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Let There Be Light

Apr 26, 2012 11:24AM ● By Richard McGinnis

Nothing beats an hour or so of yoga, followed by some gentle, contemplative meditation. But being Midwesterners, constantly in the grip of unpredictable weather, we should consider our options when given the opportunity to spend time outside. If you belong to a gym or are thinking about joining one, you can always work out inside. This year, good fortune smiled on us as winter migrated to spring, and the early appearance of post-hibernating humans in the great outdoors did not go unnoticed. Perhaps you got out on your bike, walked the dog a bit more or took your meditative mind to the lake, the park or out into the yard.

Ever hear of the pineal gland? It is a tiny, rice-grain-sized part of the human brain, located roughly in the center of your head. It is often called the “third eye” and resembles a pinecone (hence pineal), with a mountainous microscopic landscape. One of the few parts of the brain with its own dedicated blood supply, the pineal gland is also photosensitive (hence eye) and regulates serotonin and melatonin. It has some other fascinating characteristics that will blow your mind.

The pineal gland is a primary player in our physiological response to seasonal shifts. We want to sleep less because there is more ambient natural light, and we feel happier when the weather is conducive to outside activities. On a primitive level, it helps signal our instincts for planting, hunting, gathering and building up stores of food.

You can try to fight those primitive natural urges as spring unfolds by continuing to work on your dissertation, playing a few more video games or clinging to your DVD collection of Desperate Housewives and gaining a few extra pounds on the couch, but why fight it? Get outside. Tune into that tiny part of your mammalian brain and get your posterior out into the sunlight.

The answer to my own persuasive pineal Siren’s call is gardening. Nothing makes me happier and connects me to life more than growing my own food, watching the honeybees and browsing farmers’ markets to appreciate the diligence of fellow producers. These wonderful spring months of real potential are enough to get me through all of the dark days of winter. The month of May is euphoric, and a pineal high in every possible way. The soil is warming up to its full potential, offering up a plentitude of gifts. From the tender lettuces and spinach to spring onions, crisp chard, beet greens and edible blossoms, we are blessed with a bounty of tasty treasures.

It is not too late. If you have not started sowing seeds, now is the time. Want to lose a few pounds and get some pigment into your winter mushroom-like skin tone? Work up a small patch of yard or buy a window box and turn your attention to digging, weeding and watering. Feeling too new to dive into your own gardening commitment? Take a class. Check out the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s educational classes; there are fun things to do for the entire family ( The Chicago Botanic Garden ( offers some amazing programs and resources for novice and seasoned gardeners alike: click on the “Your Garden” tab. The Morton Arboretum’s slogan, “Come to your senses” is a compelling antidote to any blah condition ailing you ( The wealth of knowledge and fun available from these resources and others gives you every reason to restore your “third eye” and no excuse to miss out on nurturing your primal need for growth. Walk into the light!

Richard McGinnis, former publisher of Mindful Metropolis, rabid gardener, passionate beekeeper and fun-loving hen-tender, is a complete clash of hayseed farm boy meets stylish urbanite. His collection of well-worn nail brushes is a testament to his love of dirt.