Creating A Margin

Tired AthleteThe young athlete is tired. The last five days have been a constant stream of activity. School, work, speech tournaments, more work, more speech, more school, tonight training. So we back off. His engine, as we say , is running hot.

The young athlete is stressed. There is club soccer, training to get ready for college, the final semester of senior year with grades, projects, finals and AP testing. On top of that a job and the decision about whether or not to play a spring sport at the high school. Talented, gifted, accomplished and running hot.

Over time, like most athletes, they’ll learn the wisdom of nature; that energy cannot be endlessly spent with out being renewed and that a living system under stress cannot heal itself.

In physiology we talk about the General Adaptive Syndrome or Super-compensation but it all comes back to the simple fact that growth happens in the spaces between our efforts, in the margins. Progress requires effort but, we forget that margin is a non-negotiable as well.

In the spiritual life the practice of Sabbath is essential to health and holiness. Honoring the Sabbath isn’t a suggestion it’s  a commandment. And so it is for the athlete.

Thoreau saw the value of margin, “I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.”

Effort has its place and its obvious rewards while rest can feel like a sign of weakness. But, there is a rhythm to all things like a beating heart emptying its chambers and then filling again. Grace flows in both directions. Give your best effort then,  enjoy a little life in the margins.

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Love and Joy

The athlete’s journey begins with play. That play manifests itself in the experience of joy and enthusiasm. And, if its encouraged, into a love of the activity. When three thousand Olympic Athletes were asked the primary factor in starting their sport, the number one response was love of activity. We love to play.

” We play because we have an exuberance of spirits and energy…, says Kay Redfield Jamison in her book Exuberance, The Passion For Life … but, we are also exuberant because we play.”

There is something in those movements of gliding and sliding, twisting and turning, running and jumping and rolling over and over that gives us a sense of freedom and delight. That is is the grace of motion:  playful, elegant and transforming.

So in this season of love and joy one of the best ways to experience those is to take time to play, especially if you have snow! As Redfield Jamison writes, ” It is a rare person who remains unmoved by a first snowfall. Snow is magic; it draws us in, jostles memory and stirs desire. It enchants.”   Here’s what enchantment looks like. Merry Christmas!!

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.