Psychoadaptation VII: Walking and Thinking

Every week I walk part of the Cliff Walk in Newport,RI while my son plays tennis. The walk goes along the ocean starting just above First Beach and winds its way quite a bit around the coast to end of Bellevue Avenue. I get off at Narragansett Avenue, as I only have a limited amount of time to get back to tennis and watching my son play. Yet, I use this short time to reflect upon all the issues that burst into consciousness at the time. The psyche is efficient and makes use of every moment it’s afforded.

Thoughts have a way of making themselves known and violating one’s peace. The most persistent violators are the thoughts associated with current dilemmas, or old unsolved issues. For instance, when money is at issue, finances flood my consciousness. When the issue is health, thoughts of illness and mortality make their presence known. We cannot escape our problems, we have to deal with them, and consciousness has a way of alerting us to our current issues, or perhaps it’s the unconscious.

I am an advocate of psychoadaptation, as my faithful reader knows. Psychoadaptation is about psychological adaptation. Psychoadaptation necessitates adapting to our environments. Once one commits to psychoadaptation, one starts to learn about one’s environment in profound detail, and then seeks to adapt one’s self (including conceptions) to the environment’s constraints in order to achieve equilibrium and perceived success. Knowing the context’s constraints forces one to judge the self in relation to the constraints, turning one’s mind’s eye inward. Once this occurs, it is difficult to not start judging one’s self. However, instead of this being a sign of pathology as self-judgment is often portrayed, this self-scrutiny is a key step towards mental health. One starts identifying gaps between the real and ideal, and seeks to fill said gaps with behaviors and cognitions appropriate to one’s current position.

Walking is a great opportunity to assess one’s standing in relation to the environment and it’s constraints, and the gaps. It’s an escape from reality, literally, as one “walks” away from trouble. However, in freeing one’s self (or one’s conscious mind) from commitments, at least temporarily, the unconscious mind starts exerting it’s influence. Issues unresolved come to the forefront, and we have to deal with them. This is where psychoadaptation differs from meditation and Eastern religion. Instead of chasing away thoughts like birds from a clothes line, we invite them in, and then have the audacity to fire them! This process, what I like to call “The American Zen”, is the Western equivalent of Eastern passivity.  In the West, we are active rather than passive. Instead of moving around barriers, we crush them with a tank. I am an American and I advocate this practice. When we see barriers in our path to happiness, we destroy them; I destroy them when they barricade me from my future. Ironically, in the end we (the Buddhists and practitioners of psychoadaptation) achieve similar aims. The Buddhist achieve happiness because the Buddhist eschews all reality. It is difficult to have worldly concerns when one lives (cognitively speaking) outside of the real world. For the Westerner, reality is, well, reality. We are not able to escape it, so we must confront it. If one confronts one’s walls, and knocks them down, there is nothing left to worry about and one has mental peace.
Psychoadaptation works by identifying one’s barriers through listening intently to the self (mindfulness), and then destroying those barriers. Barriers keep appearing when one chooses to actively live in the real world. Walking is a perfect way to identify them. That’s why I walk. The longer the walk the better!

The art of learning and skiing

It’s been a great season so far. My son loves skiing, and as a parent desiring to find a good activity for him to do other than video games, I am more than happy to take him skiing. Yes, it’s expensive but as a researcher I always know how to find good deals. My son has skied for free most of the winter as fourth and fifth graders (New Hampshire) and fifth graders (Vermont) can ski for free with a paying adult. Pennsylvania has the same deals and indeed that’s where my son learned to ski. Also, many deals exist for the thorough and patient shopper. We stayed at a motel recently in North Conway, NH, that provided discount tickets to Cranmore and Wildcat (and Attitash) at nearly half the price! Thus, with a little work we’ve been able to ski plenty for a lot less. This is important because my son has become a pretty good little skier and has a hobby he can pursue for the rest of his life. I’m very thankful for that.

As for me, I’ve had to become a better skier too, just to keep up with him. This has been a challenge that I have welcomed, at least most of the time. Given I am not that fond of heights, it’s been an adventure. Yet, with time and seeing diverse terrains, I have adapted. What was once horribly frightening, is now not much more than a little bunny slope. I’ve graduated to a lower intermediate and can now handle some mildly to moderately steep slopes. Make no mistake about it, I cannot handle really steep stuff, nor am I really interested in doing more than cruising down long green and blue trails, but the change from the beginning of the season to now is nothing short of phenomenal for me.

Learning is adaptation. Adaptation requires one to conform to novel constraints. Nothing helps one learn to adapt better than diversity. Skiing different slopes has made me confront varying steepness, bumps and conditions (powder to ice), crowds, and whatever other obstacles a normal ski day can put forth. I’ve slipped and fallen, and skidded and jumped. All this has made me more comfortable with the next time I confronted those circumstances; I am scaffolding a series of skiing schemata that I can appeal to each time a new situation occurs. Further, knowing that there is great diversity in ski terrains, I know to expect nothing and therefore am not surprised by much.

In addition to adaptation, I am mindful of my body. Our physiological systems are ancient, created by years of evolution; they are quite savvy. Our bodies tell us when we are confronting something beyond our means; they know. I have learned to listen to my body and I now do what I can do, not what I am not ready to do. Last week, for instance, I advanced to a steeper slope. I looked at it and felt it wouldn’t be hard. I didn’t say to myself, “let me challenge myself by trying something really hard just to see if I can do it”. Instead, I said to myself, “I can do that”. I could do it because through adaptation I was ready for it. Yet, every day is a new day, at least that’s what my experience tells me. Each day brings different snow and weather conditions, as well as different skiers to the slopes, altering the constraints even at the same resorts. Thus, I’ve learned not to expect the same performance from day to day. I may be more or less confident next time. I may jump to harder slopes right away or retreat to easier ones for a warm up. Such is the nature of life and adaptation; constraints change and so must I.

I think skiing is an excellent way to learn psychological adaptation (psychoadaptation) as one learns that nothing is constant and one must continue to adjust the self to master the environment. I’ll keep you posted.