Meeting Myself for the First Time

Hannah Peevy Post Float

As a coach, I am privileged, honored, and lucky to work with a number of remarkable young people. Ranging in age from 12 to 22 mostly, with some older or much older, I get to watch as they grow, learn, and mature as people and as athletes. Truly a blessing.

Many people face challenges at a young age and I have watched (and sometimes been in a position to help and/or encourage) as they have worked to overcome those challenges. One of the remarkable young athletes that I work with, Hannah Peevy, recently wrote about her experiences as she began floating in a sensory deprivation tank. (See link below or here for more information.) Faced with health challenges, her journey has not been easy and we wondered if floating might help. Another of my athletes, Leigh Yarbrough, had shared her thoughts about floating experiences with Hannah as well, so off she went to find out.

Here is Hannah’s entire essay about her first few floating experiences.

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Meeting Myself for the First Time

At age 20, I introduce myself as Hannah Peevy, a college student on my way to earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I am actively involved in hobbies such as Olympic style precision shooting with air rifle and precision small-bore rifle. Among these hobbies, my other interests include managing a dairy farm alongside my mother and sister. For the most part a healthy, active, young adult.

While I do have many blessing in this life, I have had the unfortunate journey of living with chronic pain and undiagnosed medical issues. In my fifth year of school, I began my journey to understand why I had aches and pains. Through countless doctor visits throughout middle and high school, a couple of hospital visits, and trying countless alternatives, I am still left with the same bleakness of being undiagnosed. While it’s frustrating and hard not to get discouraged, I turned in a different direction. With faith, I knew God carries me through, guiding me in my most difficult times. I remind myself daily; He would not put on one’s shoulder what he/she could not handle. I made the decision not to take daily medications, to stop being treated, and just to carry on throughout college trying to be in control of things like my stress level, my diet, and more natural solutions.

Upon hearing my story, a good friend of mine, JP O’Connor, urged me to try floating. At first, I regretfully admit, I thought I was getting another quick-fix remedy from someone with good intentions, but didn’t understand my situation. How can floating in salt water really help years upon years of pain that doctors couldn’t even help solve? My ignorance didn’t outweigh my curiosity and hopefulness of something that could be an answer. Upon reading and watching some of the personal testimonies of floaters, I had to at least give it a chance.

On January 14th, 2015 I experience my first float at FLO2S in Atlanta. After a stressful day of microbiology lecture/lab and rushing against traffic to make it on time, I was hoping this was the relief I was seeking. Eager and excited, I got to meet Edward at FLO2S for the first time. He is such an awesome person. I couldn’t have asked for a kinder person to talk to about some of my day to day struggles with chronic back pain, arthritis, and stress. He shared in my excitement and hopefulness that floating would help me like the others who have sworn by it.

Entering the shower room for my pre-floating experience I had a mixture of emotions and thoughts. Little did I know upon stepping into the floating cave for the first time that I would meet the true Hannah. I entered, laying into the water, feeling awkward at first, but slowly allowing my body to relax. I allowed my body to slowly rise in the water. It was such a profound feeling of having no sound, no light, no temperature differences, and no downward pull on my body. I laughed at the thought “I could get used to this.” Thinking to myself, “Where can I put this in my future house and I wonder if Pinterest has a DIY project board to guide me?” Such silly thoughts from your typical college girl, “When in doubt, Pinterest it out! Right?”

Ten, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes into my float session I realized I had no indication of the time I had spent mulling over random thoughts of school assignments, this feels strange, what I need to get done, I wonder this… I wonder that…. It occurred to me, “Does my mind really control me like this?” A victim of society’s hustle and bustle, I realized I had become that person. Being someone with a Type A personality was never a surprise to me, but had I really allowed myself to become victim to my own self worry, criticism, and self-inflicted stress? Taking a deep breath, I focused in on the sound of my heart beat. It was beating at a fluttering rate. How did I miss that? Even as a precision shooter, how could I have not been capable of picking up on it? It was habit; it had come to be a part of my life. Stress had become my norm. Taking another deep breath; just listening. I felt my heart rate slow, becoming more rhythmatic with each deep breath I took in and slowly allowed the air to escape my lungs once more. It really is beautiful, the feeling of your heartbeat beneath the surface. Hearing it methodically sustain me in that moment, each beat following the next in a rhythmatic promise. It struck me as almost poetic.

