Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Mind/Body Problemo

Philosophers have toyed with the duality of our mental and physical ‘essences’ forever and you can check out that
mulling-over-stuff yourself, on Wikipedia, if you have a mind to (ha!ha!).

Watching, and especially thinking about the Olympics this week has prompted me to offer another level of interpretation to this whole concept as it applies to competitive sports.
There are those who see such endeavors as a form of physical effort, engaging things like muscles, balance, co-ordination and strength in stunts of daring-do. To me, this clearly demonstrates a complete absence of the more analytical and contemplative aspects of human nature. Hence, when watching these ‘sports’ others, (like me) who posit their existence between their ears, when observing their opposites luging, moguling, skelling, crossing and lutzing, can be frequently heard to to utter the expression, “Are you out of your mind?”

In spite of occasional fruitless attempts at exertion (I once bought an exercise bike, recumbent, of course, and looked at it for several months before admitting defeat) I have always leaned towards a life ‘of the mind’. This does not eliminate me from having an opinion about sports, since this is a democracy and anybody with a mouth, brain or brawn dominant, is entitled to that. Just watch a little Fox News and you'll see what I mean.

Credentials are very important when commenting on or participating in all aspects of competitive sports, so over the next few entries, I will present mine.

Keep in mind that, although born in the land of ice and snow, I was discouraged, from an early age, from actually going outside during the winter months, unless absolutely necessary. In such emergencies, I was bundled up in a one-piece snowsuit with a zipper that traveled from my ankles to my chin; my feet were stuffed into ‘galoshes’, which were snapped tightly with clips, cutting off the circulation below my shins like a tourniquet. Hand-knit mittens, strung through my sleeves, dangled just out of the reach of my frostbitten fingers. This getup was topped by a woolen hat, pulled down snugly over my ears and eyes, drastically limiting visibility. That didn’t really matter so much, since once shoved out onto the verandah (a word that conjures up images of wicker rocking chairs and mint juleps, but in reality meant drifts of icy snow and treacherous stairs) there was nothing to see but white.
Besides, I couldn’t move, anyways.

In fact, the idea that you could actually physically move your body around much at all, during those months, was foreign to my generation. Trudging back and forth to school, heaving a few snowballs a couple of feet (or meters, if you prefer) and falling down on patches of ice and lying as helpless as a beached whale were about as athletic as it got. I speak, of course, from personal experience. The most vigorous movement I experienced on those cold days, was the frantic rubbing of my tingling extremities to bring back circulation after an hour of outdoor play.

But then there was the winter 'of the mind’.

Wintry Sunday afternoons would find me lying on the living room floor in front of the TV, watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The blurry black and white images of skiers barreling down Swiss mountains, banging into gates or flying off jumps into the air, filled me with the ‘thrill of victory’ without actually having to suffer any ‘agony of defeat’. By the time I reached adolescence, there were rumors that people actually went to exotic far-away places like the Laurentians, to participate in this activity, for fun! After all the hours spent observing, I was confident that I could schuss with the best of them and began to campaign for permission to go on a little Christmas break with my girlfriends to Ste. Agathe. I was shocked when my father, the original Nanook of the North, absolutely refused to allow this adventure.

He had no concerns that I might run amok in the mountains. He knew I was too much of a stick in the mud to get into any trouble. He spoke from experience as an avid skier, himself. In his heyday in Timmins, tramping around in what he nostalgically called ‘the bush’, he practically lived on skis eight months of the year. His old skis and poles were gathering mold in our basement. They were very long, thin and made of wood and hides, just like him. (One time, my sister and I snuck them out into our yard, which had a tiny hill over the sump pump, stuck our boots into the leather bindings and slipped down the incline to see what we were missing. Unwaxed, or ungreased, or whatever it was they weren’t, they stuck persistently as we tried to get some slippage. I was not impressed and was left with the feeling that there was more to it).

No, he objected, he said, because of the danger of getting killed. He claimed that unless you were skiing every single day, your chances of getting fatally injured were extremely likely. He was probably right, since, in those days, no one wore any kind of protective gear, head or otherwise. Somehow, I think the exorbitant price tag of a hundred bucks, all in, factored heavily, too, but he would never have admitted that. So my friends went off without me and I never got the chance to develop my innate athletic ability. Mind you, neither did they, since it rained the entire week and there was no snow, an occurrence that happens in Canada more times than our reputation might have you think, eh, BC?

A few years later, I managed to join a day trip, with a couple of guys, to Barrie, where a molehill had recently been christened a mountain and you could rent the necessary gear and pay a fortune to spend hours standing in long lineups for the single t-bar lift up the frosty incline. Once at the top, I took one look down the steep slope, hitched my rentals over my shoulder and trudged down the hill to the ‘lodge’ to spend the afternoon nursing a hot chocolate.

I had come around to my father’s opinion. As far as athletics went, mine was destined to be a life of the mind.

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