Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tempus Fugit and Carpe Diem

carpe-diemAll my life, I have heard people say, “Time flies, especially as you get older.” But for me, time always seemed to pass about the same. Sometimes it even felt like the month of April when I was twelve–seemingly interminable, but usually time just passed, neither fast nor slow; it just went. Carpe Diem wasn’t on my mind until after the movie, “The Dead Poets’ Society.” Then, it was on everyone’s lips. But as far as Carpe Diem went, I already had.

In my twenties, I was a big fan of one of the early self-help book writers, Hugh Prather. In his book, I Touch the Earth, the Earth Touches Me he writes“It’s not that “today is the first day of the rest of my life,” but that “now” is all there is of my life.” The fact that now is all anyone has resonated with my philosophical bent. But it makes sense even to my everyday experience. The past does not exist outside of memory, and the future is nonexistent, having not occurred yet. Which leaves humanity submerged in the ever-changing present, flowing around us. As I saw it, if I was to live, I had to seize what was going by before it was gone forever.

But Prather’s books didn’t only teach me to “seize the day” they also taught me something about how to stay centered, no matter what I was doing.  In one passage, Prather describes going to the Post office and his infant son being fascinated with the bushes along the way. This lodged in my brain, and has become like a dedication to me.  On Crete, when I walked down the sidewalks, I made it a point to notice the color and scent of the oleanders. On the way home, I gazed out across the island’s vineyards at the blue Mediterranean Sea and the island of Dia. No matter how insignificant a place I am in or how mundane a place I am going to–I focus on where I am and it keeps me centered in the moment.

Lately, I’ve been reading and listening to Brendon Burchard,  renowned writer and creator of the High Performance Academy, and he agrees that one slows time by being mindful and focused. He talks about how, “People are doing everything and yet life feels like it’s just spinning by. Matter of fact, for many people, every week just feels like they didn’t sense or feel any of it. Or if they did, it was frenetic energy. They don’t feel like life has depth, meaning or beauty.”

It is the curious and unhurried eye that brings color back into life. Brendon Burchard

So, people can have a “full” life, filled with softball games, ballet class for the kids, volunteering at the church social, etc, and still feel like life is going by too fast because they took on too much, and ironically, because they’re simultaneously moving on to the next thing. What happens here is that life goes by like the landscape outside your car at sixty miles per hour; There’s no sensory or emotional connection and it’s all an unremembered blur. And even though they feel like they’re busy, and working, it’s not their life’s work they’re busy with—it’s just busy work.  So their moments are actually crammed with obligation and distraction.

And don’t think that obligation and distraction have to be things like TV or Harlequin Romances. Distractions are dangerous because they can seem important. This is where individuals need to examine their Life’s Mission and be very clear about what it entails. Set some time aside, sit down, and write out what your vision of life is and what it will take to get there. And to protect that vision,  set up some guidelines. Like, as a general rule, at first, every draw on your time gets a “no, ” or at least a “let me think about it.” That way you can have some time to give it some serious thought instead of an immediate, unconsidered “yes.” Without a clear idea of what you want out of your life and some rules to keep life on track, life can slip away one distraction at a time.

Burchard points out an excellent example of how attention and focus affect our perception of time. He asks if you’ve ever been in a car accident or a situation where there was an emergency, and it seemed like everything went in slow motion? The reason that happened is because your awareness was heightened and you started taking all this information in because maybe in that situation you felt like you were in danger and were hyper attentive. Or have you watched your kid walk across the graduation stage and it looked like it was in slow motion because that moment meant something to you and you were focused. So, the challenge in experiencing slow time, is deciding to focus our attention and heighten our senses.

There are many efforts one can make to remain focused in the moment. Centering yourself through a short meditation or focusing on your breathing is one way. Setting an alarm on your phone that reminds you, “Stop a moment and take in what’s around you with at least three senses.” Another is just to make it a point to pay attention to something other than visually.  Slow down and savor every bite at meal time. Drink your wine and wallow your tongue in the flavor of it. The next time you go to the mailbox, really listen to the sounds around you.

