My previous two posts have been about my ongoing, lifelong journey – struggle, battle, triumph? what have you – with “fitness”. It isn’t over; I haven’t “made it”. And that’s actually kind of exciting, in a way – the process of learning about our bodies never ends; just as age is inevitable, there is always more we can know, understand and practice. I also wrote about lessons that I am learning, and relearning, about how my thinking impacts not only my workouts, but my outlook in general – and the principles I can follow to be more effective in this quest. But there are some insights that take time to root within our understanding, to be revealed in our growth – and to emerge into our awareness, gradually, like a slowly blossoming flower. So, this last entry about my fitness journey – for now, at least – is about a realization emerging and unfurling its own petals in partnership with my workout regimens.
For many years, I felt somehow not at home in my own body. What on earth do I mean by that? It’s hard to explain; I believe I am not the only one who has had that experience, a kind of disassociation, or lack of cohesion. Certainly, my body was not something I felt proud of, or confident in; like many aspects of my deeper identity, I tried to literally cover it up, instead of accepting it as is. Strangely, during this past year or so at the gym, feeling my muscles move and sensing them more fully, has given me an added awareness of my physical being that I lacked before. From this, I began to develop an appreciation, and a kind of awe, at the complexity of our individual “selves” – physical, inside, outside, and everything in between. Somehow, working on my body has evolved into a sort of integration of things that were not fitting together as well before; pieces of a puzzle fitting into place for a larger picture. I began to feel a glimmer of understanding ….. but I still wasn’t grasping it, but rather – sensing it.
As I fumbled through my workouts, seeing the calendar models physiques surrounding me whose weight loads are twice mine and more, as well as their biceps and chests – I found myself thinking about whether I was focused on the right muscles, in my workout regimen. Because my visible results weren’t meeting my expectations, I wondered – was I really on the “right” path to develop the important strengths? What was I failing to incorporate? What was I doing wrong? As I began to look beyond what my eyes saw, and what all the fitness and diet apps focused on – the “chest/back/shoulders/legs” type of workout breakdown – to what lay beneath; I realized there was something I was missing, something essential to incorporate alongside all those practices. I needed to train what I came to consider as my invisible muscles.
Our bodies are miraculous creations, wondrously complex, infinitely mysterious, and constantly evolving. Just as our physical selves depend upon a structure of organs, muscles, and nerves to functions, there are networks supporting other aspects of our awareness and existence. Perhaps these invisible muscles are just as amazing, working in harmony with those we see, but remain hidden to our eyes, immeasurable. But just like our bodies, these muscles really aren’t that much different; they need stretching and challenge to gain strength, and nourishment to grow. If we tend to one set in our training and neglect the other in our thinking and practice – we will be imbalanced, no matter what our bodies look like to those around us.
Maybe the concept of a correlating network of invisible muscles sounds ridiculous to you – perhaps it would help of them as not physical, but, spiritual or psychic or whatever word works for you. Don’t get hung up on verbiage – rather, consider this invisible muscle structure as just operating in tandem with those in all the exercise videos. Even though no one at the gym can see these muscles, building them will have a more lasting effect, than I can develop solely by pumping iron and pulling cables. It doesn’t mean that seeking physical health – strength, fitness, whatever term you prefer – is a waste of time. In fact, I am coming to understand that the outside reflects (and even depends upon) the discipline of what I am embracing inside – I am building from the inside out, not just the walls of a beautiful edifice, but the “whole” of me living within that physical structure. Think of it as inner bodybuilding, the hidden strengths humming along silently underneath the outer facade.
At the gym, we train our legs to carry us farther and faster; our arms to lift heavier and higher; and our chests to be stronger and broader. The workout of the inner muscles is focused on different parts of our being; to name a few – compassion; forgiveness; grace; faith; tolerance; choosing joy; opening minds and ultimately loving hearts. Only with these can we accomplish feats of strength like reaching out to others in need; stepping forward with conviction to stand for what is right; carrying a burden for loved ones and even strangers that has left them broken. And, for many of us, instead of merely lifting weights, we learn to let them go – inside ourselves – through forgiveness and reconciliation. The unseen muscles direct the efforts of our bodies to accomplish the vision of our hearts – together.
Why do we need to exercise these internal muscles? As with the rest of the amazing bodies we are given, if unused, they become less enduring; weaker; atrophied. Yet they are just as fundamental to a whole life, if not more so. The muscles in the workout videos depend on many hidden inner muscles to be fully realized – discipline; consistency; patience; acceptance; courage; community; hope. These are critical to power the motivation, and the creation of our intent, to accomplish almost any goal – physical or otherwise. Working them doesn’t come naturally but requires intent – purpose – commitment. Our inner muscles need reps too! Qualities of character that take time to build, just like all those physical muscles don’t transform overnight. But these muscles give us the ability to accomplish feats of strength that don’t call upon our bodies as much as our hearts. This inner “fitness” will help us push beyond obstacles and barriers to new life and joy.
I sense, but I cannot prove, that both the visible and invisible muscles are designed to work together, to be integrated. There are probably philosophies and theories about the nature of identity and “being” that address this better than I can explain. But I think, maybe, building them both involves some of the same key principles that I wrote about in my earlier entry – letting time do its work; accepting ourselves and others “as is”, while still moving towards a better reality; finding joy in where we are, right now. One thing I am certain of – focusing solely on building the muscles others see – without also doing the “reps” on our inner muscles – would leave only an outer shell lacking the inner strength that is waiting to be birthed in us all.
I am, ultimately, encouraged as I continue my personal quests – knowing I have not “stood still” and wanting to cheer YOU on as well! Whatever mountains we face, sometimes seemingly alone – we are sharing common dreams and hopes, and seeking the better lives that our dreams call us towards. I recently found this wonderful zoom music collaboration created to raise funds for the Actors Fund – featuring amazing jazz musicians on one of my favorite Nat King Cole songs. It rings true for me – sometimes, when we are down on the ground, we need the strength – the inner AND outer muscles! – to get up, and get going, stumbling maybe, but back on track. If you look around, you will see me cheering you on – and others – you are not alone. I hope this brings you a little joy and encouragement, as it did me.
So, friends, my fitness journey has broadened, and deepened, and continues to be a path of discovery and understanding on many fronts. “Working out” through this pandemic has certainly opened my eyes in unexpected ways. I started with a dream that I could transform my body – and instead, or alongside, I am transforming my mind and heart. Realizing that I need that inner workout has become more apparent with the consistent practice of an outer workout! Somehow, in trying to recover the strength I lost – as well as gain the kind of acceptance and confidence that I never had to begin with – I am building more than just my body. I am training and building my whole being – and discovering the wonderful possibilities that still lie ahead. They are there for us all – waiting – taking work and effort to dig through, but well worth the quest. Until next time, friends – keep reaching for your dreams. The journey continues, for us all.
My journey literally takes to the air for a flight across our continent. For the next chapter, whenever I can set down whatever captures my imagination, register below for free notifications, and stay safe, friends! See you next time, and thanks for stopping by!