Challenge the Self and all its ugliness to move forward

 

A Journey into the Self

 

Right now, we each are here and now, in our particular Selfs. The Self is unique and the product of our experience, and our adaptations to our various microsystems (i.e., our immediate face-to-face settings). For instance, a couple has its own set of rules governing successful adaptation to its microsystem, just as does a lacrosse team or a college course. Our Selfs are the sum total of all those adaptations, positive or negative.

 

Development always proceeds from the simple to the complex. Experience in our various settings provides the nourishment for us to develop into our unique Selfs. Each Self develops at its own rate and in proportion to the exposure experienced in its various settings. This of course depends upon the exposure provided by more experienced members of society (Lev Vygotsky would be happy). Thus, a wealthier individual with parents who have a propensity to travel will experience more systems than an individual growing up in poverty and with little exposure to diversity. The greater the exposure, the more contexts to which the individual must adapt. Such is Self-development; exposure is the input that allows the Self to flourish.

 

Exposure is key, and allows one to adapt to multiple contexts. The more contexts to which one is exposed, the more likely one is to feel comfortable across settings. Comfort is no more than a synonym for equilibrium. However, exposure is not enough. In the progression that is life, individuals experience a great deal. Much of this experience is positive, yet an equal if not greater amount is quite negative. When negative experiences occur, they drastically impact the path to the True Self. Negative experiences are painful and therefore are avoided to preserve the Self. Indeed, it is an unspoken rule that we should avoid pain and pursue pleasure (Seymour Epstein). Pleasure means a lack of pain.

 

Seymour Epstein articulated this best when he described the functions of the Self, one being the avoidance of pain in pursuit of pleasure. However, to attain the highest Self, one must not only welcome pain when it is encountered, but actively pursue it so that it may be conquered.

 

The conquest of pain is as old as is humanity. Thus, I claim nothing new by advocating this pursuit. Yet, in psychology, we often believe that psychic pain should be ignored, and that there are alternative more cognitive methods to improve the self. These are false and Self-defeating pursuits. The only way to improve the Self is to eliminate all roadblocks to success, not merely changing the way we articulate our feelings to ourselves from negative to positive Self statements. Thus, from the perspective of adaptation, one must not only accept anxiety but seek out and conquer those experiences that provoke anxiety. Psychoadaptation is a very active way to the True Self.

 

Anxiety

 

Anxiety is perhaps the most basic of human emotions. It’s a nexus for psyche and physiology. Anxiety is the famous Fight or Flight response. We all know it because we have all experienced it. Most often, we experience anxiety in social situations, because human beings, though social, hate being the center of attention, at least most of us do. Thus, when faced with public speaking or asking out a potential partner for a date, we tend to experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms that make us want to curl up in bed and go to sleep. This anxiety, however, is less evil than it appears. Indeed, anxiety is a sign that something is wrong and that our Selfs need to change in order for us to progress to a higher Self. C.G. Jung labeled this latent proclivity the Transcendent Function. According to Jung, the psyche’s function is to promote psychic wholeness, a unification of the unconscious and consciousness. In this case, it means a unification of our spoken truths and our unspoken fears. Thus, anxiety isn’t an evil that must be avoided but rather a function whose aim is to right the Self and to bring about psychic balance.

 

The journey to the True Self is complicated and filled with danger. In order to emerge a new Self, one must go into the unconscious and slay one’s personal daemons. These daemons are the manifestation of those mystic dark characters portrayed so fantastically in the literature and cinema. They however don’t exist in reality but only psychically. Yet to the individual, daemons are fearful physiologic-psychic creatures. We psychologically give them a substance they do not deserve to have in reality. I ask, would you endow trash with substance? Our psychic garbage seeks to have substance. Instead of throwing it out on Thursday night for the garbage collector to dump into the back of his truck Friday morning, we endow this psychic garbage with special powers that control us. The True Self can only be achieved by allowing the trash collector to dump our psychic garbage into the waste bin in the back of the truck. Compress that garbage I say and don’t allow it to control us. Jung labeled this garbage a complex and noted that complexes have us instead of us having complexes. I also have garbage, and I can dump it Thursday evenings. I’d rather dump it than let it control me.

 

Despite the rather simple ability to dump our trash, the battle for the True Self is the hardest battle we will ever fight. We try to ignore our inner daemons and hope that time will allow us to move on to greener pastures (for cows?). Yet, that never works. Wishing our daemons away is as efficacious as hoping some unproven treatment will save one from cancer, or that taxes due will be reversed into refunds. Instead of hoping, I believe the only option is to directly confront our daemons and to tell them to F off. It’s crude but our psyche isn’t polite. Do not, my trusty reader, believe that there is any other way of dealing with the psyche. We try to pretend we are better, but our unconscious psychological processes take us back to the crudity of life. We are nothing but mortal beings, just like the slug or spider.

