Life is Not a Race – Guest Post for Tiny Buddha – by Polly Green
“Life is not a race but a pace we need to maintain with reality.” ~Amit Abraham
Almost all of my adult life I’ve competed in the extreme sport of white-water kayaking.
My life revolved around adrenalin and competition.
Recently, I had a dream I will never forget:
I was running in a race and I was out in front, winning.
I got to a point in the course where there were no signposts showing the next turn. So I asked the race officials, “Where is the course?”
They replied, “We don’t know.”
The race officials couldn’t tell me where the course went from there because there was no course.
All of a sudden I stopped running and thought to myself, “There is no race if the officials don’t even know the course.”
The feelings that followed were first confusion and then a deep sense of relief.
I thought, “I don’t have to try so hard. I don’t have to win anything. There is no competition. Just stop. You are enough exactly as you are.”
And then I woke up.
This dream has stuck with me for weeks, as it feels like the exact message I need.
Just stop. You are enough. There is no race.
What if you already had everything you were asking for? What if this was it, and everything you thought you wanted was just an illusion?
Two weeks ago I got invited to go scuba diving.
I did my scuba diving certification course fifteen years ago and thought it was kind of boring. There wasn’t enough adrenalin and no competition involved, so I never went again.
Upon receiving this recent scuba invitation, I took it as sign and said yes.
Being a beginner at something is humbling. Not knowing what you’re doing. Not being good. Feeling awkward with the equipment.
It gives the ego a big check to say, “I don’t know. I’m a beginner. Please show me. Please help me.”
Listening intently as my instructor reviewed all the details I learned fifteen years ago but had forgotten, I felt vulnerable.
Most of my life I’ve been at the top of my game as an international white-water kayak competitor, and have been the guide for others.
What’s it like putting the shoe on the other foot?
Somehow it was great!
The realization came that I am an absolute beginner not only in scuba diving but in life.
This new way of living I’ve embraced requires stopping, being authentic, and learning vulnerability.
How does this feel?
I did my scuba review and absolutely loved it. I was buzzing. The thrill of a new experience and the learning curve of being a beginner was exponential.
After two real dives in the ocean I was hooked.
This is what my there is no race dream was showing me!
The point of scuba diving is to go slowly, see as much as possible, remain calm, breathe, and relax. There is no winner except who has the best time in his or her own experience.
Under water, it feels like a meditation, no chatting or ego involved. Taking in the beautiful colors, swimming with amazing fish, and experiencing a whole new world was intoxicating.
Two weeks later I got invited to go again. We did four amazing dives in a world-class dive site in Bali. It was so unbelievably amazing. I asked myself, “How did I get here?”
I got there by letting everything else go. Embracing an entirely new way of interacting with the world, and with myself. Questioning everything I ever viewed as worthy.
Three years ago I packed up my life in New Zealand and sold or gave away everything, even my kayaks.
I decided to say yes to the unknown, landing me in a whole new life in Bali.
No extreme sports, no adrenalin, no competition; my new life here is about saying yes to everything I never thought I was.
Going slowly, practicing mindfulness through yoga, meditation, and dance, learning how to speak Indonesian, and now scuba diving, my life looks like something I never in a million years would have guessed it would be.
I am finding joy in the little things, learning how to be in the moment, and realizing all that I thought was important isn’t.
There is no race.
The Western collective consciousness teaches us that when we get to the end of something, then we will be happy, whole, complete, and successful.
When we graduate from high school or college, when we get married, when we have kids, when we get the dream job, then life will really be rolling.
We’re constantly chasing a carrot on a stick that’s always just out of reach.
When we reach the milestone that we thought was our golden key to happiness, the feeling of satisfaction is fleeting.
So we think, “Okay, well I did that, and it didn’t quite bring me the happiness I was thinking it would, so maybe it was just a stepping stone. Maybe when xyz happens, that will make me happy. That will be the real win.”
This elusive state of contentment is always around the next corner. We’re racing toward something that will never give us what we’re hoping for.
The only way to truly win this race of life is to realize there is no race.
Winning is stopping. Going within. Finding happiness within yourself.
True satisfaction can only be found inside.
When we can be alone with ourselves, be at peace, and feel a deeper connection, this is what we have really been racing to find.
Running toward the next accomplishment will never be able to provide this.
It will only take us further away from what we’re hoping to feel.
So what happens when we stop?
It involves going deeper within, which can be a scary prospect for many.
Choosing to constantly be on the go is easier. It dulls the pain.
It means not having to really take a look at yourself. A superficial sense of satisfaction comes from feeling you have accomplished a lot.
Adrenaline can be a drug, providing a temporary rush.
Why do you have to accomplish things to be worthy? Are you reliant on completing tasks so that your life can feel some sense of purpose? What if by just being present and showing up consciously you were living your purpose?
What if instead of feeling constant pressure and anxiety, you could just be with what you were doing in the moment you were doing it?
Our thoughts are rarely focused on where we are.
They’re in the past, wishing we could change it, or in the future, creating false outcomes that will never usually come to fruition.
Both of these thought patterns are actually a form of insanity, and not based in reality.
The past is over. There is nothing we can do to change it.
The future will never come. Reality is always the moment we are in right now.
We can only truly live by stopping the race of the mind to the imagined future—by living in presence. By waking up from the dream that there is something out there that will bring satisfaction, turning inward, and taking responsibility for our lives.
Realizing there is no race means finding contentment right here and now.
Quit running and find that what you have been searching for has been right here all along.
Start by creating small gaps in your schedule. Start small at first. Get places a few minutes early.
Before getting out of the car or leaving the house, consciously pause.
Try fitting fewer things into your day. Less is more!
Do one thing at a time.
When you eat, be present with your food. Enjoy it, really taste it, see it, smell it, savor it.
Turn off the TV.
Take a meditation course.
Notice and be grateful for the small things.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on the many things you do have.
Life’s finish line will come one day for us all. Learning how to truly live means we will get to that finish line with a smile in our heart and contentment in our being.
This is the ultimate win. It requires nothing from outside and everything from inside. There is nowhere to go, nothing to achieve, nothing to prove, and nothing to do.
All it requires is stopping and refocusing priorities; cultivating awareness by slowing down the race of the mind.
Creating space to be, and valuing ourselves as enough right here and now, requires an inner commitment and unplugging.
Contentment is currently available in abundance; we just need to stop long enough to feel it.