This photo of me was taken during a mountain bike race in Michigan in 1992. I’d been training very hard that summer, maybe a little too hard. I’d done a race-simulation workout the week before, and I was still a little tired from it.
When my race began, I had a terrible start. It felt like most of the field left me behind in the first quarter mile. As I suffered through the first bit of the race, I began to have a conversation with myself.
“I don’t know why you bother racing. You’re no good. How many hours a week do you train? Maybe you don’t have any talent. Or maybe you’re not tough enough. You should quit. You should quit now.”
This went on for a while. This very negative voice questioned everything I was doing, everything I was trying to do. This voice was questioning… me.
I finally answered, “Well, let’s see how it goes.” I’d warmed up by now, and there were many sections where I could look further up the course. “Let’s try to catch that rider up there,” I suggested.
After I caught that rider, I caught the next one. And the one after that. I caught one rider in the next lap, and as I passed him, he asked, “Are we last?” “No,” I replied, “we’re doing o.k.”
I didn’t miraculously pass everyone. I didn’t win. I finished mid-pack, which at a major event like this was doing pretty good.
Reflecting on this race, I was reminded of the story of Siddhartha, who would become The Buddha. Just before Siddhartha attained Enlightenment, Mara, the lord of desire, appeared before him. Mara was desperate that Siddhartha not attain Enlightenment, because Mara needed humans to stay unenlightened, and he didn’t want anyone breaking free of desire and suffering. After Mara’s demon army was unable to defeat Siddhartha, and after Mara’s daughters were unable to distract Siddhartha from his quest, Mara finally challenged Siddhartha, “Who gives you the right to attain Enlightenment? What makes you think you can become Enlightened? Who will testify that you have the right to become Enlightened?”
Siddhartha touched a finger to the earth. The earth was his witness. Mara disappeared. Siddhartha attained Enlightenment. He became The Buddha.
I expect Siddhartha’s conversation was an internal conversation. I expect Mara was that part of Siddhartha that was afraid, that was negative, that didn’t think he could become what he’d been called to become.
In fact, “become” is not quite right. For Siddhartha, for you and me, the call is not to become someone else—our call is to express who we have always been, who we have always known we were.
Mara is very powerful because Mara is our own fear, our own judgment, our own inner critic. We get our fear, our judgment, our criticism, from the world around us—from parents, partners, teachers, etc. They got their opinions from somewhere else, and now they pass them on to you.
Touch the earth. Become who you were meant to be, become who you already are.