I stood in the cold pre-dawn darkness, I sipped at my coffee. Around me, members of 3rd Canadian Division stretched, chatted, and, in the case of certain 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI) troops, sobbed quietly. In a few minutes, the starting horn would sound and Exercise MOUNTAIN MAN would launch. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a 32km ruck/run, followed by a 3km canoe portage, 10km paddle down the North Saskatchewan, and a final 5km ruck/run to the finish line. “Buncha idiots,” I thought to myself. “Listen to them: boasting about their physical prowess, how quickly they’ll make the run or paddle their canoe. Soon … soon you’ll all be whining about how tired you are, how sore you are, how much your back/legs/calves/hair hurt. Meanwhile, I’ll be sipping another coffee, and mocking you along the route. Ha!”
Now you know what goes through my head as you’re pouring out your life and heart in my office! Compassion?! Bah! I’ve spent years perfecting the art of appearing to care.
Actually, in the 10 years I spent in Edmonton every year I was impressed with the competitors whether or not they managed to finish in record time, or slogged through a grueling 7+ hours of hell on wheels. And I always wanted to be there to cheer them on.
I remember in the dim past when I arrived at 3 PPCLI, one of the first questions the Deputy Commanding Officer asked was, “How’s your Physical Training (PT), Padre?”
“Well, sir,” I said, “it’s not as good as a lot of those guys down in the lines, but it’s pretty good for a chaplain and an old guy” (Watch it! I can hear your comments, you know!). But by virtue of being in the military, I’ve been encouraged to make time for PT and be disciplined about it. And that’s a good thing, a very good thing! We actually get paid to do PT on ‘company time’ – what a great opportunity!
But I’d like to encourage you to make time for another kind of PT: of the spiritual and mental kind. It’s all too easy to slide through life without giving a lot of (or any) thought to these aspects of our lives, but it’s just as important as physical fitness. We talk more deliberately about “health and wellness” including spiritual wellness. Spirituality focuses on core values, beliefs, identity – who you are deep down. They define you as a person and build inner strength and the ability to weather the tempests of life.
In his book On Combat, Lieutenant Colonel Grossman writes, “The reality is you do not know what you are going to do when your world comes unglued unless you prepare your mind, soul and spirit ahead of time … when you have rehearsed and prepared to always do the right thing at the moment of truth, you are more apt to deal appropriately with whatever comes your way.”
In the field, if you don’t have a piece of kit (NEOs (boot protectors), spare socks, puffy coat, favourite blankie), you just don’t have it. Similarly, in life, if you haven’t given thought or consideration to spiritual and mental health and wellness, or considered the meaning and purpose of life, when things get rough (and they will!), you won’t have the resources on which to draw when the proverbial fecal matter splatters against the air-movement device. You can’t build capacity in the midst of crisis.
So, give it some thought. Drop by my office for a chat, stop me in the unit, offer to buy me coffee (seriously – no one does that!). I promise I won’t mock you – much.