I was completely at one with my TV as I witnessed Michael Phelps defeat all odds and miraculously win nine gold medals. “They all mean something to me each in a different way especially the 200 Butterfly. It was the last leg of the 200 that I could not see anything. I simply had to count.” Apparently, Phelps had a wardrobe malfunction as his goggles filled with water. Yet, he not only won gold but broke his own world record!
Courage and determination, passion and perseverance, insurmountable pain and disappointment, beauty and grace, overwhelming joy and thrills: how fortunate we are to watch the athletes who have sacrificed so much of their lives for greatness, and become inspired to seek our own.
How about the beautiful Romanian woman at age 38, winning the marathon by more than a full minute? Or Dara Torres, age 41, winning two silver medals in women’s swimming? One of my personal favorites was Jonathan Horton of the US men’s gymnastics team. I loved his focus, especially during the men’s all-around. He seemed never to blink his eyes, so intense was his concentration.
The Olympics provide a glimpse into the extraordinary. Yet, each competitor is unknown, or – as we say in yoga – “a body with a breath.” We don’t follow them day after day like a Hollywood celebrity. In fact, we only care about them once every four years. Their stories appeal to us more than those of celebrities because, for the most part, they live like we do.
“It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children,” say author Oriah Mountain Dream in The Invitation. “It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside, when all else falls away.”
These Olympians, like you and me, like the 60 Day Challengers, have bills to pay, families to tend to, mundane tasks to take care of, anxieties, doubts and everyday worries. It’s the lives of these competitors during the four years in between the Olympics to which we can relate, creating solidarity between athlete and observer that peaks with the greatness on Olympic day.
“Your greatness won’t be found in a classroom; an apprenticeship; a teacher; or flattering comments from well-meaning family members, friends or lovers. It is within you. It’s crucial for you to become conscious of the greatness that constantly flows through you-to do so, meet it in meditative moments of gratitude, and cease to be influenced by contrary points of view,” states Wayne Dyer in Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life. Bingo!
Congratulations 60 Day Challengers! You, like the Olympians, have said “yes” to the commitment and learned that there was more to making the journey. The anger issues that arise, the emotional roller coaster, the physical strains, the scheduling issues and more all pop up all in surprising fashion. Day after day doing your yoga practice, you withstood disappointments and overcame stresses. You became strong enough to listen to and challenge the beliefs that no longer served you. You refused to “be influenced by contrary points of view.” By enduring, you’ve learned to access your own inner greatness.
In class, I ask you to notice and then let go of any focus on distractions that pull you out of meditation. Something as simple as wiping the sweat off your face can divert you from accessing your inner strength. It takes practice to peel away the clever mechanics of the mind that obstruct, rather than reveal, pathways to self-realization. It’s an Olympic journey to do so but the prize isn’t just a gold medal but a feeling of greatness. And like the Olympians, we learn that we can be great and be nobody, simultaneously.
The closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics were a sight to behold. The choreography was astonishing and, to me, so meaningful. Once the flame was extinguished, I felt a heaviness, a sense of sadness come over the 90,000 people in the Bird’s Nest. However, the next moments rekindled a burning inspiration that recaptured everything the torch stood for. Did you see it? Four hundred gymnasts dressed head-to-toe in flaming red and gold piled high on a 150-foot tall steel cylinder. Each performed rhythmic back bends or waving arm movements, together replicating the motion of the Olympic flame. It was so moving, the idea that the flame was now within each of us never to dim. For two weeks, greatness was displayed for the world to see, but our own greatness once discovered, stays lit!