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Breaking Point:
Letters from Espanola

EK ONG KAAR KAUR

 

 

 



As a young girl in Junior High, I decided to join the track team. Not because I liked track or because I had a particular interest in athletics. But because my younger sister and older brother both belonged to the team, and they were really good.

I wanted to be like them, even a little bit. Share in that shine. I hoped to become part of the circle of "track stars" and not be left out.

In Junior High, no one got cut from the team as long as they showed up for practice.

The coach did not really know what to do with me at first. My brother and sister both had a powerful capacity to sprint - to run short distances really quickly. But even though we all came from the same parents, the sprinting gene apparently did not exist in my body.

When the coach tried me out for sprinting, I ended up in the back of the pack. She decided to test me for some of the long-distance events, instead. It required a different approach, a different style.

"Just set a pace you can maintain," she said. "And keep going."

So I did what she asked. I started to jog and, as I warmed up, I found something in myself. A rhythm. A balance. A place of harmony. And as soon as I found that place, I could keep going and going and going.

When I completed my four laps around the track, the coach clicked her timer. She had a surprised look of satisfaction in her face.

"That was really good time," she said. "I think we have found where you fit."

As the track competitions started in earnest, something began to happen. I would set my pace in the long distance events and consistently place third. The coach and my team members would cheer for that third place medal.

But the questions started. What would I need to do to place second or first in a race?

My sister tried to help me out.

"You're not sprinting to the finish," she explained. "You come in third and when you stop running, you are hardly even winded. Look at the people who come in first. They push themselves really hard at the end. And they collapse when they are done. People have to help them stand up. They are out of breath. That is what you have to do if you want to come in first. You have to push yourself to the breaking point."

I looked at the girl who had finished first ahead of me. Sure enough, she was doubled over in pain, her face red, gasping deeply for air, people holding her up, and walking her off the track.

The idea that I would have to do that in order to win seemed completely insane to me. Why on earth would I ever do that to my body?

I did not respond to what my sister told me directly. I just took it in. And I made a
decision in that moment that has defined my life ever since.

I do not believe I have to hit my breaking point to win. I just have to develop a pace that is faster and more powerful than the one I have right now.

My commitment to my training changed.

I do not know how it happened. But I went inside and asked my body to push itself to another level. To become used to a faster pace. To normalize itself under a more powerful pressure. To find the rhythm, balance and harmony at a greater speed.

Sure enough, my times improved. Without pushing myself to the breaking point, I got better. The strategy began to work. And with that new pace, I placed second. Not first.

Never first. But I did place second and could still walk myself off the track at the end.

That was my one and only year doing team sports in my life. After all, the point of team sports is to win. And I fully understood, even at that young age, that my inner strategy would never take me far in a world where people are praised for breaking themselves in order to get a first place medal.

But that one year running track and those few key experiences defined an approach that I have used over and over again in my life. When the pressure is on, when the unexpected events of life hit me so hard that I lose my breath and cannot imagine how to go forward, these questions automatically come to mind:

"Are you going to break? Or are you going to go inside and find a new pace that is stronger than where you are right now? What are you going to do?"

It's funny. I have spent the last 23 years of my life practicing yoga and meditation. I started in order to become peaceful and happy. But after all this time, the yoga practice has just deepened the lessons that I learned running track as a girl. Life is filled with challenges. And only a commitment to continually develop one's inner strength can create satisfaction. It never comes from outside, from the praise of others.

Peace does not happen by watching who crossed the finish line before you, or who you left behind.

Peace comes from a place deep within, where you know the tragedies in life have not broken your spirit. When the disappointments and set-backs have not made you forget who you are or why you exist.

Ultimately, we all run the race against ourselves. It is our own self-judgment that determines if we win or lose, in the end.

Sometimes, I think about Guru Arjan, sitting on that hot plate for five days and five nights. Allowing hot sand to be constantly poured on him. His skin bubbling and burning, his inner organs being cooked alive.

He knew how to set the pace inside himself to smile through the whole thing. He did not complain, "Hey, God, what the heck? You use me to compose the Adi Granth and then set me on fire? What's up with that?"

He just accepted the challenge. He accepted that there was a Divine Purpose behind it. And his responsibility was to stay positive and be himself the midst of it.

That is what a spiritual practice ultimately gives us, in my humble opinion. Not the paradise of our fantasy world. But the capacity to take the pressure of life and not lose the connection to an Infinite Spirit that dwells within our hearts, and within everything.

It gives us a chance to cross the finish line in the endurance race of the soul.


August 12, 2013

 

 

 

Conversation about this article

1: Harman Singh (California, USA), August 12, 2013, 9:07 AM.

So well said: It is our own self-judgment that determines if we win or lose, in the end. One's perception is ones reality.

2: Pawanbir Singh (Manchester, United Kingdom), August 20, 2013, 6:01 AM.

Inspirational ... Divine and Surreal!

3: Hardeep (Mulgrave, Nova Scotia, Canada), September 03, 2013, 9:08 AM.

Really powerful ... a gem.

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Letters from Espanola"









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