 

The journey to the True Self is one of pain and release. We experience pain by challenging ourselves and our false beliefs about the Self and the world surrounding us. Doing so, we learn what is right about our Selfs and what is wrong. We learn where we have made mistakes and what we have done right, but mostly our mistakes. To emerge on the other side, out of our cocoons into our butterfly beings, we must first observe and hug and kiss our ugliness. We are the ugliness and the beauty. Most of us don’t want to accept our ugliness, no matter how light it is. Failure to do so will impede progress toward the true Self. Once though we attain the True Self, we experience reality in a way never experienced before. We experience, and not infrequently, that feeling known as the Oceanic feeling; total unity with our surroundings. This feeling, unfortunately to most, is only experienced when we allow the Self to be free, embracing all of its ugliness. I know it’s not pretty, but the Self needs to accept its ugliness as well as all the beauty it embodies. Light and dark together make the whole, just as night and daytime make the full day. Yet, the benefit of this union is a peace one can never know without it. I live for those moments of unity and wholeness, those oceanic moments when the separation between Self and not Self disappears. That is the reward for the pain and struggle of revealing the True Self. I for one think it’s worth it.

 

Thinking about the 2014-2015 ski season

The 2014-2015 season is nearly upon us. I’d like to see more people on the slopes this year than last year. I understand that some of my readers fear skiing or boarding. It is true that one can get hurt and that pain is somewhat inevitable. Yet, despite these potential drawbacks of my favorite winter pastime, the fun of cruising the slopes far outweighs any potential risks. To truly enjoy skiing, and I’ll focus on skiing instead of boarding, one must take one’s time to learn to ski correctly, and with the guidance of a professional. That means, investing in lessons!

I have come to love skiing. Like many of my peers, I started as a youth (albeit older at 18) but never really spent the time or money to become really good. It was probably more the money and the distance to the slopes that kept me from mastering skiing.

I grew up in Washington, DC, not too close to any major resort. As an adult, however, I moved to Pennsylvania, where skiing is more commonplace. Then, for a period of two years, I lived in New England. This coupled with my son’s excitement about skiing resulted in my advancing beyond a beginner and intermediate to the lower advanced skier I am today. I have no regrets! Regrets? Are you kidding? I live for the slopes in the winter!!!

Skiing is an amazing sport, but it does require getting used to speed and the risk of falling. It also requires one to conquer a fear of heights/steepness. We spend lots of time skiing steeper slopes. Indeed, conquering the fear of steeps in my view is the major task in progressing from the lower to upper levels of skiing.

OK, so I am suggesting that people start skiing. I want people not just to ski once, but to ski every year for the rest of their lives. Living in colder climates means that there are many winter months spent awaiting spring. Skiing allows one to enjoy those winter months instead of dreading their presence. Indeed, I can’t wait for winter, just like many can’t wait for summer. I have as much fun in the winter as I do in the summer. Thus, my life has become a 12 month thing. I love every month of every year. Skiing, though, took quite a bit of time to master. One wise, albeit quite drunk skier, told me that skiing is easier to learn than snowboarding but harder to master. I agree. I learned to ski quickly, but getting to the higher levels has been a challenge. For one, I had a strong fear of heights. Not so much anymore. Because of skiing, I actually like tackling steeper slopes. I just go down slopes, and as fast as I can at my level. I still need to master edge skiing further, but I have started, and that has made skiing even more fun.

Skiing is a great sport to share with your family too. If you have children, teaching them to ski will give you an additional benefit. Further, when you can go on trips with them, and ski down big slopes together, you will feel a feeling that few experience. It’s one of my favorite times to be on a slopes, chasing my son who of course is better than I am.

Perhaps the hardest part of skiing in my view was overcoming my fear of speed. I often see beginners screaming as they go down their first steeper slopes, as if the skis control them instead of the person controlling the skis. We are each in charge of our own performance. I can stop skiing at any point on any slope. Just like when I learned that letting go of a sail whilst sailing would allow my boat to stop still in the ocean, a quick skid turn or pizza form will stop the skier on any slope. Yet, there are many a beginner skier who goes down steeper beginner and even intermediate slopes without knowing how to stop. Learning how to stop is essential to gaining confidence on a slope. Once one learns to stop, one begins to fear the slopes less. Just think about it in terms of driving a car. We stop on all sort of hills. One does the same skiing by digging one’s edges into the snow. Letting go increases speed, whereas digging in grips the skier to the terrain and results in a stop.

