They were high in the remote mountains among 19 of 24 known gorillas in that region. The guide made it very clear to NEVER point at these great apes. Why? Some are 49 years old or so, and they remember when a human finger pointing at their group marked the moment before a gunshot from poachers. To them, a point means “threat” even all these decades later.
Like a tale Jane Goodall might tell, two of my newer clients who are in their 70s booked this fascinating trip where they came within just a few feet of gorillas in the wild. They returned this past week, telling me all about the physical demand of the hike (it started at over 7500 feet and goes UP) and how our training had made it possible for them. The gorillas have been studying us for decades, teaching each other about us, and they know quite well who stands to threaten and who doesn’t. Even so, former trauma drives their emotional response all these years later.
I think about that Pavlovian switch, that trauma trigger in all of us. Many years later, when we’re basically over it, we are not over it. We see it in abused children whose telomeres shorten as if they were much older. We see it in hurt people hurting people. I see it in fitness endeavors wherein once people get a taste of imposition, a sense of former sacrifice, a whisper of prior failures, the non-conscious response is just like if someone points at these gorillas. Ire and pain and irrational defenses pop up to destroy. Nobody wins.
Again, this is why I coach against the excitement of rapid transformations. That momentary euphoria WILL give way, at which point all we have left is a sense of “doing too much.” Instead, ask yourself a critical question: what WILL I do to my health and fitness benefit FOREVER? The emotional response you get should dictate your next steps. Just the thought of “forever” gets a balking shudder from most people. Good. Acknowledge it. Don’t ignore it.
Now, what “forever” practice doesn’t get that shudder? Usually, it’s very minimal. It may ever seem laughably minimal. But in the same way that unarmed 100-250lb peaceful humans pose no rational threat, no perceived threat, to hulking behemoth creatures with 10 times our strength, a minimal practice doesn’t trigger the trauma response in you. Once discovered, still tread lightly, because the difference between a beautiful engagement and an effort gone wrong may be a simple pointing finger.