LGN 55: Phase 3

Inside: Pain; A tale of two stunning women; Dreams; Who are you?; Are you Fat?; Phase 3; I’m in a weird mood

PAIN EATER

Do you get validation from pain?

It’s always kind of funny to me when I can’t or don’t push through a grueling Finisher. Justin’s reaction trying to push you on is classic.  When you’re super fit like the coaches do you still feel like you’re going to die?  Or when do you feel like you don’t have anything left in the tank?

Some people are really good at compartmentalizing pain. Watch the kettlebell team when you get a chance. I wonder, Where do they go in their head?

I’ve noticed in the gym that a lot of the women just quietly endure. I’m trying not to pant, I’m grunting, growling even roaring sometimes while they just quietly outperform me.  I make the most noise when lifting heavy stuff.  I guess I qualify as heavy stuff, though.

I like to think that my exquisite muscle burning sensation is unique to me and that it earns me the right to lay down on the ground and breathe.

But nope. I used to think that I was stoic and had a relatively high tolerance for pain.  It’s hard to quantify but the pain I’ve experienced in life — even the most intense (plus fear factor when you don’t understand the pain or what it means) is still on the order of, um, let’s call it once-every-five-to-ten-years pain.

Like meteorologists say “50 year floods” or “100 year floods”.  I think I’ve only dealt with 10-year pain at the most.

It’s not being shot or having broken bones and fractures and having to trudge ten miles to get to civilization. Or “giving birth, un-medicated, to a big headed baby” pain.  It’s not chemo.  It’s not fighting-for-your-life pain levels.

And yet that whole muscle burning thing slays me.  How can 3x-a-week pain — every other day pain — feel so immediate?  I’m working on it but I still haven’t been able to perform up to my own mythical ideal.  I’ve had strong Finishers where I was able to recharge quickly and kick butt.  I love those.  But on the bad days when the muscles just burn and burn and the burning turns into pain — I still get stopped.  I still take breaks.  I’m trying to get down to micro-rests but I’m not there yet.

I know that most of it is mental.  It’s only in the case of, say, the Farmer’s Walk that my body physically gives out.  My forearms will lock up and I won’t be able to physically make or maintain a fist.  That’s not mental.  That’s physical.  But most of the other stuff.  All in the head.

I remember in college, sparring with my karate instructor. I was tired of being punched and kicked. Wasn’t in the mood for it. He said, “Come on. Keep your guard up. You’re not protecting your head. Suppose you were attacked on the street. You’d be unconscious by now.”

I said, “Good. Then I wouldn’t feel the beating.”

He said, “And raped.”

Damn it. He had to go there. So back into the fray.   His remark — more of a challenge to my ego — prompted me to dig into the reserves.  Until then I thought I was physically done.  But nope.  I was just mentally fatigued.

Until I was kicked in the solar plexus.  Then I was physically done.

In the gym, I used to think that some people like pain.  Some people seek it out.  But that’s not it.  I think some people feel validated by pain.  Part of it is because workout pain means that you’re about to get stronger/faster/better.  The more you push, in theory, the bigger the deposit into your fitness account.

Some people who have experienced pain and trauma and near-death experiences, for example, seem to embrace the pain.  It’s like they get to prove and reaffirm that they’re bigger than Pain.  That life encompasses Pain.

So why not use it to make yourself better.  Use it as a tool to hone and refine yourself.

Disclaimer: I’m talking about workout/exercise pain.  Not any other form of masochism or self-afflicted damage or discomfort.

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM

I never get what I’m looking for in my sleep dreams. The fact that I’m dreaming about it guarantees that it won’t be found.  I have a lot of dreams about trying to get somewhere, trying to find someone, desperately wanting to eat — you name it.  What kind of existential absurdity is that?

Usually when I get close to satisfying that dream quest — whether it’s for food, liquid refreshment, the affection of a particular person (shall we say) — I’ll either wake up or have a dream quake.  You know, where the venue changes and morphs.  Your house is all of a sudden your elementary school plus your office from two jobs ago with your old bunk bed in the corner.  Or your best friend that was helping you in your dream suddenly changes into someone else entirely.  Your dog eats kitty litter and turns into Sherman Hemsley for some reason.

I once had a dream involving people from a socially awkward and stunted period of my life.  I was on a quest for pizza for some reason.  Had to climb a lot of stairs that was part school and part jazz club and I finally made it into the room where there was a spread of food including pizza.  A female friend who I thought was the bees knees came in the room and said, “Gary!  Oh my God, there you are.  I have to ask you something.”

I woke up.  In all honesty I woke up frustrated and annoyed.  Tried to fall asleep back into it but that never works.

