Sunday, May 20, 2012

LIfting in the 5th Dimension, Part Twelve - Thomas Foote

"The There in The Here






The Fugue Steppes


Again the old man paused to scan the frustrating sameness of the plain. "How did we become separated?" Path Finder asked himself as he shielded his eyes against the glare. "But then," he thought, "that's how it always happens in these parts."

Crossing the Wastes of the Fugue could be treacherous, he had told his companion. An ancient spell clung to the area. It resulted in a recurrent pattern of events for hapless travelers. Even those, like himself, who were familiar with the Wastes could become mysteriously disoriented and wander dangerously away from their intended course. Though the source of the spell was now forgotten, its consequences were the stuff of legends.

'There are worse things than being lost," Path Finder had reminded The Kid before their separation.

"Like what?" the younger man asked.

"Like being found," Path Finder answered in an ominous tone," by someone, or something, other than a friend."

And now as the old guide stopped to recall that last conversation, he saw what he had hoped he wouldn't see. But the huge tracks were inevitable. They were part of the recurring fugue pattern.

Not fifty yards across the flat, baked plain lay the first print. It was huge! As big as a child's swimming pool, the print's depth spoke of the immense weight of its maker. Like a signature, the three splayed toes, which ended in the trailing marks of heavy claws, announced the saurian presence of the steppe of Pain.

Path Finder now realized that they must have awakened the terrible lizard when The Kid stumbled upon his den. It had happened just before the travelers reached the great Inner Door. The unsuspecting pilgrim had nearly stepped on the sleeping beast, who had become the self-appointed guardian of the 5th Dimension. While Path Finder had acted quickly to silence his clumsy charge, he now knew he had acted too late. And he remembered something else. Like when you're halfway to work and remember that you left your lunch on the table by the front door so you wouldn't forget it, in his mind's eye Path Finder could see that great door, gaping at him wide open.

"I'm gettin' too old for this sort of thing," the guide muttered to himself, shaking his head.

Pain, the sly old dragon that he was, must have been following them all along, just biding his time. The lizard's patience was as cool as his blood. Now Pain had them were he wanted them - out in the open, separated and lost. Path Finder would have to act fast.

Following the beast's trail was easy (if unpleasant). Quickly Path Finder found the faint, shuffling tracks of The Kid as they intersected those of Pain.

"Well," thought the old guide with a sigh, "I did my best to protect the young fool. Now I had better hurry and pick up the pieces."

Path Finder heard The Kid before he saw him. The quiet moans seeped from the depths of a dragon print. Stopping again, Path Finder held his breath as he squinted his eyes and reconnoitered the trail. A disheveled head and shoulders slowly rose above the lip of a near print. Dirt fell from the face, where it had left an imprint, under the weight of Pain's touch.

"Path Finder," the dirty apparition croaked, "is that you?"
"None other," the guide said. "Do you need assistance?"

"Yes," The Kid answered flatly. "Did you get the number?"

"Number?" said Path Finder.

"Yeah," said The Kid, "the license number of the semi that ran me down." 

"That was no truck," said Path Finder. "That was Pain."

"You're telling me," he said, reaching for the old man's hand. 

Standing on the edge of the print, The Kid slapped more dirt from his worn clothing. Path Finder seemed distracted and nervous as he cast his gaze about for further signs of company.

"One last thing, Path Finder?" he asked with a curious edge to his voice.

The young man's tone of voice caught the guide's attention and he paused to regard him more closely.

"Just one little thing," he reiterated, "is Pain supposed to be good for me, too?"

"He's real," said Path Finder. And with that he turned and strode off.


Ignorance is Bliss

Let's imagine The Kid after dragging himself from under Pain's mighty taloned feet.  

"Somewhere," the young pilgrim ponders, "There are people - fat and soft - who don't hurt."

While he remembers what Path Finder said about "Pain" becoming a companion, rather than an adversary, he is skeptical.

"If ignorance is bliss," he reasons, "there must be a lot of happy fat people." 

I can sympathized with him. Understanding pain was a task unknown in his previous existence. As a weight lifter, however, ignorance of pain is not an affordable luxury. Pain and injury are real and must be dealt with.

