It’s rare to find an article on sports training that I can agree with with reservations.
Garret Kramer is the founder of Inner Sports. He was the subject of a recent interview. I give it my fullest recommendation.
Garret’s words are founded in bedrock wisdom about the mental attitudes that create the highest kind of success training.
I truly believe the finest competitors in every sport, or in life, play the game with what I call stillpower not with willpower. This understanding is key to success. What I mean is that despite the desire to win, these competitors remain open to all possible outcomes; win or lose, they know they’ll be perfectly okay. What arises out of this is a level of consciousness that lets them excel. They see opportunities, follow their passions, and feel an ease in their day-to-day lives. They’re simply following their instincts.
In a little over two months, I’ll be 70. I’ve explored the ideas that Kramer encapsulates in the interview for 43 years, and I can attest that they work.
They work not just at the micro level (“How fast should I run right now?”) but at the macro as well (“What goals am I running toward in my life?”).
I’ve been a monk and yogi for a little bit longer than I’ve been a runner. (I started running on the recommendation of a senior monk.) And in all these years of praying and meditating and running, I’ve seen that there is a superconscious intelligence that has our best interests at heart, and that speaks to us through our calm, dispassionate feelings. This is, of course, a very different kind of feeling than raw emotions, which invariably lead an athlete into a ditch.
I can also say with great confidence that the larger intelligence guides us in holistic ways. I’ve seen that it is perfectly willing to give us an injury, if that’s the quickest path toward our greater happiness.
And I’ve seen that the process of attuning myself to that inner guidance is very much as Garret describes it: by calm, focused awareness, and by offering our likes and dislikes, desires and attachments, to the greater wisdom within.
In this way, even very slow recovery runs, and those unfortunate runs where you feel perfectly awful at the start, can end in great happiness and joy – if, with great discipline, you do only what is right for the day.
The answer will always be found in simplicity. The reason athletes (and all of us for that matter) struggle is that the quality of our thinking has declined. When that happens, we revert to the intellect for the answers and the intellect will always overcomplicate things.
A man named Kamil left a comment to the article. He wondered how these ideas square with pursuing goals. Can we really “take our foot off the gas” in our training and still reach our goals?
I was touched by his question, because it was one I struggled with many years ago and I feel I found the answer.
In my reply, I said, “My experience is that you never really take your foot off the gas pedal. You can’t run without exercising some degree of will power.
“It’s not a question of giving up our will, but of shifting our priorities. You submit the will to a higher wisdom, which you can perceive in the calm, dispassionate feelings of your heart.
“The body and soul always know the best way to train, at each moment of a run. And they speak to us through those calm feelings.
“It’s not inconsistent with holding goals, and wanting to get maximum enjoyment out of our runs. Actually, it’s the fastest shortcut achieving to those goals.
“The paradox is that we need to be fully aware in the moment in order to get the maximum benefit from our training and reach the goal in the most efficient.
“It’s just a question of seeing the goal in its true perspective. We need to embrace a broader view. We need to admit that it’s our goal, formed by our mind and heart – but that it might not be our soul’s goal – that is, the goal of a greater intelligence and reality of which we are but a small part.
“Goals tend to be more fun to pursue and easier to attain when we hold them in flux – striving in an expansive direction, but focusing on the process.”
The worst thing an athlete can ever do is be focused. It shrinks the perceptual field and narrows options. Instead, we want awareness. Awareness expands possibilities. So, when someone sets a goal they’ve eliminated all sorts of possibilities for their growth. Their level of self-worth doesn’t rise when they get to the goal either. Now, of course we all want to win but let’s not intentionally limit our own awareness by narrowing in on a goal. It’s totally unproductive for our lives.
You can bet I’ll be ordering Garret Kramer’s book, Stillpower: The Inner Source of Athletic Excellence.