Panic, luck, and control

First, I want to admit that I've been putting off writing this article for some time. I didn't put it off because I didn't have any ideas on what to write about the experiences I'll share below, but because I had too many ideas. Usually, I try to plan and schedule when my articles will publish, but today I decided just to sit down and write until I hit the "Publish" button.

I've had a number of experiences this year that have shifted my perspective on the subjects of panic, luck, and control. Before I try to delve into the philosophy behind that shift, I'm going to recount the experiences that have had an impact on molding it. It's important to me that you recognize that I'm sitting here now, writing this; don't worry yourself about the scenarios themselves, that would be missing the point I'm getting at. It's important for me to share the experiences so you can understand what I'll say afterward.

As I said, I've had a number of amazing experiences this year and I look forward to elaborating on them in a future article. Life is full of good and bad experiences. Sometimes even the bad ones can be good, if you learn something. In fact, that's exactly what happened when I ran out of air while scuba diving.

I had been helping another diver who was attempting to demonstrate a shared air ascent to an instructor. When I gave him one of my regulators to use as his air supply, he struggled to get into the right position so that we could do the ascent. He must have been nervous, possibly even a little scared. The instructor eventually signalled him to cease his attempt and signalled me to return to a different position in the water. As I swam toward the new position, I noticed immediately that my regulator felt significantly different. In moments, I felt it jolt as it responded to my breathing. I recognized that jolt instantly; I was out of air. I looked down at my gauges and confirmed that I was empty. It must have happened while I was sharing air, the other diver must have been breathing heavily.

I turned to the instructor and got his attention. I signalled to him that I was out of air. As I did this, my body continued to gasp at my regulator for any air it could get. At that moment, I realized that I could decide how I wanted to respond to this situation. Would I allow myself to panic and break for the surface, risking internal injury by ascending too quickly? Or would I face this challenge and sort out my options?

I decided to choose the latter. I remember letting go of the panic and mentally giving myself time to sort things out. I signalled the instructor again and showed him my gauges. He readied himself to give me an air supply, but signalled me to swim to another diver to share air with her. (I would find out later that he did this so he wouldn't leave any of the student divers beneath without his supervision.)

My body continued to take gasps at nothing. (If any divers are reading this, I want to take a moment to tell you: keep the regulator in ALWAYS, you can NEVER override your body's desire to breathe; it's better to breathe nothing than water.) I swam to the other diver and signalled her that I was out of air. Unfortunately, she didn't realize that it wasn't a drill, so I had to work through the proper technique, all while staring at her regulator and holding back the urge to reach out and take it so I could breathe. (FYI, her secondary supply was part of her BCD.) We got through the signals and she started handing me her regulator and switched to her secondary. As I put the regulator in my mouth, I thought for an instant about clearing it of water, but I wanted to breathe so badly that I just took a breath.

I can now say that I have taken a breath full of water and I can now laugh and tell you that I wish I had cleared the regulator first. However, I now know what it feels like to be out of air underwater and to take a breath of water. Drowning would be a horrible way to die.

Once we swam to the surface, the other diver noticed that I was manually inflating my BCD (for the non-divers: so I could float). She realized then that I was really out of air. Later, she asked me about how I stayed calm under the water; my only answer was that I chose to. Panic would have done nothing to help my situation, I had to work through my options and consider the consequences. I realized that day that I would always have a choice in any situation. That realization would become even more significant when I found myself falling without control on a sky-dive.

I'm in the process of getting my parachuting license; that means a lot of training, logging quite a lot of freefall time, and more than a few solo jumps. I had completed a number of jumps by the time I experienced what I call "my first sketchy sky-dive". I call it "sketchy" because it wasn't "bad", but it certainly didn't go as planned. I say "first" because I'm certain that I'll have at least one more "sketchy" jump in the future; I don't want to have another, but I'm sure going to prepare as if I will.

