10.10.16 | MindBody

If today’s (10/3) Member Monday discussion involved internet disembodiment, next week’s (10/10) topic represents the polar opposite: the total fusion of mind and body. The inspiration for this was the lunch talk last week by Mark Williams, one-time F-15 fighter pilot and master of total situational awareness. Our discussion will center around any of our personal life experiences which engaged the entire body and transcended simple cognition.

By way of background here is a portion of the introduction prepared for the book discussion of “Deep Survival” some years ago:  

We all know, even in relatively calm times, that many big life decisions – an investment choice, a major purchase, a love interest – are often emotionally made and later (maybe) intellectually justified. 

But it’s when life is on the line that emotions can truly trump intellect: the amygdala detects danger; the adrenal glands kick in; catecholamines constrict blood vessels and affect the firing of nerve cells; the adrenal cortex releases cortisol, invading the hippocampus, amping up fear and affecting the memory system; heart rate rises; breathing speeds up; sugar is dumped into the metabolic system; the oxygen and nutrients distribution shifts for immediate strength. You’re on afterburner and all this occurs before you can even “think.” In fact, the hormonal stress release interferes with the functioning of the neocortex itself.

So a threshold question is why it is that evolution developed a system that seems to work against us at the time of our greatest need. The answer is that evolution i.e. freeze-fight--flight, is all about the propagation of the species over the many millennia. In comparison, we’ve been landing jet fighters on aircraft decks for a relative blink of the eye. We must accommodate to evolution, not the other way around. 

Otherwise, you die. It’s not personal. The given analogy is that of the relationship between the jockey – the rational, logical, controlling part that is the brain  – and the thoroughbred horse – the powerful, wild, and barely containable emotional energy that resides within us all. The two are precisely aligned in the case of the blissful horse run. Deep Survival is all about what can happen to us when they are not.

It can start even with the decision to undertake the risk in the first place. A snowmobiler takes a run up a slope that any rational analysis would conclude is an invitation to an avalanche. The risk is overshadowed by an emotional “book-marking” that recalls some previous wonderful experience. The results of such somatic markers can range from the mildly embarrassing (oh, so that’s what drives the middle-aged man with a bad comb-over to hit on the Hotties) to the fatal, as in this case.

So many accidents, so little time: rafting; flying; climbing; adrift at sea; even a walk in the woods. The very term adventure, almost by definition, suggests danger, voluntarily faced. The activities cited in the book range in risk from the barely foreseeable to the patently suicidal.

We undoubtedly have our own stories. My own story involved an advertised CMC-sponsored intermediate, non-technical climb up Pyramid Peak (Maroon Bells, Aspen) many years ago. A dense fog, a leader lost, and a forced climb to the summit turned the expedition – then becoming one of unassisted rock chimney assaults; and facial injuries from falling stones –  into what seemed to be the Bataan Death March. Almost everything described in Deep Survival was on display that day.

So, then, my own account, involuntarily undertaken, ended with a whimper. Others, like those of Mark Williams, represent  the essence of mind/body training. Let’s discuss your own experiences. Voyeurs welcome. 

Steve SmithComment