In addition to learning to stop well, going down some steeper beginner slopes will reduce fear of the steeps. All resorts are different, and what’s a green (beginner) trail on one mountain, is a blue on another mountain. Yet, steep is steep. If you feel it’s steep, then it’s steep. Going down steeper slopes, using fundamental techniques to turn and stop, will make the matter much easier, and increase confidence. Once confidence in steeper slopes is attained, skiing goes from a fearful experience to a “I can’t wait for the next time” event.

At this time, I’m into my fourth year of heavy skiing. Each year, my son and I have vowed to ski more than the last year. Each year, we’ve improved too. We’ve had our share of lessons and will take more. We each want to be the best we can, and I’ve certainly given this old body another reason to enjoy living. I think learning to ski, or board, is one of the best gifts one can give the self. The key, though, is having a good instructor. There are lots of good places to go. You just need to say yes.

Psychoadaptation VIII: Cognition, not teeth and claws

Unlike other animals, the human animal is poorly equipped to defend itself against predation. In a one on one battle for survival against a wolf, mountain lion, or other deadly beast, the human animal stands little chance. Sharp teeth and claws will tear our tender flesh, ripping apart muscles, tendons, and other biologic features that otherwise allow us to move freely and work in our environments. Nature, however, is not really that cruel a mistress. She has indeed prepared us to survive our planet’s hostile environments. Not only has she allowed us to survive, she’s given us the most powerful tool ever designed by her loving hands, the cerebral cortex.

The human brain is our defense, and cognition is its venom. Through countless cycles of natural selection, the human brain has evolved to the point that it allows us to dominate the planet like no other creature. The purpose of evolution is of course to permit reproduction. Thus, so long as an organism reproduces, its life can be said to be successful, at least from an evolutionary perspective. Yet, the power of the brain and mind have allowed us to do so much more. Not only do we survive, we design and build technological tools that no other creature on this planet has ever attempted or is even capable of attempting. Certainly, other creatures are intelligent and use tools. For instance, crows and parrots use sticks to manipulate their environments. Dolphins and other whales have brains the size of humans and no doubt have mastered their environments in unique ways. Only humans, however, have taken cognition to another step, producing tools that allow us to communicate across continents instantaneously, cruise the skies to visit relatives abroad, and even explore space.

Evolution is an amazing phenomenon, using life and death as tools to craft the perfect organism by environment fit. During times of need, our brains have allowed us to master difficult situations. Selection pressures, such as floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters, including famine and plagues, forced nature to reshuffle its genetic deck until the best mutations of genes are produced; the ones that give humans the edge over environment. Yet, when selection pressure ended, and humans finally mastered their environments, there was little left for our minds to ponder. We turned, then our cognition inwards, toward solving personal issues. Although it seemed that selection pressure was over, it merely changed its battleground to person instead of people, each of us struggling to conquer our own personal demons to survive and reproduce; to produce the next generation.

Environments differ across our planet. Humans have divided themselves into countries to protect land and culture. Some countries have been more successful at protecting their citizens than other countries. In the most successful countries, people have a great amount of leisure time, as there are few difficulties to conquer. With ample food and shelter, attention turned to recreation. Our powerful minds, however, seek things to do, and therefore we began to create modes of entertainment that are so magnificent that it would have been hard for a genius even a generation ago to imagine. These inventions, though, have costs. Even the mere acquisition of technology is expensive, and individuals have found themselves in terrible debt due to their desire to possess the best technological advances.

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget once said that desirability is disequilibrium. He was right; the more we desire, the more we create distressful conditions that trigger our fight or flight responses the way our ancestors felt when faced with a predator or a tough enemy in war. For Piaget, disequilibrium was but one consequence of the human-environment interaction. Disequilibrium occurs when cognition is not adequate to assimilate experience. In former times, when facing a predator, our ancestors experienced disequilibrium because they faced death. It was only when they solved the situation, freeing themselves from possible death that their disequilibrium disappeared, but only until the very next dangerous encounter came their way. With our powerful brains, and our abilities to review our past performances, and our forethought to plan for the future, our ancestors came up with amazing plans and designed weapons that would allow us to escape predation. Using tools, they designed homes that reduced the risk of predation. They mastered fire for both cooking and as a defense against predators. They designed ballistic weapons that distanced themselves from direct contact with enemies. With each advance, humans found ways to decrease disequilibrium and return the body to equilibrium. Disequilibrium is a very distasteful physical as well as psychological state. To understand it, my reader, one must only think back to any single personal experience in which the Self encountered a difficult situation that seemed beyond the Self’s ability to escape, physically or mentally. If that situation resulted in physiologic symptoms consistent with the fear response, one experienced disequilibrium.

This fight or flight response is nature’s way of preparing the organism for action and potential harm. Blood is diverted to important muscles, and diverted from less useful processes such as digestion which are not necessary for fighting. Pupils dilate to permit better access to light. The heart races to ensure adequate oxygen delivery to muscles. All of these processes are defensive in nature and expensive. As such, disequilibrium is a response to threat. Thus, of course, when there is no possible bodily harm, we should not have to experience the fight or flight response, yet we too often do. If one has ever had to prepare for a presentation (public speaking), particularly one involving evaluation, one knows that the fight or flight response can occur in situations not involving potential for bodily harm, unless of course one is not a good speaker and the audience may throw fruit at the speaker, but I digress there! Thus, although the body has been designed by evolution quite well to fight an enemy or flee predation, this biologic preparedness is not always useful, with many negative consequences for health if triggered too often.

In the modern world, particularly in well-developed and wealthy nations, there are fewer life and death situations for most. It is important to note that this is not the case for everyone, for even in a country as rich and powerful as the United States, many individuals living in poverty struggle with issues of safety every day, and in those cases we are thankful for the fight or flight response and its physiologic consequences. Yet, as our nation seeks to improve the welfare of all its citizens, many of these dangers have begun to diminish, leaving the fight or flight response to respond to different threats, namely those threats to the self. The self is a latent construction that we can only know by its objective indicators. For instance, I know who I am through my physical characteristics such as my height, skin complexion, eye color, and foot size. I also know my Self through my accomplishments, such as my academic degrees, sport skills, and the products of my research. I know my Self from my possessions, including my car, skis, and computer, and my clothing. I know my Self from having a family. All of these indicators have helped me become who I am, as well as all of my opinions on various matters, from politics and religion, to my views on development and even the self. As these concrete and abstract phenomena constitute my Self, they are part of me, and therefore my possessions.

Unlike my skis and other material possessions, though, which can be replaced, we humans hold on to our beliefs about who we are and what we can do with a strong grip, a grip that we refuse to release. As human beings, the definition of the Self is so important to us, that we will defend it against any force that seeks to contradict it. Thus, we strive to ensure our Selfs can assimilate as much experience as possible, even if the information contradicts our views of ourselves or our worldviews. Every threat to the Self causes a strong response, just as when we were faced with predators or cataclysmic events. In response, we defend. We cannot stand disequilibrium, and therefore will do whatever it takes to defend the Self from insult, that is at least until we find a way to either assimilate the experience or have the mental strength to change our views to accommodate the new experiences. It is that capacity to adapt our views that differentiates the successful human being from the less successful. Unlike prior times, however, when failure to adapt was a genetic failure that resulted in the extinction of a given genetic line, human beings survive despite their willingness to adapt. Thus, our world is filled with individuals with different levels of Self health. The healthier Selfs are those who are willing to adapt and change their Selfs to accommodate the data of experience, having what I like to call a liquid self. This liquid self means the individual is not tied to any one definition of the self, understanding though, the true nature of the Self from a historical perspective. Thus, the healthy Self knows from where the Self came, including culture, country, and parents, and this does not change. The healthy Self knows its history of accomplishments and failures and uses this as motivation for the future. Yet the healthy self is able to change the Self’s Self-definition to accommodate different environments, for the healthy Self understand that life is an ever changing process, like the point in the river on which one focuses the Self’s gaze; water flows through that point, ever changing but ever being the same.

Meditations on Walking and Thinking

I like to go for walks. Indeed, I just returned from a nice walk on the canal and into New Jersey. Walking has always had a special place in my life. From as early as I can remember, I’d go for long walks. I’d walk to school every morning, a bit less than a mile from our McLean Gardens apartment to John Eaton Elementary School, instead of taking a bus or having my parents drive me. My friends and I would walk from our homes down to the Volta Park Pool in Georgetown during the summer, 2.3 miles away. We’d often walk back as well even after a long day of playing in the pool. Thus, walking had become a part of my sense of self since I was a school-aged boy.