Allowing myself to really relax, entering into a daze-like restful state, with small moments of rushing thoughts. I knew my body was not used to this, and it would be my job to allow my inner self to let go of day to day materials, thoughts, and confront the reality of a deeper mind. I sleepily heard my signal that my float session was over, music beginning to play. Really, an hour and a half had already passed? I felt unstable to walk, gliding awkwardly to greet my mom who was waiting for me in the lobby. Edward and my mother, reading my reaction, could tell I had experienced something different. I loved it. That night for the first time in the longest I rested soundly, without disturbances, a full night’s sleep. I woke to a refreshed feeling and having acute focus within my classes. While feeling refreshed and sleeping so soundly, I was surprised to find that my body, back and muscles were sore. Different from pain, but sore, almost bruised feeling. The best way to explain it would be the feeling you get after a new workout or a deep tissue massage. Floating had made my body’s muscles release some of the built up tension that I had been suffering from. Without realizing it, my neck, back and shoulders were at a constant state of tension. The floating session, in a way stretched it out, releasing some of that tension, making my body sore. Like a good work out sore. I was amazed. There was more to this, and with many more floating sessions I would begin to understand. The morning after my first float I snapped this picture (above) for Instagram.

I learned more and more about myself each and every time I went into the floating chamber. My second floating experience, I came away frightened, I believe and truly felt that I had attended my own funeral. Sounds crazy? I know, visions and thoughts, they came to me differently each float session. Some rewarding and some frightening, but it was all parts of my deeper mind surfacing and telling me something more about myself. One of my most interesting experiences occurred to me during my third float session. Describing to Edward, when I felt content and happy, my water felt warm. But as soon as I felt anxious or worried about something, my water turned an uncomfortable cold. My perceptions were connected to my state of mind. I took away from this that in situations when I allow stress to manifest within me, I only feel worse. Furthermore, routinely in each float session thereafter, I thought of one thing at a time, or a certain person, what memory I associated with them, and how my body reacted to that thought. Measuring my heart rate change, my perceive temperature of the water allowed me to identify what were the biggest stressors in my life. That is valuable.

Each time, I walked away with a restful night’s sleep and a better understanding of how to manage day to day life. This is all good, but how does that help chronic pain? While I didn’t find a cure or a quick answer to my pain I deal with, I did find management. While I may not be able to choose what I live with, I have a choice in how I live with it. Part of undiagnosed autoimmune diseases, such as mine, is the management of stress. When your body is under huge amounts of stress or you’re not getting the deep sleep throughout the night, it takes a huge toll on your body. By simply managing these aspects of my life, pain was reduced and more manageable. I had greater focus with my shooting and in class. Something as simple as note taking can become cloudy when your mind and body are not in the right state. I highly recommend floating; you have nothing to lose, but so much to gain.

As a college student and active shooting athlete, it’s hard to make the necessary time aside from the demands of my schedule, but it is highly worth it. Who knew at age twenty I would be meeting myself for the first time, truly me. My raw thoughts, feelings, emotions. Don’t allow yourself to be what society makes you, you are more than that.

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Links:

Hannah’s interview after her first float

More information at FLO2S

Essay and photograph copyright 2015 Hannah Peevy

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Feel Center!

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The Empty Method

2014 PPP Cheyenne 1

With correct instruction, it doesn’t take long to learn how to properly and safely operate a firearm. With good instruction, it doesn’t take much longer to start to develop marksmanship skills. However, when a target shooting athlete strives to raise their game and thrive under pressure, then things can get exciting!

There are multiple paths and techniques to achieve great things. Some paths and techniques are longer and harder while others are… a little bit less long and hard. (No, I won’t say any are short and easy!)

In our culture, we are taught to take control, make things happen, pay attention, try harder, and so forth. Each of those ideas has appropriate applicator. Even where appropriate, how the ideas are applied can be more important that what is done – that “how” can make all the difference. We are also taught to use our mind and directly apply it to our activities.

In this teaching, we learn about and exercise only the “active thought” part of the mind. This is known variously as the “conscious” mind, or “thinking” mind, or “analytic” mind, or “slow” mind, or… more familiarly to our daily existence: the “talking” mind. This is the part of the mind we most often use when shooting; partly because this is the part of the mind we must use in order to learn anything, and partly because we are almost never taught that there is another – much more powerful – part of the mind.

This other part of the mind is what I call the “deeper thought” part of the mind. It is often know as the “subconscious” mind or “intuitive” mind, or “quiet” mind, or “fast” mind. This is the part of the mind that learns deeper patterns, sequences, and timings. Unless you are learning to tie your shoes, the “deeper thought” part of the mind is generally doing the work. Last time you tied your shoes or boots, do you remember actually doing the activity?

High level target shooting demands use of the deeper mind. We are culturally conditioned to not use that part of the mind, if we even realize it exists. The primary challenge we see with elite athletes, and improving athletes at all levels, is overcoming the cultural conditioning, learning about the deeper thought part of the mind, learning how to tap into its power, and trusting that manner of shooting.

