Finding my “fit” – part 2 – keys to a new kind of success

In my last post, I committed to sharing with you the results of my renewed journey to fitness, post pandemic.  I described my results as being better than I could have hoped for or imagined.  But – the outcomes I want to share with you, the ones that matter – have nothing to do with the ones that I set out to achieve.  In the process of chasing one goal, I am realizing the reward of my efforts may never show up on any weight scale, or in the mirror. What do I mean? It comes down to a question I was asked when I took those first, tentative and hopeful pandemic steps to focus on fitness, seriously.  The question I was asked – and that we need to ask ourselves constantly – is what is my goal?  What did I want to accomplish?  Or, as I think of it now – what is “my” fit? 

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There are endless articles on how to get fit – some even talk about the dangers of being overly focused on exercise, muscle, body fat %, dysmorphia and addiction (yes, even healthy habits can become unhealthy obsessions!).   And, there’s just as many personal definitions of what “fit” should be; just look at the endless parade of bodies on television, websites, media and advertising.  There, it seems like the world is full of idealized bodies that few of us see on a daily basis around us; fewer of us still can say we approach those measures of physical beauty.  Perhaps for you as well, those images influenced my own goals and expectations, and not always constructively.  But before any of us can find the “how” that gets us the results we seek – perhaps we need to spend some serious time asking ourselves a little less about what changes we seek, and a little more about out why we want change. 

If my goal is truly health, well – my doctor told me I have the heart of a teenage girl (now, she meant it in a nice way!).  She didn’t know my history, which I mentioned in my last post; she wasn’t my doctor when I went through one of the most difficult periods of my life. About 3 years ago, at age 60, an intestinal parasite was attacking my body from the inside out – and no one knew it. Fact is, I was kind of happy I was losing weight – but other things seemed “off”, somehow. In January 2019 I was hospitalized, and when I got out, I weighed nearly 60 pounds less than six months prior; my muscle mass was lost to dehydration and other side effects. I had to retrain my legs to walk, and in time to drive.  I remember sending a photo of me waving, to let my niece and nephew know I was doing better – and my brother told me they had cried when they saw it.  When I looked in the mirror after my first shower at home – I almost cried myself. I have come a long way since that point – but still was fundamentally unhappy with where I was still.  

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About a year ago when I had my first opportunity to return to the gym – out of the house! – the only way to get “in” was to work with a professional trainer.  They asked me what my goal was – and I said what I thought was the best answer – to “be my best”.  The non-verbal reaction I got was, I think – this guy doesn’t know what he wants.  On the contrary – I realized that I needed to just get better.  Just get out, just get started. Essentially, I wanted to transform my body in a way that I never had been able to achieve, and I felt optimistic that this was the time, and training was the vehicle that was going to get me to the finish line – and beyond.  

Well, friends, to be honest – I am not entirely happy with the physical progress I have made to this point.  You might think looking at my photo in my previous entry that I am doing great; compared to a few years ago, yes, absolutely.  I practice being grateful for what I have received since I was wheeled out the hospital in early 2019; I know every day is a gift I might not have had.  But I am realizing that it isn’t enough to build muscle and lose fat;  more and more, I think the fitness that I want to grasp, and to evidence on the outside, has to start on the inside – with how I think about myself, and others.  As I waver between another cardio session or a box of chocolate caramels from Trader Joes – too often, the immediate self-satisfaction of something I should be avoiding has a stronger grip on my decisions than the awareness of its cost to me on this ongoing journey.  For many of us, short term happiness comes at the expense of long-term dreams. 

Over the past few months, as I have questioned my own focus and goals; looking outward on the gym members who more closely exemplify the physical perfection that I have never really even been close to achieving – I have asked myself why I haven’t gotten more results after all the efforts, the training, and yes, the whining.  And I have begun to think of myself beyond just how I “measure up” in comparison to that longed for ideal.  I don’t know how to explain it, or even describe it – but as I lift the barbell, and strain on the machine, as I grasp for just a few more second, really, on that cardio machine – I am aware that where I really need to focus is on my thinking. Thinking about my identity; who I am, really; and who I dream of becoming. 

