Attack the mind and the body will follow. That’s what Ali did best. Most fighters (then and now) were physically strong. But Ali, the pioneer of starting the fight before the fight, was a professional at mental attacks. There was no one mentally stronger than Ali. We can’t all appreciate the technical lessons that Ali left behind, but we can learn from his development of, perfection, and maintenance of a strong mind.
When Muhammad Ali died one year ago today, I cried. Tears of sadness, I thought. Now I know that I was also crying because of the shock and discomfort of (re)birth.
When I wrote this piece, I thought it was merely a reflection on his life. But in true Ali form, it was a catalyst and teaching moment in my life. Since I wrote that piece, life has been a first hand lesson of the rope-a-dope process. I feel bad for George Foreman! That must have been truly a painful way to get through a fight. At least for me it was. I had ups and downs throughout all 12 rounds (read: months). Hard gut punches that shook my body and mind to their core. Peaks and successes that made me think I finally had control of this beast I was fighting — my mind.
Every time I thought I had it under control, it slithered out of my reach and stung me with quick kidney punch. This past year has been the toughest fight of my life. But here I am. Standing stronger and prettier than ever.
Sometimes winning means surviving.
The greats of our time have all overcome unparalleled hard times and tragedy. They each die in part to live a full life another day. I’ve learned, that as we go through life, it’s important that we remember that challenges only come to those who are moving forward and continuously improving. Whether the challenge is as visible as Ali’s Supreme Court fight for religious freedom or the internal quiet fight for sanity many of us face. These are very different challenges with the same remedy — developing and maintaining a strong mind.
As with all muscles, this will take time, dedication, and perseverance. But unlike the process of strengthening other muscles, building a strong mind takes self-awareness. We all want to be the best, but don’t necessarily want to go through the process. We all think we are strong until a challenge knocks us off our game. This is so dangerous because it’s during these times that our mental strength is developed.
I didn’t want to go through the ups and downs of the past year. But I’m very grateful for the awareness and clarity that they ushered in. I now have a much better understanding of who I am. In hindsight, Ali showed me how to develop self-awareness. He showed it in theory through the life he lived. But he also showed it to me in my life. The piece that I wrote about him was so successful that it confirmed in my mind that I have talent and skill with writing. Not the kind of talent that only friends and family appreciate. But real talent and skill that are accepted by people who I’ve never met.
Through writing I have not only improved my skills, I’ve improved my self-awareness and developed strong courage muscles. Until 2016, I lived life according to the suggestions of everyone other than myself. When Ali passed away the story of his life reminded me of the immeasurable benefits of self-awareness, determination, and drive. My prayer this past year has been for an increase in each of those things. They were and continue to be answered.