As a teenager, my family moved to Arlington, VA, living in a modest house on North Cleveland Street. Although now I was a bit further from my favorite DC attractions, this had little impact on my passion for walking. Indeed, in college I walked to school at George Washington University (2.6 miles away). Later, when I stayed with my mom in Rosslyn for a stint whilst back from college in San Diego, working at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel on 16th street, I’d walk to work and back too (3 miles each way). So I walked and walked about, pounding the dirty pavement and ruining good shoes. I even started going for long walks around the city’s tourist attractions on days off, making stops at the Smithsonian museums and shops along the way. After a long stroll through the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building, for instance, I’d walk to Georgetown past travel agencies and expensive restaurants, imagining what life would be like if I could eat at the best places in exotic foreign lands. Walking gives one lots of time to think. Indeed, for me, walking and thinking became inseparable; eventually I could not have one without the other.

Walking and thinking reinforced each other. Once I started walking, thinking immediately followed. However, it wasn’t just thinking about the mundane issues in life, like where I’d stop for a coffee. I thought about big issues. I hypothesized and reasoned the conclusions. Like a philosopher of old, eschewing empiricism, I came to marvelous conclusions in my mind. I’d cherish this time to think and even planned out what I’d be thinking during my walks. For instance, before going home from a long shift at Carlton, and passing through Georgetown, I’d already set my mind on the stream of consciousness I sought to pursue that afternoon. I would then enjoy the time to think as I walked down Connecticut Avenue and picked the specific street I’d walk to eventually arrive in Georgetown and the Key Bridge. I solved many of the world’s most pressing problems during those walks. It’s only a shame I couldn’t implement all that I did mentally in the world outside my ears. I was a bit too naïve those days, but those mental pushups really built up my strength for the work I’d eventually do as a researcher.

Today, as I sit here writing, I still walk and think every day. Life unfortunately leads us in various directions, some of which preclude us doing what we used to do with passion. I live far from the city now and spend much time driving. Although I have time to think whilst driving, I seem to indulge in sports talk radio a bit too much whenever I get behind the wheel of my car. I never formed that connection between driving and thinking as I have with walking, although I do enjoy driving for its own sake. Thus, I still go for walks to think, albeit much shorter in duration than in the former times. However, whenever I get away from home, traveling to different cities for a conference, I still go off on long walks before attending to business, just like I did as a young man in D.C. When I do so, I still solve pressing problems, come up with amazing hypotheses, and even plans for my next manuscript. Unlike my younger age however, some of these ideas do come to fruition. I have learned to reduce the scope of my ambitions and have become quite realistic in my mental exercises. Thus, walking still is my place to think, and I now urge my students to do the same too. Any student who has ever had me as a professor knows my favorite saying, “take concepts learned in class out for a walk”. I urge them to challenge theorists and textbook writers by putting ideas learned in class to the test of experience. Don’t just read, I’d profess, read and then think deeply about the ideas. Connect them to your life and personal experiences. Not only will this help you maintain the material in long term memory by forming deep connections with strong memories, but it will also allow you test the concepts for validity. If it doesn’t make sense in the real world, the theory has little value, I’d say. That goes for everything, including what I’m writing here. Take it out for a walk, preferably to a pretty place if possible.

Steeps and self

OK, today is just another day in life. A nice glass of Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, and I feel calm. I love wines from Argentina, my father’s homeland. Malbec is the wine equivalent of the craft beer IPA to me.[1] Most can’t fathom these intense tastes but I can. I am genetically programmed to favor intense flavors, and that’s a good thing I guess. I feel the same about life, yet the way I define intensity is different from most. For the anhedonic amongst us, it means jumping off cliffs or diving headlong out of airplanes. I’m not like that at all. That is quite intense indeed. Yet, I don’t need that extra rush to feel alive. I feel alive with normal human interactions, for thankfully I’m not anhedonic.

My life is much simpler than an anhedonic’s in that I experience pleasure from normal activities. A good wine does it for me, as does a good meal with the right mix of vegetables, spices, and proteins. I also find pleasure in a good hike or a simple trip down a cruiser skiing. I don’t need any extra push like diving off a cliff to feel alive. I am alive and life provides enough intensity for me to feel it. Yet, skiing has done something special for me. It has actually pushed me in ways I’ve never been pushed before. However, my approach to life has made it a lot less intense than what is seen in those awesome Warren Miller films. Let me explain.

