Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zabel, Zabel, Zabel!

For some reason I was thinking about what advice I would give to someone who wanted to take up bike racing. I was raking leaves as I was doing this so there was plenty of time for my mind to wander. I would advise a burgeoning race to learn to do everything well. If you are a climber learn how to sprint, if you are a sprinter learn how to climb. I know that seems like ridiculous common sense but I have seen too many people pigeon hole themselves and not reach their potential. I believe that races are won on strengths and lost on weaknesses.

When I was thinking about how this advice might apply I thought about Erik Zabel. During his long career, in an age when racers began to really specialize toward one day races or Grand Tours, Zabel raced them all. Not only did he race a full season, but he also competed in the grueling six day track races in the winter. He won Milan San Remo four times, the points classification at the Tour de France six times, and also the points jerseys in the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana  as well. In a long career he won nearly two hundred races as a professional. Erik Zabel was not ever the fastest sprinter in the bunch. What set him apart was his ability to climb better than faster sprinters. His successes in the Tour came because he could make it to Paris, long after many of the other sprinters had retired rather than facing the mountains. As a sprinter who could climb Erik Zabel made the most of his natural abilities while minimizing his weaknesses.

In Zabel's story I see a lesson of universal application. First of all I believe that it is important to know who you are and to recognize your gifts. Many people who experience real frustration in life do so because they are not in a position to use what they have. I know many people, myself included, who have found themselves at a dead end because their skill set was a poor fit for their work. You are who you are and if you try to be someone else it will never bring real contentment.

However knowing who you are and where your strengths lie does not mean you should ignore your weaknesses and allow them to become liabilities. I have seen equal frustration and stagnation similar to the dead end of misapplication where what someone needed was a little growth to rise above the things that were bringing them down. I have to admit that my natural inclination is to do what I like, but most of the real success and satisfaction has come when I used my natural abilities and worked hard to be more complete. For me at least there is a sense of pride that comes from having applied yourself and done something you thought was impossible.

No matter what it is that you do, ride your bike, go to the mat, do your job, build your relationships or strive for spiritual growth, think about Erik Zabel. His capacity to limit his weaknesses set him free to use his gifts more fully. Having written this I hope to carry it around with me, so that when I am frustrated or stagnant, I ask myself the important questions. At those times it will probably be the case that I am not utilizing what I have, or allowing my weaknesses  to undermine my strengths. I hope this helps some of you out there. Let me know if it sets you free to experience joy and contentment.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hope = Insight?

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne.                                                      Revelation 4:1-2

I was speaking with a friend recently and I asked what might be useful as a theme for my yoga classes for this week. Her reply was that "hope" would be good. I thought about that for a while and concluded that hope really is not something that is part of the yogic tradition. Hope is the Christian belief that despite present current circumstances, Jesus' victory over death means that suffering is not the end. Sometimes hope is presented to the believer as, "Don't worry, one day you'll be in Heaven." This kind of thought overlooks the fact that Christian hope is not only about a better future, the present is also affected when things are seen from God's perspective.

In yoga, we see ignorance or avidya as the source of pain and suffering. Ignorance is not meant to be negative or a simple lack of knowledge. Avidya means an inability to see the big picture. So when we find ourselves in a situation where the next step is unclear or we are fearful, pain comes because we fear what might happen. The fear often causes us to make rapid decisions that are not helpful. This is not entirely our fault though. From what we know, humans evolved on the plains of Africa. Deeply embedded in the human brain is the fight or flight reflex. Early human survival was based on the ability to fend off or escape from an attacker. The problem is there is a big difference in fending off a marauding lion and dealing with a relationship issue, but our brains still process it the same.

Hope a seen from a biblical perspective is much like overcoming avidya. The Revelation to John is one of the most challenging books in our Bible. It is also one of the most misused. The premise of the book is simple; John is granted this vision as one undergoing persecution, so that he may see things from God's perspective, moving beyond ignorance. Even though our earthly vision is clouded, the vision allows us to peer into the ultimate future of Jesus' victory over death. The removal of the blinders of ignorance help us to look differently at the present in light of our future.

So how then can we develop insight on the mat? First and foremost is a regular practice. With a regular diet of back and forward bends, twists, inversion, balance poses and breath work we can learn to recognize our animal instincts and subdue them when they are not necessarily helpful in a given instance. This deep insight allows us to live gracefully without always being victims of our reflexes. A fearful situation does not have to leave us without hope; Through practice we can learn to penetrate to new, deeper understandings of what it means to live in the present with our eyes on the future.

Let me know what you think, I always appreciate feedback.