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The Art of Decision-making for Successful Outcomes
My mother's wise advice, the tragic news of an adventure vacation to see the Titanic wreckage in a submersible that imploded, my reflection on the nature of decision-making, and close calls of my own
A mother's advice on travel and finding answers, meaning, and perspective
Once in my youth, not too long after beginning the stress and challenging times of medical training, I told my wife one evening in our small cozy apartment, "I need to take some vacation time off to wrap my head around all these current demands and changes. I need a break to gain perspective on the meaning and purpose of my newly chosen medical career path." My wife and I agreed, so we planned and then set off on a long drive to a yogaretreat center in the mountains to meet, learn, and do practices with a popular and well-known yoga teacher. The experience was worthwhile for both of us, even after a stressful drive through the upper New York State mountains. It was beautiful to experience the deep relaxation and insight that there was more to life than all that occupied our thinking minds. When we returned, we went first to my parent's home in a lovely, wooded country setting in Maryland, where I grew up. My mother, who I always thought was a bit of a natural mystic as she always seemed insightful in a more profound way than you would experience with most people and always seemed in touch with the spirit of things above the mundane. She must have anticipated our arrival as she came out of the adjoining woods where she had been cleaning an area of leaves and branches covering some newly planted shrubs under her care. She beamed with warmth and gladness at our safe return.
Her smile of deep understanding and a few words conveyed her heartfelt thoughts, "You don't have to travel far, as it is all right here." Implying to me that one doesn't have to search or look all over the place for what is imminent and close at hand in nature and daily life where we are and live. The clarity I was seeking and thought I found with my far travels to study with the skilled yoga teacher, apparently to my mother, was nearer than I had imagined. My mother's penetrating warmth and smile made it all seem to be present with the simple clearing of mind with intentional, purposeful, loving, and respectful actions. I understood that my mother's ways were the product of a person who had found her peace in the simple essence of how she approached life's challenges and stresses. She was respectful of our adventures and seeking the deeper meaning of things, but she knew that wisdom would come to us in its own way and time.
Mother always worried about my safety when I traveled or went off on one of my adventures. When I was younger and would go out on dates and maybe stay out a little later, she would always be up waiting for me to return home safely. Of course, it took me many more years of trying and seeking to find that I didn't really have to travel too far, as it often was just a few breaths away with an unfettered mind. However, I persisted to a certain extent and still feel at times that a change of venue is a necessary and valuable thing to do. Maybe someday I will reach that same level of enlightenment and spirituality as my mother and her acceptance of what is and have the wisdom that we don't have all the control over as much as we think we do. She died soon after I had established my first medical practice. After she died, I realized she had stoically kept the pain and early warning signs of her failing heart to herself, from myself, and her internist, who had always admired her warmth and smile. She must have sensed her soon end of life, with complete acceptance for what was to be, and didn't want to burden anyone with worry.
Exploring the recent ill-fated mini-submarine implosion, descending to view the sunken Titanic, and my scuba diving misadventures
The recent tragedy of the research mini-submarine like-vessel that imploded on its way down, instantly killing its crew, including a paying adventure traveler and his son, brought up traumatic memories of my close calls. Past scuba diving adventures came to mind when I was younger, and I went outside my comfort zone for risky, adventurous experiences. Why I did it still is not entirely clear: maybe it was my youth, adventurous spirit, and need to feel accepted and valued by my athletic peers and fellow lifeguards who were into scuba diving. Or perhaps it was a need to prove my masculinity or bravery, find my direction in life, or explore new things. Other reasons might have been the challenges of the adventure itself, the gratification of pushing the envelope to increase confidence or overcome fears, or to prove my self-worth in meeting a formidable challenge, perhaps to increase bragging rights or egotistical needs. My first scuba diving adventure with my friends and fellow lifeguard was going for a deep dive in a rock quarry lake—maybe a trip not chosen wisely.
My equipment was handed down diving gear from an older brother, which I had checked out and serviced at a local dive shop. I was certified by a scuba diving training course and did a couple of run-throughs with the group going on the intended dive. We practiced in a swimming pool where we all worked as lifeguards and were all excellent swimmers. As the actual dive in open and deep water was new to me, I was pretty anxious. I calmed myself down by saying, "With all this preparation, what could go wrong?" My friends, especially the group leader, had much more experience than the rest of us, and he constantly was the voice of reassurance, "All will be fine; just follow my lead, breathe, and stay calm." I think I immensely underestimated the risk, as did the travelers on the tragic Titanic dive in the supposed safe submersible deep diving vessels.
