Skiing, Love and the Three Kinds of Reality

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Grodnitzky, Ph.D.
February 28, 2023
I just went backcountry skiing for the first time. The trip offered me an experience I had never had before, and it made me think about what happens when we harmonize our three realities (personal, social and independent). I just went backcountry skiing for the first time. The trip offered me an experience I had never had before, and it made me think about what happens when we harmonize our three realities (personal, social and independent).

I’m in love. You can see it in my face in the photo of this blog. I have an almost childlike, giddy smile. As is so often the case, it took me completely by surprise, but it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t open to it.

I have been downhill/alpine skiing since grad school – that would be about 35 years. I’ve had the great fortune to ski some of the most challenging and beautiful mountains in the world.  And there are still more to ski! But last week, for the first time, I went backcountry skiing. It offered me an experience I had never had before, and it made me think about what happens when we harmonize our three realities (personal, social and independent).  

Personal Reality

Our personal reality is our experience that we can share descriptively, but not directly. So, while I can’t plug you into my brain to share with you the experience directly, I can pass onto you my indirect experience through this blog.  

Backcountry skiing, in a word, is: PHENOMENAL!

Backcountry skiing is a combination of skiing and hiking. Like peanut butter and chocolate, they are better together than either is individually. Backcountry skiing put me in the middle of the mountains with no one but my two friends and the guide who was leading us. As someone who appreciates nature, there is no better way to experience it than with only a few people around. Peace, tranquility and silence can be experienced like nowhere else.

Social Reality

Our social reality is the reality that we create and share with others. In this case, backcountry skiing was a new experience for me and my two friends. We all understood that it was going to be a different experience than alpine skiing, and we were looking forward to it.

This anticipatory excitement was part of the social reality we created together. We had exchanged emails about ski gear, proper clothing, etc. This flow of information between us was creating the expectation that we experienced together.

In contrast, I have another friend whom I had discussed this trip with prior to our departure who said, “Backcountry skiing is too much uphill for not enough downhill.” That is his social reality. He surrounds himself with alpine skiers who prefer riding up in a chairlift and skiing down – exactly what I had done in my entire skiing experience prior to last week.

The difference is he had adopted the view of “too much uphill for not enough downhill” from someone who had previously gone backcountry skiing. He allowed it to influence his social reality without any direct experience. I did not. Social reality is, in part, informed by the people we surround ourselves with, the beliefs that they share, and those beliefs we choose to make our own. My friend was closed off to the prospect of backcountry skiing because he had adopted a “too much uphill for not enough downhill” belief from someone else. He was closed off to a new experience. I declined to adopt that belief, so I had a different – enriching and enlightening – experience.  

Independent Reality

Independent realities are objective or scientific realities. They don’t care whether we believe in them or not. They are not affected by our likes and dislikes. They don’t care how we feel about them. They exist independent of our views, beliefs or desires.

We have long known that being in nature can improve your health. There is even research showing that humans can take a “nature pill,” spending 20-30 minutes a day, three times per week, in nature, and get positive health benefits – decreased stress, decreased cortisol, improved mood and more happiness.

Time in nature does us good – whether we believe in it or not. That is an independent reality.

When we are in nature, we must adapt to the independent reality it offers. If it’s raining outside, we wear rain gear. Snowing, snow gear, etc. When backcountry skiing, we adapt by adding and subtracting layers of clothing. When climbing, our bodies get warm. We shed layers so we can avoid sweating and stay dry. When we get to the top of a climb, we stop, add layers to keep our warmth, strip the skins off of our skis, set our bindings to ski downhill, and then go.

Part of the joy of harmonizing our three realities is a sense of mastery or flow – even when you’re still learning a new process. It is our ability to learn and adapt – to harmonize our three realities – that is so rewarding.  

Being in the independent reality gives us the opportunity to see. Being in nature is like a dance.  And nature is always leading.

Why Does This Matter?

One of the aha moments I experienced on this trip was that in any situation – personal or professional – aligning our three realities (personal, social and independent) brings us greater joy and freedom.  

As leaders in organizations, we feel less afraid, more creative, more capable of facing challenges, and more gratitude to those who work with us. We are able to build a culture that no one wants to leave, everyone wants to be a part of, and that is the envy of our competitors.

As human beings, we are able to move beyond our egos, beyond self-interest, and experience ourselves as a vital component of the larger world. Whatever your faith background or spiritual belief system is, if you want to truly feel a part of something larger than yourself (and we all do!), begin by harmonizing your three realities.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

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