In my last post, I talked about the path of a warrior and the concept of fudoshin, that driving force behind achieving goals and blasting through challenges. But what happens when things don’t move fast enough? What happens when the constant slog grinds you down, the interminable wait bores you to shreds, and well, life sucks?
I was feeling that way yesterday. Not that anything dramatically traumatic happened (thankfully) but one of my goals is taking far longer to achieve than I ever thought it would. The constant driving forward, the endless amount of patience I’ve got to supply when things aren’t getting accomplished, the encouragement I need to keep broadcasting to keep morale high, and the repeated disappointments that keep adding up, finally bore down on me to the point where I was frankly pissed off with the state of things.
I’ve never been one to indulge in the whole self-pity thing. When disappointments mount, I’ll generally allow myself a few hours (max) of acknowledging how bummed I am, and then it’s right back into the fight. I happen to think that’s a healthy way to handle it. Too much moping about can thoroughly derail the train you’re attempting to careen down the tracks toward that goal.
Yesterday, however, was one of those times when I needed a bit more than a few simple hours of bumming about.
What I needed was a more immediate reminder of what the spirit is capable of doing when pressed into service. After all, it’s easy to lose sight of the potential of personal power when it’s being directed at a goal that is taking quite a long time to achieve. So, I decided to remind myself of the infinite power we all have, if only we’re willing to tap into it.
Late last night, I strapped on my rucksack, filled it with some weight plates, packed a few water bottles and then drove over to the high school track. Fortunately, the place was deserted (which is the best way to do this type of thing – having people around only distracts you from the goal of reminding yourself that the real competition in life comes from within, from the constant inner temptation that would otherwise distract your focus) and I slid the ruck on and decided that the goal was to pound out five miles without stopping. It was late; it was hot, humid and buggy. Rain was moving in. But I was there to remind myself that I could keep going for the long ball – that persistently elusive goal that has thus far defied my efforts to reach it.
The length of the track is roughly a quarter mile, which meant I needed to go around twenty times. The first four laps were fairly easy but the pain soon set in and I was amazed to see all the usual suspects bubbling up as my inner self tried to get me to stop running. It’s too hot, your knee aches, there’s a TV show on, you could be writing that next chapter, why don’t you just slow down and walk?, the bugs are coming now, is that rain?
The process made me smile because I’ve been there so many times before. And each time in the past, I’ve done exactly the same thing: head down and press on. Which is what I did last night. Twenty laps. About ninety minutes worth of exertion. It wasn’t fast; that wasn’t the point. While it was a good workout with the weighted rucksack on, last night’s exercise was for my spirit. It was to remind myself that I do have the necessary power to make that elusive goal a reality; that I do have the power to bring something into being where it has not existed before. It was to remind myself that the excuses that others might make to let themselves out of the fight are not ones I will ever yield to. Despite the pain, the exhaustion, the desires to quit and rest and take it easy, to follow that simpler way of life, to settle for good enough instead of aspiring toward excellence – despite all the distractions, it was simply a matter of finishing what I started and not settling for “almost.”
The point of this post isn’t to appear self-congratulatory. It’s to show that despite the years I’ve invested in studying martial arts, in trying to better myself, and despite whatever levels I’ve already achieved, there is always more work to be done. There are always new challenges to face.
And yeah, I get bummed out, too.
It’s what you do when your spirit ebbs that counts the most. Life is easy when things are going well. But when life sucks, that’s when you learn the most about yourself.
I relearned that lesson last night.
Upon finishing the run, I walked back into the parking lot that was now filled with local teens who had decided to park next to my car, have a few butts, and generally parade themselves around the opposite sex. One particular muscular dude puffed on a cigarette and stood directly in my path as I approached my car. Perhaps he saw the refocused look of intensity in my eyes; perhaps he simply saw a “crazy old man,” but whatever the reason, he quickly stepped aside and let me pass – almost a living metaphor. At the car, I fished out the water and sat there drinking it all in – everything about the experience I’d just gone through and what it had to teach and what more I had yet to learn.
According to my handy pedometer on my iPhone, it had taken my 11,000 steps to relearn an important lesson. My right knee throbbed and I was soaked with sweat. I’d say I paid a bargain price for something pretty damned valuable.
As I sat there drinking some water, I checked my email and found that I had received the first blurb for THE KENSEI and it was a mighty awesome one.
And suddenly, in the afterglow of being tested in the crucible of self-doubt, life didn’t suck so much anymore.
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