This will take daily practice to do, as anything worth doing does, and it will take being more critical of how you allow your time to be spent. Life will remain a speeding merry-go-round unless you cut back on obligations that do not fit into your vision for life. Not anyone else’s and not society’s idea of a good life. Your life, or at least your experience of it, is at stake. Isn’t that worth it?

 

Letting Go

Letting Go

 

I love to smoke.

A dozen times a year I find myself thinking about sitting on my patio on Crete looking out at the sea, holding a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in another. Sometimes when I’m on my porch with a cup of coffee and it’s raining, I think, “Man.  A cigarette would be really good about now.” I can still feel the satisfying fullness of a deep inhale and the relaxed release of every exhale.  Even though I quit smoking, these temptations hang onto me, and to some degree, probably will for the rest of my life.  But I have done something that has weakened the power smokes have over me–I have let go.

I don’t mean I have let go of cigarettes, but I have let go of their place in my identity. It turns out that removing them from my sense of self was more important than putting the physical pack aside. I noticed that in every attempt at quitting, I found it impossible to imagine never having a cigarette again.  To think about never being able to drive and smoke or have a glass of wine with a cigarette made me squirm with anxiety. This was my clue that they had a place within me that went deeper than my cells’ addiction–I saw myself as a smoker.

The last time I quit, with the help of nicotine gum to relieve the physical addiction, I was able to focus more on changing my inner attitude toward my bad habit. I centered my attention on how I identified who I was and  who I wanted to be. Having always been adventurous and physical, it was an easy step to more deeply identify with those traits and to point out how smoking ran counter to them.  In particular, the deeper I identified with my fitness self, the less attractive smoking became.

This letting go was a gentle process. For the first time, quitting actually made me happier. In the past, trying to quit was a knock down-drag out and that fight kept happiness at bay. Happiness is generated from within, and when there’s a struggle going on–happiness will not enter. Our ego thinks we can drive out bad habits and addictions through a force of will. We have been conditioned to berate and blame, but those leave us exhausted and demoralized. It’s actually better to quietly usher the unwanted out of our lives.  By calmly ordering the way we see ourselves, we make the habit seem out of place.

Quitting a habit, be it smoking, eating unhealthy food, or drinking too much, has more in common with surrender than fighting. What do I mean by that? Think about what you do when you’re at a restaurant and there’s a lovely cheesecake or craft beer on the menu and you know you do not need those empty calories. Do you order it, eat it, and then spend the rest of the evening hating your weak, loser self? Or, do you insist you don’t want it? That’s a lie though, isn’t it? Rather than hate yourself or lie, why not accept your craving and quietly set it aside in favor of your personal vision–your desired identity. You may have to do this several times and you may even have to compromise–have a small piece of cake–but remain at peace, treat yourself with mercy and soon or eventually, you will emerge with a new identity–free of your habit.

This letting go is gentle, but it isn’t characterized by passivity. Let go with specific intention and patience. Let go with a willingness to challenge habits of doing and ways of seeing yourself. Let go of what you have known, no matter how comfortable, in favor of your dream that promises a new life, different pleasures, and unknown adventures. Peace be with you.

 

Faith Value

Leap of Faith
In truth, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

In modern society’s expanding secularity, faith is losing ground; at least, this is true of religious faith.  Faith, to the ever more scientific mind of the common-man, is growing steadily useless and without value.  “What good or use is faith?” Asks the modern believer in the scientific method.  This is really a good question, and one that I’m sure most people, especially religious skeptics, have failed to pursue with any rigor. And before the religious among you get all high-handed, I’d add that, in all probability–neither have you.

The question of what faith is, has birthed many debates  across history.  Theologians and lay persons have sought certainty about what faith is so they could know what was necessary to possess it. When I use the word faith, as in “I have faith in X”, I do not mean that I have confidence in X, or that I hope X is true; I am claiming to know X is true. And I only use the term in the absence of proof. For myself, faith needs uncertainty. Without it, faith is unnecessary, and all we need do is memorize the facts.

