Monday, December 20, 2010

I Am Not Climate Controlled

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. That's the way the song goes. As humans, we strive for comfort. That's why we have recliner chairs with cupholders. No, with coolers built-in. That's why we have "room temperature" and down comforters and towel racks that heat your towels. Not that I have those, mind you. My towels are usually clammy from being dumped on the floor in a heap by whatever child took a shower last and "forgot" to hang them up. Simply a dry towel would be a luxury around here. Did I mention that I really hate soggy towels?

So why should we make ourselves uncomfortable? Why should we go out in the pouring freezing rain when a room temperature room beckons us homeward? I think it's a good idea to occasionally push ourselves to be uncomfortable (and I don't mean just using soggy towels). To experience a greater range of existence than a narrow band of clean, dry, climate-controlled living. What is it like to feel the rain on your face? Dripping down your back? A cold breeze across your neck? Your feet sloshing through ankle deep puddles? It's a sensory feast that's not entirely as unpleasant as it sounds. Just like our muscles aren't very strong if they're only worked in a narrow range of motion, our brains and our mental resilience don't get worked very hard in today's easy existence. Perhaps it is worth building up a great range of tolerance to stimuli outside the range of normal.

When I'm out in the less-than-ideal weather and I feel my brain starting to get into complaining mode, I use a technique of sensory "noticing" that helps me focus on what I'm really feeling instead of just being miserable about it. I start with a series of open-ended sentences and fill them in as I go:

"I hear...."
"I smell...."
"I see...."
"I feel..."

So on a day like today, it might go something like

"I hear birds in the trees"
"I smell wet leaves and fir needles"
"I see the three golden leaves left on a bare tree"
"I feel a light breeze coming from the east"

When I get to the end of my sensory inventory, I start over again at the top, marveling at how things change as I go along. Sometimes we barely even notice our surroundings, especially when we're too busy wallowing in misery at the fact that the weather had the gall to rain on our Sunday long run. When we turn our attention outward instead of inward, what might at first seem simply miserable can turn into an opportunity to actually fully experience the world around us.

The next time you're tempted to just go to the gym when the weather outside is frightful, stretch yourself a little and see what it feels like to suffer the elements. After all, we can always come home to that delightful fire (or hot shower, or warm cup of tea), a luxury that most humans throughout time have not had.


Trail Smitten Mom said...

I love the sensory check in and will give it a try.

seppie said...

Last year I ran on the treadmill all winter. This year, I canceled my yoga/gym membership to save for a trip to India, so I've been running outside, no matter what the weather. It also helps that I started running with a dog and another human, so I'm not running alone in the pitch black darkness like I would have been last year. On our coldest morning I came home to a text from my running partner: "12 degrees, feels like 3 -- we are HARDCORE!" Next time it's that cold, I'll put in contacts -- my glasses fogged up and froze to my face -- but other than that, it actually wasn't that bad. I even took my gloves off about 3/4 of the way through the run!

Marv said...

experience a greater range of existence

I like that. For years, I have used something akin to the checklist you discuss. I analyze. Ok, this is uncomfortable, this hurts; what does it really feel like? When I take it apart-like my son used to take apart his toys-I usually find that it really isn't all that bad, and because I haave experienced it, overcame it, my personal range of motion has been improved. Great post Robin!

Margie said...

Brilliant timing that I should read this right now, Robin! There's a chance of rain here today and it's "only" in the 50s and I was contemplating not taking Cassie hiking as we'd planned. You just changed my whole outlook.

Now to see if we actually have functional jackets...

Robin said...

LOL Margie. No one survives here without Goretex ;-)
Hope you had a great hike!