Learning to Wait

DSCF1928I’ve been thinking about waiting during this season of Advent. There is a beautiful rhythm to the seasons; times of growth and action, times of dormancy and preparation. Their nature is cyclical and spiraling not linear. Very few straight lines. Everything unfolding in its own time.

So it is for the athlete as well. We train and practice, we do the work and we wait. We wait for the change, the growth , the adaptation that we’re seeking, the body’s response. We wait for our time, the moment, our opportunity to contribute.  And, it doesn’t come  – not all at once or right away  – until it does. Then we step on the track and our time drops. We make the catch or the throw or the move. What we need, what we’ve been working on is miraculously there.

Athletics, like a spiritual practice, teaches us about waiting.  In her book To Dance With God, Gertrude Mueller Nelson writes, “We equate waiting with wasting time …. But waiting is unpractical time, good for nothing but mysteriously necessary to all that is becoming. As in a pregnancy, nothing of value comes into being without a period of quiet incubation: not a healthy baby, not a loving relationship, not a reconciliation, a new understanding, a work of art, never a transformation..”

The athlete learns to wait gracefully, to resist the temptation to force the action, to rush, to press – instead to let the game come to us.

We learn to pay attention, get in position, do the work and then trust the process, so that when the time is right and the waiting is over, we’re ready. We discover that the grace that’s revealed in the beautiful, flowing action of our movements; the generous quality of our character; or the gift of transformation was at work and growing all along in the waiting.  Enjoy the season.


Lean In The Direction You Want To Go

iStock_000011469617MediumIts hard to move gracefully when you’re going in two directions at once. Hips moving one way, shoulders another it’s hard to keep rhythm or balance. Oops, down he goes! In any sport we learn to lean into the change even if it’s ever so slightly so that we can make the change gracefully, shifting momentum and exerting power in a new direction.

I’m learning I do well to remember that in the rest of my life. Whether its an unexpected change to avoid an obstacle or an intentional step in a new direction it seems to be better to lean in the direction I want to go. Grace flows more readily when I  can relax, and commit to the change. Lean in.


Tired AthleteGraceful action starts with rhythm. Every movement is like a measure of music with its own time signature. We see it in the flowing turns of an alpine racer and the quick catch and shoot on the basketball court.  It’s true for a team as well.  Phil Jackson wrote in his book Eleven Rings, The Soul of Success, ” I discovered early that the best way to get players to coordinate their actions was to get them to play the game in 4/4 time. The basic rule was that the player with the ball had to do something with it before the third beat; either pass shoot or start to dribble. When everyone is keeping time it makes it easier to harmonize with one another beat by beat.”

It’s frustrating as an athlete when you can’t find your rhythm, when it’s disrupted by an opponent or lost in a change of tempo or terrain. Rhythm focuses energy. When the rhythm is gone every movement becomes a separate impulse, a constant effort to overcome inertia.  Without the momentum that rhythm provides, powerful, fluid movements become mechanical and awkward and exhausting.  Play becomes hard work.

The great thing is we have the ability to turn it around, to find our rhythm and regain our momentum. We might have to slow it down, maybe even pause ( musicians don’t play on every beat ) then pay attention and listen until we can hear the rhythm and feel the beat again. It’s easier to get back in the game when we remember that grace and power haven’t left us. They’re just waiting for us to find our rhythm.

The Frisbee Lesson

iStock_000007686506MediumPlaying catch with the frisbee can teach you a couple of things. One of those is “letting go.” Throwing a frisbee is all in the release. Smooth, intentional, focused and relaxed. It’s more about the eyes than the hands – more about vision than control. A small act of faith that gives one the confidence to let it fly.

The other thing you learn is how to let it come to you. You can spend a lot of time and energy chasing, overrunning and trying to change direction. Or, you can pay attention, notice the loft, the speed, the angle and let it come to you. That doesn’t mean just standing still as much as it means getting to where it’s going and being there to receive it. Watch your dog sometime.

We’re trained to go hard, chase things down and grab them and get control. Frisbee though is different. Frisbee is all about letting it go and letting come to you.iStock_000006549282Medium

The Morning Ride

IMG_0710It’s about play. I know it’s a workout, it’s training, it’s exercise. It’s a morning ride on the mountain bike doing extensive intervals, building capacity – all good stuff.  And… it’s about play.

There is something graceful in play, in the apparent purposelessness of an activity. Like the early morning trail ride. And, today it was play. A hard ride for sure and exhilarating. Yet, there is so much more. The movement, the changing scenery, the sun stirring activity on the trail and in town. The small subtle changes on the lake as the water, at first still, calm and clear begins to reflect the light and movement of the new day. There is the fragrance of lilacs that cross the trail like streams awakening and refreshing as you pass through them. There is the occasional early morning athlete on the trail and the knowing nod you exchange in the moment you pass. There are the delivery trucks and the maintenance folks on the empty street of the small town a few miles down that trail that will be gone before the rest of the world is even up to know they were there.