Skiing is a special sport. It requires quite some time to master. Recently, a young sage who may have been drunk at the time put it well; snowboarding is hard to learn but easy to master, whereas skiing is easy to learn but hard to master. I first learned to ski (took lessons) when I was 18 and went skiing very sporadically since then, taking many years off until skiing again. Recently, when my son was 10, we started skiing again, but this time with quite some intensity. Indeed, I remember the time we were at Camelback resort in Pennsylvania, and my son was taking a lesson. He was a fourth grader in the 4th and 5th grade PA skiing program. Unlike optimistic parents, I was expecting him to hate it. At the scheduled end of the lesson, I along with the other parents waited for our children’s return. My son, contrary to my expectation though, emerged stoked. He wanted to ski more. I, noticing his excitement, immediately obliged. We did a couple of more runs down the bunny slope before retiring for the day, and then returned the next week and the next until the season was over. It was love at first ski for my son. I eagerly participated, as his happiness is always mine.

Since that time, we have advanced rapidly. Over the past three years, he has had his share of lessons at various resorts in Pennsylvania and New England. I advanced in parallel, although without lessons; my son actually shares what he learns in his lessons with me, being an informal instructor for me. I have really struggled to keep up with him, but I made huge strides too; he is certainly a far better than skier than I am, even though he is obviously much younger. First, afraid of anything that looked mildly steep, I dared not ski down even the tamest steep. With time, though, I started skiing everything. I now am not afraid of pretty much anything. Although still learning, I have overcome my fear of the steep. What a wonderful feeling it is. I am actually feeling exhilarated. I never thought I would, but I do.

I recall when my fear first left me. My son and I were skiing in Brettonwoods, NH, just below Mount Washington. We were going down one of the green trails, Range View, that has quite a steep start, at least for my level at the time. Fearing the worst, I avoided the start and took an alternative route to the main slope instead. I loved the slope though, as it was wide and gave me the cruising experience I craved. My son told me, however, to follow him as he went down the start of the slope, and I did. After conquering that steep start, I was hooked forever. Indeed, I began to ski everything no matter how steep it was. I learned to control my speed and to feel comfortable standing still on any ledge. That made skiing fun for me. Feeling in control was what I sought, and achieving control made skiing a pleasure I wanted to do over and over again, rather than a chore I just wanted to end.

Learning to ski a steep slope is the ultimate experience of psychological adaptation. Initially, I feared the slope, feeling disequilibrium when I stood on its apex. Heights are not our friends, as we can hurt ourselves easily, particularly when on human-made tools like skis that are designed to propel us forward at high speeds. However, learning to control ourselves down steep slopes helps us to experience equilibrium where there was once disequilibrium. Disequilibrium occurs when we are afraid to fall, equilibrium occurs when we realize we can maintain control on a steep. I learned that this year.

This year my major accomplishment in skiing was to conquer my fear of the steeps. I did that and feel much more comfortable now than ever before. I couldn’t wait to hit the slopes each weekend and cannot wait to do it again next year. Indeed, if I had the funds, I’d go to my father’s native Argentina now and ski the Andes; it’s winter down there when it’s summer here. I was, however also quite fortunate this year, at the end of the season, to meet a very giving instructor who began to teach me to ski the right way. Bored out of his mind one Saturday morning late PA season, he found an eager student and gave me a nearly three hour private lesson. It was amazing, but ironically instead of feeling better about my skiing, I now I feel like a beginner again, albeit a beginner with some skills. He immediately observed all of my flaws, flaws seen in individuals creating their own skiing styles. That’s what happens when one eschews instruction. Well, I want to ski the right way. Therefore, I am currently learning to meld what I learned from my benevolent with what I learned on my own recently into a higher level skier. Actually, I was invited by this caring instructor to teach this coming winter, and I plan to do so.

I am a natural teacher, and in teaching I’ve encountered pretty much all there is to encounter. Thus, I have quite a bit of teaching wisdom, although more so in the classroom than on the slopes. If I want to be a great ski instructor too, I have to achieve the same state on the slopes, though. Well, the more one skis, the more diverse one’s skiing experience. The more terrain one traverses, the more efficient one becomes at skiing. One must adapt to all circumstances to become an excellent skier, just as one must experience different students asking different questions to become an exceptional instructor. I’m committed to both and will try anything that will make me a better instructor. Indeed, as developmental psychologist Jean Piaget once said, life is adaptation. I plan to continue adapting. I’ve moved from pizza to fries in multiple circumstances on the slopes, and that has been a gift that enhanced my real self, not just in skiing but in life in general. Self is ever in flux. Today’s self is not the same as the self in one year’s time, one month, one week, or from day to day. Yet, experiences such as conquering the steeps and learning to ski on edges, have brought me closer to the state I hope to achieve. Self is about adapting, the self today is a mere point on the road to the ultimate self. That self, although achievable, is an ever distant goal. Each day is one day closer yet one day further from the hilt. Our target changes as we progress. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’ll sure continue having fun on the road.

