(Originally posted on the Space Bangkok blog.)
“Lobsters come to mind…” I found myself saying in a recent chat with a friend. In answer to my friend’s quizzical expression, I referred to this bit of an interview from JInsider with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski in which he talks about responding to stress.
I’ve been gleefully watching the Olympics since it started, cheering for the human stories of athletes I’ve never heard of in sports I don’t usually follow. And it is interesting to consider the relationship between discomfort, stress, and growth. As the athletes take on themselves and their competitors, some finish disappointed while others find themselves doing things they never dreamed possible. Still others perform exactly the way they are expected to. And all of them are under stress. Some struggle through bad days, some perform consistently through it all, and others use the opportunity of the stress to grow into a new shell they had hardly aspired to, be it through personal best times or dramatic, almost impossible comebacks. Because you just don’t give up. Ever.
So what makes the difference? This is the question that athletes, coaches, trainers, and anyone driven in pursuit of goals has contemplated since time immemorial. And many much wiser than me have written about it.
Still, the question sitting with me at the moment is: What can I learn along the way from the many Olympic athletes pouring their heart and soul into one shot at being the best in the world. I watch them seemingly effortlessly move through their sport and realize it is only the diligence of hard practice that has allowed them that grace and composure. And therein lies one key: never give up on the practice of whatever it is you are pursuing. Oh, and another: some things take an all in effort, heart and soul.
The other question that lobsters bring to my mind is where do we find the protective rocks under which to shed our shells and create new ones? From where or who does that protection come? And then, how can we help each other by creating protective spaces for growth?
In many ways, this is one of the things we do in our resilience retreats. Whether our participants are looking to renovate a small bit of their shell or shed it entirely, we provide the protective space they need.
We also provide a cheering section, because even those of us who aren’t world-class athletes need a consistent cheering section. And while we need it when we win, we need it even more when we don’t. I love watching the Olympic crowd stay and cheer the last person to cross the finish line with the same enthusiasm as if they were the first. For certain they have expended no less effort, and the crowd honors that.
So, while you enjoy the Olympic season, join me in asking these questions: How can I best take advantage of that which is making me feel discomfort and stress right now? Where do I find my protective rocks? An my cheering section? How can I keep on with my practice? And where are my heart and soul at?