Many lessons require students to demonstrate certain skills. During this jump I had to demonstrate some easy turns and docking/undocking with an instructor. My first turn went alright, but I cut too hard on my second turn and ended up on my back. I dropped quite a way while on my back, but regained control and checked my altitude. My instructor caught up and I again tried to complete my skills. I turned over again; this time I was on my back and almost head down. Every 5 seconds of freefall is about 1000 feet (30 meters). I struggled to regain control, but couldn't reposition myself. I was counting in my head as I fell; I needed to decide if I should stop trying to regain position and just deploy my canopy. I looked at my altimeter and realized that I was well below my ideal deployment altitude.

I started to reach back to deploy my 'chute. Somehow my instructor managed to catch up to me and grabbed my harness. He and I were eye-to-eye. He gave me the "pull" signal (meaning, deploy your parachute now!). I nodded and mouthed the word "pull", my hand already in place. (Later, he and I would laugh together at the expression on my face when he first grabbed me; it was a combination of "Where did you come from?" and "Holy $#!T!")

I deployed my canopy and attempted to look up at it to make sure it was "flyable". I couldn't look up. My head was being forced downward by something. I reached up and felt my risers (straps connected to the canopy) crossed behind my head. The canopy was flying backward due to my inverted deployment, I was facing the wrong way. I pushed my head beneath the risers, tried to get them to uncross. Nothing. I bounced up and down in my harness, to shake things into position. Nothing. I knew I should only try once more before cutting my main and switching to my reserve 'chute. I gave the risers the biggest shake I could manage; I pulled up on them like I wanted to climb out of my harness. They uncrossed! I was finally facing the right direction; my canopy was flyable.

As I thought through my experience, I noted that there had been no panic in my mind (on my face, maybe, but that was just funny to look at). I did what I had to do to regain control of the situation. I'd like to note that after I completed my landing and reviewed the errors (and excitement!) of my jump with my instructor, I decided to go up again on the next flight and I passed that lesson successfully.

I've spent a number of months thinking about these experiences (and others that are related, both positive and negative). There are many times in our lives that we try to control everything. We build entire industries around "giving" people control of some thing or some situation. In reality, we only ever have control of ourselves, our own minds; anything else external to that is circumstance.

Some people have said that I'm "lucky" in these situations. Others have said that it's all just "risk management". I somewhat disagree with both. Even though some of it comes down to chance and there is, of course, a lot of planning and prevention, it all comes down to how you face the situation when it occurs. Will you panic and leave it all to chance? Will you pretend that you control everything? Or will you take each situation as it presents itself, trust your instincts AND your training, lean into the challenge, and know that the moment you're in is the moment you've been living for your entire life?

When all you have is a few moments left in life, your priorities and focus become clear. You wonder why you wasted time on meaningless things and how you can make the right kind of choices in the future. You see, we don't second-guess the things we can't control; we second-guess ourselves. As I took my gasps of nothing or when I watched the sky fall away, I didn't think about blame or control, I only thought "if only...".

I have always loved my children and I greatly appreciate many people who are a part of my life, but I didn't share that gratitude until I recognized how special every moment is with them. Now, I try to let someone know what something means to me, even the smallest thank you is important. We have so much choice within ourselves; we can control the kindness and love that we share. Feeling stress about non-life-threatening situations, worrying about other people's opinions, accumulating things without purpose; it's all so empty. I choose to value the people in my life, I choose to make every moment significant. If I trust my instincts and training, face my challenges, and accept every moment as significant, then I will never think "if only..." again. Life isn't about panic, luck, and control; it's about love, respect, and trust.


Photography on Flickr

The universe is filled with a multitude of wonders. Some have existed for billions of years, others last only a moment. Today, I'd like to begin sharing some of the moments with you through my Flickr photostream.


I've often been fascinated by the discovery of unique places and experiences. I take hundreds of photos whenever I find myself in those new and captivating situations. In fact, I catalog thousands of photos every year, but only share a few when I think it's relevant and/or sought out. That said, my photostream is not an attempt to share every moment; rather, I hope to use it to showcase those photos in which the visual moment looks one-of-a-kind.

Within my photostream, you'll find images of a variety of wildlife, places, events, and experiences. Some images are of things astronomically large and in the vastness of space, others are of things barely visible or often unnoticed. Whether it's a view from a summit or into the eyes of a curious creature, I hope my photos can provide you with a glimpse of the wonders of our universe and inspire you to value every moment of your own extraordinary life.


