I recently read a story about the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps. To put his achievements in context, if Michael were his own country, he’d hold historically, more Summer Games medals than 90 other nations. How’s that for dominance?
But the article that peaked my interest was not about his shining moments and Olympic glories. The story I read was about his descent into the shadows. Prior to the London Olympics, Phelps had lost his passion for swimming and was struggling to understand who he was in life. After the 2012 London Games, he was in deep despair. The USA cover boy was arrested for DUI twice, went to rehab and had even contemplated suicide.
But Michael was able to hang on, to plug back into the world around him. When Phelps lost his way and could only see through the lens of depression, his long-time coach (and surrogate father figure), Bob Bowman reflected back to him the Michael he saw and loved. Instead of talking today about a tragic ending to an incredible life, we’re talking about a new father, 6 more medals and a renewed faith. But I’ll guarantee, it was a knife’s-edge between those two outcomes.
|What's on the top is a reflection|
of what's on the bottom
His story is a reminder to me that if you wait long enough everything changes. There’s no escaping this fact. If you’re on top of the world, it’s a short drop to the bottom. And when you’re at the bottom, if you have faith and do the work and surround yourself with those who offer you the whole picture of your beautiful self, you’ll eventually rise again.
For most of us mere mortals, it doesn’t take the form of the spotlight on a worldwide stage. It comes in the nuances of life; laughing with our family and friends, feeling secure and loved, offering forgiveness, making a connection.
Look more closely and you’ll see that this is not about the rise atop a podium or a fall into despair. This is about becoming adept at riding the wave that is life.
If you’re only inviting the crests of the waves, you’re missing the point. You must also choose to churn deeply down into your shadows, your regrets, your mistakes, and let them inform your life too. Only then are you embracing the full capacity of the human condition. And then the ride is so much more worthwhile.
To be fluid, and step into the flow is the work of a yogi, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever rolled out a mat or pressed back into a single downward facing dog. (Movement is only the reflection of our capacity to engage the subtle energies). The real yoga is inviting life’s every turn.
Yes, given time, everything changes. The most egregious hurts can find healing. Our greatest joys can set the table for our deepest sorrows. We only need to pay close attention, keep our hearts wide open and learn to love life…no matter what it offers. And in our moments of transition we must trust, with every breath, that we are always held by grace.