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It is in our thoughts, not at the gym, that we first give birth to a vision of transformation; and it is in our thoughts, our practices, that we develop the habits that lead to true “success”, however we define it.  I realize now my thoughts have been defeating me rather than setting the stage for results.  My immature expectations of some miracle transformation, of being able to walk out post COVID and see people I have not met in a year or more and have them say – wow!  I didn’t recognize you – you look amazing! – have not been met, and in a way, the dawning awareness of that truth is a greater achievement than being able to say my body fat is down x % and I can lift this much.  Because the REAL growth that will help me move ahead is in adjusting my expectations and my focus on what I will, for the moment, believe are my key takeaways from this period to date.  If I had simply transformed my body, I would never had realized that it was my mind, my spirit and my whole being that needed to “find my fit”.  

I am absolutely still studying, learning, stumbling and rising again in my practices and workouts.  I am not “giving up” – rather, supplementing or expanding the purpose of why I want to grow in strength, in self-discipline, and in character.  The physical fitness will be a side effect of a renewed awareness and acceptance of not only myself – but extending that towards others; just as my weight loss after that first half marathon was a side effect of simply wanting to achieve a goal that I had never thought possible, by putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, day by day.  In the process, there are some insights that I have gained that help me maintain balance – just as critical as tracking reps, and weights, and getting the calories counts on the elliptical. I offer you these lessons – obvious as though they may seem, yet oh so difficult to embrace and stand on – hoping perhaps they will help you refine your own vision and goals into something that is the rocket fuel for your quest to success. 

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Discover your “Flow” – Make time your ally, your friend, your secret weapon. You can’t get lasting results without being consistent – by “showing up” over time, regularly, and sticking with it.  I look at it as every day I am planting seeds. It takes a long time for seeds to take root and grow, sometimes many years; I think of the old “Johnny Appleseed” cartoon from Disney, how this one man wandering through the emerging American states and giving seeds to others left a heritage that he never saw come to fruition. Whatever your age or physical shape, or “invisible” muscle fitness – change will only come if you move ahead. I try to remember to focus not on “where are the results” TODAY,  but rather, did I take the action that I needed to today.   I need to let taking the steps be my first priority – the results will come, whatever they are or are not. They certainly won’t come at all if I don’t keep on keeping on.  Plant the seeds of the life you want tomorrow – many tomorrows away – each and every day.    

Change your vocabulary – Reconsider what YOU consider to be success and failure – not someone else. Setting a standard for what you “should be” able to accomplish by looking at the people around you is POINTLESS and a WASTE OF TIME.  Success is a process, not a destination; failure is our coach, not our nemesis. I need to be open to learning; to not assume what I am doing is right, but study, share, try the new; dare to stumble and look awkward because, hey, that’s just how it works.  When we were children, it was easier – we didn’t have these facades of pride to maintain, we built those up and now they box us in – but if we break through, we can embrace the new, and discover, and create, something better.  Failure happens; success without failure is a myth, move on knowing that the next step is what matters now.  Embrace the rhythm and romance of the dance between striving, falling, and rising again, renewed. 

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Be your own cheerleader. All the coaching and training or encouragement from others cannot supplant what we must provide for ourselves;  beating yourself up for all the things you failed to do, to be, is kind of like being offered the “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly and saying “no, I think I would rather be unhappy”.  You have to be 100 percent on your side – no books, no apps or trainer or videos or diet can replace your choice to believe in your own potential. I didn’t grow up in a family of cheerleaders – most of us did not – so, perhaps like Genie in Aladdin, we all need to just build an army of inner voices saying “Yes I can” to find that boost.  So grab the pom poms and start your own squad!  Be your own torch bearer in your daily Olympic opening ceremony – hear those trumpets, listen to the cheers, and rejoice in what you can do. Only you are the judges, you hold up those numbers on cards, and you hand out the medals. 

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See the dream, not the chasm. The gap between where you are and where you wish to be has a strong gravity, and an endless hunger; if you let it, it will suck you in, you will wallow in darkness and discouragement, and you will never be able to enjoy the progress you made to date – or to build on it and move ahead.  It’s so easy to fall in; to see something you cannot get beyond. Instead, see the next step, and take it in faith. Let that step be enough! Some days just let it be enough to celebrate being where you are, knowing every day offers a new starting line, and holding on to certainty you can move ahead. Goals and dreams are wonderful but be realistic and celebrate every victory (just not with ice cream).  If there was not a gap between where you are and where you want to be, we would never learn to stretch, to gain strength, to get up and keep going.  The bridge between you and your destination is built one step at a time.

