I know that most of you love watching Martial Arts movies, and tend to spend some time afterwards practicing the kicks in front of the mirror. Many a time you are not able to replicate the exact move, which causes you to feel frustrated about yourself. I am not an expert in this field, so I will be of little help that way. But I might venture to relate a little incident that took place in my life when I was eleven.
It was at the time when I had joined the local soccer club. The coach was a very old man who had a very athletic body. He was really a wizard in the game, and we liked him a lot.
I, not having much relation with sports before, was not very good at the game. The sight of someone charging from the front was enough to make me leave the ball and run. I was never chosen in the inter-club soccer teams, and I was quite happy with that. But a certain time came when a forward was out with flu, and I was required to join the team. The match was scheduled after week later. I, personally, had never been in a worse state of mind. I went to the coach after practice one Monday evening. He was sitting on the front steps of the club. I told him my problem. I told him I couldn’t play. I felt very bad when I said that. It somehow pointed out to me how weak I was.
The old man patted the ground beside him. I sat down. He smiled.
‘Why can’t you play?’ he asked.
‘I am not good at it. I can’t receive passes, I cannot give any. I cannot head, shoot, or tackle. I … I…’
‘You mean you are physically not up to it.’
Did you ever read ‘The Last Leaf’ by O Henry? He asked. It was a story about a young woman who had a fatal case of pneumonia. It was winter, and she believed she would die when the ivy beside her window shed its last leaf. The last leaf never fell. She recovered. It was later discovered by her that the leaf was actually the handiwork of a painter who lived downstairs. He painted it there the night the last leaf fell.
I had read the story. I told him so.
‘Do you think it would have been possible for her to recover if she had seen the last leaf fall?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I answered.
‘So you see, it is not our bodies that control our mind. It is not the body that sets the limits for the mind. It’s the mind that controls the body. The girl survived because she had mentally written a program for her body which said that death was prohibited until the last leaf fell. The body had no choice but to obey it. It never has.’
I listened, fascinated. ‘So, so you mean that the mind sets its own limits itself? Nothing else has a hand in it?’
‘Right now, boy, all I am saying is that physically you are up to playing soccer; you always are. It’s the mind that’s your weakness. Every sport in this world is a duel of the mind. It’s the mind that you have to train.’
I believed him. It all seemed true. I suddenly felt a new source of power inside me, for I had always felt that I was in full control of my mind.
The next few days I really did try to train my mind. I tackled my shadow, I used the washing machine as the goal, I did everything. It wasn’t easy. It was the first time that I realized that I wasn’t in full control of my mind. I thought, ‘I can do it, I can, I can.’ But it wasn’t easy.
On the scheduled day I played. I didn’t score a single goal. But I wasn’t afraid of their big fat defender at all. I kept telling myself, ‘You are more than you think you are. This is child’s play.’ I gave quite a few good passes. Our team won 2-1. I was very pleased with myself.
I left soccer shortly afterwards. But that Monday evening, that small conversation with the coach on the front steps of the club, it has helped me out on numerous occasions since then.
A few days ago I found out a great way to train one’s mind. I was standing on top of the stairs, and suddenly I thought of jumping over them to the landing below. Mind you, they weren’t those short ones like the ones in school. Big, fat, tall ones. Eight in all. That made the difference between me and the landing considerable. I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply. I opened them. All I saw now was the mosaic floor of the landing, blue dots on white, and the stairs, with two blue stripes running down them on either side. I thought I could do it. I jumped. In a fraction of a second something went wrong in my mind. Something was telling me I couldn’t do it. It was telling me that if I try, I might hurt myself. This wasn’t my voice. I did not recognize it. This wasn’t me. It was someone else within me. He overpowered me. I dropped clumsily down two or three steps but managed to hold on to the rail. The little toe of my right foot started paining like mad where it had hit one of the cement steps. I limped back to my room, feeling like a total loser.
In the evening, I tried again. There’s something about an evening that encourages me. The light, the dreamy pale blue light that was streaming in through the little square windows of the landing gave me hope. I looked down. I stopped thinking and closed my eyes. Only one thought remained in my mind. Three steps, I told myself. That’s what you’ve got to jump over. Three little steps. I listened. I believed. I opened my eyes and released the air I had been holding. I saw the landing, the mosaic landing, blue on white. I didn’t see the steps. I didn’t want to. I swung my arms back and forth. It helped. And with one hard forward swing, I jumped.
Instantly, three white mosaic steps with two blue stripes running down them on either side appeared before my eyes, hazy and out of focus, like watching out of water. One went past. Time seemed to be a snail. The second one was approaching. I focused on the landing, the pale blue evening light. The second one passed. The third one. The last one.
All of a sudden, that dreaded voice at the back of my head woke up. It cried out, You fool! Eight steps, it’s eight steps! Eight! You’ll fall! It was bringing me sharply back to earth. For a second I thought I would fall. I visualized the bloody mess, a fracture, blood on the landing, running down the stairs with the blue stripes…
But suddenly, like a light switching on, I remembered, remembered after a long time, the face of the coach at the soccer club, sitting and smiling on the front steps of the club on a Monday Evening, the pale blue light of dusk bathing the scene.
I wasn’t afraid any more.
The last step passed. I dropped to the floor silently, bending my knees to reduce the impact.
I was there. This was the landing. I had made it.
Here is something I want to tell you. Now I suddenly know why the coach didn’t answer me straight when I asked him whether the mind sets its own limits. It’s because the answer is a little on the awkward side, but it’s true. The mind doesn’t set the limits, because it hasn’t any.
The choices are yours.