Sunday, June 2, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron - Part Three


The greatest potential from lifting weights lies in doing so as a path for personal growth. When one lifts from this motive some marvelous things can happen, and one can be transformed. As such, lifting becomes a "way." This idea of the path or the way deserves further explanation.

In Taoist philosophy the "way" is a central concept. Through Taoist influence, particularly in China and Japan, the "way" came to have special and deep meaning. The Japanese word for this is "do" as in aikido, judo, and kendo. It can be described as the path to enlightenment, a fine-tuning of the self in harmony with the universe. The Taoist position is that eternal truths cannot be learned through direct verbal teaching, for they cannot even be put into words. Such learning must come obliquely, as through parable, metaphor, and implication. Disciplined physical activity provides the lived experience of such metaphor and implies the eternal truth. So, as one practices his physical discipline, he is immersing himself in an activity which can lead to knowing and understanding life. This understanding or enlightenment cannot be gotten second hand through the words which about someone else's experience, but only by experiencing this truth one's self. The process is unexplainable, and intuitive. The various "do's" are well-developed systems of holistic pursuit (i.e., involve all aspects of the person: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual). They provide a disciplined exposure to experiences which serve as the metaphors for enlightenment. 

Such experiential learning requires time; it is not through brief exposure that deep understanding comes. Reflecting this, some of the techniques of the "do's" are termed "twenty year techniques," meaning that at least that long is required for their mastery. To master the entirety of a particular "do" could require much longer, even a lifetime.

In the Western world there is also attention given by some to the idea of a "path." I find that part of Don Juan's discussion with Carlos Castaneda to be of particular help in adding an important perspective on the meaning of a path. Don Juan explains that there are many paths, so each path is only one candidate among a million. The idea is to look at several available paths, and after close and deliberate examination, to choose one. If, after traversing a path for awhile you find that it is not right for you, then abandon it, and seek another path. If a path is not right for you, you must leave it. This decision can only come through a disciplined experience with the path. The decision to keep to a particular path or abandon it must be free from fear or ambition. The important question to ask is: Does this path have a heart? A path with heart makes for a joyful journey. As you follow it you are at one with it and it makes you strong. A path without heart will weaken you and make you curse your life.

Applying these ideas to lifting weights, I have come to the following conclusions:

1.) The lifting of weights, in its several forms, can be a path for enlightenment, a "way."

2.) The amount of growth one realizes from the path of lifting weights depends on the degree of discipline and the length of time one spends on the path.

3.) Lifting weights is a path particularly suited to a Western world view.

4.) Lifting weights is not a path for everyone, and is of value only for those who, after traveling it for a while, find it has "heart."

I hope that these conclusions come to have greater meaning via the material which follows in this and the succeeding chapters.

I mentioned above that the amount of growth one realizes from following the path of lifting weights depends on one's degree of discipline. Perhaps in reaction to the rigidity of Victorian morals and activities inspired by that morality, the idea of discipline has become distasteful to many. To many, discipline means forcing one's self to do something which one does not want to do. Such forcing inevitably leads to resistance, resentment, and the abandoning of the activity as soon as that seems safe. This distorted view of discipline is consistent with the "I should" motive which I discussed in Chapter 1. 

Another frequent confusion is between compulsion and discipline. Discipline, freely chosen, is what keeps one on the path. Discipline means to respect the path and one's growth enough to want to stay on it with care and attention, at times even when it is difficult. Again, it does not mean to comply compulsively, no matter what. It means to be committed to working on one's self through the pursuit of growth-oriented experiences. Discipline is consistent, then, with the motives of "I have to in order to," and "I want to." It is a hallmark of the "path of personal growth" motive.

The disciplined lifter is careful about lifting, careful about following his plans, careful about diet, careful about form in executing a lift or exercise movement. Sometimes this care means nudging oneself to go ahead and work out. It does not mean forcing! A good example of this was given by a well-known bodybuilder who stated that he never worked out when he didn't feel like it. He noted that working out when one is not in the mood means just going through the motions, simply "showing up" and lifting aloofly, and that gains are absent from such uninspired training sessions. However, he also went on to describe a few of the many techniques he used to get himself in the proper frame of mind when this lack of inspiration arose.

The value of discipline is learned through the experience of discipline. Through the disciplined following of the path of lifting weights, one can come to recognize the nature of discipline, as distinct from compulsive forcing of activity, and to truly know its value as an element of transformation. 

In the Orient, the martial arts have been the predominant physical disciplines pursued for personal growth. In India, it has been Hatha Yoga. A basic and important difference between the martial arts and Hatha Yoga is that the martial arts are designed for combat; they involve physical techniques developed for self-defense. Hatha Yoga, on the other hand, is more purely a discipline for working on one's self.