Fortunately, for the faithful, uncertainty surrounds us. Every future second does not exist except in our faith.  There is no CSI team on Earth who can discover evidence of God. There are no experts writing texts on the immortal souls of humankind. We need faith to feel anchored in the world, to offer some answers to the questions that haunt us: Where did we come from? What lies in our future, beyond the hour of our death? In truth, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

Scientists need some faith too, I think. Some of the factors used in their studies are very mysterious. Time has never been seen or measured. It has no direct effect in our cause and effect universe, therefore it is undetectable. It does not flow through clocks, yet the scientist knows it is there–somehow.  Newton’s laws of conservation assert that energy cannot be created or destroyed and Einstein’s theory of relativity shows that energy and matter are forms of the same thing, so in view of the laws of conservation, where did all of the matter/energy in the universe come from?Mysterious indeed.

Crushed_Flowers_on_Road
Without faith in my life’s redemption, the hopelessness would have crushed my spirit like an apple blossom underfoot.

Even in the face of obvious needs for faith, how do we know its value? My personal answer arises from my days of clinical depression and subsequent unemployment. I learned the value of faith when it was tested. When I looked in the face of pain and knew I could end it–that was a test. When I lost my teaching position because I wasn’t getting better–that was a test. Like so many aspects of life, my sense of faith’s value remained abstract and unquantifiable until it was lost or tested.  Had I not had faith in my life’s redemption, the hopelessness would have crushed my spirit like an apple blossom underfoot.

In the midst of my darkest days, did I doubt? Absolutely. My faith is as imperfect as I am. But at some level, I knew my doubt did not diminish my need or render me incapable of faith. The path of faith is not being impervious to doubt. It is simply the stubborn refusal to let doubt have the last word.  And so I held on, even when I felt like a failure. Faith’s value remained with me.

Faith is more valuable than diamonds but just as hard. When Peter stood next to Jesus on the water–his faith faltered. Here I am, two thousand years distant in time and unknowable space, how could I expect to be different? Nevertheless, I continue to value faith, even when it’s flawed. Now, my prayer is, if life slips into darkness again, may I remember that my life is what it is, not what I ask for. May I find the strength to bear it, the grace to accept it, the faith to embrace it.

 

Words on the Winter Wind

Winter Haiku

As many of you know, I write poetry and am fairly active in literary circles. I have hosted poetry readings in Hartington’s Library, participated in a poetry contest here in Yankton. (I won) I even wrote an article for the Newspaper when the Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, came to read at Mount Marty. In addition to those, every year I am invited to Words on the Winter Wind, a reading held by the Nebraska Writer’s Workshop and hosted by the Baright Library in Ralston, Nebraska.

This year’s reading occurred just over a week ago, and I thought I might share two of the poems I presented this year. I hope you enjoy them, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


The Snowman

I met him on my walk

About the neighborhood.

He wore his hat and grey jacket

Of dust, some dirt, and leaves

With careless flair, while one

Twiggy arm pointed skyward,

And the other sagged to the ground

In a familiar polarity.

 

Even so, his eyes of coal

Held a sparkling, black glint,

Like he’d just recalled

A childhood memory

That served to warm his heart

On these days when life’s pains

Drifted high in seeming permanence.

 

He canted dangerously to one side;

His small, defective bottom almost

Unable to hold his ample middle

Or his tilted head and hat.

The children who made him

Must have forgotten about

His bottom side in their rush

In the same way I wished

To forget about mine.

 

I passed close and caught his gaze.

My tilted smile mirrored his tilted hat;

We traded silent pleasantries.

The sunlight lit his eyes for a moment,

and in them I felt our warm accord.

“See you tomorrow.” I said.

Then briefly waved and stepped

Around the corner into the wind

Toward home.

Winter II
Photo by Michael Helgerson

 

Winter Siren

In January, a siren of silence calls

Me every morning until

I don my coat and boots and cap

To walk the wooded windbrake

Between the North and me,

Where jointed reeds rake across

A contrailed sky–

Crooked fingers on guitar strings

Plucking pale white tones

That settle on the switch grass

As feathery ice.

