Saturday, April 6, 2013

Outdoor People

I think that I can not preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more – sauntering through the woods... Henry David Thoreau.

Yesterday, while poor Doug worked away at wiring the caravan, I had the good fortune to spend about six hours sauntering, as Henry David Thoreau, opined “through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” Or sort of. Actually, I spent a lot of the time thinking. 

After much cogitation, during which I hope I wasn't, to quote William James “merely rearranging [my] prejudices,” I realized that my current distress (an unusual but wholly accurate adjective) is the result of cognitive dissonance. I think of myself as an “outdoor person.” I like to ski, climb, hike, kayak, preferably in wild places where people are scarce and adventure plentiful. Yet here I am going into week five of urban living, wherein the most exciting thing I have done for a month is kayak, on a perfect day, from Dolans Bay to Boat Harbour. Hardly the epitome of “an outdoor person.” 

Hence my dissonance, I want to believe I am “an outdoor person” yet my actions are not consistent with my beliefs. For a month I've been coddling myself with the idea that this experience represents some short term pain for long term gain; that this rather unsatisfactory period of my life will soon pass and I will be back out in the wild places again. And, some of that is true, but, not all of it. 

According to psychological literature, we resolve cognitive dissonance by either changing our beliefs or rationalizing away any evidence that does not support our cognition. Seen in this light, my “short term pain for long term gain” explanation starts to seem an awful lot like an excuse. While there are things that need to be done so that we can leave the Cave and travel freely for the next year or two, there are also things that I could be doing now that are congruent with my perception of myself as an “outdoor person.” The question is, of course, whether I'll actually do any of them. 

Exposed scrambling in the Selkirk Mountains

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