Monday, August 11, 2008

The Herd Mentality. Or, I'm going to slow down because she's more fit than I am...

(photo by WindDrinkers)
So the other day, I hiked up to Baldy, basically swimming upstream during the Ridge Run. It was great fun, amazing to watch these athletes race along the spine of the Bridgers, a 27 mile run with a 4300' elevation gain, and a 9600' loss (man, its BRUTAL going downhill that fast for that long!).

When I turned around, I had the very unusual experience of suddenly feeling like I had something to prove. It was a great moment to take a step back and watch my emotional reaction to stepping into a stream of people who are working hard towards a competitive goal. While I knew intellectually that I had only hiked up five miles, and these folks had gone... 20, or so..., and that I wasn't truly competing with any of them, I still noticed a desire in myself to run faster, stay in step, adapt a competition mentality.

Along with adopting this irrational state without logically deciding to, I noticed something interesting... when the person in front of me stopped running and walked on the uphill pitch, I felt grateful for an excuse to stop! Whew! It MUST be hard enough to warrant stopping, the person ahead of me did!

I was eager to filter out all of the outstanding information that should inform my decision on how fast and far I wanted to go, on this, a training run for me that has nothing to do with the ridge run, in favor of following the herd. I abdicated my responsibility in my own training to the total stranger in a different event who happened to be twenty feet ahead of me!

This got me thinking. Of course. Because that's what I do when I'm hiking... I blog in my head about all the nonsense that is or is not helping me reach my goal that day.

As I was ruminating over the issues of herd mentality in a race situation, and how it can affect innocent bystanders (by-hikers?), a SUPER fit chick ran by me with a big smile on her face. I had been happily jogging along, keeping a good pace after overcoming my mooooo-ness and passing the "Its Okay To STOP" guy ahead of me when this blur of superfitness sprinted by.

"Oh. She's much more fit than I am. Now I feel defeated." popped into my head. FOR REAL! Let me state for the record that I was feeling pretty good on this day! I was very happy with my hike, the time I made to the top, the pics I took, and the fact that the jog down was going to shred my thighs and make them HUGE like TREE TRUNKS. So why so eager to jump to defeatism?

In this moment, I remembered to separate myself, my reality, from the reality of the person who had run by me. She is living her life, in her reality, and while it is literally on the same path as mine, my experience of my life and success and failure is separate from hers, just as it is separate from the guy who walked uphill.

In a good Yoga practice, we concentrate on where WE are on our journey. Yoga is not a competitive or comparative activity at its root. We are never supposed to look at someone else in Yoga class and yearn for our bodies to be where theirs are. When you move into a posture in Yoga, you strive to ask your body to do what it can, and perhaps a bit more. Where your limit is is the APPROPRIATE place for your body to stop, because this is where you get the benefit of the work you are doing. Wishing you were "as good" as the person next to you, or pushing your body to a place where you are "imitating" the posture, but not effectively working in it is damaging, and beside the point.

I looked at the SuperFit woman as she trucked off into the distance, and asked myself to imagine a different reaction as she ran past me... one that thanked her for showing me how much more was possible in my own fitness, one that admired her dedication and training without the poison of jealousy, and suddenly, I had a puff of energy! It propelled me forward, onto the balls of my feet, and I was running.

We face these choices a hundred times a day, but sometimes we don't catch them until we are suddenly realizing that we unexpectedly aren't feeling too good about ourselves, or our choices... we are suddenly and unexpectedly in a place of judgment and criticism, which is never a good platform to perform from!

I am working hard every day in my own personal training to remove judgment and criticism, to ask myself to try harder, to give more, and to be proud of where I am on my own journey. If I can stay there, or bring myself back to that present moment, void of negativism, the path is clear before me, and I leap down it unencumbered!

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