Hatha Yoga is one of many forms of Yoga, all of which are practiced as paths to enlightenment. It is the basic yoga of physical discipline, the yoga which teaches mastery of the body. Its major focus is on the practice of progressively more difficult "asanas" or postures, and the practice of breathing techniques or "pranayama." Diet and meditation are additional aspects of the system. Through Hatha Yoga one can develop the physical health and strength to support the more advanced yoga.

Hatha Yoga is among the oldest yoga practices, dating back at least to 2500 B.C. So, it has, through its long evolution, been keenly refined. And, it is this yoga which is best known and most widely practiced in the West.

I see an analogy between lifting weights, or, more specifically, bodybuilding, and Hatha Yoga. Bodybuilding is to the West what Hatha Yoga is to India. Both are systems of physical practice for the development of the self. Because of its higher degree of refinement, Hatha Yoga can be taken as a model for the disciplined physical practice of working on one's self. It is a model for the seeking of enlightenment through experience in the flesh. As such, the weightlifter can learn much from Hatha Yoga as a model for lifting weights. 

Let us look at some of the differences between Hatha Yoga and lifting weights. As mentioned above, Hatha Yoga is of ancient origin, perhaps well over 4000 years old. As a system, lifting weights is less than 100 years old. Most of the weightlifting movements used today were derived from a standard set of exercises introduced by Theodor Siebert in Germany in 1907. So, in comparison, weightlifting is an infant. It has hardly begun to realize its potential as a path for enlightenment. In this infantile stage, weightlifting is, for most lifters, simply a sport or simply meaning to get "big and strong." Very few even recognize that lifting can be a disciplined path leading to the experience of eternal truths.

Traditionally, Hatha Yoga is taught through the personal instruction of a guru. The guru is highly developed, highly evolved. Too often, in contrast, weightlifting is learned by trial and error and watching others, through a book, or from an "instructor" of dubious credentials. There is not a tradition of esteemed teachers in weightlifting, only a few good instructors, often not well-known. The majority of instructors, in my experience, are not well trained, experienced, or even very knowledgeable, let alone, wise.

In terms of the physical activities involved, there is an interesting contrast between Hatha Yoga and lifting weights. Whereas the emphasis in the former is on the extension of the muscle, to increase flexibility, in the latter the focus is on the contraction of the muscle to increase size and contractile strength. In Hatha Yoga, one stretches; in lifting weights, one contracts.

Hatha Yoga grows from a Hindu culture. The philosophy underlying jthe practice of the various yogas is on of Hinduism and Buddhism. In contrast, weightlifting is not explicitly tied to a philosophical system, religious or secular. The implicit underlying philosophy which can be uncovered if we dig a bit is one of pragmatism. Pragmatism is that no frills American philosophy of "what works, works." "If it works, it's true." If you do curls and your biceps get bigger, then curls work. This is a philosophy of practicality. To this we can add a bit of the "Protestant Ethic." There is among weightlifters that underlying belief that "hard work is good," and "hard work brings rewards." Without waxing too philosophical, we can say that the implicit philosophy underlying most lifters' weightlifting activity is one of a practical work ethic. And this is, of course, a major philosophical stance in North America and much of Europe.

Earlier in the present chapter I stated that lifting weights is a path particularly suited to a Western world view. The statement of philosophical underpinnings, above, is one reason. Lifting weights has a very practical application in a society which values hard work and accomplishment. Another factor, closely related to this, is that lifting weights is "masculine." These qualities are of service alcuce to the work ethic. And, they are another contrast with Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is more in the realm of the tender, passive, soft, non-forceful, effortless, non-willful, "feminine." This contrast is valid in a very general sense. I intend no value judgement in this contrast. Neither is good or bad, in and of itself, or better or worse. In Taoist philosophy there are terms for these two realms which I have described. They are the Yang and the Yin activity. So, in terms of paths, lifting weights is more suited for one for whom a Yang path has heart. Hatha Yoga is more suited for one for whom a Yin path has heart.

Clearly, I see an analogy between Hatha Yoga and liftifting weights, or more specificallylly, bodybuilding, as a path. I believe that lifting weights is the Hatha Yoga of the West.

One of the ways that lifting weights can be instructive is by viewing the sports activity as representative of one's way of being-in--the---world. In other words, the lifting platform or the posing dais can be seen as a microcosm, reflecting how one is in her or his macrocosm or world as a whole. At times one's life seems so complex that it is difficult to gain self-perspective. This is the value of having a macrocosmic view. Through the condensation and simplificatation offered by thhe microcosm one can gain self--knowledge. This, of course, requires self-attention, awareness, and honesty. It requires that one observe one's self with care, concentration, and lack of defensiveness.

