Sweating Towards Enlightenment

buddha beats strong guyStrength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
—-Mahatma Gandhi

“You look upset!” she observed as I trudged into her office.

Fidgety and on the verge of tears, I slumped, exasperated, onto my spiritual director’s couch. “Yet again, I feel like I’m sputtering with everything– building my counseling practice, my daily meditation…” I paused and grabbed a tissue. “Even hospice volunteering is losing its luster…”

This was not the first time Karen had listened to my lament. However, as always, she patiently listened to my rant and after a few moments, leaned forward, curled her hand under her chin and asked:

“So what do you think Shaun T would say?”

For those unfamiliar with the guy, Shaun T is the creator of the Insanity workout, aptly titled for its brutal batter on the body. Fresh off the program, I had recently boasted to Karen that on the first day I vomited within five minutes but immediately jumped back in and finished it. I slogged through the nearly two-month boot camp sore, surely and hurling profanities at the TV screen as he relentlessly pushed to “dig deeper!”

Even vomiting did not deter me. A few days later, I threw myself into another, grueling exercise plan.

I am a self-described fitness maniac. I enjoy the sculpted muscles, intoxicating endorphin high and puffed up pride knowing I can go to the mat with many of the ridiculously hard-bodied cast members in my DVD collection.

However, deep below the surface lies a more existential reason for why I continually spar with my body.

To remind myself that I am alive. Literally.

As someone living with a chronic, life-threatening condition, my body has taken more than its share of hits over the years; multiple surgeries, hellish migraines and a few, very frightening brushes with death. Yet, when I wake up with a sore hip, cramped leg or crunchy lower back I feel blessed. Pain has become a sacred reminder that despite the lack of control and uncertainty that my body bumps up against, it still works.

However, my stamina does not always translate into other areas of my life. I lose patience, enthusiasm and drive.

This very paradox was underlying Karen’s question.

Reflecting on her words, I came home from the session and tossed a few of my favorite workouts into the DVD player hoping to find some contagious inspiration.

“The work doesn’t start until you get tired”
When I first began doing extreme workouts, I thought: are you f****n’ kidding me? How many sets of suicide jumps, burpees, switch kicks and power jumps can a person endure before going into cardiac arrest? However, as I continued to push through, an interesting dichotomy emerged: the more fatigued I became, the more invigorated I felt. Being able to fire it up just when I feel I cannot tolerate one more second of pain has ignited other areas of my life. I stay with, rather than push away the prickly feelings that arise during meditation, accept with more ease that building a business takes awhile, and despite being challenging at times, am committed to showing up for my weekly volunteer hospice caregiving shift.

“A break can save you”
Whether it’s letting my body have a respite for a few days, untethering from social media, or letting my stack of half-finished blog posts hibernate in my “in-process blog” folder, permitting myself to take time off helps me rest, reboot, and tend to my achy muscles. And heart.

“Trust and believe I’m going to get you where you need to go”
Shaun T admits: “I love killing people.” And while his quasi-militant style suits me, I appreciate when–if only for a few moments–he pauses, makes us breathe, hydrate, and “find your life.” We need others to stretch us beyond our self-imposed limits and help build us back up when our spiritual, intellectual and physical muscles sag.

“Just as in life, as long as you’re constantly progressing it doesn’t matter how gradually”
I’ll be honest. While I have completed many hardcore exercise programs over the years I rarely follow them by the book. I often take longer than the allotted schedule, more than one or two days off and change the DVD order around. But I manage to find a rhythm that works for me.

The Dharma of Working Out reminds me to approach struggle, uncertainty and even mortality the same way I do with exercise: with mindfulness, determination and most of all, gratitude.
And that regardless of how one gets there, sweating towards enlightenment is deceptively simple: you just have to keep pressing play.

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