Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Mind Thinks It's a Body

Today I was at the the ski shop buying skis and boots for my son for Christmas. My son was with me, of course, to choose the boots and have them fitted, and to choose the skis, bindings, and poles that he wanted. He has been an avid boarder for the past twelve years, and now is excited to get back into skiing again. Rob, who has researched all the hot ski gear in every category, also was present providing his insights.

Buying ski gear is not something that you walk in and do in a few minutes. We actually started yesterday evening, and spent nearly two hours with the ski shop guy, Steve, choosing the right boot. Then we came back again today to have the boots heat molded, and to pick out the rest of the equipment. During the hours we spent at the ski store, we were surrounded by ski stuff and ski talk. We swapped skiing stories with Steve, talked about technique and ski design, reminisced about skiing in the old days, and drooled over all the beautiful new powder skis, ski clothes, goggles, etc., surrounding us. The experience was a mini-immersion into ski life and served as a powerful impetus to get out on the slopes. 

However, I am on crutches, with a broken bone in my foot. I fractured the fifth metatarsal thirteen weeks ago, and it has been very slow to heal. It is healing, but oh so slowly. I am in an air cast, mostly non-weight-bearing, and am allowed to put limited weight on the heel only. Unfortunately for me, I am not likely to be out on the ski hill any time soon. Realistically, my next step once I can start to weight bear is to learn to walk again. 

Yet in the ski store today, my mind seemed oblivious to the facts of the matter. I could see so clearly in my mind the mountain where we usually ski - the runs on the Huckleberry chair, the Chutes in whiteout conditions, the traverse across the top of the bowl on the Red chair, and the way you can peek over the edge in one place to the sheer drop of the cliff to the left of the traverse. I can see the ski lodge, with red cheeked skiers at the picnic benches, peeling off their snowy touques and gloves, and parents down on their knees helping little kids to get their ski boots on or off. Hot chocolate with rum, and the terrible greasy burgers that cost an arm and a leg. In my mind I am there now, clomping in my ski boots, exhilarated from the last run.

In my mind, I am skiing that difficult ridge run under the Red chair, and I am swooping and turning with confidence, not stiffening up or having to stop every couple of turns to catch my breath. It is not just remembering. Rather, it is as if my crutches and current mobility limitations are irrelevant. I could be there on the slopes tomorrow, skiing just the way I always have. 

The mind thinks it's a body. I can ski, regardless of my present frailties, lack of fitness, or aging. And because I have visualized it so clearly in my mind, year after year when I go out to the hill, I can ski. I think I actually have continued to improve my skills, even though I no longer have the same courage, stamina, or flexibility of my youth. The stubborn, insistent mind has shaped the capabilities of the body. 

Yet sometimes it works the other way. The body teaches the mind. Really, when you rip down the slope between the trees in deep powder in the back country, your mind simply does not have time to consider and coordinate each physical component of the process turn after turn. The body takes over and does what the mind cannot as you float and dip into each turn, a rhythm that the mind chases to keep up with. "Turn here, and here," your mind instructs, but your knees and edges and arms have already completed that turn and are onto the next. It is beautiful and coordinated. You are flying effortlessly like a bird. The mind is a nagging old woman that you have tuned out. And later when you arrive at the bottom, your mind is incredulous, and replays the run over and over again trying to understand, feel it again, and tap into that flow. 

Many have written about the notion of a mind-body connection. But how it works remains a mystery. It is something that we all experience, and seldom even notice or remark upon. We take it for granted that our minds will bring our bodies to situations and then step back and let the body take over. Somehow those times when we are fully in our bodies seem to also be those moments when we are most intensely alive. And when we are not out there on the slopes, or paddling the kayak, or hiking over a scree slope, the mind is practicing for us so that when we go out on our next adventure, our bodies are already tuned up and ready for it.

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