 


[1] By the way, I do know that IPAs are old, not a craft beer fad.

The End of a Semester

Students can’t wait for it. For professors, it means more work. We have to grade papers and final exams. However, that’s nothing compared to the pain of deciding upon a student’s final grade. Obviously, we are all different. For some professors, there is no issue failing a student who deserves an F. For me, it’s never easy. I think of the money the student spends (or future money in a loan), the pain of having to take the course again, and of course the awkwardness of telling the student that she isn’t good enough to pass the course when she comes into my office to complain about her grade. It’s of course made harder if she tries hard but she just can’t do it.

We’ve all been there, my faculty colleagues and I. We all experience the same dread. Perhaps some of us are better at it than others; that’s what heterogeneity means. Still, and perhaps sadly, we all develop thick skin in the end. Time seems to create scars. These scars harden and allow us to not feel. That’s a good thing in that it helps us to be more objective. Subjectivity is a sad reality for the novice.

I feel great empathy for my students. Yet, I am no novice. However, my empathy makes me sad when it comes to not allowing students to move forward. Obviously, it is the student’s own fault. As a student, I never faced the same problem as I always studied harder and did the best possible to not allow myself to fail. Indeed, failure was never even remotely possible for me. That’s how I got where I am today.

This is truly a difficult time. However, with the end of each semester comes the start of a new semester and a new set of students. I told my stats students this recently. I let them know that teaching has it’s positive and negative facets. On the positive side, one gets a new group of students each semester. Thus, teaching never grows stale, like a loaf of bread in a dry cupboard. On the negative side, one’s relationship with the present group of students ends. Professors are always in a state of renewal. One group comes, one group goes, and another group comes. This cycle is ever repeating until we finally retire and go off and die. Odd is life; it’s like a wave of ebbs and flows.

Well, this is the choice I made for my career, and I love it. I am happy when my students do well, and I feel the extreme pain of each student who doesn’t make the grade. Like a judge, I sentence students to repeat courses, and that really hurts. However, it is good pain as I know in the long run they will learn from it and become better people. Yet, it still hurts. That’s what it’s like to be a good professor. I take my work seriously.

Psychoadaptation VI: Walking

What’s your favorite activity? I like to do so many things! If you were to ask me what my favorite activity is, though, I’d say it’s walking. Each of us has a favorite, and it’s our job to find it. How will you know? You know it when you can’t live without it. I can live without many things, but walking isn’t one of them. Everyone walks every day, but for me walking is more special. When I walk I see the world. I can walk for hours without stopping. Each step is an adventure talking me closer to the unknown. I love feeling lost, feeling new, and walking lets me feel lost and new at the same time. Today I walked the cliff walk in Newport, RI again, perhaps for the last time before leaving the Ocean State. It was a glorious walk, as all of my weekly walks have been for the last 18 months. Today I saw birds surfing. They were close to First Beach, riding waves. I wandered to myself, do they have to be there or do they actually enjoy going up and down those waves, particularly the ones about to break. Looked like fun to me!

Walking provides lots of adventures, and no two are exactly the same. I love walking more than any other activity. It started when I was a child in Washington, DC, and I’d walk from my apartment in McLean Gardens to the public pool in Georgetown. As I got older, I increased the length of my walks, walking home from my job at Pier 1 Imports in Georgetown to my home in North Arlington, quite a distance; I’m not talking about Rosslyn friends. I’d walk for an hour plus. It was fun. From that point, I increased the length of my walks, going all over DC. One, two, three hours was nothing for me. Even at my older age, I still walked long distances. For instance, every time I visit a new city, I find the longest possible safe walk and do it. Walking gives me time to think. It also gives me a supreme workout, and it’s free. I see the beauty of each city I visit. Whether Paris, Santiago, Salta, or Portland, I get to know the city intimately. There is no other way to know a place well than to know it one step at a time!

As a public health professional, I am interested in promoting health. These days, the leading causes of death and disease are preventable. Thankfully, we’ve eradicated most contagious diseases. However, it’s the lifestyle diseases that are our next challenge. I walk, and that helps me. Perhaps others would like walking too. Others may however prefer more vigorous activities. I spoke to a friend today about my son. I thanked him for always being good to Alex, especially when Alex lacked motivation or was sad or angry. My friend told me, “I just want him to find something he loves to do.” I love to walk. As my friend suggested, each of us must find something we love to do, something we’d do rather than eat, sleep, or virtually anything else. I have mine. I also like skiing, playing tennis, and practicing martial arts. What’s your passion? Find it and you will find peace, mental health, and physical well being.

