Thursday, July 17, 2014

Perce the Pelican

The mind and memory never cease to amaze me. Just occasionally, a fragment of something bubbles up from the depths, years ago, and somehow dovetails into your current interests or obsessions. In my case, this was a vague memory of a magazine or newspaper article mentioning someone - I couldn't even remember the person's name or the context - who used a visualization of a pelican called Perce, skimming above the surface of a lake, which they used to stay calm, reduce anxiety, and whatever else.

Google is my friend. I found the article without difficulty: Nowadays all is fair in sport too.

 The pertinent piece was only a sentence:
The Olympic shooter Don Brook used to psyche himself down - and his pulse rate - by visualising a pelican called Perce skimming across a mirror-finish lake.
A few years ago Pat and I were driving home to Sydney from a holiday on the Sunshine Coast. Arriving after dark, we stopped at a quirky little motel at Nambucca Heads, had dinner in the restaurant (decor was unremarkable but the food was good) and slept overnight. The next day I woke and went outside to find myself in a beautiful part of the world, a grassy area surrounded by bushland right on the bank of a long, straight stretch of the Nambucca River. Really quiet and pretty. The pair of pelicans blasting down the river, skimming the water less than a meter above the surface, was thrilling to see, without disrupting the serenity of the natural setting. These big, long necked, huge billed, goofy looking birds with big webbed feet turn into a sleek, graceful missile with a huge wingspan when they are in the air. Like this (video). Or this:

The birds' behaviour exemplifies part of a journal entry by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

After much wandering and seeing many things, four snakes gliding up and down a hollow for no purpose that I could see— not to eat, not for love, but only gliding ...

Now, linking the memories of the newspaper article, and my experience by the river, I felt strongly that there was something there which was demanding closer attention.

Instead of just counting my breaths while in seated meditation, I now made an effort to visualize Perce, the pelican, skimming forever over a smooth body of water, near twilight, the water a clean purplish gray. No effort, just little adjustments of his wings to stay on track and at the correct low altitude. Exemplifying the flow state sought by extreme sportspeople, surfers and performance junkies everywhere.

I switched between watching Perce from above, from a point just near his right shoulder (where the GoPro camera might go, I could see the individual feathers on the back of his head) and from Perce's point of view, as if I myself were the pelican.

I find sustaining this visualization to be difficult. I think it works better in a dark room or with an airline eye mask on, but I want to be able to do this anywhere. I have been hammered for a long time by articles and books from professional sports psychologists, and countless blog and Facebook posts by amateurs, about the values of visualization in physical skill development and achieving optimum arousal level for performance. Now it's time to stop avoiding this and put in some effort - or "non-effort" - with Perce.

Despite those difficulties, I found flying with Perce to be more calming and relaxing than I did counting my breath. I tried closing my eyes and flying with Perce during a dental appointment. I wouldn't say I totally zoned out, but it did help me relax and felt it was a good use of the time in the chair.

I shall pursue this further. Perce exemplifies the flow state, flying for its own sake ... only gliding. Life lived effortlessly. Perhaps my Jiu Jitsu could benefit from visualization of the technically perfect, effortless, X guard sweep chain. My writing, Android programming, everything else ... there's only one way to find out.