Undertaking a professional doctorate study is a long and arduous battle against time. Since January 2016 I have been watching the clock, more intensely than at any other time in my life. The space inside me for thoughts and tasks of nothingness has diminished significantly, in both design and desire. Journeying forward into academia has produced a new conciseness of thought towards time. When I am engaged in activities which are not delivering against the professional doctorate, I feel the need to justify the gap. Stepping away from the professional doctorate for time to time has primarily been to preserve my physiological and physical well-being. My summer reading list this year consisted of four books, all of which had an outdoor theme. I started with Alan Rowan’s Moonwalker (2014), followed by, A Mountain before Breakfast (2016). Both of these books made me laugh out loud, especially Moonwalker. Having climbed 161 of the 182 Munro’s mentioned in Rowan’s Moonwalker, I could relate to the humour and struggles of spending days and in Rowan’s case, nights on the Scottish mountains.
What struck me about Rowan was his psychological and physical resilience towards his own self-imposed challenges. Resilience implies the capacity to change and offers the potential for growth (Li et al., 2015); the Scottish hills will also offer the capacity to change and grow as they will never present the same challenge twice. In one of my own favour quotes, Shoss, Jiang, and Probst, (2018) referred to the following quote by Jordan (2010) who expresses the essence of psychological resilience which captures the nature of resilience and the underlying emotional intelligence associated with the individual response. “The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived” Jordan, R., 2010. The Fires of Heaven
Happily, Rowan articulates his respect for the mountains when presented with conditions unfavourable for human interaction, bending his self-imposed challenges and returning in more favourable conditions.
In contacts; Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, was a harrowing read. Even before I began my reading I had somehow heard of this story. In 2015, Matrosova, an avid mountaineer, traversed the Northern Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Late the following day, rescuers carried her frozen body out of the mountains amid some of the worst weather ever recorded. Matrosova had previously made an attempt at this mountainous range before and failed. The litmus test of an individual’s true psychological and emotional intelligence may only ever present itself infrequently throughout one’s life. Resilience as articulated by Kanter (2013) “draws from the strength of character, from a core set of values that motivate efforts to overcome the setback and resume walking the path to success, drawing attention away from the past and focusing on positive adaptation for the future” (Kanter 2013 (p.3). Perhaps in Matrosova’s situation, the need to remain resilient was more overpowering than the need to remain alive. A well written and invaluable book by Ty Gagne (2017) on risk and decision making, sympathetically written and respectful of both Matrosova and the rescue teams involved.
It was not initially obvious in the last book that the main theme of this book is psychological and physical resilience. However to live outside of society in isolated and without any financial, physical or emotional support requires resilience at its most fundamental essence. The book, Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (2018) was thought-provoking and disturbing in equal measure. Based on a true story; Christopher Knight a 20-year-old man, who left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine and disappeared. He survives by stealing only what he needed and remained hidden, cut off from civilisation until he was caught and arrested 30 years after entering the woods. The truly impressive delivery of this story is singularly down to the author Finkel, and his ability to transpose Knights story into a beautifully written text. Finkel refers to Jefferies, Williams and Williams (2014), The Story of My Heart, quoting ‘the type of life celebrated by society is one of hard work and increasing chores and constant routine’, does nothing but “build a wall about the mind” articulating that life can be wasted traveling in endless small circles, chained like a horse to an iron pin in the ground. Knight had no intentions of being chained to an iron pin, and this quote reflects Knights unwillingness to follow societal norms. Finkel also engages with the written work of Socrates, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life”, again this re-enforces the desire to live wild and free by Knight.
Taking a little bit of time out from my academic reading has allowed me to read for pleasure and adapt my reading into academic learning. I am grateful to all of the authors who have accompanied me into the gap.
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