In 1982, Julie Moss crossed the finish line at an Ironman Triathlon on her hands and knees. Only ½ mile to go, her legs gave out and she was unable to continue moving forward on her feet. She had already swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and run all but one half mile of a full marathon. In an interview on the NPR program Radiolab, Moss recalls that when she collapsed, a voice inside her told her to get up. She made a pact with herself in that moment to finish the race no matter what.
This story makes me wonder; what are we capable of if only we would believe in our ability to cross that finish line? Moss’s story reveals the inner struggle that all of us experience – the opposing voices within. One voice telling us to stop or to be cautious. The other voice telling us to keep going, to push ourselves. Signals from the body, the brain and the spirit do not always match up.
Depression can magnify this internal struggle. Part of you knows that you must engage yourself in life and wants to, while the other part of you feels the urge to isolate and dis-engage. Most of us despise this contradiction. We just want to feel better, to rid ourselves of the feelings and thoughts that seem to keep us immobile.
Julie Moss could have justified pulling out of the race when her legs gave way. After all, legs are somewhat essential when running a marathon. She could no longer control her leg muscles enough to finish standing up. Moss had to let go of the idea of finishing the race upright and find a new way to her goal, however untraditional. Although her body gave out and she faced the urge to quit, her determination won. She held a value and a goal so strong that it caused her to do the unthinkable.
Our values and beliefs do influence our actions and decisions. Countless studies reveal that belief alone can change moods, perceptions and body sensations or experiences. For good or bad, our beliefs are paramount to how our lives will play out. Instead of being victims of our experiences, we are sculptors of them. The question we must ask ourselves is, how willing are we to push through pain, ingrained patterns, strong urges and doubt to live out our values?
This week, take a look at your values. How do you want to be in the world and in relationships? What is it you want to be doing or how do you want to be acting to feel more authentic, more aligned with your values, desires and goals? Then ask yourself what is keeping you from living out those dreams. What pain, patterns, urges or contradictory thoughts and perceptions keep you buckled in front of the finish line? What do you need to push through them and live out your purpose?
As the days begin to shorten and become shrouded by night’s quick approach, the earth tenses and folds inward. Leaves dry out and curl in on themselves. Animals retreat to sleep. Humans begin to restrict their muscles in protection from the cold. Yet we don’t just restrict physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. Thoughts seem to create a traffic jam in the brain. Emotions seem to be caught in the chest. Frustrations seem to take hold of the heart.
You are not alone if you balk at these boundaries that nature has enforced upon us. Some statistics find that 6 out of 100 Americans experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder during the darkest winter months. The Dalai Lama has said, “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” Hope in the midst of darkness? People seem to be experiencing hopelessness, not hope. So, how does one find hope in the darkest of days?
Deep in the myths and stories of many religious and spiritual traditions, a theme emerges. These stories speak of wisdom, strength and deliverance being birthed in the darkness. Jonah, trapped inside the belly of a whale, shifted his relationship with God and came out transformed. Buddha had to first be terrorized by the demon Mara before he was enlightened. Psyche (from whom we get the term psychotherapy) had to travel to the underworld in order to attain immortality.
Psychotherapy insists that we travel into the darkness. The darkness of our souls, of our past, of our shame or insecurity, and of our hurt. To find wisdom, strength and deliverance we must make this journey. And many of us do. Yet, what about choosing to make this journey on the simplest of winter days? Do we notice the potential and hope that a cold and dark winter day could hold? What would shift for us if we chose to curl inward with acceptance instead of obligation? As my yoga teacher says, “Today is a new day. What are we going to do with it?"
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.