Lessons In Mindfulness From Paintball In The Snow

Finn soldier 1939


I was in Vermont visiting friends and a group of us had the opportunity to try our hand at paintball.  As you probably know, paintball is the sport where you get to shoot at people, and be shot at, with compressed air guns that fire colorful balls that go splat.  I have always meant to give it a try but just never got around to it before.  Its pretty entertaining.

We also had the added fun of doing this out in the wintry woods on snowshoes.  It was a nice day just to be out on snowshoes even without the added benefit of blasting away at friends.  Thumping around in the snow with gun in hand was like a paintball version of the Finnish Winter War (except no hordes of Russian tanks……and no fatality……and we could go inside for tea when we wanted).

At one point I was out there in the woods and setting myself up to bushwhack some perfectly nice individual.  I was hunkered down behind cover and keeping an eye out through the trees to catch sight of whoever would approach.

That was all well and good but as a few minutes passed I was annoyed to note that my mind had wandered off.

Now to keep this all in perspective, its not like this was life and death and I wasn’t trying to practice super-ninja skills to qualify for some special ops unit.  I was just playing paintball with friends.  However, I did have an opportunity here to practice some basic awareness and focus.  So I once more tried to get my Jedi powers going and listen to the sounds of the forest and stay still and patient and…….I found myself thinking about calls I needed to make the following week.  After a few moments of irritation with myself I finally did manage to pay attention to what I was doing in the moment.  That was still too long.  Luckily for my sorry butt, this wasn’t Finland 1939.

I first encountered the idea of mindfulness as a college student (yes that long ago) when studying Asian religions.  I was first introduced to types of meditation practice around that time.  As time went on I also encountered a number of lessons on awareness via the martial arts.  This isn’t exactly new ground for me.  So why was I being such a flake as I sat there in the snow awaiting my victim?

I think there are probably two answers.  The first is that I have grown accustomed to maintaining mindfulness and focus in certain familiar situations.  Yes, I may do seated meditation (though with lapses to be sure).  Yes, I am accustomed to staying focused in the middle of some kung fu form.  However, I am not exposing myself to the practice of mindfulness in a wide enough range of situations and activities for that mindset to click naturally regardless of context.  That has some wide ranging implications.  Obviously it suggests that an unfamiliar and unexpected self-defense situation might throw me.  Happily I don’t get attacked much.  A more immediate problem is in terms of conduct.  If working to be Agathos (that being the point of my ramblings) is reflected in my behaviors then a certain vigilance is required.  Will the unfamiliar mean I do not have the proper answer at hand when I ask myself:  what is the most worthy action RIGHT NOW?

The second reason is likely the ADD-inducing multitasking freakshow barrage of stimuli that is plugged-in life.  Not to get all Luddite here but I can recall going to the library as a student with no cell phone, no laptop, nothing but books and a notepad.  I was unreachable and undisturbed for hours.  Even in working life the phone was a distraction but I still would have relatively vast stretches of time to focus on a project.  Is that possible now?  It certainly doesn’t seem to be the case for me anyway.  Somewhere along the way I’ve become distracted by too many demands for attention and various other shiny objects.  If I am being clear and seeing things as they are (as the Stoics teach) then I see that most of what draws my attention doesn’t deserve it.

Am I reading too much into a little bit of daydreaming while sitting around in the snow?  Possibly but I don’t think entirely.  Whatever routine, comfort or adult life sensory overload impacts my ability to be mindful and focused needs to be addressed.  It may be as simple as making sure I have utterly unplugged time in nature or in study.  It may be that I just need to get out of the house more and have more new experiences.

Maybe I’ll have to run around in the woods and shoot people more often.

4 Responses to “Lessons In Mindfulness From Paintball In The Snow”

  1. Paul Borda Says:

    Honestly, I don’t think about mindfulness all that much (smirk) but I think something like it comes over me spontaneously when I do emergency work. When I’m in a high stress situation I’ve found that, because of some internal faculty that I can’t quite control, I become completely relaxed, focused and do only one thing at a time. It’s like I enter in to some kind of hyper-aware bliss state. I get the sense that I shouldn’t need to be in a burning building in order to feel this way, but the presence of danger certainly does clear the mind.

    • What you describe sounds like the flow state some psychologists try to study. Given your training the danger becomes manageable (hopefully) and so rather than be overwhelmed the experience allows you to operate at a kind of peak. I don’t know that such clarity could be maintained at all times without burnout but with awareness it ought to be a little easier to slip into when the time comes. At least that would be my hope.

  2. I’ve been realizing a similar issue. When we moved up here, the only place for most of our exercise equipment was a very small, cramped room and not all of it fit. This ended up with me not wantnig to stayin that room even if I was only using the equipment there, which ended up with me wandering to the computer between sets. This became an ingrained habit. I realized this was not a good thing, not helping either physically, mentally or spiritually.

    We’ve since started to develop a real gym in what had been my parents’ spacious living room. Everything (eventually) in one place. And a shrine (do you know anyone else with a shrine in their gym with a statue (Hi, Paul!) of An Morrígan and an action figure of Sarah Connor (no, really, if you do I’d love to meet her/him).

    I stay in the gym (unless, at this point in doing this, I realize something I need hasn’t been moved yet or the like). Between sets I meditate, usually on a balance ball, at the shrine. I find my mind wanders, it’s often even harder now to pull it back (“I wonder if someone’s commented on that last post….”) than it even was for my naturally ADHD mind. But as running to the other side of the house would be disrespectful, with this sort of set up, I have great incentive to bring my mind back.

    There will be music in there eventually. And the TV set up to play inspirational movies (um, or one) and when I want something new I might check out a work out video, but right now, not even that. Not until the focus is back more.

    The next step will be to spend more time in the woods that isn’t here at work. Perhaps once I’m able to quiet those “I’m disconnected frmo the world!!!” thougths in the gym, I can keep from panicking from that feeling in the woods.

    As always, it’s strange to be posting online how messed up I feel I am because of being online.

    • Yeah the net is funny that way. On the one hand it can be a great tool for communication and in other ways it can be isolating because you never actually have to go to meet anybody.

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