Friday, February 5, 2010

Maturation and Ascension

"That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard..." -- Laertes from Hamlet

"Ender's anger was cold and he could use it. Bonzo's anger was hot and so it used him." -- Ender's Game

Fear is good. Anger is good. These are the specialties of the lizard or reptilian brain. Under its rule, the body is capable of amazing feats of strength, speed, coordination and overall ability. Have you ever experienced the cocktail of emotions in a frenzied game of soccer or football? Think about the singular focus that a player has when making a great catch or tackle or pass while under pressure, the thrill and panic of a triple or a stolen base and so on and so forth. When does a 93 mile an hour baseball look as easy to hit as a balloon? When does a 230 lb. athlete that can run a 40 in 4.5 seconds appear as if he's swimming through margarine? The body is capable of these acts which defy our typical experience. As a consequence of this adrenaline surge the body dilates the eyes, shortens its breath, draws blood away from the skin and ceases salivation. If each of these symptoms persist over the long-term it means blindness, heart attack, hypothermia and rotting gums.

But luckily these symptoms vanish when the reptilian brain abdicates its throne. We are humans. We were not meant to live like chameleons and cobras.

But how often do we do so? How often does a vast tract of humanity do so? Fear. Anger. How many of us live our lives ruled by impulse and physiology? Like Jack Lalanne might ask: do our bodies serve us, or do we serve our bodies? Curious about my line of questioning? Most of my readers have never been in war. I certainly never have. Most of us cannot imagine what it would be like for shells to explode feet away, bullets to whizz inches from our face, to be accompanied by the site of death and gore everyday. That's living in fear and anger! That's not my life!

Or is it?

When was the last time you lied to cover your ass? When was the last time you avoided something because it was difficult? Or didn't do something you thought might be fun to try because it was embarrassing? Or are you living your life in constant anger, looking to get someone back for some slight? Or perhaps it's  not one singular cause of anger, but everything makes you angry. Bad drivers, deli worker messed up your coffee, slow commute and all the mundane thorns of life which draw blood daily.

Fear and anger. Are you living in them?

I'll admit I am. I hope that not too long ago my answer changes to "I was."

How do I know? It's because I see the immaturity in my own actions. I've only realized this recently as a friend was sharing with me about one of her experiences in training. Faced with severe injuries with the near-certainty of worsening it with repeated abuse, my friend decided to just soldier through. "That's just who I am." Then afterwards, my friend refused to rehab properly and instead demanded that the physician simply fix the problem so that my friend would be ready to go in 2 weeks. In fact, that's exactly how I approached the Hawaii marathon.

This time upon hearing those words, all I could think was "Foolish immature brat. Who're you trying to impress?"

You know this kind of person even if you do not know anyone who's an athlete or competitor. This kind of person also shows up in the drama queen archetype, the sort of person who revels in the chaos and bedlam of life -- and the way others run to try and fix the situation. Grodin in this post expresses the issue  better than I have ever seen it done.

"Honey, how was your day?"
"Oh, I was busy, incredibly busy."
"I get that you were busy. But did you do anything important?"

Busy does not equal important. Suffering does not equal significance.

Looking back on my first year as a triathlete I had a ton of energy but so very little wisdom and maturity.  I tried to "train through injury" and only jeopardized my future. And for what? I'm not a minor league ballplayer taking steroids so I can get a cup of coffee in  the bigs. As an endurance athlete, there is absolutely nothing I can do this year that can rival the potential I might achieve within the next 10. Why did I say I would do THE Ironman in 5 years? Was it to show off and brag? How... how depressingly high school. And to be quite honest, did I give it my best effort all the way through?

I made a lot of motion and a lot of noise, but I didn't end up doing very much. It's fear isn't it? And that fear produces the hot-blooded anger and fire, but the biggest flame isn't at all useful as I learned camping. Flames were high, flames were bright, but my friend was looking to make breakfast not poetry. When the fire burned down to glowing embers, I asked my friend why we didn't cook our food yet. Did I need to go get more wood? He looked at me curiously. When the embers smolder, then we can use them. A high bright fire is just show.

If I'm serious about my triathlons and my adventuring, the first biggest step is to discard the childish pride I'm holding on to and to rise above the lizard brain, fearful, angry, flittering about and making a show. No, real strength need not announce itself. The quiet pit bull should be feared, not the chirping chihuahua. 2 months of rehab for my left leg. How I spend this time will be the best measure of my maturity yet.

Let's go.

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