Ski blog 1

Ski season is here and I’m happy. For me, though, season started a few weeks ago when my son and I went to Killington and Okemo for some early season skiing. We had a great time. Not much was open at the time, but enough was open for me.

Here are my early season observations. First, though, I’m a new blue trail skier. I’m comfortable with steeper slopes, but I’m slow. I am a heavy carver and that makes me slow. I guess that’s not unusual when one is still afraid of getting hurt. Speed is dangerous and accidents do hurt. Indeed, the first weekend skiing I had an accident. Mind you, it wasn’t my fault; I’m too cautious. Some snowboarder took me out on Great Northern at Killington. I was meandering my way down when this snowboarder to my left got up and skied across the trail rather than down it. He moved directly into my path. I thought I’d be able to get across his port side, but his heavy body knocked me out of one of my skis and onto my left shoulder. It was painful and remains so almost three weeks later! There was no break, as confirmed by an X-ray, but it still hurts. I can’t even do push-ups, my favorite exercise. Oh well, I’ll recover.

Nevertheless, skiing has been awesome this season so far. We’ve been four times with more to come before the new year. Okemo is definitely my favorite resort east. It’s far less crowded than Killington, and it offers plenty of options for skiers of my level. Now, good skiers tell me that Killington is the place to be and that Okemo is better for snowboarders. Perhaps, but what do I know…

Here’s what I do know, though. As an intermediate, Okemo is the best resort. It offers plenty of challenge and nice and long trails. Okemo isn’t cheap, and tickets cost around $80, but it is well worth it. You can go to Liftopia.com and get cheaper tickets some times, but not always. You can also buy multiple day tickets to save money, but regardless of how you do it, Okemo for my money is the best resort for intermediates. If you do go to Killington, however, I suggest sticking to blue trails instead of greens, unless you arrive early. The greens are over skied and skied by novice skiers. They become icy and with all the novices, they are dangerous. My experience on Great Northern tells me to stay away and ski blue at Killington!

Other than those Vermont resorts, we’ve skied Pats Peak. It’s a small resort with some steep runs and some nice mogul trails. It’s small, so the runs aren’t long with the exception of a couple of longer green trails. I love this resort but there’s not much to do in Henniker, NH. Get in, ski, and get out. The food is good though, but it’s quite expensive. I recommend bringing your own meals but have fun while you are there.

That’s it for this first early season report. Enjoy your skiing and be careful! Don’t have accidents like I did.

Skiing in New England

What a great year we had. New England skiing is definitely better than Pennsylvania Skiing, although I really enjoyed my time skiing in Pennsylvania. New England is just bigger. The resorts are bigger, the trails are longer, and the rating are more difficult. What I mean by that is Greens in New England are blues in Pennsylvania for the most part. Blues in New England are Blacks in some PA resorts. Of course there are exceptions, but not many.

I loved this season. Indeed, now that it’s over, we are really sad. My son actually cried all day yesterday when he finally realized it’s over. I feel equally sad but am too busy with minutia to cry.

This year my goal was to become an all blue-trail skier. I did accomplish that goal. The key is to just ski and let skill achieve the aim. What I mean by this is to let nature take control. Eventually what was really scarey to me wasn’t so scarey. I was afraid of some of the green trails, especially on tougher mountains. Yet, after some time and practice, I mastered all of those. Then I went on to the blues, which can be quite steep and mastered those to the point that steepness no longer bothers me. The next step will be mastering Black Diamonds, some of which make one feel as if one is skiing straight down hill at a 90 degree angle. Of course that’s not the case, but that’s the way some of the blacks look. Yet, I feel more comfortable moving forward today than ever before. That’s adaptation.

This year was amazing. I’m not sure which resort I liked most. For may part, I guess Bretton Woods is first in New Hampshire. Not only does it have amazing views but it also has the best grooming I’ve experienced. There’s nothing like corduroy!

In Vermont, Killington is the best with “Great Northern” and “Great Eastern” for the most amazing green trails one could ever do. However, I am really partial to Okemo since we’ve spent a couple of trips there over the past two years. Nice place with great food mid mountain!

Life is like skiing. We progress slowly, not forcing progress. Over the past two years I have had the most amazing experience becoming a skier. I did so because I found something my son loves as much as video games. As a behavioral medicine researcher, I do whatever it takes to promote physical activity and when it comes to family I am especially into promoting PA. We had the best time one could ever imagine this season. Every weekend we drove somewhere nice and spend nights in cheesy or nice motels/hotels/condos. It was amazing and we will never forget it. Until next season!

physical and mental health, sport and exercise psychology, and parenting