Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Telling Stories

My husband is a race director. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill 5k or 10k races. I'm not even talking about half marathons or the coveted full marathon distances. No, the races that he directs are even more elusive goals (for most) than any of those. He directs extreme races. A sampling of the options from 2013 include an ultra-distance run across the snowy plains of the Sheyenne National Grasslands, a 27-mile swim in the Red River, a 24 hour adventure race in the Pembina Gorge and, most recently, a double-hitter: 12 hour mountain bike race on Saturday followed by a 12-hour trail running race on Sunday. These are the things that make up "crazy" for many people.

These races bring in an interesting mix of people, from those driven by ego and consequently doomed to fail to the supportive spectators who wonder how these athletes live beyond the finish line (the answer is "painfully"). I commonly hear comments like, "I could never do that" or "How do they do that?" from spectators. This last race was no exception. The woman beside me busied herself by berating her own abilities and then asked both of these questions. As we watched athletes suffer through a grueling 12 hours of running on their second day on the trail, I answered her.

My teacher tells me to try to "understand what is actually happening." Many times, what is actually happening is that we are telling stories about ourselves. Fictional stories. We convince ourselves that we are someone that we are not. And we continue to believe these stories until we become the Alice in a wonderland created by yours truly. I've seen this time and again in my own life, from convincing myself that I wanted my Ph.D. to believing that I am no good at endurance sports. I've told myself I can't navigate. I've told myself that I can't dance. I tell myself daily that I don't have enough time (as I queue up the next online episode of my favorite television show).

I regularly listen to these stories when I teach yoga. "I'm not good at this pose." "I'm not good at that pose." "I can't do backbends." "I have terrible balance." With a bit of alignment and some gentle encouragement, these stories dissolve into thin air. Students begin realizing what they are actually doing relative to what they've spent countless hours on their mats believing they are doing. Aha! And a new awareness is born.

So when the woman next to me so boldly stated that she could never bike for 12 hours and follow that by running 12 more the next day, I took it upon myself to offer her a bit of alignment and some gentle encouragement.

Her first question was,"How do they do that?" My answer was,"They take one step at a time. Literally." When we get further than the step that we are presently taking we tend to lose our footing and trip, sometimes falling flat on our face. This happened several times to many of the runners. Talking to them later, I found that the times when they fell the hardest were the times when they were imagining future laps or thinking several hours ahead of where they were. Rather than paying attention to what was actually happening, they focused on what they'd planned on at some future point. The result was tripping over a fallen branch, a tree root or even their own feet! Some runners got days ahead of themselves, overwhelming their present with things they needed to do later on in the week! So engulfed were they in their future fantasy land that some simply quit! Stopped stepping. Stopped running. Stopped racing. Defeated by a future fiction that didn't even exist.

I've learned through several years of endurance events that if I take one step at a time and ONLY one step, that I CAN. When I am tired. When I am suffering. When I am wishing to be finished, I ask myself one question,"Can I take one more step? One more pedal stroke?" The answer is resoundingly,"Yes." And then I ask the question again. And again. And again. I don't get bogged down by the overwhelming thought of how far I have left to go or how many more hours of suffering that remain. I only have to take one step at any given moment! And step by step, I finish the race.

Her second comment is one that I hear often. "I can't _____" or "I could never do _____." I answered her with a question,"Can you take one step?" Of course, her answer was yes. Again I asked,"Can you take another step after that?" Again, she replied,"Yes." She was well on her way already!

This is good news! And bad.

The bad news is that with our thoughts we make the world. As we are what we eat, we are what we think. If we think that we can't, then we simply won't. We spread these lies when we tell others that we can't. When we speak in this way we are perpetuating an awful rumor at the expense of our Self. Our world becomes a list of things that we can't do. We become limited. Sometimes we even shrink.

The good news is that with our thoughts we make the world. Change your thoughts, change your world. It is as simple as thinking "I can." It is as simple as saying "I can." When we think positively about ourselves, when we realize that what was actually happening was a limited way of thinking, we can do a complete 180 degree switch. "I can _______" is a limitless thought. It begs you to fill in the blank with whatever you want to do. And then it encourages you to do it! You can go anywhere with this thought. You can do anything with this thought. You are limitless with this type of thinking.

And when you say "I can", well that is simply your voice giving a sound to the breath, the energy and the life that is your Self.

Thought by thought, word by word, breath by beautiful breath, we are limitless. And we realize what is actually happening.

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