 

My labored breath billows

Into smoke, sinking down

To settle around my cold

And heavy feet, until

Soon, I am held still

In an impotent immobility,

Eyes frozen

On everything offered here:

The ringing fullness of prairie earth

Suckling the morning;

The snow top hieroglyphs

Of wings, claws, and feet;

Downy, sunlit frost molting

From trees like fairies.

 

Here, rooted in this moment,

I want for nothing more.

The winter siren’s sing

The song of now and that

Is where–I live.

Orbits

outer-space
Am I in the “Goldilocks Zone” where life is best sustained, or am I orbiting in futility?

 

It’s a new year, and for me at least, it seems that here at the beginning of our solar merry-go-round, I find myself looking back along the arc of our planet’s past orbit. What am I hoping to see? To be metaphorical, I’m looking for what I myself have been orbiting. What I’ve done with my resources, how have those actions improved my life and the lives of my loved ones, and has my life’s work continued to nurture what I value?  Am I in the “Goldilocks Zone” where life is best sustained, or am I orbiting in futility?

This is very important to me.

Just like you, I only have a limited amount of time, energy, and attentiveness. Those are the foundational resources of my life, of everyone’s life, and I want to invest them well and wisely.  I strive to make sure I use those resources in places that advance my dreams and keep my spirit lifted. I want to use them in places where I feel like I’m respected and valued, and where the accomplishments I achieve advance not only me, but others as well. Instead of being, as Meghan Trainor sings, “all about that bass,” I’m all about that service and that is my primary orbit.

Every segment of my life, as delineated by my occupations, has been in some way about service: twenty years in the military, going to college and becoming a teacher, guiding people in the outdoors, being a trainer. All of these are service occupations. That’s what I love to do.

In the new year, I am also looking ahead for what new orbit can I place my service in or what can I do to improve what I am currently doing.  The finger I keep on the pulse of the fitness industry is feeling out new ways for people to reach deeper within themselves and discover the pathways for reaching their dreams. And those dreams are not really about looking good. They are about being healthy, more energetic, happier, and more adventurous. These are all things I want I want my solar system of self and loved ones to revolve around, and I find that living a healthy life is a way to gain them.

Which brings up an unusual point. People see me as a personal trainer and often think that exercise is the central orbit of my life, but that isn’t true. Exercise is not one of my orbits, nor does it fulfill my life—it is a means to living fully. The way I want to live and the achievements I want to leave behind as a memorial, are not direct results of my exercise, eating and sleep habits. Those are tools that create a body more capable of achieving my dreams.

Something wonderful
What’s going to happen? Something wonderful.

During this Year’s infancy, I urge everyone to move beyond their habits, and turn their attention to the values they have chosen to orbit. The why’s behind their hopes and dreams. Take the poet, Rainer Rilke’s, famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a pilgrim’s spirit:

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of fluidity? To be comfortable with uncertainty is to gain a great peace.
• What is my next challenge in daring to grow as a human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What new creation waits to be born in and through me?

Once your eye turns inward, you can begin to discover the values behind your orbits. “How do I spend my time? Why do I value spending it in that way? When did I give so much meaning to food? Why? When did I give so much value to watching TV? Sporting events?” Seriously ask, “Is it really necessary? Is the way I spend my time good for me and my family? Does it keep me from my dreams?  Answering these questions are as important, if not more important, than a gym membership or changing your diet. Discover what you’re orbiting and why. The answers are what will keep your diet, exercise, and health, permanent.

Nobody’s Perfect

perfectionism1-300x185

I am a perfectionist. Well, at least when it comes to some things. Take writing, for example. I’m terrible at getting a new poem or story written because I want it to be perfect. Often, I won’t even start writing unless I know I have a large enough time-block to ensure the end product is perfect. What is up with that? Perfectionism makes doing nothing better than doing something? Really?  And here’s the kicker–I know this behavior will get me nowhere and is counter productive, yet I do it anyway. So what can we do to stop sabotaging ourselves and undermining our happiness this way?

