It’s Monday, October 5th, 2015. Not quite a week ago, life got tired of subtly nudging me and threw a solid, unavoidable kick my way.
I am suddenly, terrifyingly, beautifully free. Well, not 100% free. It’s like I was in prison, then released into the world, except with weights still chained to my feet so that I can walk but not without a reminder that this freedom is limited.
Those weights and chains are obligations and debts.
Relentlessness is a quality I’ll be strengthening in myself through this year and the rest of life. Reading part of Relentless primed my mind and gave me a basic vocabulary; running the Lake Tahoe Beast gave me an example of this quality in action when both Gary and I swam frigid waters and started to go hypothermic after as a result.
After he began to shiver, Gary determined that he would finish the race regardless to ensure that he would catch his flight — and he pressed on despite injury from the Ultra Beast two weeks ago, despite violent shivering and the risk of hypothermia.
After I began to shiver, I determined that I should warm up so that I could safely (relatively speaking) continue to finish the race. So I went back down a long hill to the warm gondola area that I’d found previously and spent around an hour drying off and warming up by an industrial radiator. Once I had finally stopped shivering and was mostly dry, I pushed myself to continue.
I’ve never had a better story in my life to demonstrate the mindset of relentlessness. Not yet, anyway. Mind you, I’m not saying that Gary’s decision was necessary the safest or best or even good in the short-mid-term for his health — but I recognize that his strength of will allowed him to persevere and push towards a goal, and that this same strength of will is one that I want to cultivate in myself.
It’s related to overcoming fear: I was on some level afraid of risking my healthy and safety to accomplish the goal of finishing the course in a faster time. I knew that I would rather miss my flight than get pulled off the race or having to be hospitalized due to being hypothermic. The end goal of catching the flight wasn’t important enough to me.
In the beginning miles of the race, I was afraid of the pain of having difficulty breathing in the thinner air, and so I consciously did not push myself to run as hard as Gary did. So it surprised me to later catch up to and eventually pass him.
Fear and demons. Calling for me to slow down when breathing became tough, calling for me to stop when I set a slower pace, calling for me to drop instead of returning to the cold after I warmed up.
I ignored them and focused on counting my steps. 12 steps with one foot position, 12 steps of another, back to the first, switch to the second. Massive attention and focus in those moments, carefully placing each foot beneath me and in such a way that I wouldn’t slide and waste energy. In that way I climbed every hill.
Nancy and I were talking yesterday about relentlessness and mindset as it comes to challenges. Challenge is a topic that comes up often given our participation in races and really, given what I care about. And I said something about the idea of wanting to develop relentlessness in myself and that it was important because I knew I had been born without it. Nancy asked how I knew that. I know I was born without it because I was pampered as a child, where life seemed easy and I didn’t have too many fears to face and challenges to overcome. Life was smooth in the bad sort of way. I didn’t have a massive emotional challenge until I had to come to terms with rejection in 2007 and beyond.
This year I’ve focused a lot of time and money on working on myself, on emotional growth and strength and understanding and building true confidence and trust in myself.
One of ideas I came upon was something to the effect of how women challenge you in those areas of your weakness. That through interactions with women, your personal areas of weakness are exposed: if you’re not great at bantering, if you’re too uptight, if you can’t take a joke, if you aren’t reliable, if you can’t stay present, if you’re too controlling, if you’re a bad listener, if you’re unwilling to empathize, if you can’t trust, if you can’t love, if you can’t forgive, if you’re quick to anger, if you’re bad at sex, if you’re insecure, if you can’t let go.
I tend to think this of life and not just women — that by interacting in the world, you’ll be shown your areas of weakness. That in those areas where life is hard for you, areas of possibility are exposed that you can then choose to work on if you so choose. The risk is that those areas exposed are always tough and touch upon emotional areas because they’re the deep areas of life that you’ve been avoiding, consciously or not. The payoff is if you face those deep fears and do the consistent, rough work to pass through them… you grow stronger emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
As I think about it, I realize I’ve only a handful of occasions in my life where I’ve been challenged in such a way, and I’ve always come out of it so much better.
One of the earliest occasion of this challenge is handling anger. Around high school, the earlier years, where I suppose hormones were raging and children were going through some phase to distinguish themselves from their peers and their parents, I had to handle my anger. I was decently sharp, quick to speak and had a fragile ego… so I was quick to criticize or condemn or lash out when I felt threatened or annoyed. That was probably often. And I hurt people around me — my parents, sister, maybe the few friends I had. I don’t remember when it comes to friends, because I wasn’t good at thinking about others or empathizing.
Finally at one point things boiled over. I don’t know what the cause was. Maybe if I could find a journal or writing from the time I would see. What I remember is doing or saying something that was hurtful to a friend one day. I don’t remember how I learned this — maybe in conversation with my sister afterward. But I felt the same kind of remorse whenever I realized I’d hurt someone with something I’d said.
