6 months ago, if you would have told me I’d be consistently doing any one of these, forget doing them all together:
- that I’d be meditating every day
- keeping a daily journal
- publishing a newsletter every weekend
- eating 2 meals a day
- having cold showers
- doing strength workouts thrice a week
I’d have laughed it off. I may have even pooh-poohed you for telling me this. I’m surprised that I could pull this off for 6 months and it has become a habit now.
How did I manage to do this? I showed up every day. If not in the morning, then later in the day. If not at noon, then in the evening. If not in the evening, then at night before going to bed. When you show up every day, even on your bad days, your every day becomes better. Despite the obstacles created by my mind – I showed up every single day.
Obstacles you face in your life are unaware either of your capacity to overcome them or of your weakness to surrender to them. The barriers created by your mind are some of the toughest you encounter in life. They are always there – knocking at your door, patiently, one after another.
Sometimes these odds are lilliputian and are easy to conquer. They make you wonder about their purpose and existence at all. It is like a race against weak opponents. Your jogging is faster than their running. These hardly seem like obstacles.
Then you come across obstacles that pop up occasionally but are manageable. You can handle them with a little effort. They’re like the 100-meter dash, you sprint, and then you’re out of breath for a few minutes, but nothing you can’t handle. To handle these obstacles, you only need to hold your focus for a few minutes or hours to break them down. Once you’ve broken them down, you can relax, because you know they’re done and dusted. You’re ready to take on such obstacles again because you’ll be ready in a short time.
Then, there are obstacles which appear out of nowhere and knock the wind out of you. Your lack of preparedness to deal with these obstacles shock you. The death of a loved one, or a significant health issue, a job loss, or a setback in your business are a few instances. It’ll take a few months or years to recover from this knock. The 800-meters race would be a perfect analogy to the obstacles I’m talking about. It is one of the toughest races out there – you have to sprint for 2 laps each of 400 meters. By the time you’re done, your lungs are hurting, the lactate build-up is killing your legs. You almost lose your bearings, but you reach the finish – which is what you do in real life despite the loss of a loved one or a hit to your professional career. Over time you realise that it is not the end of days and you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You continue dragging yourself along the track. The burn in your legs from lactate build-up is not permanent.
You need to strike the right balance between maintaining your speed and effort until the last few meters—those last few meters where all hell breaks loose. You know you can make it over the finish line. Even though you’re out of breath, you give it all you have in the last few moments. You have only one option – to finish. Also, these obstacles require a more significant amount of effort to surmount because you weren’t prepared for them in the first place. You only know you need to see through them. As you go, you figure out your way through this. These incidents, fortunately, come with time as a salve. But yes, you can overcome them, and once you do so, you rise higher.
The last category I have encountered are the obstacles that persist. They keep rising up relentlessly every day like waves crashing at the shore. These are the ones you are aware of. Like the head of Hydra, you chop one head off, and two more take its place. You are staring at them throughout your life. Real personal progress comes in slaying these monsters. The worst part of these obstacles is they are not external in nature. They are internal to you. Born of your own mind. These are obstacles that shackle you and prevent you from reaching your true potential. They chain you from rising beyond something you never knew you could. These come in myriad forms – they prevent you from working out every day, meditating every day, writing, being kind to others, being compassionate, being open-minded and rational, or being non-judgemental. You cannot do these once, or for a few days or weeks and forget them, but you need to stick to them for the rest of your lives.
This is like an ultra-marathon. There’s no running fast, there’s no escaping, the only way to come out is to keep grinding. Put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You keep looking at the distance and you see that the finish line is far away. It may even seem like you’ve not covered much at all. Two new heads.
This is not a race of the body alone, but a race in which mind dominates over the body. The will to surmount these obstacles needs to come from within and it demands continuous effort. It is a long journey in which will and discipline become your best companions. Akin to how you run every mile to complete a marathon, you need to show up every day to beat these obstacles.
How does one go about slaying these monsters day in and day out?
The only way to do this would be to bring about a change in the philosophy or the outlook of your life. It is only by changing your perception about a marathon that you can finish it. There is no point thinking about the last mile on mile number 2. It is only going to make the task daunting, and you feel miserable. Instead, focus on finishing Mile 2. Then complete Mile 3 and so on.
Observe what haunts you at the moment and address that obstacle.
When you wake up, meditate for 5 minutes. Then write a few sentences of thanks. If not for anything but for being able to wake up and meditate for 5 minutes. Be thankful for being able to write.
Start with 1 push-up, 1 sit-up, 1 squat. Then go with 2, you get the idea.
Be kind to yourself. You will learn to be kind to others.
Be compassionate to yourself. Slowly your compassion will envelop others too.
Don’t judge yourself for not having done something yesterday. Instead, look at what you have accomplished in the last few moments.
Do not think of a day when you will meditate for an hour like His Holiness, The Dalai Lama (though that’s an excellent aim) or fill pages of your journal. Such thoughts will daunt you and make you give up.
Discipline begins with small steps and compounds over time.
Lao Tzu best serves as our guide in pursuit of overcoming our obstacles.
“A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”
To finish this marathon – take one stride at a time. And while you’re running this, don’t forget to enjoy it.