Opinion: Risk-taking, and the culture of inner destitution (pt. 2)
This is the first in a two-part series of opinion columns from Truckee psychologist Kimball C. Pier, in response to the Dec. 14 “Why the Huck?” presentation in Tahoe City, focusing on the idea that more adrenaline and high levels of risk are not necessarily motivated from a healthy place.
Like many adults, our children and teens operate just under the red line of adrenal exhaustion resulting from too much stimulation and too little sleep. We feel pressure to do more, have more, and be more, and speak of exhaustion as though it is a form of heroism; of working more and sleeping less as a measure of toughness, the time to play and rest lost in the noise of “shoulds and have-tos.”
Whether it’s in an affluent sector of our culture (Tahoe) where people can afford to ski, snowboard and ride mountain bikes; or in the sector of our community where the big rush might be joining a gang or finding another peer group where risk-taking behavior means drinking more or smoking more crank than the kid next to you, as a collective, we have lost contact with our “stop” buttons.
‘Going Bigger: A Different Definition’
The “Go Bigger Coalition” does not promote turning up the spigot on our adrenaline as its title may suggest; its mission is to teach a more thoughtful and contemplative approach to engaging in sports or activities that have a higher potential for injury and death than others.
The message for children and teens is that holding your ground and making a decision that feels congruent and resonant for you rather than giving in to the pressure of the group or greater culture redefines the meaning of “going bigger.”
To “go big” is to go deep; to take the risk of stepping out of the vortex of noise and excitement and into the quiet realms of nature, the interior world of the soul, and the call of the heart, not the scream of the ego and the siren-wail of the big adrenaline rush.
Many adults that come to see me for psychotherapy tell me they feel chronically burnt-out, exhausted, depressed and anxious, yet they can’t quite pinpoint a cause. They describe feeling on the edge of a sort of abyss they can’t quite define.
My own experience of these symptoms, following a series of traumas from 2011 through 2013, led me to explore the effects of acute trauma and perhaps more importantly, the effects of chronic, insidious trauma, which, for so many, has become the predator in their everyday lives.
Those who work in the hospitals, social services, schools, police forces; firefighters, teachers, parents, child care workers, first responders, soldiers, and those who work in shelters, churches and any line of work where we see chronic struggle and suffering, can result in a condition called “compassion fatigue,” or post-secondary trauma.
Learning to slow down and be quiet is so foreign to many of my clients that they feel more anxious at first just sitting and breathing, not uncommon at all for people whose nervous systems have forgotten how to recalibrate.
But the movement is on, and people are hungry to find more peace and balance through practices of mindfulness, yoga; walking instead of driving, choosing a weekend day for “unhooking” from all technology, and refusing to participate in the educational system’s relentless homework and intrusion into relaxation and family life. Many schools are now incorporating mindfulness practices into the daily school schedules.
The results of these new choices are having profound effects on our spiritual, mental, and physical well-being, as the neurochemicals associated with meditation and quiet time serve to calm our ragged nervous systems.
In many schools, there are periods devoted to meditation and quiet time without any talking or texting; there are yoga practices being incorporated into regular gym classes in high schools, and many schools are reducing or eliminating homework so that children can have unstructured playtime and time with their families; time to dream and imagine, time to connect with the heart, and time out in nature not for the adrenaline rush of the Big Huck, but to appreciate each moment in reverent play with the mountains and the relationship that is possible when we are just present.
Kimball C. Pier, Ph.D., LMFT, is a depth psychologist and a practicing therapist in Truckee. Visit sierraagape.org to learn more.