Life is a marathon, not a sprint

marathon-red-and-yellow-shoeOne of the most important lessons Rajayoga teaches us is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Unlike a sprint which essentially tests your speed, a marathon requires a lot of mental strength, perseverance, endurance and hours of rigorous training beforehand. It tests and tries the body, eventually taking it beyond its breaking point. Once Glycogen stores are depleted, and electrolytes are burned up, and any stored proteins that the body possesses are consumed, in order to continue, the body converts any sugars that remain into lactic acid, which now residing in the muscles causes cramps and excruciating pain.  And from there your body begins to consume and cannibalize muscle, fat, and anything else it can feed on to survive. Unfortunately, a marathon isn’t over until you reach a distance of 26 miles 385 yards, so you don’t have the luxury of stopping.

And so life too is like that, it’s an endurance test and you cannot stop until you have crossed the finish line. And you need to do it without quitting or cutting corners. And while there always will be what seem like challenges and obstacles in our path, we have to learn to find ways around them and keep moving to reach the finish line honourably. Just as with a marathon, there are things we can do to ensure we reach our goal.

For starters, don’t stop running. In life just as with a marathon, we all encounter hills and valleys. But no matter how steep the cliff, you can make it to the top. Sometimes runners encounter a treacherous path that is so narrow and rocky that it makes it hard to pass or be passed and so it requires that we ask for permission to pass or step aside graciously and allow someone to pass us. Sometimes they are faced with 15 to 20 feet drops within inches of their track but the trick is to not lose focus of the destination ahead, and to avoid being distracted by never looking down, up or sideways. Always stay present in the moment.

No matter how well we train, there will be times when we fall but then we fall because we’ve been running! And when we fall, we pick ourselves up and run again because it’s never about falling or even so much about getting up after you fall. What makes for a good runner is how soon you get up after you fall. Do we dwell on our challenges, our issues or do we move on to figuring out a path forward? There is a huge difference between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I don’t want to’. The difference between winners and losers is faith in the self. What seem as challenges are in reality our best teachers. They teach us to be flexible, make us strong, and help us grow to heights we didn’t dream possible. The promise is that we can and we will make it through whatever we are called on to endure. The more you run, the more you can run…so never stop.

Secondly, don’t pass those aid stations. Marathoners often have this dilemma – should I slow down and help myself to the refreshment drink at each aid station or should I keep running so I don’t break pace until I absolutely need the aid. If you only stop when you believe you need aid, it’s already too late, your body has already depleted its glycogen reserves and might not have the stamina to recover fast enough. Worse, it might even cause you to stop. In life too, we find ourselves too busy to take benefit of our aid stations – meditation, spiritual literature and the company of spiritual minded people. We are constantly on a treadmill until we get to the point where we get thrown off out of sheer exhaustion. The trick is to not let that happen and to always stay replenished with the required nutrition for the soul.

Thirdly, pay attention to where you plant your feet. Large boulders in your path can distract you and cause you to veer from your goal, rocks in your path may trip you up, but when left uncorrected it is the pebbles in your shoe that will take you out of the race. All three can ruin your day, if you don’t address each problem as you encounter it.  We are pretty good about avoiding the boulders – we wouldn’t commit crimes such as stealing a car or robbing a bank! Most of us are good with the rocks too, and don’t get trapped by   lying, cheating, adultery etc. But it’s the pebbles that trip us up – the petty jealousies, gossip, laziness or taking people and facilities for granted. Other times we are doing second-rate things to ‘get the job done’ that may not seem like a big deal at all but they do rob us of our precious integrity and self-respect. When we look back, most of our regrets can be traced back to something that did not start out as ‘a big deal’ at the time.

Fourth, take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back at each milestone. These intermediate milestones help you stay focused and positive. Often times, we make the mistake of looking too far ahead and feeling overwhelmed when we feel as though there is no end in sight. While it’s good to look ahead and keep the goal in sight, the trick is to stay focused on the process rather than the outcome to achieve that goal. You never ever set out to build a wall but only to lay the best brick you can and then before you know it, there will be in front of you a wall. If you do it the other way around, chances are you will feel demotivated, out of energy and might even soon give up.

Fifth, it’s critical to always remember that you are never alone. In addition to the companionship of the Supreme Father Himself, there is the company of others running the race too and guess what, there are very many whom you don’t even know that are cheering for you. So share freely with others the experiences you have, lessons you’ve learnt, because you never know who’s in need just as you were. Those people who will push that glass of water into my hand, give me that pat on my back or shout out that word of encouragement are critical – without them I couldn’t make it.  Just as it makes a real difference to me when someone alongside me cheers me on, if I can be that encouragement for someone else, I must. Others have inspired you, and whether you know it or not, you are inspiring others – so just as much as to run an honourable race is a gift, it is also a responsibility.

Finally, enjoy the journey! We all come across people, the boulders, the rocks and the aid stations in our path but it’s how we interact with them that sets our journey apart. Make the most of it – they are here to teach us about ourselves, to help us grow and reach our highest potential. All we have to do is remain patient and stay open to learn. At the end of the day, it is not so much about coming in first or third as about how you got there, hence the expression ‘happy journey’ vs. ‘happy destination’!

…so pace yourself, keep your chin up and feel the breeze.

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