The other day, I was talking to a coworker about how some people can predict the weather with their bodies or their arthritis, or at least knowing when a storm front is approaching. His wife developed this ability after a couple major surgeries. She was saying she felt as if a martial arts fighter had punched her in the gut really hard. He pulled up a weather radar image, showing rain on the horizon.
We are biological creatures, surrounded by and enmeshed within an atmosphere that is changing all the time. Barometric pressure is pressing down on us at every moment, whether we notice it or not. That atmosphere, including the air we breathe, has humidity that also swells and dries up. Temperature rises and falls.
There are more subtle characteristics of our invisible environment that we can feel. There might be a surplus of negative ions, which gives a feeling of exhilaration after a thunderstorm or when up close to a waterfall. All of these elements of the natural world we live in can be felt in and have an effect on our bodies.
These are experienced in direct and indirect ways. In my home we have a room at the back with a metal roof. Rain falling on it sure makes a racket! For years, we thought we had a slow leak in that roof. Several times roofers came out and re-sealed it, yet that didn’t stop the drips. Strange thing was that the dripping didn’t coincide with a storm. It would drip on a clear day, when there hadn’t been any rain.
Finally, another roofer suggested that it might be humidity, saying he’d been in an attic once where it was actually raining! He helpfully recommended we get a hygrometer to measure the humidity. Sure enough, the humidity in that room was 65% the first time we checked, and we saw it go higher. Normal room humidity is between 30 and 50%. We now have a dehumidifier in there and haven’t had a drip since.
The risks of high humidity are common knowledge to people working in heating, cooling and air conditioning. And everyone should know the dangers of a high heat index and a wind chill factor. Research has found drastic temperature swings of 30 degrees or more are stressful to warm-blooded mammals, like us. They can affect heart conditions and lead to depression.
We live and breathe the weather and the atmosphere, just like fish live and breathe the water they swim in. It’s part of us, and we are part of it. Similarly, we inhabit networks of friends, family relations, neighbors, communities, and are part of a larger human family on an increasingly connected world. We are touched and impressed upon by events that happen to us and to those we love and live with. There can be as much variation, shifting currents, and turbulence in our social, emotional, and spiritual atmosphere, as in the physical environment.
News of people struggling, people suffering, people dying can feel just like a cold front moving in, what to speak of actually experiencing it! Hearing or especially seeing footage of violent warfare can be shocking and traumatic, precipitating heart conditions and possibly causing depression. These can knock the wind out of our sails, leaving us frozen, unable to act, unsure of how to respond. Even more disturbing are the reports of aggression and hatred being carried out here on our soil, in this, our country. As individuals and as a community, we’re experiencing a bumpy ride. Some of us are getting motion sickness.
Please keep these things in mind when you greet your partner, you see a coworker, and when you pay for your groceries. The folks you interact with, they’re also enmeshed and embedded in these environmental systems, and they might be experiencing effects or having symptoms that aren’t immediately apparent. You can’t know what they’re feeling or thinking, without asking, without sharing. How we wish that the world would settle down a bit! You can help by being kind and considerate, realizing that we all breathe the same fluctuating air, we’re all under the same pressure systems. May the ripples you generate be gentle and regenerative.
David Soliday is the minister at the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.