There is a point in every marathon where no runner quits and there is another point where the majority drop out. The quitting point is painstakingly close to the finish line and, when measured in terms of percentage points, sits at approximately the last five percent of the race. The drop outs' hurdle is the last stretch of the race where the end remains hidden from view. It is here where athletes have been working for a long time that all the major mental and physical obstacles set in. Doubt, anxiety, disbelief, exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, the feeling of no end in sight and physiological stress compromise rational thought and convince many to throw in the towel. Just as night is somehow darkest just before dawn breaks, so too is the race toughest right before it ends. Absolutely no one quits when the finish line is in clear sight. Whatever mental, emotional or physical pain may exist dissipates because the finish line represents an end to the torture. When circumstance is both finite and clearly defined the capacity for human endurance grows dramatically. Not knowing is what drives us nuts.
Whether you're a yoga practitioner, an avid meditator or a business executive it augurs well for your long term success to bear in mind the drop outs' hurdle when faced with challenges. You never know when all your hard work and dedication will pay off and you cannot force life into giving you what you want exactly when you want it. Complaining, comparing yourself to others, making excuses or finding something juicy to escape into will not get you what you want. The only thing left to do is to focus on your technique, dig deeper into your stores of internal strength, steady your mind and surrender. Different than giving up, surrendering in the context of a daily spiritual practice is the equivalent of having faith. Literally meaning the process by which you give up the false notion that you can control anything, the ability to surrender opens a doorway into letting go and letting a higher power take over. It is this type of faith that carries runners out of the dark zone of quitting into the power of the finish line being in sight and it is this type of faith that will carry you through doubt, fear, disbelief and anxiety into true power. It takes a steady, practiced mind to feel the obstacles pounding on the inner door of the mind and remain calmly committed to a better outcome with the knowledge that sooner or later everything changes and sooner or later the end will be in sight.
Spiritual practice is merely a reflection of your attitude towards life. If you make it through to the end of a seemingly insurmountable situation you have greater stores of strength and confidence the next time something similar happens. Patients of long term illnesses under going holistic treatment often display what Paul Pritchford calls in his book Healing with Whole Foods a "healing crisis". This stage of the game is analogous to the drop outs hurdle in the marathon race towards health. Patients in the midst of a "healing crisis" will usually see a virulent resurgence of all their old pains, injuries, negative emotions, destructive behaviors and symptoms only to purge them from their system completely if the healing program is followed to the end. Those who withdraw from the treatment at this point remain unhealthy and those who make it through often, although of course not always, experience healing. Just before it gets better it usually gets much worse. Those who develop the bravery and fortitude it takes to see the good, the bad and the ugly about themselves are the ones who make it through to the finish line.
A daily yoga practice is riddled with ample opportunity to practice staying through the darkest point of your journey. From postures that have eluded you from the beginning to new postures that create new pains and disbelief, yoga's greatest gift is the real world passage from the impossible to the possible and then from the possible to the easy. Fortunately this path is often walked on the treacherous road of physical pain. One of the best tests of character that exists is how you respond to your body's signals of distress, for it is often also how you will respond to life's signals of distress. Do you quit the moment something even remotely hurts? Or do you lean in and hammer through? Would you be able to allow a higher awareness to teach and guide you? Learning to distinguish different types of intense sensation in your body will help you work with the pain that is an inevitable reality of life, both in and out of the yoga world. The key is to walk the middle way between forcing yourself into injury and shying away from challenge while remaining aware, alert and alive.
Psychological barriers present similar tests. Sometimes when approaching a certain posture you will feel no pain but you will not be able to perform the asana. For example, I unsuccessfully attempted to balance in a headstand for the first eight months of my yoga practice. Every time my legs came tumbling towards the floor I beat myself up with my apparent inadequacy. What I didn't know at the time is that every moment where you fall out of a posture is where the body and the mind learn how to be in that very same posture. When you fail you learn a priceless and unforgettable lesson. There are days where it really feels like it's never going to get better and perhaps might even worse. It is ironically often right before a big breakthrough in your practice that an injury surfaces, that you start to get tired of practicing or that you begin to doubt the method of your practice. Tibetan Buddhist teacher Ani Pema Chodron says that progress along the spiritual path never feels like progress. When it feels hard, when you doubt whether you're really doing anything at all, and when you feel like you're going crazy is when you're actually growing, learning and evolving. Life delivers five steps forward and five steps back, then five steps forward and four and a half steps back. Happiness is merely a recognition and a celebration of that small half step forward gained after years of back and forth vacillation. No matter how convoluted your path may seem faith carries you through to the finish line every time.