This is basically an opinion piece about the gym. You could file this one under general motivation/general bitching and complaining. Commentary on fitness may seem unrelated to the type of work we do. But the two have some overlap, sort of like the body and mind.
The modern gym is a horrible place. It’s a horrible place that I go to a few times a week. And the modern gym, this horrible place, is actually my refuge from a place that’s horrible for a different reason, school. I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with a few free thinkers who challenged me to look deeper. And so while when I was 17, the gym was a place for me to get muscles and eventually girls (it never happened), it has become something entirely more valuable. The gym is a place for contemplation of my limits and the dissolution thereof on mental, physical, and spiritual planes, sometimes simultaneously (See: Sarah McLachlan). I’m not particularly strong. I’m not particularly gifted in the athletic department. I have body proportions that have been described by some as “unique.” 70 inches of legs with like… 2 inches of head and torso. It makes a bench press difficult. But it doesn’t matter. Working at a disadvantage only developed my stoicism and capacity for problem solving. Every bit of progress was hard fought. I learned a lot about myself fumbling around with inanimate iron objects. And in this case those developed attributes literally came at the cost of blood, sweat, and tears. Not that many tears. But sometimes sweat and blood would get in my eye and make tears happen. Or sometimes that Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial comes on the TV at the gym. Gets me every time.
It seems the fitness industry has missed the point. Com-fucking-pletely. Well, I guess it depends the defined goal. If the goal is securing a profit regardless of the value of the product then they nailed it. But if your goal is to be part of the profound realizations, actualization, and betterment of those around you, then they missed the nail and threw the hammer through the window. The fitness industry is another in a long line of industries with a simple message: You are ugly. But don’t worry, we have a product here that can fix it. Think about how fucked up that is. You hear it all day, every day. It is the basis of virtually all advertising.
All of that iron in the gym could amount to something so much greater. A person, given the proper introduction to technique, can literally save their own life (not to mention healthcare dollars) in the gym. Overweight, diabetic, hypertensives could turn things around 1 rep at a time. It’s not the only way. But it’s a way. The fitness industry doesn’t have time for people like that, though. They don’t look as good on posters. Plastic and neon sells. Not hard work from a disadvantaged position. And so the fitness industry perpetuates a paradigm of dissatisfaction with oneself and insecurity rather than opportunity and transcendence. Even though every barbell has within it the potential to participate in the noble cause of saving a life, more often than not they are used by some oblivious faux pas doing curls in the squat rack who spent 45 minutes making sure that his socks matched his shoelaces and all the logos on his form fitting gym gear. He didn’t even make it to skin deep.
The modern gym has polar possibilities, but is currently biased in a direction of narcissism, and ineffectual hamster wheels that promise to isolate and tone… An untenable guarantee of profit without effort. Wasted potential and missed opportunity.
The fitness industry has succeeded by its own measure of profit. Because every time I go to the gym, there is a horde of people isolating and toning, making sure that they continue to look pretty without ever going an inch deeper than the surface, what they can see at the level of their skin. You’re probably wondering why I’m going on and on and on about this.
Everything you do in one realm of your life will be reflected in the others. If your main purpose in any endeavor is to “look” a certain way, you’re shorting yourself, you’re shorting your family, and you’re shorting the world at large. Just as a barbell has the potential to be a tool in true expansion, life-saving even, people often perform far below their potential in many aspects of life. Keep in mind I said main purpose. No one works out thinking, man I hope this doesn’t in any way improve my appearance. Ego in moderation.
If your primary goal is to be pretty or look a certain way, then as soon as things start to look ugly, you’re going to fucking quit. As soon as things get difficult you will fucking give up. If your goal is to look pretty, the deepest your principles can be rooted is the skin. That’s only a few millimeters. And a soft breeze will uproot anything you’ve cultivated. You simply won’t have the stick-toitiveness necessary to see a battle through to its resolution.
So start deeper. Think of yourself as something more than the advertising and fitness industries tell you that you are. You are not an object. You are the incredibly unlikely coalescence of complexity and forces that we can’t even begin to understand. And even though you can’t define the totality of your existence, you have access to all of it. To ignore your own depth for what you see in the mirror is a greater sin than most articulated by any religion. If you cultivate strength… strength of spirit, strength of mind, and strength of body, you won’t quit when things get ugly. The world needs something more from you. I haven’t done any well rounded research, but my intuition tells me that any meaningful work you can do in your lifetime will be performed from a disadvantaged position. This applies to your personal struggles. This applies to international medical relief work. This applies to succeeding by any measure you choose.
I can’t help but think of Haiti when I’m at the gym. I can’t help but think of Haiti when I’m anywhere, really. Every Haitian I know would have a stroke if they saw the inside of a Walmart. The overarching situation there isn’t pretty at all (Haiti, not Walmart, though an argument could be made). Disadvantaged would be an understatement. Yet these conditions are the genesis of a collective, profound strength developed by people that never quit, never complain, and never stop pushing. If it weren’t for the work I had done in the gym, the gradually increasing application of weight/stress, the exploration of my deeper faculties, and the breaking of seemingly impossible barriers, I would have only ever made one trip to Haiti and never gone back. And it is because of that effort in the gym, an effort that spills into other areas of my life, that I can humbly meet the Haitians eye to eye and say let’s do some work together. After all, this is what really matters. Being strong for the sake of moving the next weight doesn’t mean much to me. What matters is the force we can generate in the arena of our choosing as a result of our sacrifice and preparation.
For those of you who still aren’t buying it, wondering how you’re ever gonna get laid if you don’t spend hours a week on your biceps and inner thighs, here’s a little piece of logic: If you focus on true strength, however you define it, confidence and the much sought after attractive appearance will be a natural byproduct of that effort. But the opposite is rarely true. Rise to the challenge. And realize that personality will get you laid long before the striations in your deltoids.