are sold.

Naturally-occurring negative ions are said to have health benefits including enhancing the immune system, increasing alertness, productivity, and concentration. There are claims that you can get relief from sinus, migraine headaches, allergies, and asthma attacks.  Some tests have shown that negative ions can stabilize alpha rhythms in the human brain. (Alpha waves usually occur when we are awake and relaxed.)

I would consider water therapy as effective as “forest bathing” and other get-into-nature therapies.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” is a common English proverb.  It’s an old one, going back to 1175 in Old English Homilies: “Hwa is thet mei thet hors wettrien the him self nule drinken” which is translated as “who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?”

You can lead people into nature or to the water, but they may not drink in its benefits. You have to be drawn towards it on your own.

As a child, Cub and Boy Scout and independent hiker and walker of the woods, I discovered early on that I was attracted, like other animals, to water. Animal paths made by deer and other creatures inevitably lead to a water source. Another quote from Moby-Dick, talks about this attraction to water and not only the sea.

“Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries–stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.” 

As I wander in the woods, naturally-made paths do lead downhill because they were first worn by rainwater and then by animals making their way to a pool, pond or stream.

We are drawn to water. And that is a good thing.

Static Electricity and the Positive Effects of Negative Ions

plasma ball
Plasma ball

As a young boy, I was fascinated by static electricity. Electricity that I could produce! I wondered why some scientist hadn’t figured out how to harness this power to make electrical devices go. Those pops and zaps and sparks when we rub our feet on the carpet or take clothing off or out of the dryer seemed to come from nowhere.

I don’t recall ever having a science lesson in school about static electricity, though I have tenuous memories of rubbing balloons to produce it that may have been a class demonstration.

This morning there was a zap when I kissed my wife good morning. Ah, a spark is still there! I don’t want science to kill romance, but it led me to do some research into what was really happening.

Static electricity is one of the oldest scientific phenomena people observed and described. Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus made the first account; in his sixth century B.C. writings, he noted that if amber was rubbed hard enough, small dust particles will start sticking to it. Three hundred years later, Theophrastus followed up on Thales’ experiments by rubbing various kinds of stone and also observed the “power of attraction.” But neither of these natural philosophers found a satisfactory explanation for what they saw. ”            Source 

Of course, it would be another two thousand years before the English word “electricity” was coined (from Latin “electricus,” meaning “like amber”). In that time, static electricity was more of a magic trick used to make things magically attract – like a paper to a charged hand.

Winter Blues

Despite the holiday season – or maybe because of the holidays – a lot of people get the winter blues. Sure, everyone gets a little down occassionally. And if I asked you questions like those you hear on TV commercials for anti-depressants, I am likely to get answers of Yes from almost everyone. Would you answer Yes to 5 or more of these questions?

  1. Do you sometimes feel sad?
  2. Do you find yourself more unhappy in winter?
  3. Are you irritable with others?
  4. Do you want to sleep more?
  5. Do things seem more hopeless lately?
  6. Do you have difficulty concentrating on one task?
  7. Has your appetite increased? Have you gained weight? Do you crave carbohydrates and “comfort food?”
  8. Have you been choosing not to be social with friends?
  9. Do you lack energy?
  10. Has your desire for sex decreased?
  11. Do you find yourself thinking more about dying?

It seems like most of us could answer in the affirmative to at least some of those questions.

Those questions are really just a list of symptoms for the very real Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I wrote about SAD a few years ago, but it is truly a seasonal topic and one worth writing about again.

I know it is something that affects me. I have done a good amount of reading on it, and have tried several methods of alleviating it with mixed results.

There is actually one of those embarrassingly-titled books called Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies that is a decent introduction to the disorder.

According to Seasonal Affective Disorder: Practice and Research, SAD affects 1 in 100 adults in Western countries and is a rare example of a psychiatric disorder with a clear, identifiable biological cause.

When people have recurrent episodes of depression as the days get darker, colder, and shorter  in late fall and winter, it may not require counseling or anti-depressants. That is especially true if you find that this depression often improves or disappears at other times of the year.

I have read that it can turn into chronic depression if left untreated as it and the behavior changes carry over into spring and summer. SAD is seen more often in women and typically begins in the teen years or during early adulthood.

