Pain, Preeminence, and The Path

 

There is a deep yearning each of us shares. It shows up in our lives in various ways. To some, it’s one thing, and others something completely different. It is a need and a desire to ascend the path to our higher selves. To uncover and cultivate our greatest potential. To go forth and conquer the unconquerable. To be Alive and in a state of Love and Harmony both with the universe inside us and the universe beyond us. But how do we get there? What does it take? Is it a place where we arrive or state of being? Or are we already there and always have been? These are the questions that lurk in our core, patiently waiting to be answered.

 

We are all searchers of the greater understanding. Looking to go forward, further, and faster, just to see what is on the other side. Eager to forge through the darkness, through the cave of pain, if for nothing else other than the simple challenge itself. The Greeks understood this from very early on. They gave it the name of “Agon;” the process of challenge, competition, and the endeavor to achieve victory. This idea of agon transcends the world of war and into all aspects of life, including sports. It is through this framework that we can better understand an intimate part of our nature as Humans. The agon motive addresses our need for preeminence, to be superior. It allows us to reason and gives purpose to the struggle and the pain that is inherent in our pursuit of higher states. We see this in the professional world of athletes in their rigorous and disciplined training regimes, as discussed by Jirasek and Hurych. Or conversely in the disciplined nature of the military’s Special Operations community. Aristotle was quoted stating “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, intelligent execution, and sincere effort. Choice then – not chance – determines our Destiny.”

 

The Greeks also regularly used another word they referred to as “arête,” which essentially meant excellence in all things, to live a life of virtue, or the highest ideal. In this way, arête is both a way of being and a place to arrive at. Or better yet, a state of being in which one arrives. The world of sports is very a much a conduit for us to access those higher ideals of and for ourselves. Similarly, Heidegger’s idea of “the authentic way being” coincides with this notion of arête; bridging together and building on the execution of both self-knowledge and self-realization. I would further argue that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of “flow” also aligns with both the Greeks and Heidegger’s philosophies. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.” I believe each of us craves these optimal experiences and not if, but when we can let go of the illusions that act as chains holding us back, we can step into our higher selves, actualizing our greatest potential.

 

Aubrey Marcus, CEO of the “Total Human Optimization” company ONNIT, often speaks on the idea and necessity of “going for your win.” He tells us that no one determines or decides for you what your path is or what your win is. That is up to you. It is those that have sat in silence and connected with their truth, that have decided what their path looks like. And for those people who walk their path, they are undoubtedly “going for their win.” Victor Frankl, summarizes this reality of one’s “Path” in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He says “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue . . . as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” Jirasek and Hurych tell us, “To be able to accept pain, and even the danger of death, can enable some people to uncover the pure phenomenon of ‘love of life.’ Death presents in these cases the horizon of pain as well as the horizon of life.”

It is in this way that we can appreciate and accept the inherent realities of our Path, whether they be the timeless ecstatic highs of love or the vast, yet temporary pain of loss; all are important parts of the course greater than ourselves. Pain and Preeminence make up our Path and although circuitous in nature, it begins with “achieving control over the contents of our consciousness (Flow, Csikszentmihalyi).” If we wish for such freedom, then we shall be disciplined in our execution.

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