Metric Day the easy way

Today is the 10th of October. As with previous years, I choose to recognize today as "Metric Day". I last wrote an article about Metric Day in 2011 and, in the time since then, I've noticed that many people in the United States of America are becoming more comfortable with the International System of Units (SI) [Wikipedia]. I'm not suggesting that those individuals are comfortable with its use, but it certainly seems that a growing number of people are recognizing the convenience of it in our global community. (Similar to the change I have witnessed in the public opinion of Daylight Saving Time.)

The use of SI is wide-spread and those who are unfamiliar with SI find themselves somewhat isolated in a growing global community. Today, I hope to provide some easy-to-remember tips to those individuals who are curious about SI, but are reluctant to adopt its use.

Conversationally, we often discuss the environment and our own comfort within it. As a result, common units of temperature are often cited and discussed. Rather than wrestle with a more accurate mental conversion or calculating one using a computer, try to remember the tips below; it might speed your conversational comprehension and free up your mind for the social aspect of agreeing that 30°C is rather warm.

F minus 30, divided by 2 ≈ C
C multiplied by 2, add 30 ≈ F
People find themselves discussing distances internationally for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you or someone you know is in the US military and stationed abroad. Or maybe you have a friend interested in joining you on a 5 kilometer run, but they hesitate because they're only comfortable running 3 miles. I hope the quick methods below will help you or your friend adjust quickly to the measurement most familiar.

mi divided by 5, multiplied by 8 ≈ km
km divided by 8, multiplied by 5 ≈ mi
mi divided by 3, multiplied by 5 ≈ km
km divided by 5, multiplied by 3 ≈ mi
(This second set of distance conversions might be noticeably less accurate for numbers higher than 10)
Technology has allowed our ever-growing population to become evermore connected. Borders and boundaries begin to fade in meaning as we correspond and collaborate with people instantaneously, regardless of our location or theirs in world. In a world of dizzying communication, using the same measurement "language" is the difference between clarity and confusion.


YouTube praises

I consume a lot of information everyday. An increasing amount of that information is coming via video. Most often, I'm consuming information to give myself a greater understanding of the universe, whether astronomy, particle physics, psychology, history, or so much more. However, I think levity brings light to life, so I also enjoy quite a bit of comedy as well.

As much as I enjoy my consumption of edutainment (yes, you read that correctly), this blog article has a very specific purpose: Recently, I've found myself glued to some very specific YouTube channels and websites. I want to share them with you. Please note, I'm not trying to rank these channels, I just want to share those that stand out in my mind at the moment.

First of all, I have to mention Hank and John Green. I can't get enough of their many entertaining and educational YouTube channels. I recommend starting with this one: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers
Next, Destin gets some serious excitement from me with his channel Smarter Every Day
There are SO many more educational YouTube channels that I find amazing (e.g. Vsauce, veritasium, CGPGrey, minutephysics, DNews, PBSIdeaChannel, etc.), but I'll be sure to include a list directly to my subscriptions so you can dig around for yourself.
(Michael, Trace, Lacey, Anthony, Mike, and anyone else reading this from those channels... I find every one of your channels fascinating and hope my link to my subscriptions leads more viewers to you as well. Hank, John, and Destin were the ones responsible for leading me to you, so I thought I should mention them individually.)

As wonderful as the educational channels are, I have a few mostly-entertainment channels that I enjoy as well.
The Slow Mo Guys immediately come to mind. I have devoured every one of their videos and always look forward to more. (In fact, when Destin took a high-speed camera to Peru, I recognized the manufacturer and specs of the camera thanks to SloMoGuys Dan and Gav. Furthermore, I actually think it was Dan and Gav who eventually lead me to Destin's channel.)
Now, there is one comedic YouTube channel that stands out among the many others I view: Arturo Trejo's channel. I'd say more about it, but I think it's more fun to just go see for yourself.
Be sure to also check out the other comedy channels I subscribe to, such as Bad Lip Reading and Simon's Cat.

I find myself also enjoying a subset of entertainment videos, those having to do with entertainment reviews/commentary. At the top of my list is The Blind Film Critic, I think Tommy Edison does a noteworthy job of blending humor and his unique perspective on film.
There's also one of my long-time favorite channels by Adam Mader, which presents fun reviews of gaming as seen through the dillema of whether you should "Rent or Buy".

Now, after all of that praise to the educational and entertainment YouTube channels I enjoy, it's time to rave about the one specific channel that has excited me enough recently to make me want to write this article in the first place....
I often write about or mention the outdoor experiences in life which I crave. EpicTV definitely suits my adventurous side and has somehow managed to quell some of that craving, even when I'm staring at a computer screen. Admittedly, it can also be problematic.... I feel like a kid in a candy store as I watch ALL of the thrills I love unfold on-screen; I know that no matter how much I might want to do all of those things right now, I have to pace myself and enjoy what I can as I can.
Link to my YouTube channel subscriptions: http://www.youtube.com/user/IndianaTHart/about
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to see all of the videos stacked up in my feed, but as I start my way through them I'm reminded of why I put them there in the first place: the universe is so full of such wonder, beauty, and adventure. I feel privileged for the opportunities that I have had to enjoy some of it and I am grateful to my friends, family, and the many internet people listed above. All of you in my life, literally and digitally, sharing your adventures and knowledge with me, you inspire my passion and motivate me to seek adventure everyday.


Experience the challenge

I sometimes hear people remark at some of my adventures saying, "I could never do that." However, it's said that one person's heaven is another person's hell. I think every individual faces different challenges throughout life, as unique as the individual encountering them. In fact, we frequently see that not everyone considers the same things a "challenge". Afterall, what is a "challenge" really?

The word challenge carries many connotations. It could mean a call to action, a defiant stance, or even an expressed disagreement. However, there is another definition of the word "challenge" which stands out among the rest:
challenge - A test of one's abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking.
That definition1 reveals the internal struggle faced during a "challenge", whereas the others address only the external conflict. I think every challenge contains a component of that internal struggle, demanding some greater effort than is natural.

I once heard a climbing instructor illustrate the concept of challenge in a unique way. He drew two large concentric circles on the ground. Standing at the center of the circles, he explained that within the smaller circle was the "comfort zone"; a mind-set in which we feel safe and relaxed. He then stepped out of the smaller circle and into the next larger one. He pointed to the line of the outer circle and said that it represented the limits of safety, beyond that outer circle was the "danger zone". He then pointed to where he stood, within that outer circle, advising that he wanted the climbers mind-sets to stay there that day: outside their comfort zone, but within the realm of safety.

His demonstration touches on concepts studied in behavioral psychology. The "comfort zone" being a state in which a person is "anxiety-neutral". The "danger zone" being a state in which a person is reckless, where they are certain to injure themselves physically, mentally, or emotionally. It should be noted that dwelling, for a time, in the area between the two can be surprisingly advantageous.

In performance management studies, the zone between comfort and danger is called the "optimal performance zone". Beyond the comfort zone, the body's natural stress response enables a heightened level of concentration and focus. If the stress level is too high, a person has entered the danger zone and performance worsens and judgement is impaired. "The objective of the trainer or manager is to cause the person to enter the optimum performance zone for a sufficient period of time so that new skills and performance can be achieved and become embedded."2

So, a challenge can be sighted as anything which triggers a "stress response". Many people, such as myself, love the adrenaline rush of something new and exciting which pushes the body's physical limits. However, I don't consider those experiences my challenges. You see, I don't fear those experiences, I crave them and find comfort in them. Climbing a mountain, jumping out of a plane, camping in subzero weather; I find those experiences calming and familiar. I don't feel tested by them, I feel at ease. I've come to recognize that my challenges are internal.

The struggles I face come from within. Maintaining a healthy life-balance, cultivating friendships (not just acquaintanceship), silencing my self-doubt, and trusting the support of others when I feel vulnerable. It's extremely difficult for me to even list some of those points. For some, my challenges might seem small and simple, but the stress is very real for me and the fear can be undeniable. The good news is that I recognize that those struggles as my challenges.