When we got to the rock quarry lake far out in a rural area, it was colder than expected; but we were prepared with neoprene insulated diving suits, which, as I remember, were tricky to get into. Our diving masks had good seals, and our diving tanks were freshly filled with oxygen and tested. We all know about the risk of descending or returning to the surface too quickly without proper decompression and the dangers of oxygen poisoning or what are called "bends." We all had diving watches to measure our time submerged and returning to the surface. Our leader carefully led us down to the plan depth, frequently stopping to let the painful ear pressure adjust and subside. I gradually felt more relaxed and confident until our dive leader became a little frantic and gestured to me that we had to return to the surface, but slowly for safety. He was pointing to my nose in my mask, where I could feel some fluid which turned out to be blood trickling down the sides of my nose. I was a little frightened but confident in our lead driver. As we got closer to the surface, I gradually felt safer and okay. Unfortunately, as we got to the warm surface of the lake, everything began to spin around, and the diver in charge had to lead me to the shore. Once I had my feet on the ground, the spinning or vertigo disappeared. Though that was many years ago, I still will have, with rapid changes in pressure, as when flying, a small amount of dizziness.
I guess I don't entirely learn from my experience, or perhaps I get the false confidence that because of my experience, I'd be safer and better prepared the next time. However, the next couple of times, I went scuba diving; it was in much shallower water, and I was okay with even more wisdom and experience under my belt—at least, I thought so. Of course, that isn't the end of my tale because many years later, my wife and I were vacationing at a resort in the Caribbeans where they offered a deep scuba dive in the warm tropical waters with an experienced diver who was reputed to have been a diver with the famous French explorer, Jacques Cousteau.My wife wisely passed on the scuba diving experience and was grateful I would be doing it. But again, I underestimated the risk for myself, especially when I learned the diver in charge was only French-speaking, and I wasn't. I felt that I understood his hand gesture enough to follow his lead. I didn't realize he was going deeper than I had expected or with what I would be comfortable with.
He safely took us slowly down so we could accommodate the changing pressure. I think I became more anxious when I looked up from the great depth we were at, and I said to myself, "The surface and light are so far away." I felt increasingly anxious and a little claustrophobic. The diver in charge signaled me to calm down, especially my breathing. He checked the air gauge on my tank and signaled that my air had run out. My anxious, more rapid breathing had caused this, no doubt. The leader signaled me that we would need to go back to the surface slowly and with taking turns breathing from his mouthpiece and tank. Fortunately, my pre-training included how to alternate breathing with another person in case an oxygen tank or breathing supply failed and how to read hand signs. I didn't experience the nosebleed or vertigo that occurred with my first deep dive. Had I proven myself under pressure, or was it an unwise or not adequately planned undertaking?
Lessons to be learned and why we do the things we do
This story's moral is to ensure you understand all the aspects of a planned experience; in this situation, I was not informed immediately before the dive that the leader didn't speak English for adequate pre-dive preparation. Also, you better learn and master French before going down with a French scuba diver without a translator. Even though some psychologists would consider this beneficial exposure work to overcome one's fear, it wasn't for me, just further trauma of getting caught up in doing the same type of poorly thought out or planned activity with potentially life-threatening consequences. Now I appreciate being on solid ground, swimming on the water surface, snorkeling, or just splashing around in a relaxing, warm, soaking tub.
Looking back at my folly of getting caught up in a risky, potentially life-threatening situation gives me some appreciation of how easy it is to come close to an unexpected catastrophe or traumatic experience inadvertently. Any such experience can leave a residue or injury in our psyche and body of fear and reactivity. There was no doubt a complexity of contributory factors that led to the choices and decisions leading up to the unexpected traumatic death of the Titanic exploratory expedition members.
Recently, I was a little frustrated at not being sure what direction to take with my writing and career efforts with my aging mind and body. I felt stuck in figuring out my next steps or course of action. It felt like I lacked perspective and clarity about things in general and felt blocked from getting restarted with my next writing project. My usual impulse is to escape the binding dilemma or stuck position and maybe go on a vacation to get some perspective with the change of scenery. My wife, Jan, reminded me that we recently went on a taxing driving holiday, and it wasn't the time for it again.
Then I read about the wealthy millionaire who took his son on an adventure vacation to see the Titanic wreckage, which ended up as a disaster.,, Their submersible imploded because of the tremendous pressure of the depths, causing their instant death. The story of the tragic happening reminded me of some close call for me in my earlier life, as with my scuba diving adventure, and was a wake-up call for me to be more aware of my journey through life. The occurrence reinforced the purpose of my searches and curiosity to understand the influences behind choices and decisions, to fathom the deeper layer of my mind's workings, and to know why I often miss the bigger perspective of the actual reality of things and existence.
Tips or Points to Ponder:
Seek to understand and know what underlies your inner restlessness as wanting to travel for adventure or discovery or the need for a change to get perspective or to meet specific needs or gratifications.
Risk-taking is on a scale or continuum from none to extreme. Some that have had severe trauma might be very guarded and protective and see all risks as frightening and dangerous, which can cause being too isolated, avoidant, and shut down to new experiences. Some risk-taking can be essential for learning, growing, and establishing a supportive social network. There is a learning curve to identifying unwise risk situations and gaining the tools necessary to assess the potential for harm in future planned endeavors. We often learn from our mistakes, but as we grow and learn, hopefully, extreme occurrences that lead to trauma, PTSD, or death will be avoided.
