Close Your Eyes

What happens when you close your eyes and think about something you’re proud of? A moment in life where you did something that, minutes, weeks, months, or years beforehand you would never have thought you could achieve. Did you build a LEGO all by yourself? Did you score a goal to put your over the top and allow your team to finish the season 1-7? Did you break a PR in a marathon you ran 15 years ago? Did you win a bronze medal in the Olympics? Did you make your first (and only) layup in an 8th grade basketball game?

A million monkeys typing on a million typewriters could eventually write an infinite number of things you could be proud of. What it is that you are proud of doesn’t matter. The object of this little exercise is to realize that you’re not typing a blog for the others to see right now, so there is no judgement allowed in what this moment is to you. It can be, literally…anything. 

I purposely wrote things up above that, likely, will carry judgement in your mind if they apply to you. I know, because at least one of them applies to me directly. 

I chose examples that aren’t “winning GOLD at the Olympics”, or “winning the marathon” very specifically, because I learned an extremely valuable lesson for myself on Friday that feels as though it has altered my body chemistry permanently. I’ll be getting to that lesson shortly, but what something means to YOU, has nothing to do with the achievement. But I can assure you, I know that no matter what achievement you have in your head you’re carrying some level criticism with it. I would argue that you’re carrying judgement even if it is the “winning GOLD at the Olympics”. But if the Close Your Eyes moment is a bronze medal, I am am 100% sure that human being is carrying around with them an ounce of, “but I was so fucking close to gold” in their head. I feel as though I’m able to get into the head of a gold medal winner and hear the self-doubt from their win. I’ve known a few of them, and I can assure you that they all have their self-doubt. But that’s a different blog post.

Let’s loop back around to that feeling you have when you close your eyes. Whatever the moment is in your life, what do you see? Can you hear what is happening around you? Can you feel the energy in your body? Are you able to see the smile on your face?  Are you able to recall the smells in the air?

My Close Your Eyes moment is more than half a lifetime ago at a track meet in the United States called the Drake Relays. It takes place in a large football stadium that is typically packed on the day of the finals. I never knew it even existed as an event until I ran at it. Just a couple years prior to the day in my memory, I would have never in a million years thought I would be running at a meet like it. I wasn’t “good enough”. I never won the BIG race. I never won the state track meet. I never held an individual school record. I was always good, but not great.

But there I was. Standing in front of my blocks about to run in the final for the 400 meter hurdles. I am sure I could look it up somehow, but I can’t recall what lane I was in. The importance of that piece of information is solely to confirm that within my memory I recall being seated 8th. Based on my times in the preliminary races, I was supposed to get 8th place. 

I can tell you sitting here 29 years later that I have run in “bigger” races. I’m proud of those moments in my life as well, but they aren’t my Close Your Eyes moment in my life. This race, by all accounts, was the race I crossed a threshold in my mind where suddenly I belonged on that track. That race, finally, allowed me to believe the work that I had put in prior to making it there, allowed me the right to be there. 

Before Friday, whenever I closed my eyes, I thought more about the finish line of that race. I crossed the line in 5th place. Three places higher than (I recall) I should have placed. An amusing side-memory pulls out the image of standing at the starting line, looking over at the guy who was seated 9th. I remember the fear and nearly shitting myself thinking that I had to beat one guy. I was not going to allow myself to be DFL.

Before Friday, I always remembered that race and thought about the fact that I hit the second to last hurdle throwing off my stride. I had to adjust going into the last hurdle, slowing me down and preventing me from getting 3rd. I, by all accounts, ran the race of my life in front of those fans. It was the culmination of all the effort I had put in to achieve my high school dream of running for Purdue University. 

Before Friday, I remembered that moment as a failure. I didn’t win that race. I wasn’t the best one there. I wasn’t even supposed to be there, but through a combination of luck, stubbornness, and hard work, I was there…yet I didn’t win. I hit that hurdle and I didn’t even get the third I was on pace for. For the 29 years since I ran that race, if I told anyone about that race, I told a story that was steeped in mediocrity.  An allegory for my life.

Friday was my first day of somatic therapy. I have done my share of “traditional” therapy. I’ve sat in a tidy room on a comfy couch with more than one box of Kleenex within arm’s reach. I’ve talked to the therapist about what’s bugging me and how that makes me feel. It has helped me get through some not-so-fun stuff. Somatic therapy, as I interpret it, falls under the category of holistic healing. It focuses on how we store the energy of trauma in our body and attempts to help us release that energy slowly. Let’s say that 20 year old Jon who ran in that race would have thought it to be some airy-fairy bullshit.

In this session my therapist helped me find this moment in my mind. She guided me backwards in time in such a way that I closed my eyes and I was standing on that start line behind my blocks. I remembered the feelings I had. 

I remembered the sky was blue and there were giant mid-west America spring clouds quietly floating overhead. 

I remembered the feeling I had looking at the crowd. 

I remembered the knot of nervous energy in my gut. 

I remembered the process I went through to calm my nerves and start to focus on that race. 

I remembered all the emotions I felt standing there before the race that when smooshed together equated to joy.

The finals of the Drake Relays 400 meter hurdles wasn’t my biggest race, no more than assembling that LEGO set was a life defining moment.  However, before Friday, I had never remembered the joy of the race. After Friday, I know my Close Your Eyes race is an allegory for my life. The difference is that after Friday, the way I see that moment carries significantly different meaning. I took my dog Angus for a walk after my therapy session and sobbed in a quiet corner of the dog park. Incredibly beautiful tears of joy. It was a feeling of joy I can confidently share with you today. Before Friday, I have never in my life recalled joy in my Close Your Eyes moment. My joy has always been suppressed by my mental judge. A judge that always slammed the gavel declaring guilt for not being good enough. 

My ask of you, especially if this little story resonates, is to close your eyes again and truly feel the joy of your moment. Feel everything good about that moment and let the joy settle into the corners of your heart that had previously been cast in shadow. I can tell you that it isn’t going to fix your problems of self-judgement. I am confident you will see the world just a little bit differently.

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