I am still recovering from the total knee replacement that I had at the beginning of this year. Since it was my thirteenth major knee surgery—on the same knee—it has somewhat frustratingly, adhered to its own timeline. My last physical therapy session required doing an exercise using a basketball, and the moment my hands grasped the ball, my nose smelled the leather, my body started to calculate distance and accuracy, I was instantly transported back to my playing days.
I played competitive club sports throughout high school, which meant that I was perpetually on two teams, for two different sports at a time, for each season. So, in addition to varsity basketball, volleyball and soccer all four years of school, I played club soccer, basketball and volleyball, respectively. It heavily challenged my time-management skills, forced me to learn how to prioritize, and most importantly, it allowed me brilliant opportunities to integrate my mind, body and spirit while opening up college scholarship offers. It was difficult, but I loved it.
Being a self-disciplined, competitive athlete, I wanted to be the best asset to each team, and earn as much playing time as I could during each game. So, I did everything in my power to get better.
Early on in my freshman basketball season, my coach gave me a piece of advice that not only changed the course of my athletic career, but—as I held the familiar, epiphanic leather ball last week—has continued to change the course of my life.
His advice was to “Stop. Take a beat to listen. This is for your benefit.”
If I had an unusual stretch of missed shots, missteps, or mistakes in a game, he would pull me out. As I stepped off the court in the beginning of our season, I would immediately ask him a question—hoping to distract him from disciplining me, harshly. Being the perfectionist that I was at the time, I was already screaming at myself in my own mind, punching myself in the leg, or finding other ways to punish myself, severely, for screwing up. So, the last thing I wanted to do was compound my feeling badly by hearing how I had disappointed him. However, by the third time I had intercepted his discipline on the sideline, he put his hand up in front of me, and told me to STOP. TAKE A BEAT to LISTEN. His words, his decision to take me out, to regroup, to get into alignment, was FOR MY BENEFIT.
I shut my mouth and opened my ears, my brain, my heart to his—and every other coach’s—advice henceforth. I took every one of the beats, the criticisms, the coaching pearls that I could, and I implemented, incubated, incorporated them to better my game, learn how to follow, so that I could lead shortly thereafter. I became as coachable as I could, understanding on a cellular level that I did not know everything I wanted or needed to know to get where I wanted to go. None of us does in the beginning. By taking his advice to heart, I was able to earn NCAA Division I scholarships to play any one of my three sports in college.
And now, after holding that brilliant leather reminder during physical therapy, I finally understood the vast implications beyond athletics that his advice has promulgated in my life. For, we have the most prolific coach in the contrast of our daily lives.
Our bodies aren’t just here for us to measure passes, shots for games or sports—our bodies are the most finely tuned, incredible instruments that exist on earth. They are phenomenal synthesizers of information constantly sensing the slightest contrast, misalignment, and energetic variation. They speak to us, give us a heads up, scream if they have to, to let us know when something in our lives is off. For some reason, we are more apt to listen to our bodies when doing something physical—we are more apt to adjust our shot when we miss three baskets in a row. However, our bodies are our only vehicles throughout this earthly realm. They are the only sacred vessels offering us passage on our life’s journey. We are physical beings, unable to disassociate mind and body until we shed our mortal coil. So why, on earth, wouldn’t we love them, and listen to them when they give us feedback within every other aspect of our life...?
So often, we feel uncomfortable in our physicality. We feel to fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too obtrusive, self conscious, unworthy of the space we take up. We, in turn, try to numb ourselves with unhealthy food, starve ourselves with no food, punish ourselves with substances, with horribly harsh words, with others we enlist to inflict surrogate flagellation. We treat our physical selves terribly while trying to divorce the one thing that we cannot. Believe me, I understand this implicitly, having done it for years to myself.
But the truth is, our bodies—in all their flawed imperfection—are our greatest gift in being human. The level of intelligence within each cell; the level of ability within each molecule, atom, quark; the level of communication that takes place within us on an infintessimal level is unparalleled. We are magnificent beings, with highly attuned mechanisms at our disposal, giving us information every millisecond of every day. If we have a feeling, a problem, a pain, it is only indicative of our bodies offering us some coaching advice. Instead of interrupting it for fear of the possible impending discomfort, why not STOP. TAKE A BEAT. And perhaps open our minds, our hearts to know that WHATEVER our body has to say, IT IS FOR OUR BENEFIT.
Polo REO Tate was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her family has deep ties to the community. Her Great Great Grandfather was Ransom Eli Olds (R.E. Olds), a pioneer and prolific inventor most notably responsible for inventing the first internal combustion automobile—the Oldsmobile. Growing up, [...]