A Mindful Walk Off A Plank

My reptilian hindbrain got a workout on Sunday, enjoying a rare chance to overrule my more evolved and usually-in-control prefrontal cortex. In the name of Psi Chi bonding, I was prepared to jump off a wood plank 30 feet in the air, for the amusement of a dozen students. It didn’t matter how much I psyched myself up to take a leap – reminding myself that two students had already gone, that I was attached to a secure belay rope with a thoroughly tied knot, that I did this 2 years ago without a problem – or how enthusiastically my students counted down for me, some subconscious part of my brain said “no” and froze my muscles at the crucial moment.

It’s odd, because I think I score reasonably well on the Mindful Awareness Attention Scale, a measure of “dispositional” mindfulness – not meditation or formal mindfulness practice, but how mindful we tend to be as we go about our everyday lives. According to at least one study, this means I should have reduced emotional brain activity in response to viewing emotionally arousing pictures, including skydiving. Perhaps I’m an exception; perhaps it’s a good reminder that we can only extrapolate so much from pictures in a lab to a real-life emotional situation; perhaps there are some things that mindfulness can’t overcome, with good reason.

Or perhaps it just takes a little more effort. I did make it off the plank – not gracefully, from a crouch on the edge, with one hand illogically clenched around my belay rope. It’s entirely possible that if I were less mindful, I wouldn’t have made it that far.

Even if I manage to develop a regular, lengthy meditation practice, though, I doubt I’ll try skydiving.

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