First, we need to realize that perfectionism isn’t really about the product of one’s effort. No. It’s more about how that product will reflect back on the creator–you. Perfectionism is more about your own insecurities more than any need for perfection. A form of self-consciousness that borders on narcissism pure and simple. Sure, we can hide behind assertions of striving for greatness or not doing anything halfway, but at the very heart of it, it all comes down to, “What is everyone going to think of me when they see this?”

Yeah, that’s right. Perfectionism turns everyone back into high-strung freshmen standing in front of their closets of uncool clothes on their first day of high school, not someone you’d ever find striding confidently from the pages of a best-selling self-help book. There is a good side to wanting to be better, or even the best, but there’s a strong, yet subtle difference between what’s healthy and what’s not. Healthy striving is self-focused, “How can I be better?” Not, “What will everyone think?”

Practice
Healthy striving is self-focused, “How can I be better?” Not, “What will everyone think?”

Another factor that drives perfectionism, and this one is certainly tied to the first, is that people are judgmental. Everyone knows Geico can save you fifteen percent in fifteen minutes, and everyone knows that people can be jerks. So in light of the facts, people protect themselves by attempting perfection. Not to be a smart aleck, but, “How’s that working out for you?” It’s not? Thought so.  Face it, no matter what you do–people are going to be critical jerks and it has little to do with you actually. It’s more of a charge for them than anything. Do they really care about the extra pounds you’re carrying? No. They just get a sadistic kick out of pointing it out and assigning you some character flaw.

But what about if you’re thinking, “I don’t want to be perfect. I just want to be really good. Can I be great?” Sure you can, but the same rules apply. Healthy striving focuses inward and on the journey. Unhealthy striving is concerned with what’s outside yourself and on the finished product.  It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced and photo-shopped world very dangerous. People need to keep their focus on the process more. We see movie actresses, writers, or fitness models and we think, “Wow, they’re perfect.” But we forget that what we see is preceded by years of dedication, failure, and effort, which will continue if the ultra-fit starlet wants to stay that way.

Success II
It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced and photoshopped world very dangerous.

Humans have come a long way and will probably go much further, but perfection isn’t in the cards. Personally, I see peril in the finding of ultimate perfection because it means a level of permanence or static existence. Is that what we want?  Perhaps we’ll never know how far our path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward isn’t any Olympian gold medal but rather the lowly race itself.

 

Landslide

From 1985 until 1991, I was in the Air Force and stationed on the Mediterranean island of Crete. When I first arrived, I was in my mid-twenties and my being there was the culmination of a life-long dream, at least up to that point. And I took full full advantage of it by drinking everything in. At work, I was known as the “Marlboro Man.” One, because I smoked Marlboro’s, (Duh) and two because, more often than not, I spent my days alone, hiking trail, climbing sheer cliffs, and riding my bicycle along the Island’s backroads.

One such ride was an annual event for me. Every year at Greek Orthodox Easter time I straddled my trusty mountain bike and set off on an arduous century ride across the island. The hundred miles of steep, twisting roads from one side of Crete to the other crossed one of the island’s highest mountain ranges and took about twelve hours to complete round trip. I could have done it faster, but speed was never part of my intent. Just getting from one end point to another was not what I was after; it was the infinite points between the two coasts that I sought.
One of those infinite points came near the end of my second annual trip. I had pulled to the side of the road just before descending the first switchback at the lip of the highlands, the part of the island that overlooks the narrow strip of coastal plain. I stopped there, still straddling my bike, to take in the soon to be twinkling villages and towns that dotted the olive landscape over a thousand feet below. Being the Eighties, my ubiquitous Sony Walkman was playing a mix of my favorites. And at that moment, Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac played down the headphones. The music and the late evening light played a soft duet through my senses. The evening scents of the sea and the surrounding spice of aromatic plants sang their roles as well.

I turned to look behind me, and there stood the towering peak of Mount Dikti, snow-covered and lit with a soft-pink alpen glow. Just then, the hushed, husky voice of Stevie Nicks sang, “Climbed a mountain and I turned around And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills;” at that moment every ache and spiritual longing, every distant, fallen love rose to the surface of my being. I could not turn my tear-filled eyes from that scene until long after its last note trailed away.