(Lucid dreaming is a whole ‘nother topic, although I’ve never followed through with the techniques and drills to do anything with it.  Anyway…)

I had an epiphany.  Clear as day.  I was never supposed to actually get what I was looking for.  I was never supposed to hear  the sentence after “I have to ask you something”.  These dreams aren’t about knowing and answers and resolution.

These dreams are about questions.  Those dreams are about frustration.  No, wait.  These dreams ARE the questions.

Not that I take them too, too literally, but the surreal Escher-like reality and perspective blending has a lot of archetypal symbology, everyday doings, conscious, and sub-conscious all mashed up into a language of metaphysical puns and cosmic wor(l)dplay.

I also occasionally have dreams about having mad crazy mountain biking skills.  Jumping, hopping, soaring, flowing.  Or running around with Parkour agility.  Jerking the cherry/tomato kettlebells effortlessly.  Things like that.  Since all of this strength training, I’m definitely getting real world stronger and physically better and that occasionally translates to dream competence and confidence.

Funny how that works.  Haven’t flown in a long time, though.  Hm.

And then.  And then I dream about missing a bus to get to Tough Mudder.  Apparently, that anxiety is there even when I’m like, “Naw, I’m cool.  C’mon.  I’ve done it already or the majority of it.  What’s there to be anxious about?”

Dreamscapes are a mess but your inner consciousness isn’t capable of lying.

A TALE OF TWO STUNNING WOMEN

The model and the shorty.  I read an article the other day about how overweight women basically get screwed over in the workplace.  In short, society sucks and is unfair.  Standards of beauty and all that.

Walking to lunch I saw a woman in my peripheral vision.  Tall, 5’11”, slim, very stylish.  I sneaked a few more looks.  Eventually she passed me because I’m slow and she had a stride.  On further scan I thought that this must be what super models look like in-person.  She reminded me of that girl who was in Transformers 3.  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

From behind, she was … narrow.  Yet, she still had hips because her waist was Barbie-like.  She sashayed slowly at the hips when she walked.  A purse in her right hand and her left arm at her side with her forearm out at an on-the-runway angle.

Later that night I went to Whole Fools after training (welcome to Funky Town, Whole Foods).  I was worn out and minding my bee’s wax hypnotically and unwittingly piling up carbohydrates in my basket.  Fruit, mainly.  Bacon and guacamole.  I was wearing an Underground Athlete shirt so sometimes I catch people reading it and wondering what that means.

A young woman walked briskly by and looked my way, kind of looked again and kept walking back to the breads.  She was short.  5’3″, very curvy.  Zaftig or buxom would be a fair descriptor.  You know, like, college after the freshman 15.  Dark, curly hair.  Big, dark eyes.  In a sweatshirt, white shorts and flip flops.  Closer to ummmm.  America Ferrera in the Sisterhood of the Traveling pants (which I have not seen) if America Ferrera were from the Middle East.  Oh!  Like Zuleikha Robinson.

It got me thinking about all of this talk about image and societal pressures and what not.  Body types and ideals.  I read the BGG2WL post about “Dating While Fat And Feminist,” And The Nasty Things You Learn About People After You Lose Weight.  There’s a lot of truth in there but also a lot of hurt and pain around feeling like they can never live up to the majority culture’s ideals of beauty and desirability.

Like, I know women who are haaaawt.  But they’re short or dark-skinned or are thick or are red-headed with freckles or have very curly-thick hair or bushy eyebrows or a prominent nose or are skinny or have big ears or large hindquarters or spent time outdoors and have smile and laugh lines.  Just about every guy in the vicinity can be seen admiring the physical beauty of these women and appreciating them for their talent — art, music, writing, athleticism, etc.  These women even have boyfriends, fiances and husbands who adore them.  Peers that respect them.  And yet they still express frustration and anger about being unwanted because they feel rejected by Society.

It is a dichotomy.  They may be turning heads and minds in their daily lives, but it’s not likely they’d make it into a magazine ad, TV commercial, Hollywood movie or whatever.  I don’t know who’s in charge of that stuff but they’re hopelessly out of step.  Hell.  Even the most dramatically exaggerated model qualities aren’t enough for the media.  They’ll still try and Photoshop that mostly unrealistic ideal and make it cartoonish.  Then that’s the image that people use to berate themselves.  Feh.

If both of those women I described attempted to do a fitness competition they would look nothing alike.  Their physiques, their builds, musculature, how they carry themselves.

Frankly, the petite curvy woman rung my bell.  I could see her doing Tough Mudder or something like that.  Okay.  At least the Zombie Run or the Color Run.  And beating me.

LANDMARKS & STRETCH MARKS

Real quick.  That’s usually the last thing I say before writing another thousand words.