For some time now, as has been noted in other articles, I have been focusing my energy on stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing the challenges I encounter within. To be honest, it has not been an easy process. Were it easy, it would mean that I wasn't in that "optimal performance zone" of personal change and internal balance. So, when someone comments with amazement on something I do, I thank them and take a moment to compliment them on the things they do which I admire and find challenging.

We each have things which test our abilities and push us beyond the limits of our comfort. What I find comfortable may be unnerving for others. When I sense myself internally leaving my comfort zone, I consciously make an effort to evaluate what is triggering my stress and work through my fear. Regularly recognizing my challenges and stepping out of my comfort zone has become a significant "centering" exercise. It is also important to know and become with familiar with the limits of your zones.

During a avalanche awareness and training course, my instructor warned us that "problems occur when desire overcomes discretion". He was referring to the reduction in clear thinking when we become too focused on a specific goal or reward. We begin to ignore warning signs that we would otherwise recognize, if we kept a clear head. That's a serious problem, especially in life-threatening situation; that is when we have entered the danger zone. It's important to carefully evaluate the limits of a situation and define where the optimal performance zone ends and the danger zone begins.

While it's true that life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away, it's equally paramount to find a balance that allows you to keep breathing. Become aware of your challenges, embrace them as an opportunity to improve. Admire the heroes who find comfort facing the things you find difficult, show gratitude and offer encouragement to those who fear what you face. Remember, every person is a hero for facing the challenges they encounter in life.

1 Challenge - The Free Dictionary
2 "Comfort Zone" - Wikipedia


Saturn and a snow

April has been a rather aberrant month this year. Here in Colorado, we've experienced a second winter of sorts with a pair of significant snowstorms in the past few weeks. April has also brought with it some unnerving events for many people in the United States, as well as around the world. Looking beyond our planet though, April is also host to a few enjoyable astronomical occasions.

[Thanks to Neave's Planetarium!]

Tonight, April 25th, the planet Saturn will rise within 4 degrees of the full moon. It will hug our celestial satellite throughout the night for a wonderful viewing experience. You may want to bring out your telescope or a pair of binoculars to try and catch a glimpse of Saturn's rings.

Don't worry too much, if you're unable to catch a glimpse of Saturn tonight, the planet will be visible in the night sky for some time to come. Most notably on April 28th when it will be in opposition (directly opposite the Sun) and at its closest distance to Earth. Long time readers know how much I enjoy astronomy, so it should be no surprise that I will definitely be finding a great place to hike with my telescope and witness the wonders of the night sky.

2013-04-26@08:00:00 MDT UPDATE: Added a photo from my viewing of Saturn's rings last night. Taking a photo through a telescope lens does the beauty of the rings no justice.


Water is necessary

What do you need? What is essential to every day of your life? In the world of instant gratification, global communication, and relative safety, you might find yourself thinking that you "need" more than truly necessary: Food, Water, Shelter.

When I wrote the survival series, it was about educating people whose basic needs are met in their daily lives. My hope continues to be that those articles can be a helpful resource and provide the knowledge which could save lives in unexpected situations. However, today is Earth Day and I'd like to take a more globally aware view.

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:D-P005_Kein_Trinkwasser.svg

There are far more people in this world who live in a state of basic survival need everyday than those whose needs are met. People lacking proper nutrition, basic safety/security, and the most basic life need: water. In my articles about the human population reaching 7 billion, I mentioned some statistics about water and sanitation.
Lack access to safe drinking water (1.1 billion): 17.74%
Lack access to basic sanitation (2.6 billion): 41.93%

Years ago, I briefly shared a video from charity:water about their projects to bring clean drinking water to people around the world. Two years ago, I saw another video from them that I've been thinking about since.

URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCHhwxvQqxg

The necessity of water to life is unmistakable, so too are the detrimental effects on the people and communities lacking clean water. Now and again, some people in the developed world are shocked into a life without basic needs (e.g. New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, New England after Hurricane Sandy, the disastrous Carnival Triumph cruise ship). It's in those situations that basic survival skills become the focus of every moment; imagine living always in that state. As the video notes, the time spent trying to meet our basic needs is time that can't be spent on developing ourselves and our community.