Yup, this ride, this workout is about target HR and aerobic threshold but, as good as the progress that comes with training will feel, that’s not where the grace is today. The grace is in the act of playing.

Stuart Brown, MD,  Director of the National Institute of Play lists the following characteristics of play:

1. Apparent Purposelessness – we don’t do it for it’s practical value, we do it for it’s own sake. Some people might even think it’s a waste of time.

2. It’s voluntary – nobody’s making you do it.

3. Inherent attraction – It’s just plain  fun. It makes you feel good.

4. Freedom from time – When we’re really into it we lose a sense of time.

5. Diminished consciousness of self – We stop thinking about thinking. We stop worrying about how we look. We’re just doing it.

6. Improvisational potential – We aren’t locked in to one way of doing things. We’re open to trying different approaches, messing about, making it up as we go.

7. Continuation desire – It’s fun and when we’re done we want to do it again.

And, there you have it in a nutshell; my morning ride. That’s what transforms it from just a workout into an experience of grace.  I hope I can carry that same spirit and thinking into the rest of the day. I hope you can too. Play with it.

Commit To The Journey

IMG_2976  Joyce Di Donato hit the nail on the head this week with her commencement address at Julliard. ” You will never make it, she told the group. That’s the bad new but the shift I invite you to make  is to see it as fabulous, outstanding news, for I don’t actually believe there is an it.”

We play and compete because it’s fun. We also do it because, for many of us it’s way of feeling connected and alive. It’s an opportunity to become more and be part of something greater than ourselves.  One of the things we learn though is that grace, the thing that transforms us and our experience isn’t waiting on the other side of the finish line. It isn’t found in the record books or on the podium. Grace is found along the way in the challenges and choices we encounter and in our response.

Over time we discover that the rush that comes with the victory or the accomplishment is momentary and fleeting. As enjoyable as they are, and they can be exciting, they are not what sustains or transforms us.

Di Donato goes on to tell the graduates, ” One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself right here, right now, in this single, solitary , monumental moment in your life – is to decide without apology to commit to the journey and not the outcome.”

So, play to win? Of course. Strive to better our performance? Absolutely. Remember though, to compete means literally to journey with. To “commit without apology to the journey” and let go of the outcome  – is to play with grace.


Playing With Grace


When we play, Grace likes to show up. In fact it’s one of the reasons we play. Sometimes we miss her, like the kid who get’s picked last when we’re choosing sides. But she’s there, eager to show herself and join in. Eager to raise the level of play.

jamie+anderson+slopestyleGrace shows up most obviously in our movement; flowing, rhythmic, powerful. The dictionary refers to it as ” elegance of beauty or form, manner, motion or action.” Back in the day it was Wayne Gretzky on the ice, Jerry Rice on the football field or Mia Hamm with the soccer ball. This winter it was Jamie Anderson and her gold medal run at Sochi.



UnknownSometimes she comes in a different form, revealed  not in motion or movement but in character. Here “playing with Grace” follows a different definition of the word: the exercise of love, kindness, compassion, mercy, favor; a disposition to benefit or serve another.  In 2009 as Western Oregon University and Central Washington battled it out for the conference title Senior, Sara Tucholsky hit the first home run of her career with two runners on to give her team an apparent 4 – 2 lead. But as she rounded first base her cleats caught, her leg twisted and she fell to the ground in a heap with a torn ACL.

According to the rules her team mates couldn’t assist her around the bases or she would be called out. If her coach substituted for her it would be just a two run single. Enter Grace. Central Washington University softball players Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace asked the umpire if they could carry her around the bases. “Yes, he said, that would be okay.” And so they did, giving Sara her first and only home run because, as Mallory said, ” You hit it over the fence. You deserve it.” Central Washington lost the game that day and the chance to go on to the NCAA tournament but Mallory and Liz’s act of sportsmanship stood above all of that. Grace carried Sara around the bases in the arms of her opponents. Talk about elevating the level of play.


imagesThen, there are the times when Grace is something even more. It’s the energy or force that helps you and your team mates and your opponent create or accomplish something you had barely an inkling was possible. Think Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon Finals in 2008.  This is Grace the way the theologian describes her: an unmerited, divine assistance given humans for their regeneration and sanctification. The field or court is transformed for an instant from playground to holy ground.

There’s plenty about sports that needs fixing these days. Egos, money and power seem eager to push Grace off the field.  That’s our choice though.

Annie Lamott says it so well in her book Traveling Mercies: ” I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” How we play is up to us. We can play our games with Grace.  And, when we do, create something special.