I’ve mentioned before how I did the Landmark Forum and Advanced course back in 2004/2005.  Although I’m through with that world it’s not because I didn’t get a lot out of it.  I would not be writing like this and verging on over-sharing if not for that stuff.  It opened my eyes to the depth of … you.  Life is a trip.  Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or how much/little you have.  We’re all struggling or working to make sense of our lives.  Or we’re avoiding the effort. Same difference, really.

Of course, after I did the Forum and stuff I would just spill my guts about the stuff in my head.  It was kind of ridiculous.  I did it because it felt good to not be afraid to be open.  Also, because when you trust people with you, they trust you with themselves. It’s a fair exchange and it’s a beautiful thing.  It’s the way it should be.

And of course I alienated all the ladies that I talked to or at least dug an undead grave of permanent friendship in the process.

But here’s something I go back to because I find that it applies in new ways every once in a while.

If you’ve read more than a handful of my blog entries you’ve seen that I often describe myself as an introvert.  It’s an accurate label.  If I had to pick a number from 1 to 10 on a scale from Introvert to Extrovert I’d probably be at a 3 with a 7 capacity.  (I have a public performance/speaking mode.)  I can easily spend a week without any significant human contact — no phone calls, texts, emails, etc. — and come away feeling recharged.  A pang of loneliness, obviously, but mostly reset and recharged.  Social fasting is not a problem for me.  (This may not be as true ever since the social network craze.  I’m as addicted to those little red notification bubbles as everyone else.)

As accurate as that label may be and despite the fact that I obviously identify with the term, it doesn’t define me any more.  It used to.  It used to be important to me to be a-lone.  To have a few, select close friends and little to nothing else.  I used to think that it was the best away.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I think of myself as old and fat.  I think that I was beginning to accept it as inevitable.  The men in my family, especially my mother’s side where I was raised, are and were stocky dudes.  Some tall, some not, but muscular and stocky.  With few exceptions they are all past tense.  Strong, stocky with substantial abdominal (and I assume visceral) fat and a lifespan in the 65 year range.

It didn’t sit well with me, obviously.  I started the yoga at PIES Fitness and strength training at Underground Athlete around my birthday in 2011, determined to be the me that matches my mental self-image.

I know I’m rambling big time.  Bear with me for a little bit.

What I’m saying is this.  Don’t let your adjectives define your identity.  They may be accurate adjectives, but they aren’t what makes you you.

If you’re overweight.  If you’re prone to injury.  If you’ve experienced trauma.  If you have addictions or bad habits.  Some combination of all of the above.  That probably describes all of us.

Our current condition is NOT our identity.

It can be tricky because letting go of something that you hold as part of yourself is like the first time you let go of the wall in the deep end of the pool.  If you’re not limited to being a punk/emo/skater/jock/stoner/loner/hipster/prep/gen x-y-z/partyer/drinker/starving artist/struggling musician/thug/geek/nerd/rebel/iconoclast/fat girl or guy and so on — then who the hell are you?

I think once I let go of whatever labels … there are less excuses.  Less walls.  Then the walls of one’s Fortress of Safety and Solitude become windows.  The windows become fences.  The fences become the property lines of one’s comfort zone.  Eventually, leaving the comfort zone is just a matter of trying something you’ve never done before.

Of course, not many things worth having come easy.  Personally, I’ve got a lot of work to do and it’s going to require focus and discipline.  I’m in good company, though.

  • Phase 1.  From 240 lbs. to 200 lbs.  Check.
  • Phase 2. Tough Mudder.  Check (with some identified weak points).
  • Phase 3. The September Challenge, Tough Mudder 2, and breaking the plateau.

I don’t even have to ask.  I know you’re with me.  Cool.  I got your back.

Click here to see all of my LGN (I want to Look Good Naked) and functional strength training posts.

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2 comments

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  1. sara moore

    Gary, I found this entry particularly impactful to me on a lot of levels, especially what you wrote about pain. I marvel at how you can take people’s inner thoughts and bring them to life with your words.

    For me, I was immediately hooked on kettlebell sport because of the pain. I lost my only sister almost 7 years ago to a nasty autoimmune disease, and was looking for some way to cope with my anger and my pain. Not long after, I found Justin, who in some ways saved me from myself. While I wouldn’t say I “like” the pain, I will tell you that I need it. Pain reminds me that I’m still alive, which I’m grateful for every day.

    Thank you again for sharing your writing with us.

    • garyarthuryoung

      Sara, I can’t imagine.

      I have so much respect for you and how you’re able to channel whatever is going on in your head and life into focused, driven work.

      And accomplishment.

      Inspiring.

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