Not everyone has the resources, desire, or freedom to lend to the needs of others, but we all feel stress when our needs are being threatened. By keeping an awareness and empathy about that stress, maybe we can each make an effort to recognize and connect with others, helping to improve the overall human condition with the simplest kindness.


Groundhog Day 2013

Throughout the day today, I thought often of previous Groundhog Days and the experiences and enlightenment that came with them. As Groundhog Day 2013 comes to an end, I find myself thinking about the passage of time. Experience teaches us a great deal about ourselves and, given the right circumstances and encouragement, when can grow and learn everyday.

I continue to value and appreciate the lessons of my own journey -- some of which I have reflected on in recent articles -- and I am hoping and planning an exciting year ahead. However, I am also careful to temper that excitement with the recognition that I would not be able to have such opportunity ahead nor the appreciation of my journey without being mindful of who I am in the present.

By the time this article publishes, I will be watching "Groundhog Day" (again). Like Phil, of the film, repeating the same day countless times while learning to improve himself, I hope to continue to embrace the beauty of each day -- even its familiarity -- and mold myself into the man I want to be in my continued journey. And while I value the significance of this year, for me, I recognize that time continues on and everyday brings with it new growth and opportunity.


More than the summit

Much of our psychology and sociology is dedicated to studying and preserving existence. Throughout history, it appears as if humanity is determined to derive some purpose for life. I, personally, have spent a great deal of time and much thought trying to seek purpose in my life. However, the singular search for purpose seems so futile and the results, if any, are flimsy and fleeting.

Before I elaborate, let's start by addressing "purpose". The basic principle in the purpose of existence is as simple as Shakespeare: to be or not to be. Our purpose is to sustain ourselves, sustain our species, and to sustain the existence of all life. Everything else we construct, both mentally and as a society, is external to that basic premise.

Some philosophers have argued that the constructs beyond those "basic needs" are meaningless, pointless, and unnecessary. There was a time when I thought that way as well. Now, it seems, I had the wrong idea and I needed to alter my perspective a bit to see things differently.

The change in my view came as part of a larger shift in my thought and attitude. In hindsight, I can see the first public indications of that shift in my article "A midsummer's hike":
I love finding new and exciting experiences throughout the world, but I sometimes find myself pushing physically so hard toward some goal that I ignore what I'm feeling about the experience of getting there. I certainly enjoy the external aspects of the experience (e.g. beautiful views, incredible company, wondrous wildlife). I hope that this new approach to my pace will help me to be mindful of the internal experience as well.
The hike that day was spectacular. Not only did that small change in approach impact my overall enjoyment, the subtle shift caused some of the ripples which would slowly change my attitude and approach to life from then on.

So, what is it that we're really searching for in life? What is this internal drive that we all seem to feel at some point in our lives? Let's circle back to the idea that anything outside "purpose" is "meaningless". I would like to now argue in opposition. While those things necessary for sustaining existence are certainly essential, they are not substantial. And it is that substance that truly is "meaningful".

Reflecting on the shift I experienced during that hike and how it applies to the concepts of purpose and meaning, the relentless pursuit to achieve some goal (purpose) deadens the nuance (meaning) of the experience. It's foolish and dangerous to hike in ignorance of your environment, so too is it foolish to go through life without finding meaning in the experience.

As with the weather on a hike, it was an external influence that started the necessary change in my internal process and shifted my mindset. Had I not accepted that external influence, I may never have come to understand that while the basic essence of life defines what challenges we face in life, it is the substance in our lives that enriches how we approach those challenges. Sometimes things don't go as desired and you get rained on, but it would certainly be a less enjoyable experience if you wear your rain gear all the time.

The wonder of existence comes in finding the balance between preparing ourselves for the challenges while keeping our perspective open to the beauty. Do we push hard toward only one goal (e.g. the summit, the essence, to be or not to be), trampling both thorn and flower as we march? Or do we change our pace and shift our perspective, to better feel the substance (both painful and wonderful) of our existence?