I have always loved that song, as it is one of those anthems to loneliness that perfectly describes my teen years. But from that moment, perched on the veranda of Crete, onward, it became something more. It was no longer just a song of lost love or regret; it reached deep into who I was, what formed me, and what would be the architect of my future. Like the song says, I was getting older and was afraid of changing, but there was a need for both.

I didn’t want to ride on, that moment held me there, afraid to lose it for some time. Obviously, I did ride on. The sun was setting, and I had to return to work the next day. But I never really rode away from that moment. I carried it with me and I still do.

Mt Dikti
“…at that moment every ache and spiritual longing, every distant, fallen love rose to the surface of my being.”

Bearing Witness

September 11th 2001. I was driving to a morning college class when NPR started reporting that an aircraft of some kind had crashed into the side of the World Trade Center. No one yet understood the scope of what had happened, but within the hour we all knew.  Right after class, the school day basically ended as the horror was revealed and video feeds started coming in. My fellow students and I sat in one of the auditorium classes watching it all unfold on a big screen. We stared in disbelief at what we were seeing and the conversations started, “Who did this? What does it mean to all of us? How will our lives change?  I think many of us still struggle with some of those questions.  

9-11
Commemorate / The fallen so easily relinquished / To ash and concrete dust

As a writer, I dealt with some of my own emotions by creating a poem shortly after the 9/11 disaster. I hope you all remember in your own way and keep asking those questions. 

Bearing Witness

Ground Zero.
Stories strewn everywhere–
Imprinted on our world,
Filtered through lenses, written in lines;
Chronicles of heroism and horror
Relayed in broadcasts and recounted,
Until twisted into steel images
Suffused with the survivor’s
Burden of bearing witness.

Stories embedded in memory
Are conveyed in image and artifact:
A wall of smoke, looming;
Two skyscrapers, gone;
A Pennsylvania field, gouged.
A miraculous montage bears witness
To the borrowed stories
Preserved in lost shoes,
A briefcase, a baseball cap,
Airplane fragments,
The facade of the Pentagon,
Its encrusted door, broken distorted,
Akin to the stooped bent shoulders
Of a Rodin Sculpture–
Strong, sorrowful,
Crushed beneath the ruin.

Rescue these disasters,
Meditate.
Neither explain nor analyze–
It is too soon for that.
Commemorate
The fallen so easily relinquished
To ash and concrete dust;
The lives lost and lives spared;
Lives given over–buried
Some briefly
Some forever–

Sitting on the Roadside

Crete Sunset
Sunset from the Old Road on Crete

In the mid to late eighties, I lived on the Greek Island of Crete for six years. I was stationed there at Iraklion Air Station, a half-hour drive from Iraklion, Crete’s largest city. It was literally a dream assignment for me because when I was in the third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Rogers, took a cruise to Crete with her son, who was in the Navy. After her return, she created a slide show from that vacation and showed it to my class. Ever afterward, I deeply ached to live there. I read everything I could find about the island, looked at picture books of Crete, and watched every National Geographic Documentary about the Mediterranean. And when I found out I could be stationed there, I put in for an extended long tour.

Crete is an island in more ways than one. Mainland Greece is not really a first world nation. Parts of it are, but many regions are anachronistic, and Crete is an even further step back. It is an island of antiquity. People still heat their homes with wood, have dirt floors, and many still ride on mules or donkeys to get around. Once you remove yourself from the coastlines where all the tourists flock every summer, you find yourself in another century.

The city of Iraklion, however, is an island in the other direction.  It is an isolated pocket of the “first World.” It has a large urban population, which brought with it urban attitudes. The Greeks of Iraklion moved fast. In particular, they loved to drive fast. The government had recently built what everyone called, The New Road, a four lane highway built for speed. It replaced, I kid you not, the Old Road, a two lane highway that hugged the meandering  and rocky coastline. The two roads were like metaphors for each era. The super fast one for the early digital age and the slow, scenic one that called to mind our agrarian roots. Along the Old Road were turn-outs at most every curve, and in the evening, as men made their way home, they would pull into those turnouts and stop, get out, lean against the hood and watch the setting sun.

