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Let the System Work

When scuba diving, a long boat ride or high waves can make a passenger sea sick. He or she may feel nauseous, dizzy and weak. The diver wants things to stabilize and be given lots of fresh air. The last thing he wants to do is put some complicated gear on his body, cover up his face with a mask and regulator and go under water. He believes that those choices will make him even more disoriented and sick. Except that he will be wrong. The real cure for sea sickness is to get out of the up-and-down heaving waves. The only way to do that while on in the open ocean is to put on his scuba gear and get under the water. The diver has to let the system work – in this case, the system of scuba gear.

Similarly, when mountain climbing, lack of acclimatization to the altitude can cause the camper to feel sick. He may lose his appetite, not want to drink, feel unable to sleep and be nauseous. The long term cures are to allow time to acclimate, or descend to a lower altitude. But in the meantime, if those actions are not immediately available, a partial cure can be obtained by doing the opposite of what he feels. He needs to eat, drink and sleep. He has to fight his impulses to skip eating because of feeling nauseous, or stay awake because he has a headache. His intuition can be wrong. The camper should let the system work – in this case, the system of eating, drinking and sleeping.

Another modern counter-intuitive situation is letting your body be in stress. A civilized example is that many modern people think that sweating is bad. By the time their body is wet, they feel the damage has been done, things are way out of control and they have to take any possible measure to cool off – usually in some overly civilized manner, like standing in front of an air conditioner or drinking something full of ice. The reality is that our bodies are designed to sweat, that is how we naturally cool off. The drying sweat is the main mechanism to cool our bodies. It is the same principal of physics that makes a refrigerator work. Instead of running for an air conditioner, if the hot lady will just sweat, get out of the sun, sit in a shady, breezy place, and drink some water, then she will be fine. She should let the system work – in this case, the system of our sweat glands and using common sense to reduce the hottest factors of working hard in the direct sun.

Other times, people walk in a room a little darker then where they just came from and automatically flip on the light switch. They don’t give their pupils time to adjust to the darkness. If they will just wait a few seconds, they may be able to see perfectly well, instead of wasting electricity on too much light. Let the system work - our pupils.

Analogously, if your body is in some kind of non-deadly stress, maybe being out of breath, inability to keep up with trip partners, or feeling overwhelmed by some major discomfort, then at that point many persons feel the non-negotiable need to slow down or stop, recoup their restful position, gather more resources and try again in the future (or never try again). There may be nothing seriously wrong, the person simply is not used to handling physical stress and wants to avoid it at all costs, so they stop after the first negative sensation. Their intuition is not necessarily the best response. If they will let their bodily systems work, they may complete the tasks in good order and maybe even learn to enjoy it.

The reality is our bodies can handle huge stress. Think about people who run 26.2 miles non-stop in 3 hours. If we simply persevere, then we will usually find we can get through the situation, even very tough times, in reasonably good shape. If we let our systems work and keep doing what our bodies are designed for – work, drink, eat, sleep, work some more - then we will often be okay. We can actually handle three of four times the stress that we think we can.

Many times I’ve been on a high-level difficulty trip, encountered one or more of the above problems, and chose to stay on the boat, stay in camp, go back to the trailhead, or otherwise cut short my participation. At the time, I thought I was being careful. In hindsight, I was being too cautious – okay, I chickened out. I did not let my systems work. If I had stuck with the plan, I could have toughed it out, made it through, enjoyed more camaraderie and scenery and been prouder of my effort.

On the other side of the fence, many more times I have planned some kind of high level difficulty trip, and nobody would join me, due to their own fears of a similar sort. Maybe the conditions were big waves, cold rain, high altitude or deep snow. Whatever…the missed trip was their loss. I like company. But I will put up with some solo travel to get into the outdoors in more exciting conditions. If more people would learn to let their systems work, including their own bodies, and do things that are sometimes counter-intuitive, they would have more fun activities.

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