Let us look at some of the dimensions of self-revelation which are likely in the weightlifting microcosm. Notice your mood while working out. Are you very serious, or more playful? Easily distracted, or very focused on the exercise? Do you tend to be strict in the performance of the exercise, or do you cheat? Are you hopeful and optimistic, or pessimistic and resigned about the results? Do you give up easily asily when the lifting gets hard, or do you push through? Do you pace yourself so that you finish a workout with energy to spare, or are you at the point of collapse? Do you plan a routine ansd stick to it, or do you play each workout by ear? Do you get bored with a particular exercise or routine easily or do you stay with the same program for long periods of time? Are you experimental, trying out new routines, or do you prefer that with which you are familiar? Do you work out better alone, or in the presence of others, or with a training partner? When you look in the mirror do you look for progress to praise, or do you look for weaknesses about which to be critical? On the dais are you inflated with false confidence, or shy? On the lifting platform do you risk lifts at which you may fail, or do you open se en with a certain lift and make cautious increases, staying within the limits of fairly certain lifts?

The list of such questions is almost endless, being limited only by one's creativity and the level of honesty of one's self-reflection. The answers to these questions reveal and flesh out how one goes about the path of lifting weights. Personality is revealed in the "how" or "style" of behavior more than in the "what" or content of behavior. So, in the weightlifting microcosm one reveals his personality style by HOW he goes about lifting. Personal style tends to be fairly consistent over situations, so we can infer that how one is in the weightlifting microcosm, one is in his larger world. The point is that one's way of style of being-in-the-world is clear and easily observable in the microcosm of lifting weights.

I shall share a couple of examples from my own life. Although I have had workout partners, and from time to time invite someone to go work out with me, most of my weight training has been solo. In fact, much of my training, by choice, has been in my home gym. I have little difficulty getting myself started on a workout, and I am well self-sustained in my motivation to lift. These qualities of being self-motivated. , self-sustained, and part of the time a loner are qualities that I exhibit in other arenas of my life as well. I have come to know these qualities as characteristic of how I believe my life in general. But, it has been in the microcosm of lifting weights eights that I have had the most obvious encounter of these qualities in myself. In this microcosm I have become familiar with this personal style. In addition to this increased self-knowledge, I have at times struggled in my weightlifting microcosm with loneliness, highlighted by periods of training alone. I believe that my training alone has been of great help in my confronting my loneliness and has been an important part of my partial resolution of that painful theme in my life. This is but one example of how the weightlifting microcosm can be of value both in self-revelation and in resolution of conflicted areas in one's personality.

Another example is my low threshold for boredom. I like a lot of variety in my life, and from time  get feedback from friends that    are amazed at how many things I am involved in and in how many areas I am accomplished. Again, this is clearly reflected in my weightlifting microcosm. I have done organizational/administrative work for the AAU, coached a YMCA weightlifting team, instructed bodybuilding, have given public demonstrations of Olympic lifting and the proper use   w weights, have judged bodybuilding and Olympic lifting contests, and have done bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting, competing in the last, as well as in curling contests. I learned in this microcosm that in order to keep from getting bored and quitting, I could introduce variety, variations on the weightlifting theme. I learned to keep a balanced middle ground between boredom and dilettantism. (The dilettante moves from one thing to another so quickly that he doesn't have time to go to any depth with anything, thereby missing the benefits of each thing tried.) I learned to recognize the subtle clues in myself of when it was time for me to change exercise routine or even the activity. This knowledge of keeping to a middle ground between boredom and dilettantism, and the sensitivity to my own needs has translated well into my life, as a whole.

One more example is something I learned in weightlifting competition itself. Lifting in competition has always been highly anxiety provoking for me. In every contest I have had that moment of questioning my wisdom in being there. Very early in my competitive experience I had a talk with myself, like an understanding coach or parent might do. I told myself that I was safe, there really was nothing to be afraid of, and to go ahead and do my best, and have fun. I have found that I have had the opportunity to go through this supportive pep talk before every competition. In this microcosm I discovered a process which which I have extended to all spheres of my life. Years later, in my psychotherapy training, I learned about the technique of internal dialogue for dealing with disruptive emotional states. I learned in studying Transactional Analysis about giving support and protection to one's scared "child ego state" from one's nurturing "parent ego state." (I will discuss the process of internal dialogue in detail in the second section of this book.) Once again, I made a discovery in my weightlifting microcosm which had application in the macrocosm of my life. 

The idea is that by focusing one's awareness on one's self in the arena of lifting weights, one may greatly increase self-understanding and find means for coming to terms with personal issues in one's life.

There are some interesting parallels between lifting weights, particularly bodybuilding, and humanistic or growth oriented psychotherapy. Both psychotherapy and bodybuilding are systems for bringing about change in the person. In either case a short period of time may be spent to bring about some change, or a much longer period of time for more basic and dramatic change. The aim is to bring out the person's potential, to make that potential real. As such, both focus on aspects of what in humanistic psychology is termed "self-actualization." For psychotherapy the focus is on actualizing one's psychological (emotional, mental, spiritual) potential and for bodybuilding the primary focus is on actualizing one's physical (muscular) potential.

There is a paradox in self-actualization work which can be seen in bodybuilding and psychotherapy. The paradox is that growth comes through accepting one's self, not through trying to make one's self different. That may sound strange, but bear with me . . .


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