I just love spring. I love everything about spring. No matter how many times I watch buds popping out of the branches making their way into the open air en route to becoming flowers, or leaves slowly unfolding in their fresh lime green color, the sensation of Nature rumbling back into action fills me with awe. I imagine the nature spirits racing around through the gardens, sprinkling grace-dust on all the delicate seedlings making their way through the soil to the sunlight.
I learned a bit of gardening during my time on a farm in New Hampshire. Flowers took a back seat to our veggie gardens. Everyone in our area had magnificent vegetable gardens. We had separate gardens for lettuces, squashes, herbs, berries and so on. Gardening is a way of life in the country, of course. Once I owned my home, I immediately picked out an area for a raised garden and planted what could be in a “hood garden.” I did what all “hood gardeners” do – tomatoes, lettuce, herbs.
And here’s what I figured out after a few years. I noticed that the flowers in my garden bloom with, well, I have to say a sense of vanity. Yep. Vanity. I do believe flowers know they are gorgeous and that they are going to be admired, photographed, and drooled over. Flowers love to be seen and admired. Thus, they thrive in a hood garden.
Veggies, on the other hand, require space and lots of deep, rich soil, soil being the operative word. No matter what I do, I cannot provide the good old-fashioned country soil in my backyard. Secondly, veggies prefer privacy and silence as their environment of choice. They do not need to be admired for what is on the outside but for the nutrition they can provide on the inside. They love “their space” and the wide open country sky, not to mention fresh air.
So, I had to face the truth that as much as I wanted to continue maintaining my meager veggie patch, I would do much better supporting the local farmers market.
See? Truth does not necessarily hurt, right? Then again…
Spring also brings out all those runners and walkers and, well, you know the type. And hey, I’m all for exercise but who in the world runs at 5:30 in the morning? Who is that person I see? Anyway, I decided it was time for me to return to the gym – yet again – for what, the 700th time?
I do not like the gym. I don’t like going. I like leaving. From the moment I walk into the gym, some part of me shrinks down to a size smaller than my astral body. I want to evaporate. I become convinced that every single person is dripping not with sweat but with the stench of gym-confidence. Wow. That could me be, I imagine….all sweaty and looking as if I have control over all this equipment that, at the moment, looks like high tech torture devices.
So, I decided that the way to “make” me go to the gym would be to sign on with a trainer. Lock and load, as they say. And with that intention in mind, I asked about available trainers. It went sort of like this:
“No, I am not interested in martial arts…maybe art class, but martial arts is probably not my thing. Who else? No, I don’t want a Zumba class – what is that anyway? Wow…no. That is not quite what I had in mind; well, not immediately. I’m sure I could Zumba with the best of them eventually, but, ah, let’s keep going. Boot camp? What? Are you hearing me? Did I just call the Army Recruitment office or something? Oh, boot camp is a workout routine and you do what in that? Oh really? Push ups and squats and all that??? Oh, hum…well, ah, I can see why it’s called boot camp. And I would love to become proficient at you know, push ups. But for now…I had something like Pilates in mind.”
After feeling as if I’d just walked through a cafeteria line in which I got to pick and choose a bit of this and that, we found a trainer that was “just right for me.” Seriously?
Well, okay then. Off I go for my first meeting. My trainer is delightful, of course. And thankfully, not one of those energetic pips who is half my age. I decided to “go confessional” on her and let her know up front that I have issues with the gym. Well, not just the gym. I have issues with the physical plane of existence, but I thought it best to start small.
Truth time. How much do I tell my new trainer? Do I tell her the truth, which means admitting that I would rather swim the English Channel than show up at a gym? (Oh but wait, I can’t swim either.) Best to start out with small truths and work our way into the bigger ones. Haven’t we all learned that?
Of course my trainer and I discussed what I had in mind, the type of program I wanted (the type where I don’t have to work out but somehow I look like I do), and the number of days each week (that would be zero if I could possibly make that work with her schedule). But we settled on something in between my fantasy and my realistic self.
In Catholic Theology, a sin that really deserves far more press than it gets is the “sin of omission”. We sin by consciously withholding truth critical to a situation or the life of another or your own. Not that I wish to turn this little Salon into a written version of a confessional, but one of the first orders of business for a trainer is to escort the new trainee around the gym, introducing equipment and all that. Dare I tell her this was round four for me? She was not, in other words, my first rodeo as far as trainers go. I would be guilty by omission…but then, who knows? I thought perhaps I would learn something new because I could always count on myself forgetting something old.
Finally, the time came for me to actually get on one of the machines and I went for the treadmill. What could go wrong on a treadmill? I mean – come on. Right.
So there I am treading along on the treadmill, thinking, “Okay, so far so good,” when my trainer starts poking around at all the computerized gismos.
“Notice how this one says, BURN?”
“Well, let’s hit this for a second so you can see the difference.”
I don’t want to see the difference.
BURN followed by RANDOM and so on.
Nothing was too much of course, but let’s say everything said, “Get it together and stick to it this time.”
See how Truth sneaks up on you? Just when you think you are off at the gym for an unpleasant hour, you get smacked in the face with an even more unpleasant Truth.
On to the next piece of equipment. To be honest, I can’t even remember what it’s called. You move your feet and arms at the same time. Can you picture that? Well, I can’t do this one very well at all. It’s too many working parts of me all at the same time and I find it utterly confusing. Overwhelming. And furthermore, for someone like me who suffers from OUG (Occasional UnGroundedness), equipment that requires foot movement while not touching the ground could possibly contribute to, well, daydreaming or active imaginings of the most outrageous kind. Who knows? All I know is the gym is no place to let my imagination loose. I really do need to stay grounded.
The third piece of equipment was a breeze – spinning. Whew. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Apparently my trainer could as well, only she had a different light in mind.
“So, I believe in working the body, the mind, and the spirit,” she said, adding, “Are you familiar with spirituality and yoga and meditation?”
She noted that introducing the language of the spiritual made some people uncomfortable, especially in a gym, so if that made me uncomfortable, she would not mention it again.
Well, you could have pushed me right off that little fake bicycle I was on. No kidding. I knew exactly what she was feeling. I knew that awkwardness, I thought, that hesitation in bringing up spirituality. Should I say this word? Should I say that? Am I being too spiritual? I looked at her and thought, “Bless your heart, you are so dear.”
And then I thought, “Wait just a minute here. She’s speaking to me. She’s asking me if I have ever heard of yoga or meditation. What????”
I took a break and looked down at myself, sitting on this fake bicycle, completely intimidated by everyone in this modern, pristine gym. This isn’t my comfort zone. That would be the Art Museum or the Opera with my dear friend, Andrew, or the British Museum of History or Broadway Theater or a rare book bookstore – any of my real comfort zones. I mean, it’s not even Bergdorf’s or Barney’s or Nordstrom’s. I was a vulnerable fish out of my aquatic hood and it showed – all the way through to my spirit. My spirit was no more at the gym than was my imagination. All that had shown up was my body under threat of no after dinner cookie unless “it” drags itself to the gym.
My trainer spoke about the importance of getting your spirit to “work out” with you. I told her the truth – I had no idea how to do that. She said she would be glad to teach me.
She had techniques for that.
“Picture your spirit cycling and not your body when your body gets tired. Imagine your spirit taking over.”
It worked. It fired up enthusiasm in my imagination. And if I can get that imagination of mine to go along with something, I’m home free. But if my imagination makes contact with something holy, then I feel I have made contact with grace.
We, of course, met for a next session, in which I began Pilates. The stretches felt like utter bliss for me. (Who said being on the rack was punishment? Just joking…).
Once again, I imagine my spirit taking charge over a physical body that has always been intimidated by the physical world and all things physical, electrical, technical, mechanical, any-a-cal. Here’s the Truth: At the first sighting of an On-Off switch on any device, I can actually feel my psychic/intelligence retreating into the ethers, making it remarkably easy for me to produce a blank stare the second someone asks me a question, such as, “How do you turn on your washer/dryer?”
I know now how to use my washer/dryer but the first time…and maybe the second time that I used these stacked machines, I tossed the wash into the dryer and fabric softener into the washer. You get the picture.
The Truth is, it takes me a long time to “get with it” but once I do, I’m just fine. I have absolutely no patience with the mechanical stuff in the physical world. Stuff and things and gizmos frustrate me. I don’t understand how they work and when they don’t work, I certainly do not know how to fix them. One of my greatest tasks in life is preventing myself from jumping up and down on things, stuff and gizmos that refuse to work upon my command. I would like to tell you that I am kidding you, just be a bit light-hearted today. But I’m not. The Truth is I could throw every broken object I’ve had right out of my second story window while screaming at the top of my lungs, because it has failed to do what it was supposed to do. Then, a friend will ask me, “Did you turn it on?”
Begin ungrounded in the physical world is serious business. Although humorous at times, the truth is that an ungrounded consciousness is not easy to have rattling around between your ears.
I am now becoming more comfortable with going to the gym. I cannot tell you that I love it. I am not interested in loving it. I want to find a comfort zone in that physical environment. That would be enough of an accomplishment and I am ever so grateful that I have found a Trainer/Teacher who was perceptive enough to spot that my spirit needed some support along with my body. But honestly, I am in awe that teachers really do show up when students are ready. And we never stop being students of Truth. Never.
And as for You
Truth comes to call in all our lives in so many ways. Keep your eyes open and your senses sharp. Truth is an uncomfortable guest, as a rule. My recommendation is that you do what I do: Look it in the eye. If something makes you uncomfortable, then turn up the heat. Don’t turn it off. No kidding. The way for me to get comfortable in my physical skin is to go to the gym daily, not once a week. I need to make it a boring experience, not an overwhelming one. And if possible, an enjoyable one that actually improves how my body feels.
Little Truths show up all the time. They can be like hummingbirds and butterflies, coming into view effortlessly, almost as if grace was given a set of wings. And Truth can come into your life through the sharp eye of a trainer at the gym or a salesperson or a stranger who happens to notice how sad you look. That type of truth stings. That’s the type you go after with gusto.
If I were your Spiritual Director, I would ask you to reflect on these questions:
1) Identify something about yourself that makes you uncomfortable. Consider that a Truth center. What choices do you need to make to establish comfort?
2) Are there areas in your life in which your spirit does not participate? For example, I went to the gym because I felt I “had to” or “I really should”. That attitude made me resent it even more. The result was my spirit or energy stayed home when I went. Now I feel that almost all of me is present. I would love to tell you, “And now, all of me is present and happy and a gym rat.” The Truth is that’s nonsense. It’s difficult work, this business of commitment to becoming balanced. It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires that we “breathe our spirit” into areas of our life where we have not walked or talked or eaten or lived before. So it takes devotion.
But here’s the Truth: I am finally willing to be devoted to that goal. Life is far too short to keep our vulnerabilities a secret, right?