This always struck me as a little odd. Why did these people choose the Old Road, when, as I said, they liked going fast. Getting where you were going quicker than anyone else–mattered.  It took me just one time of getting in someone’s way to learn all kinds of rude foreign gestures. For two, machismo is something very important to the average Greek male, and sitting by the roadside to gaze into the sunset seemed counter to that need for manliness. But there they were, every evening, smoking cigarettes and gazing out over the sea.

I remember asking an English-speaking friend of mine, Mike the rug-man, about it. He said, “It’s a good thing to do–to slow down and think on your life. You know, in Greece, philosophy is very important, and we try to honor this.” Okay, that made sense. The way Mike put it, in the light of Greek history, men relishing the end of their day seemed less unusual. These fellows were out there living the examined life of Socrates and Plato. I got that.

For me, taking time to savor the moment was a part of my routine. When I arrived home at the end of the day, I would hop on my mountain bike and tool out to the same cliffs. That’s how I encountered the Greek men’s habits–through my own need for solitude. Now that I knew more about why they did it, I felt like I was part of some ancient tradition, like I belonged to the culture a little more. I even tried waving to them, but that didn’t go over. They only scowled. I guess waving would have eroded their rough exteriors a little too much.

Now, nearly thirty years later, people race faster than ever and it’s killing them. Perhaps, this digital era could learn a valuable lesson from those men who set aside their breakneck bravado for a moment in order to savor the passing minutes of their life. If we don’t do that, what is life about?

 

“What’re You Training For?”

A few weeks ago, an older fellow who had watched me groan out four sets of heavy (for me) deadlifts, approached and asked, “What’re you training for?” When I stopped writing in my workout log and looked up, I could tell by his slightly raised eyebrows and turned head, that he was failing to imagine why a gray-haired fellow   should be putting forth that kind of effort.  No prob, I’d been here before.

I had a ready answer–“High Function. I’m in my mid-fifties, and I want to keep myself able-bodied: able to work on my property, able to rock climb, able to hike or bike long distances, and able to play with my children.”

Crack Girl
Sometimes we work out in order to play.

Basically, I refuse to resign myself to the line of thinking that asserts, “strength building is for competing athletes and the young.  As an older person himself, he should’ve known  this, but he didn’t. Why not? Because this line of thinking goes against the mainstream grain. Just spend a little time perusing the internet and gazing at all the fitness selfies. Working out is portrayed to be mostly about looking good.  You never see selfies or videos of folks using their rippling muscles to landscape their yard, haul a load of bricks, or pull their kids around in a sled.  (If there were, the participants would be half-naked) You don’t see the before video of someone unable to carry their own groceries up a few flights of stairs and then the after video of them doing it with ease. You don’t see someone getting out of breath after a few points of volleyball and then six-weeks later spiking the winning point. No, you see overweight people getting thin and telling everyone, “I look great!” Which is fine in a narrow outlook, but fitness is about far more than that.

shoveling-dirt-m
Sometimes we workout in order to work

Athletes and the young shouldn’t have a corner on strength training. For the most part, they are only trying to improve their game or going for finer aesthetics–doing curls for girls and thighs for guys. Their muscles aren’t slowly deteriorating. Their connective tissue isn’t steadily growing stiffer. Their bones aren’t thinning and turning brittle.  Their metabolism isn’t slowing. Not yet anyway. (Heh, heh, heh) In light of those much more serious reasons alone, the old are the ones who should be the most concerned with strength training, because it is the medicine that will keep the symptoms of aging at bay.

So, If you find yourself watching some older person crank out four sets of squats in the gym and wondering what the hell he or she is up to, remember that they have more pressing reasons than anyone to be under a heavy bar.  So do you. Under the flow of time, your body is eroding away, and neither you or anyone else can dam the stream. The best each of us can do is put our time to good use, and as time flows, harness your body’s energy in order to rejuvenate yourself.  Use your time to get inside a gym or start a home strength program and build a better body, one that is stronger, faster, more supple, and tireless.