Throughout my 15 years as a professional, competitive snowboarder I've learned many things. Some as simple as which airports have the best restaurant selections, to which goggles work best for various weather conditions, among other deeper revelations that took years to understand.
But one thing in particular I will always carry with me is the importance of taking time for myself, no matter how busy I am. This is how I got my start in meditation.
In 2006, seven years after I made the decision to pursue competitive snowboarding full time, I won the silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. I had dreamed of being an Olympian my entire life and not only had that dream come true, but I had won an Olympic medal. At that time snowboarding was more popular than ever, and I was about to be whisked into a frenzy of media and industry appearances, photo shoots, commercials, signings and obligations.
Leading up to the 2006 Olympic games I was as prepared mentally and physically as I had ever been. From falling, injuries and cracking under competition pressure, I had learned how to stand up, come back stronger and win, all while staying healthy. Standing at the top of the halfpipe on the world’s largest stage filled me with love, gratitude and total inspiration. It was everything I had hoped it would be.
I was doing everything I could have ever imagined in the snowboarding industry, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll that winning an Olympic medal would take on my life. By 2009, I was running on survival mode and found myself overwhelmed with all I had on my plate. I was completely drained and run down, and was irritated easily. I was becoming someone I did not want to be and I found it disturbing. It just didn’t make any sense! I was living out my wildest dreams and doing everything I loved, so why was I feeling so depleted and disconnected?
I was asked in one interview, “What things do you love to do other than snowboarding?” I was confused. I thought, “What do you mean? I’m a snowboarder. I train, I travel, and I take care of my body. I go to photo shoots. I compete. There isn’t time for anything else.” I heard myself say those things and that’s when I realized that I was completely out of balance. It wasn’t really that I was over-scheduled or too busy, but that I hadn’t been making space in my days for some quality "me" time — to actually enjoy the life I had created for myself.
I had been living from the outside in, versus the inside out. I defined success as the accumulation, attainment and accomplishment of awards, titles, roles and material things.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten plenty of enjoyment from being successful at my sport and career. But I've also realized that if all of the “accomplishing” and “doing” isn’t balanced out with remembering to check in with oneself, there's always bound to be something that feels a bit off.
And the more you continue plowing forward, the louder and heavier this feeling becomes.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us have felt this way at some time or another. Whether you’re a mom whose kids have become your livelihood, a computer software engineer, or a world class athlete — it’s all the same thing. If we don’t take the time to fill ourselves up from the inside, we can become disconnected and depleted from all that we’re creating on the outside, no matter how much we seem to be enjoying it.
Success in life is not just winning an Olympic medal, but knowing how to take care of yourself so that you can continue to make the best decisions for yourself and everyone else involved.
It’s really important to connect with exactly what you need in your life to feel whole and fulfilled. And coming from a Type-A personality like me, meditation is a tool that really gets the job done! It’s simple and it’s universal, because you can do it anywhere. All you need is a place where you can sit down, close your eyes and focus on your breath.
Meditation has given me the space in my days to add "me" time back into the equation. I didn’t have to change anything I was doing on the outside, it was more about taking the time every single day to sit with myself and surrender to the commotion of my spinning mind. I had become inundated with thoughts of my responsibilities and my to-do lists, which always seemed to be multiplying.
It was also a process of letting go of what I had always been striving for — doing and achieving. My whole life I had set big goals. I worked hard and was always pushing myself. It wasn’t that those goals or actions were wrong or too much, but that I wasn't finding inner balance by taking some time each day to recenter and recharge — to focus my attention solely on myself.
This time spent in quietude and inner reflection is what restored my essential true nature back into my daily life. I started showing up to life from a place of wholeness, rather than depletion. And when you’re whole, you naturally feel more connected and engaged in everything you're doing. This helps you feel like everything has more purpose and meaning, which automatically leaves you happier and more fulfilled.
This was the domino effect that meditation had not just on my snowboarding endeavors, but also on my relationships with friends and family. I could continue my increasingly busy schedule as before, but with more energy, purpose, meaning, patience, compassion and intention. The things I had always loved doing finally felt good again.
Nothing on the outside changed and yet, everything changed.
Meditation serves as a tool to help slow down the fast pace of life and regain balance. We can continue to do all the things we’ve done before (and more), but be able operate from the place of who we truly are on the inside.
Photo courtesy of the author