Where do we find the motivation and power to persevere?

Normally, we can fuel our own fire, but everyone reaches a point where that is no longer enough. Where no matter how hard you scream at yourself to keep going or how desperately you try to convince your body that it’s just a little further, you need more. If you have not yet experienced this, then I will safely assume that you have been maintaining your activities within a comfortable range of difficulty, possibly only gradually pushing your boundaries. No worries – that’s a perfectly respectable way to go. But, were you to really step outside of the safety net and try something that scares you, you might start to hit that point where really, you should not technically be able to go on. Anyone who has reached this point knows, really knows, that it is here where something magical can happen.

I will talk in terms of physical activity, but this is absolutely applicable to dietary and social situations.

When most people reach this point, they acknowledge it and back down. Shut off. Call it quits. Recognize it as the end of whatever they were doing. Because your body is beyond fatigued, your mind can no longer support you, and you likely aren’t thinking clearly from the exhaustion. So, what do you do? This is where us crazies are distinguished from the common athlete–you keep going. Why? Reason says, “NO!” Something else says, “go.” But how? Ah, here is where it gets interesting. I will speak from personal experience…

Ultra-athletes will talk about this feeling, regular athletes might whisper about it to someone trustworthy. When reason is no longer relevant, (because you’re GOING to go on, so there’s no point in listening to why you can’t,) an opportunity presents itself. If you can’t get yourself over that hill, who or what can? The universe can…whatever that means.

Now, this is not as wacky as it seems. We actually all do this at to a small extent during routine or gradual pushes. When someone smiles at you on a trail, gives you a thumbs up, or yells a word of encouragement, what happens? Your spirits lift. You might even smile, and for at least a minute, you feel lighter and faster and confident. It’s not just personal interaction that has this effect, nature can also buoy spirits and help you push on. When I come across an unexpected patch of flowers on a trail, or see a blue heron in the water, or a deer on the side of the road, I find myself running with more ease. Why? Not sure, but I do know that the common identifiable reaction is that all these things bring about a smile. Happiness. And haven’t you heard people talk about how light they feel on a sunny day? There’s a reason why we think about skipping along effortlessly in the sun. Maybe the weightlessness comes from the smile…the power of happiness. More on that in another post! Here, the relevance is that your body exceeds your expectations in that moment because of what you receive from your environment.

So, back to the point beyond desperation: without the energy to fight it, you open yourself up to the universe and beg for help. To your favor, you are exhausted beyond the ability to reason away this connection. What happens after this point is difficult to explain. But, you find yourself continuing on, and even finishing what you set out to do. How? That’s impossible! You should have collapsed in a heap and been scraped off the ground. Unfortunately, we can’t use our overly-educated brains to reason out the answer – because the answer lies in the space where reason stops. Cast it off as hippie dippy silliness (as one of my friends calls my forays), but if you’ve been there, you know it. And you are forever grateful for what you will never understand.

I have experienced this in small doses many times. But, the first time this happened to me in a truly life or death scenario was about 7.5 hours into a backcountry ski ascent. With a pack full of food and clothes for 3 days, and over a foot of heavy fresh snow to break trail through, we were all at that point. The trail was gone, the GPS’s were giving fluctuating distance readings, and the light was fading. We all handled it differently. One person had crying breakdowns where she collapsed into the snow and refused to get up, three times. Another described the end of the ascent as, “I cried every time I put my left foot forward, and recovered with my right.” The two guys with GPS’s put all their effort into navigating and the other into breaking trail to make it a little easier on those of us following. And me, with my scientific and philosophical mind? I abandoned everything, because really, I had nothing left give. I had been at sea level in spring the day before, and now for all I knew we were completely lost at 11,000ft, and it was snowing. I knew if I started crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop; the possibility of falling into the snow and dying of hypothermia or being attacked by animals was real. Palpable. Because unlike the girl who got up three times, I knew I did not have that strength. In my mind, I asked for help. I didn’t have any expectations; in truth, I might have done it simply because it was a different path to take my completely exhausted mind. Maybe a distraction. Or, maybe a leap of faith that there might just be something bigger than myself out there. Something that could help. And help came. A calm voice. A sense of support. And I floated. No, there weren’t any god rays or booming voices–I was still trudging on skis up and up zig-zagging through our makeshift trail in the woods. But, I floated. Disconnected from the pain and fatigue in my body, I went on. And at 9 hours, I heard my friend up ahead yell, “HUT!!!!” From nowhere, we pushed forward, and there it was. Our destination. A warm fire. A safe haven. I snapped off my skis and threw my arms around the nearest friend, and heard myself say, “we made it? We made it?! Can I cry now?”

I will never fully understand what happened on that day, but I will respect it. I walk the planet with a greater appreciation for everything around me because I know when I truly need it, my connection to this world and all the spaces beyond will help me. We work so hard to develop and maintain ourselves as autonomous beings, but we need each other. We need each other in ways no study will ever be able to evaluate. The easiest way to start connecting with this network of love and support is to smile at a stranger. Try it, you might be surprised how such a mundane meant for another will lift your spirits, and who knows, that might be all the encouragement that person needs to overcome a hurdle in his/her life.