Did you know the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico are the fastest and most athletic runners on Earth? They are rumored to run marathons effortlessly well into their sixties.
Such is their ability that the animals they pursue literally run out of energy, succumbing to Tarahumara hunters out of sheer exhaustion. Could their wisdom help us achieve true sustainable leadership? It seems that more and more executives are becoming addicted to running.
After endless work days at the office they drive back home to dress up in ultimate technology running gear, and race out to trot around posh city areas as fast as their limbs – and ultra-sensitive chip implanted clothing – will carry them. But while Tarahumara indians run for pleasure without getting a single injury, however, big city executives run to win. So much so that injuries are considered necessary consequence of sports. The fact is we live in a culture of pursuit.
We are primed into it by our entire education system and social structure since childhood. It’s all about how to be successful. How to achieve this, how to fulfill that. Goals, races, competitions. We pursue good grades at school. Then we pursue ideal family photos and spotless career records. When we’ve kind of done all this we become bored and restless. So we do an MBA, where we are reminded once more that there are many higher mountains we haven’t climbed before.
We’re fooled into believing it’s about getting to the top. But it’s really all about pursuit. Once we’ve achieved our goals or fulfill our desires we become restless again. Sadly, we live to run. In stark contrast, Tarahumara indians, like so many other indigenous cultures who still live like a small component of their Natural surroundings, run to live. Athletic experts by and large have turned to this mysterious population of no more than 70,000 people living on the Mexican Sierra Madre mountain range to relearn what running is about. Despite using no shoes, or the simplest skinny-soled sandals, our tribal friends can run several hundred kilometers over hostile rocky terrain.
Fatigue, ankle sprains and knee problems are not something they worry about. Obviously they grow up this way. Conditioning our body muscles to run since childhood would certainly help us avoid rooky mistakes as adults. But there’s something else I find fascinating. They use their feet, ankles and knees exactly the way they are supposed to be used. They don’t exert their bodies in pursuit of idealistic goals like other people’s respect, higher social status or economic success. They don’t force movement out of their limbs that doesn’t happen spontaneously and pleasurably.
This is something we only do in the world of competitive civilization. I define leadership as perfect adaptation to the context. Millions of years of Evolutionary design shaped our human bodies to respond instantly with the exact amount of aggression, or empathy, or any given leadership quality, we need to overcome any challenge. Before we even need to think about it, our body is already calculating how it should respond to the Natural environment and potential dangers it is facing. It knows exactly how much to bend this muscle and how little to tense that tendon.
Our body is equipped to overcome more complex challenges than any other species on the planet. And apparently, it is also equipped to run effortlessly to the farthest horizons our gaze can set upon. Our problem is, we don’t let it do what it does best anymore. All this running to fulfill future leadership ideals is crippling our species’ true potential worldwide. As time marches on we invent new technologies to increase our collective speed.
We run around all day fighting against time. We’re so concentrated on the race to close this deal or finalize that market launch that we rarely stop to notice how our bodies are doing. We’re so completely estranged from our own body’s sensations we literally run it into injury, depression, unbearable stress or inevitable illness. The only thing that stops us from running is a full-blown, body driven retaliation in the form of severe injury or acute illness. Isn’t it ironic that our entire education system actually sets us up for failure? It’s all about cultivating our minds. We analyze situations, we deconstruct variables and design formulas to optimize our concepts of success, happiness or fulfillment. We abstract every reality into a black and white plan in our heads, and then we try to interact with the distant, more colorful materiality by applying grey logical methods we’ve only visualized in our mind’s eye. We forget that reality interacts with our bodies, not with our minds.
Approaching life from a bodiless mind is the best possible way to miss out on all those hints felt by our silenced bodies that completely change the scenario we’re playing in. The Tarahumaras have been secretly running to their hearts’ desire for centuries. Everything they do is fully optimized to their body’s perfect technological design.
They wrestle with gravity every second of the day through games that slowly teach them to hunt, to expect the unexpected and to enjoy the challenge of reacting to Nature’s many surprises. There is no competition to be on top. There is no judgment. There is no unrealistic goal to cruelly discipline their body towards. The goal is the body: understanding what it can do, how fast it can move, how much it can flex, and what fuels its desire to run wild, without limit. Tarahumara runners still hold on to a pearl of wisdom we, sophisticated, mind-centric executives, lost long ago. They know that life is a reflection of the body we own.
That loving and nurturing that body exactly the way it is builds our adaptability to any and every challenge we may face in the future. Judging our body as inferior and wishing it to be different, or willing it to do more than it is built to do, only leads to injury and physical deterioration in the long run. Above all, Tarahumara runners remember that every homo sapiens body is designed to lead the fantastic kingdom of Nature entrusted to us all. We are all designed to be leaders.
If we dare. And all we need to do is stop running. Stop pursuing those concepts our minds idealize, and let true leadership find us in every aspect of our lives. Stop living to run and start running to live. Get to know your body’s limits. Discover your heart’s passions. And before you know it, leadership will come looking for you.