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Find joy in yourself as you are today.  No, this does not contradict the power of dreams; but yearning only for a different tomorrow robs you of celebrating the imperfection of today.  Guess what? You are ALWAYS going to have something that isn’t what you wish it to be. And no matter how you grow or what you achieve, there will always be something beckoning beyond.  Your dreams and goals should be a beacon for hope, inspiring you to reach forward – not a burden of guilt and shame that buries you in a bleak despair. Whatever “fit” means for you, this journey does not have a finish line; you are building a way of life, not to “arrive” but to travel on. This is not the Olympics, or even high school PE; there is no clock timer at the end of your run reporting “the final result”.  We only, ever, have the now, blended from what we were given and that which we created; tomorrow offers the yield from those seeds we plant today;  and yesterday is just an old photo album with memories, some good, some bad, but none as alive as the moment that we are in right NOW.  Look for, discover, and share today’s joys. 

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Those are the lessons I am learning each day as I get in the car and drive to the gym, and struggle through my workout, going home exhausted.  It’s funny, perhaps, and I have no idea how many other people might have felt this way – but I never really felt “at home” in my body.  Surely not in those junior high PE classes; decades later, still, not in the gym where bodybuilders seemingly have achieved Adonis physiques and Hercules strength.  I hate to admit it, but Olive Oil might beat me at arm wrestling!  Still, somehow, this process of exercising has helped me sense a greater integration between body, mind and spirit.  A weaving together as I accept the limits of who I am, while still reaching to achieve what I can.  That scared, hurting little boy is finding new wings, and you can too.   

I am still “finding my fit” – and I hope my wandering thoughts give you some encouragement to keep looking for your own.  It’s worth the quest – even if at 63 I am beyond being able to achieve the outward results that my quest initially saw as the goal. It’s kind of exciting to realize the true treasures awaiting me will not be visible to the eye but will be of far greater value.  I will talk about that a little bit more in my next post.  In the meantime – I’ll be at the gym tomorrow, and many thereafter. Growing in mind, spirit, and body – together. Perhaps I will see you there – let’s give each other a boost.  Keep on keeping on, friends. 

Wherever you go, there you – are?

Now some may consider that to be a philosophical statement; and, I guess, like any statement, you can find a way to insert something you already believe to be true into that space and make it fit.  For me, that phrase was a throwaway line in the initially obscure, now somewhat cult film “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eigthh Dimension”.  It was a flop when released in the 80’s, with a great cast and wild storyline full of what now would be called “geeky” “easter eggs”.   I think it was making fun of a lot of cultural sacred cows, but … what do I know? 

Still, the phrase comes to mind now that fall is here.  When this blog was conceived, it was winter; spring when it burst forth, now two seasons later and six months into a still strange world that I continue to resist embracing as the familiar.  My goal when I began was to share elements of my life, and ongoing journey of discovery, in the hopes that it might have meaning for others – certainly more than it would just being kept in my own head.  I didn’t have a destination in mind – I just knew I wanted to write about those things that were key to a lot of personal transformation in my life, knowing that process still continues. 

But there were goals I set during this period, that I put effort into; some have been achieved, others not.  There are those nights I wake up frustrated wondering what I am doing wrong; why I am not seeing more progress on things that I claim are priorities to me, but to which I devote little time, while eagerly chasing some diversion that requires less effort, devotion and discipline.  Days go by that seem wasted, and I think … wow, I am now more than halfway to my next birthday.  My last birthday was the first weekend of shelter in place; will my next birthday be all that different? 

One of the ways I dealt with my frustration at feeling cooped up, trapped, cut off from so much of what I enjoyed in life and buried under a constant avalanche of dire, doom and gloom news – was to exercise.  I was fortunate to have some personal fitness equipment.  Some of you who have known me wayyyy back when know that I was at one time over 250 pounds, a consequence of seeking comfort from food or other sources that could never provide it, and the mindsets that kept me trapped in self rejection and hatred.  Hopefully, some of what I have shared here of my journey away from that point have helped some readers look at their own caves and realize that they need to get out, and there is a way out, but it takes time and effort. Well, I figured I could finally transform my body into the ideal I have held it up against for 45 years, or at least get closer.   People were going to gasp in awe and amazement at my transformed magnificence!  (well, something like that). 

Isn’t this the reverse? Why would the “new me” see the “now me” in the mirror?

