I believe the path to enjoyment through excellence lies through the heart more than the average athlete. The Ego drives so much of our lives, and thus can quickly get out of control and throw our lives of course. Because of this, it’s easy to think that removing the Ego from the equation would coax forth an untamable beast of pure power and athletic perfection.
About four years ago I remember a day where I found a really nice rhythm on the track, sort of like a place to put my mind while pushing my body over the limit. I remember imagining a max pace that would work for that distance and then just sort of hang my body on it, like a person hangs a coat on a hook. It felt right because it was juuuust the right balance between fast and slow for that distance. I was amazed at what this small change in attitude did for my performance.
I didn’t know it then, but I was getting my first glimpse of a balance between Ego and Will.
The “Ego” is your rational mind that drives you to compete and judge yourself alongside your external world. It is the ego that keeps you alive, and conversely it is the ego that causes performance anxiety.
The “Will” is your innate, inner tendency towards peace. It is the subconscious personality that thrives on warm fuzzy feelings, or gives you that incredibly serene sensation of unity that comes on a solo day in the mountains when you could care less about races and glory. The Will is a factor of the “you”, if the rest of the world didn’t exist.
All of us in the western world are very well acquainted with The Ego, myself included. For the past few years I have been trying to learn how to run purely by Will, keeping the ego and its mischief out of my experiences. I have believed that there is an animal inside that wants to run and become strong and conquer all, and the true meaning of success meant letting this animal drive 100% of my athletic life. Today I don’t think that this is the case.
Just like that day on the track, I think that pure life (and fast race times) comes from a balance of The Ego and The Will. Not only is this balance extremely difficult to find, but it requires that you have a comfortable relationship with your Ego, and a comfortable relationship with your Will, both as separate entities.
For the average American, learning to listen to your innate Will *alone* is the challenge of a lifetime. Learning to play with both, and then demonstrate the fine balance required to crush a race without anxiety and with predictable gratification is a challenge for only the most elite of athletes. I feel like less than 1% of any community truly has this balance.
I’ve had a couple of good runs with this on my mind lately. The next time I head out and start to push it, I’m not going to crush my Will into submission like the usual hammerhead. But I’m also not going to shut out my Ego in favor of endless calm and peace. Instead, I’m going to ask both what each is feeling at the same time, strike a balance, and crush forth with endless calm.