Awake the Sleeping Dragon

It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and I’m wiping the sleep from my eyes. Usually I go for a ten minute jog on the treadmill to get the blood flowing but another early bird has gotten there before me. Today is a sparring day and I have to wake up. Unfortunately, this pre-dawn practice isn’t easy. I’m finding it difficult to shadowbox and let those fast-twitch muscles go. My motion is slow, belabored, forced. My mind wanders to the radio that’s being played in the background, to my day ahead, to going back to sleep, to anything but the task at hand.

There’s a noticeable lull in my game and the sobering realization is that I’m expecting it. For days on end I’ve been like this — my routine has become routine, a habit without intention. My training has reached a dangerous place as a fighter: I’ve become complacent.

It’s been bothering me for a while, trying to put a finger on why the fire isn’t there as much as it used to be. Although I have the experience now, the challenge before me is a more difficult one: I’m overweight, rusty and lacking in stamina. Clearly there is much work to do. The question is, why haven’t I been working on it? Why is it that I am choosing to settle?

When we turn pro, we give up a life with which we may have become extremely comfortable. The passage is often accompanied by an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. It hurts. It’s messy and it’s scary. – Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro.

Ah yes, I might have subconsciously remembered how much it hurts to push beyond the comfort zone. Physically exhausting yourself — breathing harder, enduring mental fatigue, even raising your heart rate — is uncomfortable. You feel like you can’t do it. You can’t reach that next level, you don’t even want to try. It’s too hard. It hurts. No one will notice I’m not working as hard as I need to. No one is even looking at me.

But you do notice. You have flashes of what it’s like when you’ve reached that zone, when you push yourself a little bit more than before. It’s then that you feel a sense of mastery, a sense of exhilaration, a sense of being awakened from a long, slumbering sleep. The discomfort is fleeting and in the end, you feel breath-takenly alive.

And that’s when I remember, being alive is what it’s all about.

Whether it was a formal announcement or not, you’ve recovered from a mental illness, and out of grace or gratitude or hard work, you told the universe you were down to do the work you were called to do. When we settle, as Pressfield writes,

we no longer have to face the real fight of our lives, which is to become who we are and to realize our destiny and our calling.”

Perhaps in complacency I forgot who I was and was just going through the motions. Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes boxing is like that, especially at 6 o’clock in the morning. Then you realize there’s more to you that’s been missing.

I was and still am afraid of pushing myself, of going back to the pain of struggle that I have not been accustomed to for such a long time. It’s not a sadistic, self inflicted struggle — not the struggle of my mental disorder — but a healthy, honest struggle that come from the labor of our work. True work provides a sense of depth and meaning to your life and the lives of others. It’s a decision I have to make everyday, even at 6 o’clock in the morning.

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