Sometimes we do not even realize we are entertaining limitations about our innate abilities. Canadian Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek experienced this during training sessions with a new member of his rowing team who was a better rower than him, consistently beating him at races. Although annoyed, Kreek was also curious. What made this young rower more successful? So, over coffee he asked the question. The response was surprising. “I seek failure,” said his teammate.
Expanding this idea in an entertaining and thoughtful TedX Talk in Victoria in 2013, Kreek went on to explain his teammate’s comment. Imagine yourself with a bubble around you. That bubble is your self-imposed limitations; how you see your abilities and what you believe about your capabilities. Kreek stressed that breaking through that barrier is the first step to understanding our true abilities. It is a vital part of understanding how we unwittingly limit ourselves in every avenue of life, including our health.
What was interesting, was that Kreek’s teammate did not talk about diet, fitness or modern technology as what helped him be a better athlete. He talked of a mental app; if you like, a change of thought about how he sees himself.
With every world record broken, athletes of all disciplines are continually stretching the limits of what we consider physically possible. They inspire us to move beyond our self-imposed beliefs about what we can and cannot do and to reach for higher goals. In many ways you could say that they are explorers – discovering not just what we are capable of, physically, but also mentally. Kreek’s point is that being afraid to fail keeps us within the limits of what we believe about ourselves.
But what if we are capable of so much more if we change how we view where strength, stamina and other qualities needed for any strenuous endeavour come from?
This is something I learned in a small way that forever altered how I see life.
I confess that I am not an athlete. In fact, I had always considered myself unsporty. However, as a young woman, I moved from London, England to Newfoundland where the long winters encouraged me to start cross-country skiing, a sport I had never thought I could do. One year, feeling ambitious, a group of us decided to tackle the famous and gruelling Birkebiener ski marathon in Norway. With over 50 kms of skiing, climbing over 2,000 feet of mountain to Lillehammer, I must have been insane to agree.
And punishing it was, not just because of the terrain, but also because there were white out conditions. When I reached the top of the mountain, no one else was there. I could not see whether the route ahead was going up or down. My legs ached, my head ached – even my toes ached. I felt sick and afraid. At this point, all the good skiers, including those from my group, had long gone ahead. Then there were all the others who had pulled out and were riding to the finish line on the backs of snowmobiles. I thought I must be the last skier – wouldn’t it be easier to quit and let the volunteers go home?
It was then that I realized this was actually a spiritual adventure. It came to me that I had actually doubted my ability to complete this marathon right from the outset. This was the limitation I had unthinkingly accepted. In that moment I had the choice to either let my self-imposed limitations govern the situation or to recognize and draw on a spiritual capability I had come to understand – that man has an inner, spiritual strength, forever tied to his/her identity as a beloved child of God. And that this spiritual, limitless view of ourselves can have a profound effect on mental and physical outcomes.
As I changed the basis of my thought, I no longer felt alone, in pain and afraid. I felt empowered. I completed the course, and discovered that I wasn’t even close to being the last one to come across the finish line.
This experience wasn’t about sheer human will. We need more than human will in times of great challenge, because any human will still imposes limits of one kind or another. What is actually needed is a change of base in thought – from the human to the divine – where Spirit has no limits.
Whether we are on the top of a mountain feeling alone and afraid, or we are facing debilitating pain, illness and despair, we can find relief when we begin to realize that no one is ever separated from their divine source.
Two millennia ago, a man walked on water, raised people from death and healed them from every imaginable incurable illness of that era. Jesus’ startling abilities defied and challenged every aspect of human limitations and what might be called material law. He based his abilities on an understanding of man’s unity with his divine Creator. His example should inspire us to rethink our limits.
Modern technology is forcing us to reconsider what is possible in every physical aspect of our lives. But we also need to explore the spiritual possibilities of an even greater freedom from limitations. Jesus said that we could do greater things than he did. Now, that’s a challenge I would love to see everyone take up.
It was that lesson on the top of a mountain in Norway that set me on a spiritual adventure for life. Whenever I feel unable to achieve something, rather than being afraid of failure, or seeking it, like Kreek’s teammate, I remember this mountain top experience and my discovery. We are each always divinely connected to God, and through that connection we can accomplish far beyond what we think is humanly possible.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE