What do you look like? Why do so many hockey players fear you? Where do the unconscious thoughts and beliefs come from that say we must settle for less once we leave professional hockey? Are those beliefs true or are they lies? What creates so much internal suffering for so many players?
I tried to figure out what you, Life after Hockey, should look like; but I couldn't really. At first you appeared scary. Now you are no longer scary looking at all. Of course, when we look at the whole “staircase” of confusion and fears created by our mind, the symptoms we can expect to experience will be overwhelming. However, as I connect some dots, many of our symptoms are created by the mind and it is in the mind where suffering begins. Hockey is a sport filled with an intense pleasure that many players confuse with the well-being or/and happiness. I know, for I learned from this experience myself. This misunderstanding caused me intense suffering. Let's take some time right now, to investigate and hopefully shed light and comprehension into why so many players suffer.
Pleasure is very short-lived. Our mind – our ego – replaces pleasure with a desire for even more pleasure. As players, we are often in the spotlight, which can unconsciously create for some of us a constant need for even more and more pleasure before we can experience happiness. The catch is that we must come to an understanding that happiness is not found in “having” but is found in being in a state of peace. The fights, the goals, the wins, are always “short-lived” and soon replaced by a desire for more – for more of the rush and for more sensational pleasure which we mistakenly associate with happiness. It will never be enough and most of us are unaware of this condition and how it translates into our personal life.
We are not victims. Let's take money and power for example. Many of us feel like we will never have enough money or power and we are conditioned to always desire more which is often driven by fear of ending up short rather than experiencing the beauty of the present experience. This type of desire for more stems from a sense of lack, or a fear of losing what we identify our self within our thinking, which is purely an illusion. This identification which, again, is created by the mind, is an unconscious process. The ego often feels threatened and searches for ways to re-identify itself as something different or "important" to fill its sense of lack.
Actually, it doesn't matter if it identifies itself with something more or something less, as a victim or as Mr. Pride. The identification and inner beliefs associated with being “Mr. Morency, the hockey player” are very hard to let go of. This identification takes place unconsciously and is created by the conditioned mind (the ego). Eventually, we all lose this identity because all professional athletes eventually retire. However, without a conscious decision to accept this transition, many of us end up resisting without even being aware of the resistance. The conditioned mind feels threatened and sees this loss as something bad. This unconscious fear of losing our identity is what causes deep suffering.
We don't enjoy these unpleasant feelings but they can serve us rather than hurt us. Contained in our emotions is a little secret message telling us that something must change in our conditioned mindset. Some of us are given medication to bury those undesirable feelings, or we look for a boost of pleasure by other means, such as with drugs, alcohol, entertainment, gambling or sex, in an attempt to numb the internal pain and suffering. The more pleasure we experience, the more intense the suffering becomes when we try to suppress our emotions.
Trust me! When we resist, the emotions just intensify and they create even more suffering down the road. I was very moved by Chris Collins, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danny Carcillo's courage to talked about their personal experiences, perceptions and struggled to create a movement to bring about change in the lives of those suffering from painful experiences. Carcillo's sufferance led him to birth The Chapter 5 Foundation to help fellow athletes about their personal struggles. He inspired me to write this letter and hopefully, this can bring some clarity as well.
The reality of the real world we live in is the present moment – the now - and one realization I would like to share with readers is the importance of first investing in our “inner” life skills. I would even suggest such an investment is needed for people in any business area. When we identify ourselves on a subconscious level as, “Ms. Jones, the NBC news anchor” we may very well experience the exact same kind of suffering once we are forced out the door unexpectedly as a retired athlete does. It is so important to create an awareness of this need for “inner” life skills so that there will never again be another Montador, Rypien, Boogaard, Belak, Probert, Ewan and so on. They all passed away from different reason, however, one thing they had in common is internal sufferances.
A captain of mine in the juniors was Trevor Ettinger. I so looked up to him.
He committed suicide while playing in the AHL. I remember wanting to be just like him - a great man who always wore a big smile filled with kindness for all of the kids who’d approach him. I loved Trevor for his leadership and the kind of man he was. I pass no judgment on his death; just understanding.
Through an inner investigation of the various circumstances of these great men and my personal experience, I do now realize one thing: an awareness of our responsibility to invest in ourselves by being curious and by asking questions about the meaning of life seems inevitable.
I would be lying if I said it never crossed my mind to take my own life. I wrote a suicide note at age thirteen and I considered it many times thereafter during my career. However, the battle really started when I began high school as I could not focus because I was so often lost in thoughts, worries, fantasies, dreams, and fears. I was put in a "special" class because of my poor grades and I ended up quitting high school altogether. These worries and fears followed me throughout my professional career as a hockey player which some of your readers may find funny as so many people saw me as fearless on the ice and for my willingness to drop the gloves. I admit, I've lived a life in denial of my fears and I found the escape through hockey.
Whatever one does to escape, it only patches the pain for a while. The pain will eventually resurface. It always does. Life, especially as a professional athlete, can be very difficult physically and emotionally. It was not until after a severe brain trauma in Croatia which left me in critical condition for several days that I began to wake up and began to question more deeply the meaning of life. My focus became trying to understand what well-being means for myself and for my precious son Joey. This investment of time opened up the doors to so many new discoveries. I experienced a new way to live life and it is now a constant part of the life I choose to live with my fiancee Melanie.
For some of us, this awareness will come more smoothly than it will for others. There will be a conscious decision to make or an unconscious automatic decision will be made which will cause a reaction based out of the fears created by our stream of thoughts. We can accept, forgive, surrender and open up to what the mind cannot grasp or we can resist the situation we find ourselves in at the present moment that is creating the suffering.
Acceptance creates an alignment within ourselves of our life and our spirit and opens ourselves up to receive or to discover that which is new. Resistance keeps us off balance and in a state of suffering which closes the door to discovering what life intends to unfold for us. This is an internal choice that we are responsible for, or simply not unaware of!
A key perspective I'd like to share is the importance of building a strong foundation “within”. We can add more trophies, money, titles or records to a resume but like the great philosopher Jim Rohn once said, “don't build your house on the sand, build it on the rock”. The rock is what is inside of us and that is where the foundation of our life begins. If anyone in any league or career, athlete or non-athlete, has considerable ignorance on the inside about their condition, then there will be considerable suffering once they are forced to let go of their unconscious identification. We then resist, react, and become off-balanced. We often experience another unconscious belief - that our best days are behind us. This belief in the “good old days” results in one living in the past and missing out on the literally precious moments of the present with the belief that the "good" is forever behind us. Unfortunately, we are encouraged to keep adding to the outer appearance of our houses, while we neglect the very frame that supports our houses and maintains balance and longevity.
I am addressing this letter to hockey players, but it is just as relevant for any other career you may find yourself in. Whether you are in the NFL,
MLB, or even a “rock band”, and you are past your prime, you too may suffer from ignorance, fears, addiction, and depression. We are often uneducated in this aspect of life. What have we been taught to do with our fears? Do we acknowledge them? Do we let them come to the surface and then pass by us? Do we take the time to become aware of the signal they offer to guide us to make a change in our lives? Is fear your enemy, or your ally? How much do we resist the emotion? The unknown? Does pride get in the way of being humble?
It is easy to be caught up in pride when someone is busy signing autograph after autograph, making large amounts of money, and constantly in the spotlight, being adored by the many. Not everyone makes a lot of money playing hockey (I can assure you of this!) but suffering will increase for anyone that refuses to let go of their identification with their past position. Pride is weak and likely to pretend, whereas, humbleness is strength and remain in balance with the acceptance of not knowing all there is. When we allow ourselves to feel we are above others, the pain we experience as we head down to reality is so much greater. The very purpose of suffering is to motivate us to evolve. Suffering can help us to get back into a balanced life and helps us to find love and peace within ourselves.
The good news is, we do not have to experience such deep pain through these significant life transitions. Our emotions exist to be acknowledged and experienced and not to be ignored. How do you tell a "fearless" athlete to have compassion for himself when he is suffering? I did not know how to have compassion for myself and I feared being laughed at by others.
But here is the key: one must have compassion towards one’s own self. So go ahead, give it a shot, and be compassionate towards the little inner you that has fears. Acknowledge those fears. It doesn't matter if you feel like the biggest scary cat ever. Go and BE with the pain. At the end of the day, we are all uniquely the same in our differences and we all have an inner purpose in the world. We all have a soul who is here to guide us and to enable us to discover through our human experience what we have yet imagined through the condition of our limited mind. The purpose of pain is to either motivate us or to make us the victim. Many of us become unconscious victimizers by blaming others or by blaming our unfair circumstances. We have a mind – an ego - that likes to make us believe the illusion of losing what we identify our self with is real. What the mind identifies us as; is what creates the fear to let go. The soul knows and guides us into the present moment when we are tuned in when we are aware of it, and when we are open to experiencing the present – the now. A settlement of money may help patch the pain for a while, but the pain will resurface if we do not take the time to acknowledge our inside life and to heal our wounds.
What will we do after hockey? This uncertain future is what the ego refuses to consider. It may create a fantasy in our mind. It may create a mediocre future in our mind. Whatever it creates will mostly be based on a lie. An effective way to curtail the ramblings of the ego is through the study of books, attending seminars or retreats, focusing on our spirituality (which can be practiced through moments of stillness) and tuning into personal development in a way that opens ourselves up to discovering a greater understanding of our inner being. Be curious!
Many people will tell us (sometimes indirectly) through ignorance to settle for less. It’s the safe route to take. It’s the insecurity of the ego at work. It's nothing personal and there is no need for judgment. They simply mean to protect us. However, it is definitely not the best route to take for fulfilling our purpose, for fulfilling the passion in our heart. When we aren't tuned into our inner life and we instead choose to settle for mediocrity, it turns off the passion that is inside of us as professional athletes. It can be very depressing and we end up refusing to let go of our past. Retirement is another myth or a catch 22, depending on how we perceive it. If we believe we will enjoy life without giving any attention to our intuition, then more suffering may be just around the corner when we find ourselves confused and without inspiration and passion. When we listen to the voices of others or the voice in our head, we are tempted to take whatever comes along first, to settle for a job that isn't really what we want, but we take it because we have not considered our inner guidance. However, when we let life unfold in the moment while we are in touch with our intuition, and we are open to discovering what is new, we are much more likely to experience peace, inspiration, and happiness. There is incredible wisdom in the beauty of the present moment and of our intuition speaking to us through stillness instead of simply taking the other reactive path. I thank authors like Eckhart Tolle and Gina Lake for helping me learn and experience this wisdom that I now put into daily practice.
I do not share these ideas out of self-pity for athletes but out of empathy as I certainly went through suffering myself. I understand that most people suffer after they retire from “public” positions and that they wrestle with letting go of their “public” identification in their mind, in the ego’s perspective. My purpose in writing this article is to create awareness. NOW is the time to take responsibility for our own well-being. As a professional hockey player, it was my responsibility to take time to read books, watch documentaries or listen to seminars on the bus rather than to play cards all of the time. This ideology of “killing time” needs reconsideration. We must balance play and leisure with building our inner foundation. Too often we lack curiosity and we never question the way things are. I'll be the first to admit that I was great at killing time, a few beers and video games and shooting the breeze was typical until I woke up to life. Friends, ignorance hurts! It hurt me and it will hurt you if you do not take as much time to work inside for yourself as you work outside for the game shape. Sometimes, work can mean to just be, to not do or think, but to just observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. Don’t let life pass you by. Live in the moment! Live in the now!
The wonderful thing about investing in ourselves is that it keeps on benefiting us. It will be passed down and the compounded effect will multiply. When a situation presents itself, we will be in a position to help someone else. What a reward it is to know that you can really help someone. Invest in yourself and be compassionate to yourself, and then pass it down. Giving this kind of service to others brings happiness and light back to us.
Life after hockey will come expectedly or unexpectedly, either way, it is okay. Acceptance is strength, while resistance is part of the unconscious fear that we refuse to acknowledge. We must go deep within and look at what we believe and expect to happen to us once we leave hockey. Let's bring light to any unconscious lies. Let's recognize those limited and false beliefs. It is time to evolve into a more compassionate being and to experience inner peace, true inner peace.