For most of my adult life I pursued my love of outdoor activities. I was a licensed New Your Guide spending many summers as part of SUNY Cortland’s Recreation and Leisure Studies Department’s Outdoor Education Practicum leading small groups of college students on wilderness trips. An accident in 1999 left me with quadriplegia and confined to a power wheelchair. The traditional wheelchair is not designed to leave pavement. Even the new all-terrain chairs, while a great improvement for off road travel, are not designed for true back-country. Years ago I saw an episode of NYPD Blue where the police were questioning a former drug dealer who was confined to a wheelchair as the result of a drive-by shooting. They were threatening to put him in jail and he told the officers you can lock up my body but you can’t imprison my mind. I realized the relevancy of that statement to my situation. If we choose to accept that premise, then we empower ourselves to use the freedom that exists in our minds. I’m sure most of you have heard James Taylor sing:
“In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine
Can’t you just feel the moonshine”
As the population ages more and more people will find their interaction with the out-of-doors curtailed, so this will be relevant to more than just the disabled community. You can use your mind and senses to help you relive past experiences. If there are activities that you once enjoyed which you are unable to participate in now, try revisiting them again with mental imaging. While this may seem a little offbeat in the beginning, remember practice makes perfect. You can use your mind to free yourself of the constraints placed on you by your age or disability. Use your senses to help. Use the smell of a Balsam pillow to remember a hike you took years ago. Listen to the rain on a roof to return to a moment when you were trapped in your tent during a downpour. To change a very common phrase just a little bit, “Your mind will set you free”.
One imaging activity I enjoy is to put on my poncho and sit outside in the rain with my eyes closed. The sound of the raindrops on the nylon almost immediately takes me back to my wilderness trips when the rain would confine me to my tent or to waking in the middle of the night to the sound of the rain on my tent. Nestled in a warm sleeping bag or in this case my poncho listening to the rain brings on a feeling of serenity and that all is right in the world. I am treated to a “memory flood” of some of the best times of my life.
I was kayaking one day in a neighbor’s pond. Because of my lack of grip my hands must be strapped to the kayak paddle. When I finished, friends removed the special gloves and my hands dropped into the cold water. Instantly I was transported to the confluence of the Cold and Raquette Rivers north of Long Lake, New York. I reveled in the moment. As we get older there are many situations we can no longer experience. Or can we?