This post has been brewing in mind for some days now. I have been ruminating the thoughts to be expressed in this post, like chewing cud, in my mouth and in my feet. Incidentally, last week, I happened to even discuss some of these thoughts with another someone and I think that what I have to say here is worthwhile and valuable for myself and for life in general. So, here we go …
It was perhaps a week ago, when I was riding with hubby on his bike that a flash of insight occurred. This insight was about how I take to and react to tough, hard incidents that happen to me in life. Hard experiences happen so that we can learn to become strong. But if the hard experiences end up hardening our spirits, minds and hearts, then we have stepped on a very sticky road where sometimes there is no return. That road , I think is called the cynicism and the fight-back path.
Before I discuss more about the road, I want to reflect on some of the journeys that I have been through when I have had to deal with tough situations. I definitely get very stressed when I am faced with a tough situation. Sometimes, my immediate response is to eke out all or most of the innermost reserves I have inside me to face the tough situation. This can be called the fight back approach. To explain this more concretely, let’s take an example from running. Sometimes, when I run, I want to conquer the distance as a matter of vengeance against some bad run in the past or a bad running week or say an injury that may have kept me away from running for sometime or simply because I am running to fight a strong emotion like anxiety or fear. In such a situation, I eke out the utmost strength I have in my body and mind, I work with all that adrenalin oozing out, and I run like I have to conquer something. It seems like a great run at the end of it because I really feel like I have conquered something. But perhaps, by the end of the run or sometimes even in the middle of it, I feel burnt out.
I am nowadays wary of this fight back approach because when such an approach is not spontaneous or out of instinct, then it is very, very consuming. While I may give everything I have to fighting the difficult situation, out of instinct or even as a matter of habituated pattern of reaction, I am left with a burnt out feeling and a bad taste in my mouth. Thus, there are strong chances that even when I have emerged victor by fighting back, I may have turned bitter towards certain situations and/or people.
Now, with life’s tough situations or even the noble causes that we fight, the fight can be a long drawn out one, with many, many ups and downs. People will be treacherous and they may back stab. The paths will be stony and uneven. The outcomes will seem very uncertain despite beliefs in righteousness and justice. What do you do? You don’t fight back? Nope! You do give it your best shot, but you stay aware of how you respond/counterattack. That knowledge, the awareness of how you respond at every stage in the tough situation immediately changes the way in which you respond to the situation. Specifically, when you remain self-aware, you know that you have a choice in the matter of how you will respond. Not only that, but you find that when you have this self-awareness, the universe begins to assist you and paths open up. Sometimes, the paths don’t even open up and the outcomes are not favourable for you, but the self-awareness goes a long way in helping you stay peaceful, calm and cool. And that, in itself, is a huge reward because despite the outcomes, you have learnt to stay light. This lightness changes the meaning of an ‘outcome’ where the outcome is not a finality or the ultimate pronouncement but you know that even this, the material outcome and its effects, are impermanent and they will change.
I thought about hard situations and how I respond to them because some days ago, I read a brilliant piece of analysis from someone whose opinion I highly respect, value and consider. The analysis was bang on, but the tone of the analysis was as if the analyser was bitterly and sarcastically biting (i.e. criticizing) the concerned people. I have also thought of some of my own friends and acquaintances and how they respond to difficult people and difficult situations. I find that some of them have developed the fightback approach to everything in life. This has made them bitter or at least reactive to even the smallest instance or provocation. Now, swimming through tough currents myself, I have had to ask this question to myself – are the tough currents leading me to close up to people, to hope, and to life in general? Am I turning into a bitter soul?
I realize in the midst of my own tough times that if my responses to the hard experience or the difficult people result in hardening of my spirit, the very essence of me, then I am on that road to cynicism and fight back. And, to return from such a path is a tough one. Sometimes, life itself pulls you out of or brings you back from this path because you are too precious to be lost to bitterness and hopelessness.
I think this notion of spirit and spiritedness applies not only to the toughest and most difficult situations in life. It applies to even the smallest and minutest of experiences. When I run distances, I can run with the attitude that I have to finish the distance/conquer it. Or, I can run with the attitude that what matters is not whether I have run the full distance or half of it or none of it – what matters is whether I have run and when I have run, how have I run? So also with anxieties about runs, do I fight them back by running harder (by swinging my hands and arms more vigorously that usual) or have I run in the full knowledge that I am anxious, I am running and the anxiety will go, just like everything in life comes and goes …
Learning this lesson about spirit and spiritedness has not been a quick and easy one. I am grateful for the opportunity and experience of running that life has offered to me at the most opportune time. It is through running, through the experiences of the mind, body and feet during every run, that simple, elementary truths and laws of the universe flash like insights – I sometimes internalize them easily; often I forget, but I am reminded of some or all of them during every run!
These days, I have still been irregular with running. But each time that I have gone out and run, it feels like I have been pulled to perform my faith. I run because I know this is what I have to do for my wellbeing and peace, for my spirit. And each time that I have forgotten those basic lessons about technique, running, form – those same elementary lessons of life – the experience of the mind, the body and the feet have reinforced the basics back!
These days I feel a sense of lightness, of being. I continue to think too much, but I am more flexible in my perspective and approach. The runs seem beautiful despite the imperfections. Life seems more interesting, despite the uncertainties. I just have to continue running …