The presence of any level of risk may hold some in a state of limbo, indecisive, and stuck between choices, leading to chronic problems. Hesitation and ambivalence, when persistent, hold and block decisive actions and resolution of conflicts. Needed changes, project completion, or movement forward with plans or promises do not occur. A result can be the building up of frustration and pressures from self or others to get unstuck and move forward. The inner turmoil, worry, and mental anguish can cause unhappiness and eventual breakdown in physical and emotional health. There might be an interference with vitality, well-being, relationships, focus, and productivity. Awareness and alertness, when one is in a chronic state of indecisiveness and worry, is essential to avoid long-term health consequences by not taking necessary actions for remediation, change, or getting the help needed, which might include educational or training modalities undertaken by yourself or with the help of others.
In deciding to leave the comforts of home or the status quo for a trip or adventure, complete a careful assessment of safety, including considering whom you will depend on, if not yourself, for trip planning, evaluation of your essential needs, and security. Be clear about the risk vs. benefits regarding your well-being and safety. If someone is organizing or managing a trip, ensure there is complete transparency and clarity of details that you understand.
There are educative comparisons when recalling the implosion disaster when a diving vessel collapsed with too much external pressure headed for a view of the sunken Titanic. One psychological occurrence like the implosion concept would be the sometimes insidious, dangerous collapse of one's mental or physical health when too over-extended in activities or relationships or taking on too much stress or "pressure." Awareness and action to reduce or ease too much pressure or anxiety would be paramount for mental and physical health. Regular exercise, meditation, mindfulness, and awareness-strengthening practices can benefit and protect people from excessive stress or pressures from the external world.
It is human sometimes to feel overwhelmed, confused, or have a loss of perspective, especially when considering a change or seeking alternatives. Other situations or contributory factors might be when feeling stuck or in a bind on how to proceed or decide. It could interfere with relationships, work, creative endeavors, productivity, or accurate risk assessment when seeking a change. Often, it is not beneficial to get direct advice from other people who are often biased with their self-serving point of view. Find an experienced and professional person you can trust to engage in dialogue to help you explore all the issues, allowing you to find your clarity and perspective to help with your decision-making, getting unstuck and freed so you can make wiser choices. Doing so at times when needed can be critical for resolving dilemmas, especially when you find yourself caught in confusing and complicated situations.
Schedule a session with Dr. Parks, an Integrative Psychiatrist, Holistic Medicine consultant, and writer, to gain clarity and perspective for help with decision-making or understanding perplexing situations. Schedule a 30-minute appointment by clicking here.
Yoga & Eastern Influence on Holistic Healthcare, article by Dr. Parks:
I Know What Drives People to the Depths of the Ocean, The New York Times article, July 1, 2023: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/01/opinion/ocean-exploration.html?smid=nytcore-android-share
"Rubik’s Cube, Thick Socks and Giddy Anticipation: The Last Hours of the Titan: Five voyagers climbed into the Titan submersible in hopes of joining the select few who have seen the wreck of the Titanic up close. But within hours, their text messages stopped coming." Article in The New York Times July 2, 2023, by Branch and Goldbaum https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/02/us/titan-submersible-passengers.html?smid=nytcore-android-share
The sinking of the Titanic continues to be explored in exhibitions, shows, and films, but those who went to experience them this week had a new tragedy on their minds. Credit...The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/23/arts/titanic-exhibition-show-titan.html?smid=nytcore-android-share
The Story of the Titan Submersible Has Not Ended. Credit…The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/27/opinion/oceangate-submersible-titan-tragedy.html?smid=nytcore-android-share
The Conversation, Substack Newsletter, Academic rigor, journalistic flair: Danger, prestige, and authenticity draw thrill-seekers to adventure tourism. Published: June 23, 2023 https://theconversation.com/danger-prestige-and-authenticity-draw-thrill-seekers-to-adventure-tourism-208353
We sometimes seek adventure, change from our routines and patterns, and left-brain intellectual entrapment. Our intelligent, thinking, planning, contriving, and patterning mind can get stuck in a blind brain neuro loop. Getting free from a stuck place sometimes requires feedback or new input to see the larger context or perspective about what is beyond our current scheming, conceptualization, contriving, or planning. Sometimes there is a push or drive to seek an experience or something to bring clarity and the perspective for changes or to allow completion to what we are trying to achieve, to gain the gratification of a triumphant accomplishment.
Schedule a session with Ron Parks, M.D., M.P.H., an Integrative Psychiatrist, Holistic Medicine consultant, and writer, to gain clarity and perspective or get help with decision-making or understanding perplexing situations: Discussions with a respectful and compassionate physician with the experience and expertise of an integrative, holistic psychiatrist, and internist, can be a very constructive and critical asset when needed. Sessions are not intended for primary psychiatry, medical care, or medication therapies but for helpful dialogue, guidance, and educational support. Schedule a 30-minute appointment by clicking here.