Living Life in “Next Play Speed”

Graham Betchart’s work with athletes applies to life – all of our lives

Living present – feet firmly planted in the moment – has become my life’s philosophy – my daily mission. This mantra, though, wiggled its way into my life as the whispers to live a more authentic life turned into rather obnoxious clamours! It took the worst year of my life to force me to listen and to understand the importance of mindfulness, living focused on what is happening in the moment, and loving the life I am living.

I arrived at this point out of necessity when I realized I was alive without really living. The stresses of my life were killing me, especially when I considered the way I medicated myself with food. Because I am a naturally bubbly, gregarious person, to others, I seemed to have a great life, and for the most part, I did. I was raising two amazing children who are the center of my universe, I have incredible friendships that sustain me, and I have been called to teach (a gift in itself).

What I didn’t realize, though, was that unresolved life trauma was impacting my habits – not facing them posed barriers to truly being alive. Like so many of us, I was letting life happen. And then, 2014, the worst year of my life, shoved me so violently, I realized I had to make major changes. The year began with the diagnosis of my 21-year-old daughter’s brain tumor and ended with difficult emotional trauma at work. By the end of 2014, when I went to my annual physical, I was the heaviest I had ever been, I was depressed, and I felt like the world was about to collapse on me.

I had two choices: continue on the same path or take intentional control of my life. I chose the latter.

Shifting to living in the moment – the next play speed – required me to make several key changes. First of all, I had to understand how the trauma of my childhood impacted my adult relationships and my coping mechanisms. This occurred through counseling, reading important texts by others navigating life intentionally, and journaling. I am also fortunate to have a few friends in what Brene Brown calls a square squad – the few people in my life who hold me accountable and are honest with me about my thoughts and actions.

Second, I realized only I could take back my health. I joined a weight loss program and focused on my diet and exercise. Focusing on my mental and physical health changed the game for me. The more I realized I could control my food intake and the amount of exerecise I expended, the more I realized I could also redirect my thoughts. I began to hold on less to the past and worry less about the future; I began to lead a more authentic life.

In sports, atheletes who develop the next play speed let mistakes go immediately, and they certainly don’t worry about mistakes they might make in the future. Instead, they live second by second focused on the game so intensely they can change their direction on the playing field in less than a second. They are fully present in the moment. Obviously, the future does require attention in terms of planning for our security and happiness, and learning from our past mistakes also informs our now; however, they do not have to dominate our thinking.

I have also realized that I am a work in progress, and the best I can do is live the most authentic, present life I can. For those who hope to live a more mindful, authentic life, start today. Spend 5 minutes focusing on what is happening around you – the sounds – the people – the breeze – the smiles – the purr of the cat. The more we practice these little moments of truly paying attention, they become habit. They allow us to live in the next play speed.

#MakeRoomForJoy

Seeking a Joy-filled Life

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to learn to love the questions themselves.” Rainer Maria Rilke

The universe has a cruel sense of humor, constantly reminding us we are not in control. To underscore this lesson, life is filled with moments of intense pain – physical pain that reminds us of our own mortality, and emotional pain that aches so badly we can’t breathe. Fear and sadness, anger and frustration, as well as disappointment and angst, weave themselves through our days sometimes so tightly we can’t move.

And yet, as conflicting as it sounds, when we lean into these darkest moments, we have the opportunity to find joy. Yes, find joy. Some spiritual practices believe that when we embrace the gift of suffering, we gain a heightened ability to delight in even the most simple moments in our lives. Within this recognition, joy, in its purest form, occurs.

Arriving to this space, though, and not getting hung up on the suffering or even the joy, requires patience and practice; when we finally achieve this balance, we are truly in the moment. It has taken me quite awhile to figure out this secret, and I certainly have not achieved some sort of euphoric state where I transcend all emotions. Instead, I have shifted my perspective to sincerely seek joy in even the most unimaginable moments of life. It isn’t easy, but it is important.

Search for the lesson: For six years, I have worked on living intentionally, on living an authentic, present life. These six years, as well as the decades that preceded them have been filled with traumatic moments, disquieting moments that have filled me with fear and uncertainty. Since December of 2019, though, some of the darkest moments in my life have occured as I have helped my daughter navigate stage four brain cancer. To say this has been my greatest test as a human is a gross understatement. It has, however, taught me a lot about who I am as a woman.

Sitting by Elizabeth’s bed in the neuro ICU at the Ohio State James Cancer Center, I repeatedly asked, and honestly, I sometimes begged, “What am I supposed to learn from this experience? How will these moments make me a better person?” If I’m not careful, I miss the lesson, distracted by the emotion of the moment: fear, angst, sadness. To live authentically, I have to intentionally seek the lesson.

Understanding often comes in snippets, when I least expect it. I may be talking to a college student working through his or her own journey, and my own experiences offer them solace or steps of action. Sometimes clarity emerges while I’m listening to my pastor deliver his weekly sermon, and my experience connects on a much deeper level. If I focus on the lessons, the difficult moments in life serve a distinct purpose.

Feel the emotion in its purest form: One of the hardest steps in seeking a joy-filled life is recognizing the emotion as it occurs. For someone like me who would rather support others as they experience their own emotions, identifying my feelings, especially in the moment, is hard. For example, if I feel lonely, I often fill that moment by finding people with whom I can connect. Instead of feeling the loneliness and identifying the root of the loneliness or my fear of feeling lonely, I fill it quickly.

Over the last few years, I have made strides in recognizing and feeling my emotions, even the ones that scare me or make me extremely uncomfortable. This has been one of the hardest exercises in my personal journey of untangling myself. Often, the emotion from which I run has a negative memory, or memories, associated with it. However, with practice, I am learning that every emotion is fleeting and based on my perception. Understanding this, and feeling the emotion as a fleeting emotion, is liberating.

Give thanks for the moment: Regardless of what is happening, giving thanks for it is important. Gratitude for even the most difficult moments reflect a life of presence – of living in the moment. As humans, we often don’t stop to think about each moment, and as a result, we end up feeling like life is happening to us. By giving thanks for what is happening, even the moments we wish would simply slip quickly into a bad memory, we are recognizing the power of being alive. Gratitude for each moment allows us to experience the emotion and to see the lesson the universe is teaching us.

Living a joy-filled life is not impossible, but it really takes intentional work. I often fail in this quest. I get caught up in the emotion of the moment. I forget to breathe – to see a purpose – to acknolwedge the natural ebb and flow of life – to embrace the biological rythm the universe offers us. With practice, experiencing joy most of the time, even in the hardest of seasons, is possible. #MakeRoomForJoy

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic