The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hi! My name is Mortimer! What's yours?

Have trouble staying in shape?  Motivating yourself to eat correctly?  Staying on an exercise program?  Once upon a time, you didn’t need an “exercise program”—we played outside, and our entertainments gave us skinned knees and pounding hearts and sweaty clothes.

Up in the northwest, I noticed a large percentage of overweight people who were descended from logging families, now working in warehouses.  Social eating patterns have not changed, and excess weight is the inevitable conclusion.  These are not lazy people, not stupid people, not self-hating people—these are people trapped by the human tendency to do as little as possible to achieve a given result.  By a culture that puts hamburgers on every corner, and makes it possible to buy an entire day’s food with an hour’s work.  Never in human history has animal protein been so readily available, and apparently risk-free.

Everything in civilization exists to lull us into thinking our animal instincts and urges are part of some distant evolutionary past.  I submit to you that that is a damaging lie, and that all of these subterfuges are part of an attempt to deny death and decay.

When you make intimate contact with the inevitability of your mortality, there are only two real reactions: a fatalistic “what difference does it all make” or a commitment to live every day to its limit, to outgrow your own limitations, to conquer your fears, to do everything in your power to bring your dreams into existence in the short time we have to do this dance.

There are secrets to success that can be put into words, and there are those that cannot.  One of the latter category is found in the arena of the body. I can mince around it, but unless you’ve experienced it, you may not understand or believe.

It goes something like this: when you are “in the zone” physically, when you are running, or sparring, or lifting weights, or dancing, and are totally absorbed in the activity, you reach a place where it feels that you are standing still, and the rest of the world is moving around you.  What is the color and sound of this place?  What does it look like? Feel like?  What is its temperature?

It is a purity, and one of the most illusive things in all of sports.  But when you experience it, know that it is analogous to the space you must access to be successful in any other arena of life.

To reach this space, you can’t train too often, or too infrequently.  Too intensely, or too gently.  Too competitively, or too “New-Age-y”.  There is a balance, and the character of that balance changes from day to day, person to person, activity to activity.

Here’s a clue: find an activity where you can reach “Second Wind.”  This is the space you’ll enter after 15-17 minutes of steady state activity.  At about 7-12 minutes, the demons in your mind will be howling at you, trying to get you to quit.  If you’ve found the right activity, in a few more minutes they will grow quiet.  The membrane, the edge, the place between noisy and quiet, the moment of “surrender” to the process will almost certainly happen while your mind wanders to something else.

PAY ATTENTION TO THIS.  This moment of surrender, of immersion, of floating the river of fatigue, effort, concentration, coordination, intensity…this is one of the doorways to success. The Monkey-Mind voices that rail at you to stop are analogous to the voices that will devil you in any other arena as well.

What do the voices say, when they talk you out of eating properly.  Stretching daily.  Walking in the sun.  Playing Frisbee with your dog.  Learning a new sport.  Hiking in the hills.  Biking with your kids.  HOW DO THEY TRICK YOU?  Do they say “we’ll do it tomorrow?” “It’s too late?”  “What difference does it make?”  “You’ll  embarrass yourself?”  “People will laugh?”  Whatever they say, WRITE IT DOWN.  Become familiar with what they do to you.  The more familiar you are, the less power they will have.  Start understanding the patterns. 

There is strength in knowing, and naming your demons.  My head demon’s name is Mortimer.  What’s yours, and how does she drag you down physically?

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