Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Body versus Mind

"The body is capable of way more than the mind is usually willing to accept."

The above quote was not (as you might think) penned by some ancient Greek philosopher. It's instead by one of our friends, Tony J, who joined a couple of us functional fitters out to eat yesterday. Now while I immediately found his casual saying to be one of those timeless verses that endure the ages, another in our group found it to be special for another reason: Tony J imagined to string together that many words without an F-bomb!!! ;)
But go back to his quote for a minute: The body is capable of way more than the mind is usually willing to accept. Look back at your life and identify some feat of yours that either at the time seemed, or looking back seems, unattainable.
Here's my story: I was in 17 years old and snow sledding with some close friends in a local park. It was after sunset and dark, except for the reflection of light off the snow. The normal sledding area was packed with sledders, so we went exploring other areas. My friend "Z" decided on a new hilly area and took off down the slope. All of a sudden, he vanished, as if into thin air. We all ran down the hill to discover the combination of snow and darkness had made a sunken river bed virtually indistinguishable from above. Z had fallen lifeless onto the iced-over river from a steep riverbank. No one else was around.
I went down the riverbank to his body. Z was unconscious. I took off my jacket and slid it between his face and the ice. Another friend took off his jacket and draped it over Z's torso. I then ran back up the bank into a more populated area of the park for help. Luckily I came across a police car and waved him down. I ran back through the park, waving the officer to where Z was. I went back down the riverbank and saw that Z was now sitting up. The officer had run along the river to a point where the bank was not as steep, not taking the direct route as I had. The officer asked if he needed help and Z graciously declined. We then walked down the iced river to the flatter riverbank, then all walked back up the hill. Dressed in only a t-shirt, I began to get miserably cold until I took my jacket back from Z. (Z was fine. His parents forced an overnight hospital stay when we dropped him off at his home and he had forgotten his brother's and sister's names.)
I hadn't realized anything out of the ordinary (seriously...another teenage tragedy averted seemed to be a pretty regular thing with us) until I began to get cold on that walk back up the hill to our cars. I recalled being extremely cold earlier during the evening. Yet, when I took off my coat on top of the river ice, I was as warm and toasty as if sitting near a fireplace. Like flipping a light switch, I was freezing cold with a jacket on. Then saw my friend, potentially dead or injured. Then as physically comfortable as could be with only a t-shirt. Hmm...a dump of adrenaline I guess.
Then I alone went back to the area two days later...
The snow and ice were the same as they'd been that evening. I walked down the hill following the same path Z's sled took. But this time, I stood at the edge over the frozen water a bit perplexed. Only now had I realized the sheer face of the riverbank. It was almost eight feet tall (or deep), and a straight vertical cliff. There was NO WAY I was going to jump down today. I'd surely get hurt. I walked down river to the point where the officer descended to the river. I then stood in the same place on the river as I had two evenings before. I tried and tried, but could not muster up the strength to make it up that riverbank. How in the world had I jumped down twice before, and scaled the sheer face without effort?? I won't even get into the 1/2 mile sprint to and from the parked police car that hadn't even taken away my breath that evening.
So what gives? The jumping down the riverbank is likely not much more than ignoring fear of injury for the sake of helping my friend. But how can I rationalize the scaling of the riverbank to get back up the hill? Why was I not even able to do it slowly with the time to ponder strategy or find foot- and hand-holds two days later? With what you'd think to be more ideal conditions?
On that daytime trip, I saw something difficult. I had already been defeated in my mind that it would be a challenge. When I couldn't do it, I was only acting on what I already saw as a possibility...failure. However on the evening of Z's accident, I had never even considered the size of the cliff. It was just one of several obstacles in the way of getting help to my friend. I had only thought of "do," without an inkling that it might be hard or difficult, or maybe not attainable at all.
Without thoughts of failure or pain or discomfort or embarrassment, the body is capable of tremendous feats. Most of us have heard a similar story. Maybe it was a lady who lifted a car off of a man after it fell onto him chaging the oil. Maybe it was a small firefighter carrying a man twice his size out of a burning building. With life on the line, humans can do what in normal existence might seem as impossible. Unfortunatley, everyday our minds aren't usually focused enough on a goal to ignore the pestering thoughts of possible failure or defeat.
Wouldn't it be nice to exist in a state of mind closer to that during adrenalinized moments when defeat is not an option??

Tony J's quote is going to be resurfacing again. There is a lot I want to discuss in the future. This is part one of many.

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