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When Spirit Plays Referee

The Japanese call it "kokoro," which translates to the unity of body, mind and spirit. Although Westerners, particularly Americans, like to separate these, they are connected in this Japanese sense.

As an athlete, I've known how to test my body well past its limits. Sports marketing likes to tout this as a sign of spirit--that a fighting spirit is "good." There is a certain degree of testing the body wants to "have a conversation." The mind, the sensible part of your mind, tells you that you could be injured. The ego, the one that's full of pride, tells you not to stop--that you'll be seen as weak.

I remember my friend Heave and I training together one day for the Chicago Marathon. He was in better shape than I, and he was running much faster than my body could endure. He said, "I know your body wants to have a conversation. Don't listen to it."

Later on, I bonked. I was totally tapped. He had to get my car and picked me up. He admitted he had struggled himself. He said, "My body kept wanting to have that conversation, but I kept fighting it off."

This "conversation" creates a distrust--a disconnect--between the mind and body. The body is giving cues to stop, but you don't. The mind in its ego trapping tells you to keep going, and we reward this tenacity. What eventually can play referee is the spirit.

The spirit asks, "What is this all for?"

Therein lies the difference. For several years, Dick Hoyt participated in marathons and Ironman races with his son in tow. Literally. His son, Rick, was born with cerebral palsy and diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic. Dick would push Rick's wheelchair through the running races, and pull him through Ironman swims and bike rides. Body and mind would be tested, but spirit--driven by love--allowed Dick to endure for several years.

When spirit drives you, body and mind want to follow. You see evidence of this when you hear about women who can lift heavy things to save their children. A two-year old boy picks up a dresser to save his twin brother.

Without spirit, without this "kokoro," you can have disaster. The body likes to be tested, and you can find that "razor's edge" where it reaches its peak. But the mind, if the ego isn't tamed, can easily step in and say, "You wuss." If the spirit doesn't blow the whistle, you'll easily find either injury or burnout.

This is a microcosm of society. If the society doesn't have "kokoro," a spiritual center, the mind of society and the body of society can have conflict. If those who are in office (the mind) don't have their sense of power in check, they can easily manipulate the people--the body--to go beyond their limits. In some cases, the government and business institutions--and sometimes religious institutions--might force the people into submission. This brings injury to not only the people, but the society overall.

We all need a spiritual foundation--for ourselves and for society.

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