Mental and Physical Endurance
Mental and Physical Endurance
The popularity of extreme sports - sport extrem in French - demonstrates the fundamental human need to face challenges and overcome them, even if it is necessary for some people to build those challenges themselves.
'You are what you think' is a well-known phrase but, like many familiar phrases, it deserves closer scrutiny. While the mind controls the physical body in a direct way through the will, the mind itself is divided into the conscious and the subconscious.
The subconscious stores influences that may have been picked up since childhood, and these influences can affect an individual's conscious assessment of their ability to overcome obstacles. Somebody who has had a history of being 'put down' whenever they open their mouth, for example, may have developed an irrational fear of speaking in public. To quote Henry Ford: 'Think you can, think you can't, either way you'll be right.'
In his book Call it Courage , Armstrong Sperry tells the story of a Polynesian boy called Mafatu, who was afraid of the sea. Mafatu means 'Stout Heart' in Polynesian and his name, added to the fact that his island was surrounded by the element he most feared, presented Mafatu with a significant problem. Either he had to accept the name of 'Coward', which he was increasingly called behind his back, and never engage with the source of his fear, or he had to do something about it. Luckily for him, he chose to confront his fear and set out to sea in a small canoe with a couple of pets. By facing his fear and overcoming the challenge, Mafatu was able to return to his island having lived up to his name.
It should be noted that the boy was not named 'Coward' or 'Weakling' at birth. He was given a name that implies high expectations and a certain inherent dignity. The name, however, is also owed to the achievements of his predecessors. Mafatu comes from a long line of 'stout hearts'. It is not, however, enough to 'inherit' courage; he has to prove it to others, and also to himself. In other words, being born of a line of brave people does not exonerate him from having to face fear himself. Courageous people, therefore, are not people who have an absence of fear, but they are people who have learned to overcome fear. The experience of overcoming fear in certain circumstances gives them confidence when faced with a similar set of circumstances, although they may still experience the sensation of fear.
Fear of the unknown is natural, but many people populate this unknown with imaginary scenes that are unlikely ever to take place, thus increasing their irrational fear. Note Guardini's words again: 'living means advancing into this unknown region'. In other words, if, like Mafatu, you listen to your fears and do not advance into the unknown region, you are not really living, and you are not living up to either the expectations of others or the expectations conferred upon you by your own dignity as a human being.
The Polynesian boy Mafatu faces the waves. Courage is in proportion to the fear that some challenge arouses in a particular person. Many fears are understandable; others are somewhat irrational. By overcoming the fear, however, courage and confidence are born.
Physical and Mental Endurance
Having taken courage into your hands and advanced into the unknown region, whether it be the sea or some other area of challenge, it is not much good to simply get your toes wet and skip out again. The next stage involves staying with it and seeing it through. For Mafatu, like the explorers on the Kon-Tiki expedition, he had to encounter storms, dangerous sea animals and other rigours, and endure the journey until it was complete. The journey and all of its challenges helped to build his character and help him to prove that 'Tough times never last, tough people do!