There's nothing like doing something that could kill you to concentrate one's mind.
Many years ago I remember reading an article in Parade magazine that contained a quote from an Iraq war veteran that said something similar: "Everybody needs something in their life that can kill them."
For three years, 2009 to 2012, I rode a maxi-scooter -- a Burgman 650 Executive. I loved it. (My wife, not so much, as noted in a blog post, "USA Today story about older motorcycle riders mentions...ME!")
Riding the Burgman 650, as is the case with all motorcycles/scooters, focused my attention on the here and now. This is virtually a necessity when riding on two wheels on roads dominated by four wheels. If you aren't aware of what's going on with the drivers all around you, the risk of an accident goes way up.
So no matter what mood I was in before I hopped on the scooter, as soon as I took off I felt better. Not because my problems had disappeared, but because I no longer was thinking about them.
A piece in the New York Times, "How Sky Diving Cured My Depression," caught my eye today.
The author acknowledges that doing something risky isn't a cure-all for depression, since there can be many causes of this malady. But he benefitted mightily from a single sky dive in Dubai.
A series of nasty thoughts that had begun as whispers in the back of my head mounted into angry shouts over time. I had moments of happiness and joy over the eight or nine months those dark thoughts haunted me, but as soon as the positive thoughts faded I reverted back into the darkness that had become my default mental setting.
It built gradually, but those dark thoughts vanished in an instant somewhere high above the beaches of Dubai. And I haven't heard so much as a faint whisper from them since the moment I stepped out of the airplane.
...When I signed the intimidatingly long waiver at the flight school in Dubai, I had no idea that I would land back on earth feeling like a completely new person, or at least back to the person I was before my battle with depression began. While the initial adrenaline rush does provide some immediate relief, the dive had a much longer-lasting impact on my general outlook. It allowed me to think clearly for what felt like the first time in months, and reaffirmed something I had once known about myself, but had forgotten somewhere along the way.
In essence it completely changed my relationship with fear, which had become a very regular part of my daily life through the depressed period.
In those months of darkness I was too afraid to put myself out there, but you know what’s scarier than rejection? Jumping out of an airplane. I was too afraid to take risks, but you know what’s scarier than failure? Jumping out of an airplane. I was too afraid to talk to anyone about, much less write and publish a story about, my battle with depression, but you know what’s scarier than being vulnerable? Take a guess.
I survived the scariest thing I can image [sic] doing, and now I feel like there’s nothing left in this world to be afraid of.
Of course, there are other ways of being jolted out of unproductive habitual ways of thinking and feeling. Counseling, meditation, trying something different (I recently wrote about this from a Tai Chi perspective on my HinesSight blog, "Tai Chi philosophy: dissolve and try something different.")
Risk comes in various forms, both physical and psychological. Many people would find sky diving, riding a motorcycle, or skiing down a black diamond slope to be terrifying, not therapeutic. Ditto with giving stand-up comedy a try or baring one's deepest secrets online.
The human mind is marvelously variegated. People's psyches differ in countless ways. So there's no "one size fits all" approach to finding happiness and contentment.
However, I've found that just visualizing myself on two (or three) motorized wheels makes me feel better. It's as if simply acknowledging that I'm the sort of person who enjoys doing something risky is therapeutic for me.
So, each to his or her own. We all have our own ways of finding meaning and satisfaction in life.