“I don’t care to be remembered as a man who scored six goals in a game. I want to be remembered as a winner in life” – Gale Sayers (former All American footballer)
London 2012: the world’s abuzz with excitement. As fierce battles will be fought on the sporting arena; the passionate gold seekers are shedding gallons of sweat and blood for the crowning moment of glory.
Though for some an Olympic medal comes at a heavy price. Katy sexton, the thirty year old former British world champion swimmer is struggling with depression, and desperately hoping to make it into team Great Britain. In a recent interview to CNN, Katy confessed her internal battles have weakened her, “handling the pressure is tricky for me, having had a bout of depression in the last four or five years. It is now about rediscovering my confidence in competitive situations.” Her depression began soon after she won the gold in 2003 Barcelona World Championships; the pressure to perform better took its toll. “When you get to the pinnacle of your sport, as I did in becoming a world champion there isn’t much in place to help you if it all goes wrong. You deal with psychologists, but they only deal with you as an athlete rather than as a person. I beat myself up and fell deeper and deeper”. Katy sighed, “You train for four years and to fall at the last hurdle is gut-wrenching”
Ironically the spirit of Olympics that’s boldly charted, “participation is more important than winning” seems to be a consolation for all who miss the first three medals. The craving for passing glory is real, but in grabbing gold, are we losing a precious ‘diamond’?
The ‘diamond’ of human existence
Human life is precious; we are blessed with the ability to discover rich inner fulfilment through our activities, and bring joy to the lives of others. An Olympic athlete may entertain billion plus viewers in over 200 Nations, but should it be at the cost of one’s own inner harmony. Could Katy strive for gold and be joyful even if she fails?
Radhanath Swami compares our swiftly passing lives to a steadily flowing river. The bubbling waves on the surface of a river fizzle out in a moment, but the current underneath is serene and steady. Life too throws up unlimited ‘waves’ of victory, defeat, pleasures and pains. If we identify with the ‘wave happiness’, we’d be terribly disappointed as the bubble bursts. However, if we seek to go deeper in an inner quest for meaning and purpose of life, we’d be steadily flowing to our spiritual destinations, irrespective of all the inevitable ups and downs in life. It’s this anchor that not only gives us strength and shelter during troubled times; it also spreads positivity amongst those who know us. We’d then care less of losing a game, but more of winning the game of life. As the American Olympic champion, Ralph Boston said, “Being the first to cross the finish line makes you a winner in only one phase of life. It’s what you do after you cross the line that really counts.
On a practical level, Katy could translate ‘going deeper’ in life by asking a simple question: what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing really! The burden of expectation is self-imposed; the world doesn’t really care whether you win a medal or not. People are busy with their own tale of woes, and if they do criticize you, it’s often driven by something negative in their own lives, and has nothing to do with your sporting, corporate or academic performance. Realizing that her coveted gold medal isn’t going to make a difference to the world could be disappointing to Katy, but it’s also liberating. She could now give more than hundred per cent to explore the sheer beauty of her performance. She’s a great swimmer and she doesn’t need the world to endorse it; come out of the box of world’s opinion about you, and lead a life connecting to the divine. The accolades are fleeting; our aspirations to harmonize with the divinity within are eternal. Seneca, the great Roman dramatist of the first century, philosophised, “the great blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach; but we shut our eyes, and like people in the dark, we fall foul upon the very thing we search for, without finding it.”
How could one perform better and more joyfully, whether as an athlete, businessman, house wife or as a parent and not get depressed?
The magic of ‘visualization’
Before we do anything our mind starts seeing the event; how it would occur and what would be the outcome. This is ‘visualization’ and we do it all the time. Unfortunately many visualize a negative result of their task, project, game, or meeting. The negative visualization is also called ‘worry’, and creating ‘worry visuals’ in mind often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you had to walk on a log of wood that’s on the ground, it’s easy. But if it were placed on a chair it’s more difficult and if it was placed in between two buildings, you would imagine falling. However acrobats would never imagine that. That’s how ‘visualization’ works. You could visualize your performance; how you would treat your employees, how you’d take care of the house, and your behaviour and dealings with your friends. This gives you tremendous confidence when the actual event takes place, because you have already enacted the situation in your mind. Having first lived out the event positively in mind, it’s easier to translate it into reality; the pressure is off and the performance smooth.
You can take ‘visualization’ a step higher. Whether you are an athlete or a manager in a company, visualize your life ten years down the line. How would you live your life? Who would be your best friends? What values and principles you’d like to live by? What relationships really matter to you ten years from now? As you envision the future, ask how much is your present life in line with what you desire to achieve. Will your material achievements, be they a gold medal or a billion dollars help you earn love and peace? Is becoming the most popular and respected person on planet really worth it? Would you trade your real self for the fleeting promises of this world? Remember the Italian saying, “After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box”
Keep the visualization realistic. Know that time would invade your bodily and mental faculties; you couldn’t be a sporting hero forever. Ask what really matters to you and are you living your life in accordance with these aspirations. Instead of ‘going’ through life, seek ‘growing’ through it. William Stacy, the 18th century American war hero said, “We should give meaning to life, not wait for life to give us meaning.”
Tackling challenges in the ashram
I remember trying this exercise a few years ago when I was packed with services for over twelve hours a day, and could hardly devote quality time to my spiritual activities. As I felt dissatisfaction despite my busy work schedules, a serious confusion arose in my mind; what am I doing in life? Where am I heading to?
I took a break and wrote down an answer to the question: “What do I want to be ten years from now?” The answer to this question was candid, notwithstanding my then lifestyle and services. As I envisioned a balanced life of service and worship of Lord, things became clearer. After the half hour exercise, I compared what I had written with what I had been presently doing in the ashram. The incongruence was obvious and appalling; the flight of my life was way off track.
Keeping the vision clearly ahead helps us manoeuvre the aircraft of our lives back on course. This adds meaningful resolve and deep contentment to our lives. We would then have earned a priceless diamond; the fleeting gold medals of this world don’t matter anymore.