How City Drains You

25 Apr 2013

Working for the last several months from home I haven't been to the Melbourne's CBD. As it often happens, taking a break from something - be it a certain type or place of work, exercise or a relationship - anything really - helps to put things into a perspective and look at it from a different, if you like, angle.

Eureka Tower

There's three core problems with being in a CBD/downtown.

One. Melbourne is not a particularly bright place. On average we get 6 months of sunshine per year. It's the darkest capital city in Australia. It's not terribly green either - we sort of have a few trees here and there, but the parks are on the outskirts of the town, and while being quite within the reach of an average member of office plankton species, do little in alleviating the omnipresent domination of glass, concrete and chromed (if you're lucky, although it's mostly rusty) steel.

Two. It's is a documented fact that rats placed in an artificial environment (think cages and labyrinths of sorts) are more likely to engage in violent behaviour and drug abuse (I totally hear you, they were, like, giving those poor rats some drugs for free!). Humans are the same - it's unnatural for us to be in that sort of environment.

Three. Let's look at something else here now. It's hardly a surprise that our culture is largely an interruption culture. Lots of things are fighting for our attention - and advertising is the biggest offender. CBD is filled with it. It can be upfront and direct - such as store fronts literally blaring at you (have you ever passed that woman with a mic on Swanston street peddling the $5 clothing or another lady pushing discounted jewellery?). "Holier than thou" ads hanging from above. Or it can take slightly more insidious forms - such as smells of freshly baked bread and freshly roasted coffee.

We're surprisingly flexible and adaptable - so we learn to screen it out pretty quickly (try to remember when you noticed an ad somewhere online). Although it still takes a considerable toll on our cognition, eventually wearing us down and leading to shorter attention spans and unsatisfied cravings of all sorts - for coffee, sweets, that extra pint of a beer during the "happy hour", unwanted and unneeded impulse purchases (both retail and online).

So it's hardly a surprise that CBD drains the life out of you, making you feel miserable in the long run, causing you to buy shit you don't need or want. But provided you work in there, can you do anything about it? Apparently you can, and the solution is rather simple. It's been well documented that certain types of mental activity, namely attention training, helps to fight stress and bring about more inner peace and stability. And you can start with a very simple 30 seconds exercise.

I was quite skeptical about it initially, but gradually the length of meditation periods somehow naturally increased to around 30-45 minutes (I just don't want to get out of it, sitting and focusing for longer), and boy that time just flew. I don't even notice how quickly it passes, leaving me in a very calm and focused state. There are some really interesting effects that I notice straight after the meditation - I tend to speak softer, I am less anxious. These effects don't seem to be confined to just the post-meditation period. The life overall seems to become a bit more calm and peaceful. You know, Little-Book-Of-Calm-style.

Do you find that city takes the energy out of you? How do you cope with that?