Monday, June 8, 2015

Mental Strength

November 2001 a man went missing in the Green Lakes area of Central Oregon. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and had just joined the Multnomah County Search & Rescue team. It was a team predominantly made up of high school aged people, which was actually quite an intelligent design considering that all people in high school are willing to skip class and go on SAR missions in the middle of the weekday.

This was the first time I had hiked more than a few miles in a day. The equipment we were required to carry was probably somewhere around 50-80 pounds depending on your family's willingness and capacity to purchase lightweight backpacking equipment. On top of that, the temperature was below freezing. This took a physical and emotional toll on me, and others on the team who were similarly inexperienced. Our team leader - a man named Jake Flynn - noticed this, and spoke seven words that would change my life:
Now is the time for mental strength. 
For reasons unknown to me, these powerful words ignited something within my DNA. I suddenly realized that no matter how damaged my physical body felt, my mind had the power to eliminate feelings of pain; feelings of exhaustion. No matter how destroyed the body is or feels, the mind can convince the body to continue. That is, only if you let it.

In this way, the mind can similarly repair itself. Feelings of misery and despair can be checked by mental discipline. These feelings might remain to some degree, but they can be pushed into a dark corner and locked into a closet for long enough to complete any necessary task. All it takes is mental strength.

I remind myself of these words often. I also repeat this wisdom to others anytime the opportunity arises. It never seems to have the same affect on them, though. Perhaps it just takes time for the gravity of the message to sink in.

The man in Green Lakes was found dead the following spring. It was the first of many dead the young team would become emotionally invested in while fruitlessly searching. It took years to get beyond the physical and emotional toll this type of work took upon me. But every time I thought I couldn't take another step, I thought of those words the wisest person I've ever met spoke to me on that cold winter day in 2001.

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