Breathe. Take it in.

Chris Mixon, faculty member in the English department, reminds us all to savor the moments both good and bad.

I never gave a Chapel Talk in high school. I now know I made the right decision. I would have mocked the process and probably have looked back on it embarrassed at my own lack of maturity.

The last time I was up at a podium giving a speech was in college. It was eight in the morning and in four more hours I would graduate. None of my friends came to my speech because, well it was eight in the morning. I ended up emailing them what they missed.

Indulge me a little if it seems like I am enjoying being up here. I am. If I stop and breathe, looking out at all of you—it may not be theatrical. I want to enjoy this moment and remember all the small details, my heartbeat, my breathing, the way one of the seniors is editing his thesis.

Chapel talks come in two forms. Some are very personal; they are literally for the person who speaks. It is difficult and challenging and that is why they are up here. Some are for the audience; it is advice that the speaker believes you should hear. Most are both and one at the same time, so I’ll leave you to decide where this one fits.  

If you are sitting out there right now and you are healthy, you probably have not thought too much about it. I routinely take my health for granted; until I’m sick, at which point I desperately wish and bargain and plead with my body to do anything to be better again. While I have engaged in this type of bargaining all of my life—I’m here to tell you that it really does nothing. In fact, it’s rather counterproductive, because it keeps my focus firmly in the past. So I have been experimenting with a new way of going about my life.

Instead of waiting until the actual moment when your knee hurts, or your back seems to paralyze your every motion, to acknowledge the beauty and amazing quality of health, do it now. (Breathe). Take it in. Experience this moment and be mindful of every little part of your body that does not hurt. It is amazing how nothing, because for most of us, what we are feeling right now is the norm and does not even register as a feeling, it is amazing how nothing actually feels. Now for those of you who I’ve just alienated—those of you that are hurting in some way—feel free to embrace that pain too. This is where your body is, right now and it’s okay. So you’re sore from all those dead lifts and lunges? Great. Embrace the lactic acid boiling in your thighs. Flex them, enjoy the tightness and jellowy feeling that occurs when you walk upstairs. That feeling is a validation that you are getting better. You want that; that’s why you did the lifts. So, instead of cringing and fearing the soreness, embrace it. Become present in it. Breathe it in.

For those that are going through tougher experiences, I do not mean to trivialize them. There are certain emotional, financial, physical traumas that I have never had to face. But just listen, it won’t make anything worse.

 I’m becoming increasingly more willing to believe that disappointment and sadness are good things. I’m aware that this is culturally counter intuitive. I am also aware that no one is really interested in drinking the Kool-Aid on something we see as synonymous with losing. When it happens on a test, the floor drops away; the room becomes smaller; the heat rises in your face and you feel that everyone knows. In a social situation, you feel compacted, suffocated, smothered—that voice repeating, “You thought this would actually work?” And, in sports—it is deflating. (Exhale)

The wind, air, every veritable molecule of courage and dedication that had been previously engaged in defying the very odds—that up until the moment before your collapse seemed so very possible— it all evaporates. And there you are left, maybe with your head in your hands, maybe with your face already steeled against an onslaught of emotional despair, maybe watching as Blair fans raucously celebrate their win in the last game you will ever play.

What helps me is to remind myself of what was once at stake. The depth of my emotion stands as a testament to what might have been. For me, that crushing feeling on some level represents my capacity for greatness; it represents what I have risked. It reminds me that I had put myself in a position where I could be crushed. This is a good thing. It has to be.  

Most of life is spent maneuvering. So much of what we do as coaches and teachers, students and athletes is to put ourselves in a position where success is attainable. We set ourselves up and then let it play out. Falling short of goals is disappointing, sure, and in some cases it can border on devastating; but not having them? Not having a goal to fall short of? Doesn’t that border on the pathetic?

In high school I spent most of my life trying to convince the people around me that I did not care. Things did not bother me. I was cooler than that. Girls, grades, dorm faculty… I was bigger than all that. My senior year became about walking across the stage and making it. What I discovered when I did, was that I felt nothing. Graduation was actually one of the greatest let downs I think I’ve ever felt.

In college, I struggled with my level of commitment to wrestling. I wrestled for all four years, but at times the sport seemed like just another part of the juggling act I was performing. One of the memories that stands out the most, probably my best memory from senior year occurred in our conference dual tournament. We had four matches that day. I wrestled four guys. I lost four times. The amount of emotion I felt—how much that last match meant to me… It’s a strange thing to be proud of but: I think it’s because I cared.  

By opening myself up, I was accepting joy or despair. But by not investing, by staying aloof of my very feelings—I was closing the door on everything. It’s impossible to prepare only to accept the positive moments—by priming yourself for life, you must be open to everything. Closing your emotional valves when it hurts effectively closes them all the time.

Caring is not only okay, it’s how we reassure ourselves we are alive. The solution to disappointment is not to forego caring, to opt out entirely on life. The solution is to care more and enjoy the prospect that such caring brings. Care in the moment; don’t wait for the arbitrariness of the outcome to determine an experience’s worth. Embrace the experience for what it is and in that embrace, validate what you have done.

In my college and high school athletic career, it was so rare that I would remember anything about the actual events. The moments that I trained for were lost in scrambles and desperate attempts to keep pace. I remember the training, the dreaming and the losing weight. I remember practice and injuries, but of the actual matches? There seems to be frighteningly little.

So my advice to you is to slow it down. Soak it in. Notice the crowd; notice the way the water tastes. Feel the texture of the ball, the rubber of the mat, the coldness of the air. Smell the gym—these are memories you will want. Don’t wait until the game is over. Do it while the game is still being played. Step out of the batter’s box and readjust your gloves; inhale and breathe. Take an extra second to appreciate how you came to be here, what it took, your personal journey…and now tighten your gloves, and go make contact.

In JV football, when I called a timeout to talk to the defense, I would always remind them of how special this was. I’m probably a little more fired up on the field, but I’d say something like, “Guys, great job. This is what we play for. Keep your heads up, this is exactly where we want to be. Breathe it in. This is awesome. Stop them here and we get the ball back. Okay, here’s what we are going to do…” And this year I was lucky enough to have a group of guys who when I said that… it worked. There’s no guarantee, and even if there was, that isn’t really what this is about.

Now, this also applies to plays and musicals too. You’ve practiced so hard for those moments when you are out on stage delivering your lines, and singing, and bowing for curtain call. Don’t be self-conscious, be proud. You deserve it. We are clapping for you. Great job last night, by the way.

Appreciate the moment—don’t try and live, in the moment for every moment, because that’s not realistic, and the truth is it sounds absolutely exhausting. Try and take in one or two a day; check in when it is good, and be mindful when it hurts. Be present, be grateful and embrace as much as you can. Because, the truth is you never know the next time you’ll be back. So enjoy it; ala viva.

Comments

  1. Great speech, a refreshing perspective.

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