If you go to a psychiatrist or psychologist, you may very well be treated with talk therapy and antidepressants. Those might even help.  SAD can be misdiagnosed as infectious mononucleosis, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome or other viral infections. The indicator that your mood may be SAD is your reaction to changes in environmental light.  For severe sufferers, even a dark, overcast spring day affects their mood negatively.

But SAD is also a disorder that seems to respond better to self-care in that you need to change your eating habits, get on a regular sleep schedule, exercise, avoid alcohol – and literally go into the light. A therapist might be useful in helping with these life changes if they recognize that SAD is the cause.

Of course, I am not a therapist or doctor and although some of these treatments are perfectly safe to try, if the depression worsens, people should certainly seek professional help and indicate that they feel SAD may be the cause. The National Alliance of Mental Illness at www.nami.org might be a place to start.

Sunlight and negative ions

The most common treatment is a light therapy using natural sunlight or artificial light that mimics sunlight. This doesn’t mean sitting under your reading lamp or in a brightly lit office with fluorescent tubes. This light is normally a very bright – 10,000 lux – and light therapy is typically most effective if the exposure time is at least 30 minutes daily and occurs in the early morning.

Ironically, light therapy should be avoided when taking certain medications that make you extra sensitive to sunlight which includes some antibiotics, antipsychotics, and even psoriasis medications.

The special lights can be expensive. Of course, even if it’s cold, getting out into real sunlight is cheap and very effective. The problem is that in cold weather, we don’t expose much of our skin to light. You’re not looking to get a suntan and a daily walk in a park might be enough.

I have checked into the real therapy lamps and they are cost-prohibitive for many people. (For me, insurance would not pay for them.) But since writing my earlier post on SAD, I discovered some inexpensive CFL full-spectrum light bulbs that might be part of your own therapy.

SAD may be one reason some people crave a trip to a sunny beach in the winter – but that’s probably true for almost everyone by the time it is mid-winter.

Another easy remedy to try is Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin that we normally get through regular exposure to sunlight.  It’s a good vitamin that is often cited as helping prevent or treat osteoporosis, depression, prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity.  Vitamin D is produced by your skin when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from natural sunlight. Those rays cannot penetrate glass, so sitting on the couch or in a car is not going to help.  I have read that it is nearly impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D just from your diet, so sunlight exposure is the only reliable way to generate vitamin D in your own body.

I’m wary of all the supplements that are available in drug and health stores, but some studies I have read say that carefully timed supplements of the hormone melatonin can help people with SAD. Of course, the warnings on the side of even these seemingly-safe supplements is enough to scare people.

In the book, The Light of Day: A Mindbody Approach to Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder, the author takes what I would consider to be a fringe approach to the disorder. The book recommends combining light therapy and hypnosis. It discusses the differences between hypnosis & self-hypnosis.

Some people use air ionizers (negative ion generators) which is a device that uses a high voltage charge to ionize air molecules.

Negative ions, or anions, are particles with one or more extra electrons, conferring a net negative charge to the particle. Ions are de-ionized by seeking earthed conductors, such as walls and ceilings. These negative ions are very positive for your mental health.

There is a wide range of ionizer devices. Some are relatively inexpensive and may not be very effective. I’m not sure about the effectiveness of natural crystal salt lamps (above) which are sometimes called “nature’s air purifiers.” When the lamp is lit, it emits negative ions. More mainstream are the room air purifiers that people with allergies often buy which often include ionizers.

As with getting the right light, there are also some no-cost ways to surround yourself with these good negative ions. Moving water generates negative ions, so waves, waterfalls, water over rocks in a stream, or even evaporation releases negative hydrogen ions into the atmosphere. These negative ions can stick to different free radicals and so are very beneficial for our health. If any of those water sources are nearby, sit and read a book nearby!

Unfortunately, any kind of depression puts us in a mood to stay home, avoid people, eat junk, drink alcohol, take drugs, smoke, and sleep excessively – all the things that work against feeling better.

Getting out in these winter months when the weather tells you to stay in is tough.  But you need the sunlight. And exercise and being in nature are always good ideas.

Yes, you can read more about SAD, but even books that say on the cover that they include Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder need to be coupled with you taking some action to help yourself.