Lessons learned on Mount Fuji

  • Published
  • By Chap. (Lt. Col.) Tim Porter
  • 21st Space Wing chaplain
A few years ago, when I was stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, my wife and I were planning our summer vacation and we whittled our options down to two vacation spots. We could take vacation on Jeju Island (which has been called the "Hawaii of Korea") and enjoy the sun and beach at a leisurely pace, or we could travel to Japan and hike Mount Fuji - the highest mountain in Japan at 12,389 ft.

We decided that hiking Fuji was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so we flew to Tokyo and made our way to Fuji. The hike started at 8 p.m. and was to be an all night hike with the expectation that we would ascend the summit by sunrise. We began the hike up Fuji but as the sun went down we didn't anticipate such a drastic drop in temperature or the effects from high altitude. My wife, Patricia, began to experience altitude sickness, including dizziness, a headache and nausea. We stopped at a shelter for a few hours to dry out and catch a little shut eye hoping that Pat would feel better by day break.

In the morning, we awoke to witness the awesome sunrise. Although Pat didn't feel much better, we both were committed to accomplishing our goal and pressed on toward the summit. The longer we hiked the more appealing Jeju Island felt! We thought to ourselves, "We could be lying by the beach right now!"

Our perseverance paid off though and we finally reached the summit, ecstatic that we had endured and accomplished our goal. All the pain was worth the view from the top.

Hiking is a fitting metaphor for the highs and lows we experience in life and for the endurance that is required in order to succeed. As we all know, resiliency isn't developed in one day, but must be nurtured consistently in our daily life as we overcome struggles and challenges over a period of time. Our regular training regimen and hiking experiences developed our stamina and prepared us for the physical exertion of Fuji. Spiritual endurance is developed in a similar way. Spiritual stamina does not happen automatically, there are things we need to do in order to make ourselves more resilient so we are strengthened for life's journey.

Dr. Robert Wicks, who spoke at our National Prayer Luncheon in February, makes the following comment in Bounce: Living the Resilient Life, "Too often we don't avail ourselves of the type of activities that truly renew us. When this occurs we run a greater risk that we will unnecessarily lose perspective and burn out, which is not only sad for us but for the people in our lives who count on us."

Dr. Wicks identifies two negative emotional states that affect our lives if we do not take time to renew ourselves. First, we can lose perspective. Have you ever been so overwhelmed with job demands, deadlines while furthering your education, and/or family responsibilities that you lost perspective and were overwhelmed with stress? How did my wife and I keep our perspective when our physical strength was depleted which tempted us to give up while hiking Fuji? It required that we keep our focus on the summit instead of on our pain and the physical symptoms of altitude sickness. We knew by experience that we had to take short rests in order to renew our physical strength and motivation if we were to endure.

Next, Dr. Wicks mentions that if we do not take time to renew ourselves we run the risk of burn out. Working too many hours without taking time to "sharpen the saw" makes us dull. When we are burned out we lose our motivation to perform the mission with excellence. We know we are burned out when we have the weekend off, Monday rolls around and we do not feel like returning to work. For our hiking experience, it was taking many short breaks, drinking water and eating some food that enabled us to regain our energy and focus.

Consider a couple of courses of action you can take in order to keep your perspective, avoid burnout and develop more spiritual endurance: First, have some fun! Get away from work and get involved in activities that focus your mind and energies on things that will renew you. Second, practice your religious faith. Our spiritual and religious beliefs can have a tremendous renewing affect upon us. Take some time for reflection. Consider how God feels about you; consider the progress you are making in achieving your goals; the contributions you make for the good of others by your military service. Reflection time is an opportunity to keep our life in tune with God and to bring it back on track when it has veered off course. Thirdly, share your burdens with your spouse, a close friend, or a mentor. Talk to someone who will give you a different point of view. Share your time with someone who will encourage you in your quest to overcome obstacles.

Just like my wife and I had each other to lean upon when we were tempted to quit our hike up Mount Fuji, so we all need people in our lives that inspire us by their words or by their example of perseverance. These suggestions have worked in my life and I believe they will help to build a resilient life that can endure when tested.