I am very grateful to work for a company that cares deeply about our mental health. We had a team building event recently, and I wanted to share some of the lessons learnt from a very fun day away from the office.
The day started with guided tour of the Q Station in Manly. It's a hotel now, but it used to be a quarantine station for infected ships entering our country. We were given a tour of the facilities, and educated on how patients were being treated there. During the tour, I felt really grateful for the improvements in science and technology that enabled us to overcome COVID today. COVID deaths in the world today (3M, 0.04% of world population) pale in comparison to deaths during the Spanish flu (50M, 2.7% of world population).
Interestingly, doctors used to be a superspreader. It wasn't until the mid-19th century that doctors began to wash their hands before examining patients. Doctors ranked highest in the workplace hierarchy of a treatment center, and no one dared to question their actions; people get fired for doing it. Ego is damaging - it gets in the way of progress.
The tour ended with locally made healthy drinks and snacks in one of the rooms in the facilities. It was the first time that some of my colleagues have met in person; we have been working remotely since the pandemic. After a good catching up session, we were led into a meditation room to start our next activity. We had a performance coach explain to us the benefits of breathwork in context of mindfulness and meditation. I learnt that diaphragmatic breathing increases oxygen saturation in the body which then eases physical and mental stress. We did a Wimhof-style exercise of inhaling slowly and exhaling very very quickly, repeated 40 times. According to the internet, its designed to help us focus on the things that matter and to let go of stressors that cost us energy.
Unlike other peaceful meditation sessions, this felt pretty stressful; and we had to do three rounds of it. In the rest between rounds, I felt my body slowly surrendering control to my mind. At the end of it all, I felt pretty good and peaceful on the inside. From this activity, I've learnt that my body is capable of letting go of stress that gets in the way of clear thinking.
Next up on the agenda is a physical activity - kayaking. Being new, I made common mistakes like bumping paddles with my teammate, and paddling hard but not moving the boat by much. Halfway in, instead of figuring things out on my own, I started to paddle according to the rythm of my teammate. Paddling in sync immensely increased our speed. I started shouting 1-2-1-2 to double down on this newfound cadence. We paddled our hearts out and came in third place despite having a late start. All this have shown me that a concerted team effort always triumphs over one man's effort.
Arriving on shore, I noticed that someone was filling up buckets of water with ice cubes. The next activity is an ice bath. Before today, I googled what to expect of an ice bath. They all said the same thing - it's really painful when you get in, but it feels so good afterward. Apparently ice baths strengthtens our sympathetic nervous system. This system governs involuntary physiological responses to fear and anxiety. More ice baths equals less fear. After signing a liability waiver form, I stepped into the bucket and lowered myself into the ice. I was instructed to stay still for more than 90 seconds to produce the desired effect. My legs were freezing and my body was telling me to quit.
Remembering what I learnt from breathwork exercises this morning, I started to shift my mind away from the bodily stress and stay calm. That helped. I managed to stay in the bath for 2 minutes. Getting out from the bath, I went straight into the winter sea and it never felt warmer. My colleagues experienced it with me and we had a good time chatting about what we felt. Sometimes, choosing fight over flight produces an unexpected reward.
The day ended with a another meditation session. At the front of the room were some skillful musicians playing zen music using singing bowls and other percussive instruments. They lighted some Frankincense which filled the meditation hall with a scent of calmness and relaxation. Everyone was tired. Most of us fell asleep during the session. It was a good day.
At night, I took the ferry back to Sydney city. With my AirPods plugged in with my favourite music, I stood on the deck to enjoy the fresh night breeze on my face. As we cruise back towards the city lights, a group of seagulls were flying alongside the ferry in a very distinct formation. Apparently, flying this way enables them to spend only half of the energy than if they flew alone. I wanted to know - why do they fly all the way back to Sydney alongside my ferry amidst the strong headwinds. I've since found out that they use the lights of the ferry to see fish underwater, and occasionally dive down and catch their dinner.
I had a good day, and a profound realisation that happiness comes easy from observing the beauty in everyday things.