Somehow I learned that when I had a clear mind, anger would dissipate. That when I could see a situation objectively (as objectively as one can when being naturally subjective), I’d see that what had stirred my anger was really a small, insignificant thing compared to the harm I was causing. My mantra became, “Clarity corrodes the iron grip of anger” — something like that — and I would repeat it to myself when I got mad, when my emotions flared up. Slowly but surely, I began to hold my tongue in situations where previously I’d lash out. I would start to see my anger before it rose, and I could see that no situation was worth losing my temper.
I learned that even that phrase, “lose your temper”, is misleading because it deflects responsibility from the person responsible. Temper is surrendered, given away, and not lost. I decided no one would ever cause me to lose my temper — and related, control of my life — again. In the 10+ years since I first thought this, I’ve let anger take control a few times and I’ve never been proud or happy with the results. But I no longer cause those around me the same unhappiness or fear as before.
Handling love, attachment and rejection
I’d write more about this but I sense my willingness to free-flow-write waning as I start to get too structured instead of letting my thoughts flow as they were for the ideas of relentlessness.
So I’ll leave this as a placeholder for when I’m feeling like I want to write more on this specific emotional challenge.
Maybe I’ve thought and written too much about this already haha.
Return to relentless & true challenge
Two times in my life of true challenge.
From working with anger, I learned how to control it so that it did not control me. I saw how anger would damage relationships and hurt others. Hurting others wasn’t what I wanted, was never my goal, and I wanted to be good to others and to be respected and loved. The respect and love that I craved didn’t start to come my way until I stopped lashing out at the world around me and began to love and trust myself and others. What I didn’t know at the time was that love and respect are almost a side-effect of loving and respecting others and loving and respecting myself. Life has been good since.
In the experience of love, attachment and rejection with the first real romantic connection I ever had, I had to learn in the span of several months to a year, what many others learned socially and in groups and earlier in life — what it meant to care for others, the meaning of rejection, how to think of others. Why I needed to grow, why I should work on my social skills. What I brought to a relationship and why that mattered. What it meant to be needy and attached, and why that kept me from what I wanted. I wanted to feel deep connection mentally and emotionally, as I felt with TT during that week of camp. I craved validation that I didn’t even know I needed until after I had it, and then it was gone. Validation that despite the formal way I spoke, despite my sense of responsibility and self-control and respect for people standing in as a shield for not knowing how to relax and have fun — that despite that all, someone could care for me. Care from someone else changed my life; and one of the many results of that entire experience is why I make it a priority to care for those around me, and for those I see. I care — freely, without expectation — because I recognized that care freely given can change the course of someone’s life as it did with mine. In this way I learned about how to love in the world and how to love the world without having to control it. I’ve been rewarded — blessed? — since then by closer relationships, greater friendships, happier interactions.
It’s funny. I never put together all the above into a cohesive essay, or written piece, or anything, until now. I’ve written because of emotional overflow (thanks, Anaïs Nin) and that seems to be why I can write so freely now. Maybe the recent improv lessons have helped (thanks, Jill & Jen & Engaging Educator) me be more free-flowing as well.
I can’t ignore an aspect of procrastination here — in some small way, I recognize that this writing is a holding-off of the many difficult things I need to do soon. To read and learn and connect and push myself to focus in a short span of time, in a way I’ve never successfully done before.
I’d written how life exposes your areas of weakness; I forgot to mention that life returns again and again to those areas until they destroy you or until you pass through and beyond them.
The major problem I’ve recognized in my life since before and after college is a lack of direction. I had no big picture until years after college, 2011 into 2012, those fascinating years of Scott Dinsmore and LiveYourLegend and life planning and focus. Even during college, I was bad at working single things unless I felt “motivated” and felt interested.
A lesson I’ve learned since then is that to the truly successful, motivation and interest are much less important than focus and the ability to complete, deliver, to just DO. I’ve never truly developed this capacity to just do the things I don’t always want to do. But in doing these things I’ll exercise the qualities I admire and intend to build: focus, relentlessness, formidability.
From this point of view, sitting in a comfortable library chair, at the start of fall weather, in early October… I know the next few weeks and months ahead will be somewhat rough. I’ll be tested physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. But this time I know I’m in the midst of a potentially amazing period. I recognize at least part of the shape of this challenge, enough to know what I’ll gain when I pass through. I’m grateful to have come to this point with all I’ve learned, with great relationships, with life and love and energy.
“Every moment of your life is either a test or a celebration.”
I may have gotten chills when I read that line in David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man, because it was a statement so simple but resoundingly true to my life experience. One of the great themes and lessons of this year was a reminder about the paramount importance of attention and presence. That sentence is the admonition, the reminder of the importance of presence and attention to all I do.
Here before me is a trial, a worthwhile test, a challenge waiting to be unmasked as the opportunity is really is. I’ll have thousands and thousands of tests before this is through.
But I won’t forget, and I plan to cherish, the celebrations along the way.