Many an unsuspecting pilgrim has awakened the beast and found it so alarming an experience to feed him that their journey came to an abrupt end - they quit. It is understandable, that people who don't exercise regularly have misconceptions about pain.


Types of Pain

One of the first distinctions they must learn is the "acute/chronic lesson". Acute pain might be described as your first encounter with the dragon. You awaken that first morning, after beginning the long awaited crusade to reshape your sagging flesh, and know suddenly that you can't sit up in bed without assistance. Pain, himself, has stepped on you while you were minding your own business and dreaming of your new body. It's not fair, is it? Unfortunately, ethics are beyond the capacity of Pain's cold, lizard brain. He steps on the just and the unjust equally hard.

Chronic pain is next. This task requires learning to ride the dragon. It is special knowledge, held by an elite few. Recently a guy at the gym asked me how I was doing. I replied, "Great . . . between injuries." To my surprise he nodded with a knowing smile. I found I wasn't alone. My wife put it a little differently. "You don't get over the 'owies', she said, "you just get used to them."

Like right now. My left shoulder is being visited by the dragon. Injury's great and urgent need for my company has become increasingly apparent. Maybe it's only a house call and he won't settle in for the duration. Injuries seem anxious to visit, but reluctant to take leave.

I've see "P.T.A." scrawled and scratched into weight room walls. The graffiti of sweat. To the initiate, the acronym announces "Pain, Torture and Agony". There have been mornings when my body was a map of pain. Lying still like an accident victim who fearfully and silently surveys himself seeking the as yet unknown extent of damage, I have transversed an inner map from dull aching left knee, to biting lumbar spine, to crippling shoulders, to . . . 


Warning

I don't mean to be discouraging, only honest. Not to discuss pain would be like sending you into dangerous territory, while withholding a key to survival. Pain is multifaceted. It can warn you to safety and generate new thinking.

As Path Finder once pointed out, "Pain is a four letter word". Usually I hate pain. It seems like a foretaste of what getting old is saving for me. It discourages and demoralizes.

There is another side to it. A painful injury has often motivated me to re-evaluate my goals and methods. This is a useful function. Pain becomes a harsh, impartial coach. When lifting weights, it usually signals one of two errors: (1) bad form, or (2) ego-intrusion. Of course the two can be combined. Squats represent a perfect opportunity for both errors and much pain -- lumbar, spinal, acute and extreme. Just put 50 pounds more than you can handle on the bar. Now lean a little too far forward when beginning the upward drive, and overbalance just a bit on one foot. Voila! Did you feel/hear that small, dull "thuck" in your lower back? What follows varies. For me it's much pain, crabbiness and reciprocal crabbiness at home, many dollars at the chiropractor, the loss of my training regime and (last-but-not-least) soul searching reevaluation of goals and means-end relationships.


Case Studies

I've seen a lot of victims upon whom pain has visited. Recently I was "working in" with a guy on the bench press. Spotting for him I noticed what looked like hesitation in his fingers as he went through that very familiar process of setting up his grip. His fingers kind of danced along the bar a little too long before the hands took hold. Then he raised the bar off the standards and, taking a deep breath eased the bar down to his chest. Just before the bar touched, during those last couple of inches when the shoulders -- still cold, were stretched for the first time -- well, his eyes squinched shut and his whole face paled a little.

It hurt! He did the warmup repetitions and then sat up shaking his head. He was mumbling more to himself than to me. "Got cortisone in both shoulders after that injury, don't wanna do it again.' He'd already laid off to two months hoping the pain in his shoulders would go away. It hadn't. With the pain still there and some strength missing, he was discouraged.

There are many others: the guy I could always smell coming because of the liniment, or the one I haven't seen recently with the ruptured lumbar disc.

Pain is real. It's natural. Usually it is a warning signal and you need to pay heed. If you listen to its hateful voice, you can learn valuable lessons. If you don't listen, you get some advanced lessons anyway.


It's Natural

I'm reminded of an event rather far removed from weight lifting. Working on a pasture fence, I was carrying a future corner post on my shoulder. The post happened to be a railroad tie, whose weight increased with every step. When I reached the final resting place I was anxious to be rid of the post. So, easing one end to the ground I pushed the tie off my shoulder just in time to see Rusty, our cocker spaniel, dashing nose down into the arching path of 100 plus pounds of descending, pressure treated, creosoted, scrub-oak railroad tie.

