My heart goes out to Jody Cundy. I don’t know if he broke the rules, if he made a mistake, if the officials were fair or not. But in that cry: “You can’t do this, I’ve worked all my life for this, they are ruining my life, they are ruining my life,” I feel moved to my very core. He is a warrior.
His anger is an expression of sheer anguish, the loss of masculine power, loss of the possibility of creating meaning for himself. Maybe at that moment of despair he was again that little boy of three who lost his leg and made a silent bargain with himself to find a way to survive and flourish. Paulo Coelho (The Aleph) says: “I’m not in the past, I’m in the present. I am the little boy I was then. I will always be that little boy, I am reliving that time”.
When we experience trauma as a child we find a way to survive, a new way to create a sense of who we are. Each of us seeks and creates meaning in our life. It is through the creation of meaning that we give ourselves and our lives a shape. It is through meaning that we can make sense of our existence. Perhaps the little Jody decided he had to be a warrior and that in this way he would give his life meaning.
These meanings we choose are sometimes obvious and more often obscured. They can easily be mistaken for truths. This can lead to great achievements. It can also lead to anger, hurt, fear and a sense of failure. For a top athlete the danger is that their meaning in life is based solely on success, only by being “better than others” can they be worth something and fill their emotional tank.
Jody Cundy said: “I want to ride.” We all ride along life’s road and along the way we experience uncertainty, bumps and surprises, this is part of being human. Jody “fell out of the gate”. Professional sport is a knife-edge, an emotional roller coaster for those involved. The power of the warrior is ultimately fragile and dependent on the actions of others. Borg, Woods, Barca, the British Empire, even Usain Bolt – all eventually fade and are overtaken.
The idea that you have to be the best to define who you are, to give your life meaning is precarious, unstable, it is a transitory moment of balance. Later – or sooner mostly – the excitement of success shifts to the fear and shame of “failure”. With this comes a diminution of our sense of who we are.
There is no fixed point at which we “find ourselves”. If we allow it, we will continue to evolve and as we do so our world, our universe expands and evolves. This is scary and exciting.
In the end only children believe they are capable of everything. As we grow older we eventually find that always trying to be better than others leads to a sorry place. By referencing against others we may win in the short term but in the end we will grow old, infirm and someone else will take over.
There is a different path. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido said in 1942: “The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”
In this is embodied the idea that “I will be the best I can be” independent of anyone else. It is also redolent of Jung’s warrior archetype, which offers us the possibility of finding our “mature” manliness, a manliness devoid of bullying, cowardice, sadism and masochism, a manliness which we experience within ourselves and are relatively at peace.
Ueshiba said: “failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” In life as in Aikido as in all sport as in therapy it is only from the experience of discomfort that we can progress and grow who we are – the only way is through.
I hope for Jody Cundy that in the trauma of this loss he can find the path of a true warrior.