…I am Michael Phelps

by Dale Midgette Smith on August 28, 2012

I am not a swimmer at all. In fact, when I am in the pool, I am usually playing with my grandsons or relaxing with my husband. Any pool laps I do include a colorful swim noodle, used by young children or people at the other end of the age spectrum, and are part of thirty minutes of exercise that I try to get in a day. However, during the Olympics, like many others, I was fascinated by watching the skill of the swimmers competing, and hearing their stories.

One story in particular got my attention and kept me thinking. That story was about Chad le Clos, the young South African swim team member who won the 200 meters, beating Michael Phelps “by a touch.” Chad is a swimmer, and one, who, since he was twelve years old, was imagining himself being Michael Phelps. Impressed and inspired by Phelps, Chad immersed himself in the idea, watching tapes of Phelps’ swims over and over again, reading articles and interviews, studying anything he could find about Phelps’ skill.

Then Chad practiced. He imagined himself swimming like Michael. He imagined himself winning at the Olympics. And he practiced. Eight years later, Chad le Clos beat Michael Phelps in the 200 meters at the 2012 Olympics “by a touch.” I did hear a story about him sometime after the race. The report said that half-way through the race, in that moment, Chad said later that he had thought of himself as Michael Phelps and everything seemed in slow motion as he finished the swim and won the gold.

As with much of the devotion and commitment from the Olympic athletes, this story about Chad le Clos inspires me. I am reminded again that to be who I want to be in my life, means that I must immerse myself in those thoughts and ideas. Do I want to have a peaceful heart? Yes. Then I must find the ways that help me achieve that. Meditate, read about the way other people have learned to do that, choose the kind of movies that help support what I am learning, talk with others on the same path, moderate what direction I allow my thoughts to wander, and even teach what I am learning as I learn it. This is immersing myself in that thought, that vision of having a peaceful heart and what it would require of me in my life. Olympian winners don’t give themselves much slack in their work. Their practice is their life. Does having a peaceful heart require less commitment? I think not.

I had already been thinking about Chad le Clos and how his total commitment related to me, a non-swimmer several decades down the road from him, when I picked up the 25th anniversary edition of Love is Letting Go of Fear, a classic by Gerald Jampolsky. I had read the original 1979 printing in 1984 when my own life was in divorce turmoil. I was curious to have another look now in another time and stage of life where I can more regularly feel peace in my heart.

I read, “To have inner peace we need to be consistent in having peace of mind as our single goal.” Surely I must have missed that sentence those thirty years ago when I first read the book. This sounds to me like one of those concepts with no wiggle room. Single goal? One goal only? Peace of mind. What do I choose to do in my life in a day to day practice or process to foster and advance that goal?

Will this action or this choice or these words add to my peace of mind? If not, choose differently. It sounds very simple and obvious in these quiet moments as I write these words on this page. In fact, it reminds me of a weight loss goal I had when I was in my late thirties. I would walk three miles in the mornings before my young children were awake. Then through the day, whatever I was choosing to eat, I would think “A woman who was consistently up to walk three miles at 6:00 AM would or would not eat this. Choose.” It made the whole process seem easy to me at the time.

I remembered a particular morning that I had finished my walk and was going to meet two dear friends for breakfast. We met once a month or so at a little restaurant that had the best apple fritters. The fritters were crispy pastry with delicious apple pie inside. I remember that morning clearly, looking at the menu, seeing the apple fritters on it, and knowing that a woman who walked three miles in the morning before the rest of her busy day started would not eat apple fritters for breakfast. And that woman was me. Certain choices made sense. Other choices didn’t fit. It all seemed obvious.

As I write this, I am aware that in many ways, my life is less complicated than it was then. Young children are no longer the main fabric of my daily life. In the same way that Michael Phelps can retire from competitive swimming, and a business person who has worked to develop a particular business may at some point sell it for other pursuits, children grow up and start their own lives.

Some life goals and commitments don’t work that way, though. There is no end to wanting to be as healthy as possible or to be a good, loving and connected person with those we love in our lives. There is also that subject of peace of mind. These are not goals from which someone retires or takes a break. In fact, peace of mind, a peaceful heart, inner peace are goals that we tend to expand and deepen and learn more ways to develop and grow once we’ve had the feel of them. We see what growing and expanding a peaceful heart can mean. We want more. For me, I am fine right here in this exact moment as I write what you are now reading. I can right now quietly feel the golden win of peace of mind if only by a touch.

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