As a staunchly “arty” teenager, I disdainfully rolled of my eyes when coaches and athletes would pontificate about the “life lessons” one learned on the football field, the basketball court or the baseball diamond. Embracing my more athletic side as an adult, I open my eyes and nod in agreement when I hear the extolling of the virtues of athletic ventures.
Just the other day, I was visiting Oregon for a consulting trip. The lush greens of the widely rolling hills dappled with sunrise light beckoned me out for a run the day I was leaving. Breathing in the cool, damp air, I was wrapped in the bliss of the beauty of my surroundings. Then, I began to run. Though there are some hills in Kalamazoo, they are nothing like these.
I fixed my steely stare at the far-away pinnacle of the hill, certain that my lungs would explode and my legs melt before I reached the top. I forgot the beauty around me and wondered if I should just turn around and walk back to my friend’s house. I filled with dread even on the downhills, anticipating the uphill climb I was up against on the way back.
I had violated one of the rules of running and biking hills — DON’T look at the very top. Look instead at the points in between — a patch of grass in the side of a shoulder; a particularly pretty blooming bush; a vine creeping its way through the rocky shoulder and onto the blacktopped road. When I shifted my sights to these “in-between” goals, I appreciated once again my surroundings — “Voila!” I was at the top of the hill and heading down again.
This “trick” of biking and running is a great discipline for life and leadership. When I coach churches and the individuals within them, I always invite them to keep goals manageable each month and celebrate even the smallest of successes. If we don’t, we collapse into a heap of self-criticism even before we have a chance to reach the top. By repeating the “I can’t” mantra, we obscure from our vision the beauty of the journey.
In disciplining our gaze, we practice the spirituality of presence, awareness and, ultimately, acceptance. Thinking not of what has past or anticipating the challenge facing you, but being rooted to where you are in the present moment.