Six months later … I have not been transformed. I spent hours on the back patio, with the bench, clumsily following video guidance, listening to music for that upbeat energy.  Recently, our city leaders allowed outdoor training at the gym to return, so I spent a significant chunk of money for me on a training package a little more than a month ago; in the weeks since, the doors opened a little more, first with a tent filled with equipment in the gym parking lot, then with one hour appointment only blocks indoors, masked, with various other restrictions.  I will say my trainer knows his stuff – but so do all the well-toned muscular men (and some women!) I see surrounding me with much heavier weights, and, well, all the rest.  Are gay men necessarily more obsessed with fitness than others? I cannot say, but there are a lot in this gym who have reaped the rewards of years of devotion.  I fight depression when I leave, knowing I might as well be planning a trip to Mars. 

Grieving this apparent lack of results and vowing that the next six months will not be a repeat – I began thinking about what I need to make more of a priority in my life, and what I need to drop. Being forced to reflect a little more on what exactly I want to achieve, how to structure my day to be effective, and what else to set aside – I am coming to realize another surprising truth about my inner compass.  I seem to be driven by some deeply buried but unachievable desire to accomplish change; to become more like the ideal that has always haunted me, taunted me, whether it was a matter of character, maturity, personal skill or interpersonal success – I never seem to be ok with where I am.  I was never “good enough”. After all the work I had done with those who helped me to get somewhat beyond the shame I had embraced over some of the deepest parts of my identity, I still was trying to get to some place that I simply could not reach. 

And this song came to mind …

Written as instrumental by Vince Guaraldi as part of an album related to the film “Black Orpheus”, in time lyrics were added and “Cast your fate to the wind” was covered by many artists, as well as convincing the production team behind “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to commission the trio for that soundtrack that forever will remind of us of Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy.  But why was this song coming to mind? 

I have always longed for a map.   Whether in my youth it was the teachings of the church, or the grades on my report card telling me I had gotten it “Right” – I sought absolutes.  I remember only half-jokingly telling friends after I came out that I needed to find “The Big Book of Gay” to figure it all out.   I never found that book, and although I read many, many others on life, happiness, spiritual principles and personal growth – I remained deeply unsatisfied with myself.  It’s not a pleasant place to be – surely you don’t blame me for wanting to get out of it! 

But those quests, although worthwhile, did not bring me to the place I sought. Quietly, slowly, my awareness is opening to a new possibility. I am beginning to think that the challenge is not how to become someone I am not – that idealization physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and intellectually that I hold myself up to.   Rather … I need to not necessarily just accept where I am as where I am going to end up – but to, for now, “own” where I am.  Who I am, my flaws and my little shiny spots, my cold empty corners and my hallways of the heart filled with light and music – all of them.

Could it be that one cannot leave a place until one has made it their own? I do not recommend casting my fate (or yours) to the wind – but the reality is that much of what comes our way is completely unexpected and out of control, and to pretend we can somehow take the reins and maneuver all those forces to get us to some specific point is in itself a fine madness.  When a friend says “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” …. Maybe it’s both?  I try every day to do something that when it is over I can say – I reached out.  I touched someone else I care about in a way that made a difference to them, however small.  To not go to bed without having made that day, somehow, matter.

Treasure your yesterday with gratitude..

Embrace your today with joy …

Create your tomorrows with hope.

The New NormL

I am not giving up on my quest; in fact, as I write today, I admit I haven’t really determined what it is I am still questing for.  Does your heart long for something more than what you hold today? Can you feel that, or have you tried to quench it – to say, shut up, heart, I don’t want to try anymore – I just need to get by.  It’s not for me to say which perspective is healthy, but I guess what I am realizing is that until I make peace with who I am today – my whole person – I will be forever trying to cut off something that I will always be carrying with me, wasting time on trying to be someone who I am not instead of finding ways to let the person I am do what I am able while still here.  Wherever I go, they will be coming along – might as well love them! 

To live each day as though what we do matters, because it does;  to see each person we encounter as a little piece of the wonderous something that brought all this into existence, because they are; and to simply let our hands be open in case a butterfly decides to drop by for a visit, even though they never have.  We awaken each morning to a day filled with the unknown, promise, possibilities and dangers – we are here, now.  Take a deep breath, enjoy it – and onward, friends. 

Thank you, followers – I always love hearing from you (well, almost always!)