Saturday, November 27, 2010

running to stand still

"and so she woke up, she woke up
from where she was lying still,

said 'i, i gotta do something
about where i'm going'..."
--U2, running to stand still

our world is a mindset of constant escalating competition. new and larger challenges. more and bigger obstacles. extra and tougher opponents. whenever we're done with one, there's always another one.

our response is always to meet the competition. to match its expansion with our own. in the belief that however much it increases, we have to raise our game to overcome it.

the result is a neverending arms race of threats real and imagined versus ourselves and our determination, with us driving to find and reach and expend ever deeper and greater reserves of energy and effort and intensity and passion and will to meet our desire to win over all that come before us.

it can become an obsession. displacing everything else around us. to the extent that the competition means more than the victory, and the race is more than the end. so that we ignore what is happening and we lose sight of what we're doing. not just to the opposition but also to ourselves.

we forget the adage that a fire that burns bright also burns fast, and we miss the fact that we only have so much to burn. we have limits. we can be consumed. we can be burned out. even before we have lit much, if anything, in the darkness.

which is why it's important to hold to perspective, to keep in context, everything that is happening and everything that we're doing. so that we can realize the meaning of competition as more than a victory and the race as more than its own end. so that we can understand beyond that where we're going and how we're getting there and, more importantly, know why.

because the world is about more than just will; it's also about wisdom.

the wisdom to make whatever we do and whatever we have and whatever we are go as far and as high and as great as we think can be humanly possible, even to the extent that it goes beyond our expectation and surpasses our comprehension and transcends our imagination and lifts us sometimes somehow somewhere someway incredibly and improbably yet assuredly and definitively so that we can reach the inhumanly impossible and can then approach the glory that is the supremely divine.

the wisdom to make a difference.

otherwise, we're just running to stand still.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

the hard run

"you run like a river runs to the sea
you run like a river runs to the sea
...oh great ocean, oh great sea
run to the ocean,
run to the sea"
-u2, one tree hill

there's times when we know it's going to be a hard run.

no matter how positive our attitude, no matter how resolute our demeanor, no matter how prepared our bodies, we know we're going to be in for a tough day. and as much as we can try to wrap it up in bright-color paper and shiny foil ribbon, we still know it's not going to be pleasant to open.

it could be because we're injured. it could be because we're tired. it could be because we didn't train and we're woefully out of shape. it could be because it's too hot, or too cold, or too dry, or too wet, or too steep, or too potholed, or too poorly marked, or too much to deal with. or it could be that it's just simply, irrefutably, inexplicably, incredibly, ineffably, indelibly, inscrutably, utterly just not our day. and as much as we can try to give alms for good karma, we still know that it won't make a difference in what's going to happen.

in which case, the only thing we can do then is to endure. courtesy of the few things on our persons that we know won't falter, if only because they are who we are and they are what we are about--at least really, once we've given up or lost everything else: our spirit, our hearts, our souls. our guts. ourselves.

we just need to remember who and what we are. as hard as it is when all the miles seem to be nothing but hard.

it helps to have reminders. things we can recite to ourselves even in the shortness of breath. a poem, a song, a ditty, a rhyme, a passage, a line, a few words to help us bide the time when moments become eons and each step becomes forever and we lose ourselves in the depths of our own suffering. even just a metaphor analogy allusion suggestion that bids us recall our where and our when in the context of all where and all when so that we can make our way once more back to perspective and find the one question that this is all really about is why and realize that we already had the answer but just had to let ourselves remember. even just a lyric long forgotten. as hard as it is when all the miles seem nothing but hard.

and the run isn't so hard then. once we've understood our place in the distance.

because we know it runs with us.

and that makes all the difference.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

that sinking feeling

you ever get that sinking feeling? that things are piling up, and that the waters are rising? that try as you might, you're falling behind, and getting nowhere, and getting farther beneath the surface, and drowning?

we all get those times. the times when we're overwhelmed. the times when things are just too much. the times when we get a sudden dawning, crushing, horrifying realization of our own limitations and our own mortality and our own insignificance in the face of everything that is in front of us...and just when we get our heads above water, another wave comes out of nowhere and crashes down on us.

at those times, we learn that no matter how strong or fast or smart we are, no matter how much energy or effort we expend, we're not just in danger of not moving forward; we're in danger of not staying afloat.

and at those times, we understand that there's no comfort in thinking about the past and there's not much use in thinking about the future unless we make sure that we're thinking about the present.

and to do that, we have to be mindful of this moment, and focus on what we're doing, and then just keep going. each breathe. each stroke. each kick. each second.


which is why we spent all that time in training working on our technique. all those hours, days, weeks, months, years, life. staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool. drilling in proper form of hands and arms and shoulders and body and hips and legs and feet and breathing turning and rotating and flipping length after length after length after length until we lost ourselves and our bodies and made ourselves that it became mindless and it joined our bodies and it became part of us. all those hours, days, weeks, months, years, life.

because sometimes there are times when we're not strong enough. sometimes there are times when we're not fast enough. sometimes there are times when we're not smart enough. and when no amount of energy or effort is going to make any difference.