About 1-1/2 years or so prior to he 2000 Sydney Olympics, Nancy Johnson’s performances and especially her consistency seemed to dramatically improve. Why? One reason that she and her national team coach Dan Durben will point to is her hard work. Hard, hard work, year after year. She never gave up despite times of frustration and sometimes even feeling like quitting. There is no substitute for experience! Another reason that she spoke about seemed unusual to some listeners. She said she had to learn to “just be” in order to shoot well. “I lived for my yoga class!” she once remarked. Nancy had taught herself to tap into the power of the deeper thought part of the mind.

Right after she graduated from college, where she was an All-American and NCAA rifle athlete, Kathy Vaughan started shooting and coaching with us in the Atlanta area. She now coaches a small group of pistol athletes, including her daughter, along with another coach, the father of another of the athletes in the group. There are three middle school girls shooting pistol, each shooting international standing position now for a year or less, and all are doing very well. Kathy’s daughter, Cheyenne, said she wanted to write a short essay about something she had learned. With her permission, and her mother’s permission, we share her essay with you.

The Empty Method

by Cheyenne Vaughan

I grew up shooting air pistol. My mom, Kathy Vaughan, got me into shooting matches at the age of nine. I’m thirteen now, almost fourteen. This is an exciting year for me, going into my first year of the J2 age group. Shooting for about 5 years, I’ve learned that I can’t shoot well while I’m thinking. Last year with the help of one of my coaches, JP O’Connor, I figured out that if I empty out my head before shooting, I shoot better and group better. I try to empty my mind before a match, practice, and even dry-fire drills. I call this the Empty Method.

After figuring out how to process this method, it took me about a month to empty everything out without trying. My scores have gone up and it’s also helped me with my school work. I don’t hear voices in my head telling me to do this, or don’t do that; it’s all peace and quiet.

The empty method works on any kind of shooter, especially air pistol and air rifle, I have learned from experience. Almost every Tuesday night, at practice, JP comes to help coach. After shooting a target, or black card, we talk about our shots. When we first started this, my two team mates at the time, Katelyn Abeln and Nick McCoy, talked about their shots and how they felt when they released the trigger. It was my turn and I just sat there. I had to try and remember what I shot and how it felt, but really I didn’t know how they felt or what the trigger felt like when I released it. It wasn’t because I was stupid, it’s because I wasn’t thinking; my head was empty. Now, a year later, I’m able to shoot and remember a little bit about how it feels when shooting each shot.

There are a number of profound topics lurking deep within in this short essay. I also like Cheyenne’s name for this style of performing: The Empty Method.

The athlete must empty their mind of all the trash and chatter.

One of the keys to attaining an empty or quiet mind is separating “outcome” (in all its forms!) from “doing” in the mind of the athlete. Our ego wants to win, get a high score, not be embarrassed, and so on. All are beyond the athlete’s direct control and all are in the future – or in the past and the athlete is still dwelling on the good or bad result. Even the last shot is in the past, and the score for this shot is still, ever so slightly, in the future.

Which brings the next key to a quiet or empty mind. One must exist (“just be”) in the Present Moment without thought or care. One must learn to trust this method. When was the last time you tied your shoe or boot laces while worrying about whether or not you would mess it up? Don’t laugh; that’s what we do to ourselves in shooting, especially in a match!

There are many additional factors, too numerous to list or discuss in one already too long blog posting.

Notice how at one point, Cheyenne mentions that she cannot immediately recall and discuss what happened. “I had to try and remember what I shot and how it felt, but really I didn’t know how they felt or what the trigger felt like when I released it. It wasn’t because I was stupid, it’s because I wasn’t thinking; my head was empty.” This is very typical of deeper mind activity.

Have you ever had little to say, or little to write in your journal right after shooting, but a few hours later you could talk or write all about what happened? The active thought part of the mind is the one doing the thinking and speaking or writing. The deeper thought part is the one doing the shooting in the Quiet Method so there is nothing for the active thought part to speak or write about. After things process for awhile, the information is available to the active thought part of the mind and we can discuss the events. As a high school student and then already an excellent shooting athlete, Jamie Beyerle Gray noticed this same effect. No doubt many of you have had the same experience. Keep your journal handy!

Cheyenne may or may not yet be entering flow state (the so-called zone) at this point, though she is getting close, if not already there. We are patiently working the process. Her teammate, Katelyn Abeln is also working on this method and is now entering flow state at moments.

We will have a lot more to say about flow state and choke proofing in future blogs.

Feel Center!

Photos:

– Cheyenne Vaughan at Fort Benning competing in the 2014 PPP nationals.

– Katelyn Abeln, Cheyenne Vaughan, and Sandra Uptagraff at the 2014 PPP nationals.

Your comments and responses are always welcome.

To be notified of new posts, go to the “Home” page and select the small blue “Follow…” link on the right side of the page just above the search box. On mobile devices, scroll way down near the bottom to find the “Follow…” link.

2014 PPP Cheyenne Katelyn Sandra