Lucky for Rusty his face got squashed into the mud. With more of a scream than a bark, he lay still. Well, we rushed him to the vet who found no major signs for concern. He even sent us home with no medication for what we presumed to be the canine equivalent of a massive hangover. The pain, the vet explained, would be nature's way of ensuring that Rusty would remain still and rest. Recovery could have been hampered by drugs, which would have masked the pain, and allowed him to move about prematurely. Pain is natural. It serves a purpose.


Ego Traps

One lesson, as I've said, is good form. Many if not all books on weight lifting stress this point. Less discussed is the pride problem. It's sad, but true, that the mind can go into overdrive and literally tear you apart. This is another symptom of the tyranny of the mind over the body. Because you are not sufficiently tuned into your body, your judgement is faulty. You're not listening!

Injuries which result from body-deafness are the most tragic. They shouldn't occur. In most of us the body and mind are neither balanced nor integrated and it is for this reason that we are taking the journey with The Kid and Path Finder. I'll have more to say about Ego-overdrive when we discuss getting lost and regaining perspective in a later chapter.


Semantics of Pain

Let's go back to the statement, "Pain is a four-letter word". It is also esoteric if Path Finder's dictionary is to be trusted. For the moment, we are going to delve into the psycho-linguistics of pain. Pain, like cancer, schizophrenia and intelligence, is a categorical term. That is, it represents a class of presumably related phenomena. We now know that it doesn't mean much, treatment-wise, to say you are suffering from cancer.

Similarly, being schizophrenic means you're messed up mentally in some serious and complex manner -- but not to what degree. Having words like schizophrenia around has been marvelous for the clinician who must mask his ignorance from the lay public. Intelligence is equally guilty as a word which lacks information. You try to pin a psychologist down sometime on a definition and the best you get is "Intelligence is what an intelligence test measures." It's enough to make you crazy.

Pain, unfortunately, is another term which has avoided specificity. Sometimes I hear people attempt to amend the paucity of terminology by qualifiers. "It hurts good or it hurts bad." There is supposed to be some sort of relationship between familiarity or necessity to describe the environment and the subsequent ability of the language to make distinctions. Hence the Eskimos are said to have something like a hundred words for snow. Probably stuff like "morning snow, evening snow, good tracking snow, stay-at-home snow". The Arabs probably have few words for snow, but are said to have in excess of 1000 words for "sword". I don't even want to pursue why this would be the case, but it might give some insight into their politics. I also heard about an African tribe which had 600 words for "cattle". They were nomadic herdsmen. Meanwhile, academicians argue whether language shapes reality or just reflects it. Not being a specialist I'll suggest it does both.

Now, back to pain. I checked our Webster's New World Thesaurus (1974):

pain, n.
1. (suffering, physical or mental) hurt, anguish, distress, discomfort, disorder, agony, misery, martyrdom, wretchedness, shock, torture, torment, passion.

2. (suffering, usually physical) ache, twinge, catch, throe, spasm, cramp, torture, malaise, sickness, laceration, soreness, fever, burning, torment, distress, agony, affliction, discomfort, hurt, wound, strain, sting, burn, crick.

pain, v.
distress, grieve, trouble; see hurt.

What about that "good-hurt soreness" you feel in your pecs the day after a really fine session of benching? Can you imagine saying, "I got a real laceration from those benches yesterday." It does have a sort of a colorful ring to it, but I don't think it conveys the real message very clearly. Aside from the questionable fits like "soreness" and "burn", the Thesaurus contained scant help for a lifter who wants to differentiate between "bad-hurt" (injury) or "good-hurt" (progress). I, for one, am not about to stroll into a weight room and announce that I have a "wretched martyrdom in my quadriceps."

Many of us lack the terminology to deal with the subjective states associated with exercise. It follows that our culture has become sedentary and avoids introspection. By now it has become clear that "self-knowledge" is far more than just a head game. It should also be clear that the word "pain" is a categorical fruit basket, containing many treats -- some good and some not so good. It also is clear why Pain is a dragon. Basically, I've always been fond of dragons, but you have to respect them. They can crush you under foot, as The Kid learned, or become a training partner.

Next: The Far Shore.
 






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