because sometimes, our bodies aren't going anywhere but down.

at those times, the only thing that will get us moving forward is the one thing we know that lies beyond our bodies, and that is our technique.

and at those times, it may be the only chance we have of staying afloat, and an only chance is better than none.

and to do that, we have to be mindful--and mindless--of this moment, and focus on what we're doing, and then just keep going.

each breathe. each stroke. each kick. each second.


hours. days. weeks. months. years.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

love is a painkiller

love is a painkiller.

really? you don't say? this is a surprise to people?

i don't think anyone who's ever been in love wouldn't find this a statement of the simply obvious (i've put the full text of the article below at the end of this post):
this appeared on CNN some time ago, but i've been letting it percolate in my mind, since i think i've had more than my fair share of experience on the matter (love, not painkillers, although the entire argument here is that they're both the same thing, but whatever).

anyone who is an athlete can probably relate a personal story about how much love can affect their own performance. at least, they can if they're being honest. an athlete's physical performance, particularly at the most extreme levels, is affected by the athlete's state of mind, not just in terms of self-confidence or commitment or ambition or focus but also in terms of calm and inspiration and positive attitude. and all of these factors can be very much affected by the various bio-chemical hormonal emotional responses to the condition of love.

which is why athletes experiencing romantic problems or break-ups sometimes have major deterioration in their performances, and in some cases go so far as to withdraw from competition. i remember a story of an Australian sprinter who quit his country's Olympic qualifiers citing a broken heart arising from his divorce. i can believe it. heartache just saps your energy and it crushes your motivation.

and it doesn't just have to be romantic love. i think it also applies to other forms of love, like the love of family or close friends. the status of those relationships can have a huge impact on your state of mind, and hence on the ability of that mind to muster physical ability.

this is why i think that it helps athletes to be in love. seriously. i really do. i mean good love--not the high-drama, high-chaos, high-anxiety kind of love that plays havoc with your mental state, but the peaceful, stable, happy kind of love that builds a positive peace of mind.

i think this latter kind of love imbues athletes with 1) the comfort of knowing they're supported (and hence are not alone); 2) the knowledge they're approved (and hence are validated as good, erasing any self-doubt); 3) the desire to inspire others (and hence want to do well by giving maximum effort); 4) the sense of joy (and hence a positivity that maintains motivation and belief in overcoming challenges). the end result is a person in a mental state that can withstand greater problems and persevere in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles--in short a person who radiates an aura of invincibility, who never falters, who never flinches, who never stops, who never tires, who seems to have superhuman strength and speed and coordination, who seems be utterly in: someone who feels no pain.

see what i mean?

yeah, love is like that.

tell me something i don't know.

Love may be as good as morphine

That rush of good feelings you have in the first few months of being in love don't just put you in a better mood; love may actually be a painkiller, researchers suggest in a new study in the journal PLoS ONE.

"Finding pleasure in activities, and with the one you’re with, can have multiple benefits, including reducing your pain," said senior author Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the Division of Pain Management at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study looked at 15 undergraduates – both men and women – between ages 19 and 21, all of whom were in the "early phases of passionate love," having been in a relationship anywhere from a few months to a year. This is a small sample size, but not unusual for a study involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Participants were asked to bring in photos of their beloved and an acquaintance who was equally attractive. While viewing these photos, a computer-controlled stimulator made them feel pain in the palm of their hand that felt akin to burning oneself on a hot pan, but in a safe way and without causing any actual damage, Mackey said. They were also asked to answer distracting questions while the pain was applied. The fMRI scanner allowed researchers to examine what brain systems were involved during each condition.

The magnitude of pain relief when participants thought about their beloved was comparable to morphine and other clinical painkillers, Mackey said. However, he cautioned that this is not a study about chronic pain, merely pain applied for 30 seconds at a time in an artificial setting.

The results suggest that thinking about your beloved and having a non-love-related distraction lower the perception of pain, but the love effect involves entirely different brain systems, Mackey said. This speaks to the complexity of the human brain, he said.

Distraction involves high level cortical systems that are involved with conducting tasks, Mackey said. Love, on the other hand, involves systems dependent on dopamine, a brain chemical that causes us to feel good and crave things. The dopamine rush also happens upon eating a piece of chocolate, or, in more extreme forms, taking a hit of cocaine or heroin. Drugs that directly engage this brain chemical tend to be highly addictive, he said.

Other recent research also has described love as an addiction. A Journal of Neurophysiology study suggested that love involves the same area of the brain associated with cocaine and nicotine addiction; that's one example of recent findings on the science of love.

Mackey also suspects there is some effect of pain heightening in those who have recently experienced a breakup of some kind, having seen increases in pain among patients who went through divorces. But that was not part of this study.

Future research in this area might additionally explore whether the affection of people who have been in committed relationships for much longer, perhaps decades, can also relieve pain. Other areas to explore are the brain systems that are involved when it comes to homosexual love, the bond between mother and child, and platonic friendships, Mackey said.

"Trying to maintain that spark in one’s relationship and that passion, engaging those reward systems, may very well work the same way as being in that early phase of love," he said.