August 12, 2008

Our family is returning to our usual suburban lives after spending a week at Camp Chickagami in northern Michigan. For several years now, we’ve loaded up our minivan with duffel bags and sleeping bags and food bags and on-the-road bags and beach bags and towel bags and housekeeping-away-from-home bags…as well as bicycles…for the six-hour trip to Presque Isle County.

We always look forward to swimming in Lake Esau or hiking near the water or biking to the nearby lighthouses or maybe day-tripping to Mackinaw City or Mackinac Island. But when I camp, I also enjoy just lying down in our cabin and diving into a pile of reading.

That’s why I was so glad to find that a magazine I’d read in our cabin last year was still on one of the tables inside. It was the August 2007 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine, with an article written by author Laurence Gonzales. The article was titled, “Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes.”

I wanted to reread the article. Gonzales, who’s an expert in survival skills, offers anecdotes of people with experience who have made potentially fatal mistakes — including himself. The problem, he says, is that we humans tend to construct mental models for efficiency’s sake. But these models aren’t always effective.

“These models can become remarkably stable even in the face of clear information that would seem to contradict them,” Gonzales writes. “That’s why we can continue on into deteriorating conditions or ignore obvious hazards.”

“We don’t really perceive the world most of the time,” Gonzales says, adding that our mental models allow us to “move smoothly through the world without having to stop all the time and reexamine something we’ve already examined.”

But that’s exactly what we should do. He advises us to stay mindful and question ourselves regularly. “Success in the wild or in everyday life lies in the willingness to stop and question what you’re doing,” he says.

According to Gonzales, mindfulness has its finer rewards…besides the obvious goal of survival. He quotes Emory University psychiatry professor Gregory Burns: “People who seek out information about the world get more goodies.”

I thought the article was fitting to read on an annual camping trip that shakes me out of my usual suburban routine. I think that, sometimes, it helps to change where we are so we can change how we are.

That makes all the packing and unpacking worth it.


One comment

  1. It’s tough coming back to “reality” after a vacation, isn’t it? Sounds like you did some thought-provoking reading, too, Cindy. I love having time for mindfulness…

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