I try to get to the gym three times a week, sometimes four. Reality is usually slightly less. I’m not sure if I’m a gym kind of person, but then I’m not sure anyone is. But then again, I think I might be, because I find it nourishing, both to my physical self and my spiritual self and it’s not really a natural thing so maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. What I am saying is…I go to the gym and I like it for a number of reasons.
I somewhat prefer being in a communal space, gyming (yes, to gym is a verb) with other people as opposed to having the equipment at home and doing it alone. You get to watch the progress of others over time as you see the same them coming back. Muscles becoming more defined, increasing stamina, weight being shed. It is a place where I can really feel proud of my friends – friends you rarely speak to or even know the names of despite the fact that you might spend 3 or 4 hours with them a week. I have my own names for them instead. I wouldn’t call them these to their faces however.
Many times, usually when I’m on the treadmill, I have to fight hard to stop myself from laughing as the reality of what I am doing hits me. I am running, but I am going nowhere. There is a room full of people moving really quickly but going absolutely nowhere. We’re like pilgrim hamsters, having travelled from our cages to the community wheel centre where they have a whole load of wheels, on which we run and run. The other day I travelled 22km altogether getting to the gym and back. 18km of which I spent in one room, running, cycling, rowing, and swimming myself to absolutely nowhere.
We do this for a number of reasons but it all boils down to the maintenance of one’s own body – like taking it for a tune up to optimise the engine performance. It is during these times I see body and self as disconnected from one another – there is something within the people at the gym, which is not defined by their body or by their looks, but it is seeking to reflect outwardly something of itself. It is a conflict between our inner selves and our outer bodies, which is often the battle we take through life – it’s that of authenticity vs. superficiality.
When our bodies are put in distress we go beyond our superficial selves and ‘dig deep’ to find the strength to pull us through. This strength is found in our character and our ability to be confident in who we are, aware of our own strengths and limitations but also pushing our selves despite our bodies, not allowing external weariness to defeat internal passion. This is linked to the need for us to be comfortable in failure/falling – for not caring about how we look during the event, above caring for how we respond to it. Character is built, not as a conscious thing in itself, but as a life responding to experience and through learning to stand up to those things that control us. Character develops when we face what we fear and deal with it.
Character is not just individualistic; it is also very much a communal thing. The historical human world is completely founded upon people standing together to overcome adverse circumstances – not always positively, but always character building. When we see the crap that is going on around us just in our own countries, whether that is job losses, spending cuts, homelessness, corporate greed etc do we only respond if it directly affects us or do we see humanity as one multitudinous self, of which incredible character can be built? You need not look further than the Middle East and North Africa in recent times to see the strength of corporate character as the people of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt faced up to the body that had kept them living in fear for so long and pushed out their authentic desires and selves from beneath. It has not been easy and it is never finished, which is one of the most important things to remember; our character is never complete, all it does is gives us a foundation for the way we will respond to adversity as well as prosperity and this is dynamic as long as we are still alive. The day we think we are complete is the day we open ourselves up to tyranny of the mind again.
Strong characters inspire others to do a lot with very little. They don’t give up when they are discouraged and they don’t hold grudges. They don’t try to prove themselves to or impress other people with their character because they don’t fear not fitting in with moulds, norms and hierarchies that restrict their freedom to seek to be free. They always see themselves as a beginner, as a learner and take new things from all situations – because of this they never rest on their laurels. They are not normal and that is why we hold them in such high regard. Often we hate them because we fear the implications of what they say with regards to what it means to ourselves. We seek out the conflicting voices in order to justify our own desire for the status quo and build up a culture of hate toward those who make us think about things differently from what we find comfortable. This is bred by fear and leads to a perpetual state of violence.
Do we give sufficient space in life for our own characters to grow or do we have everything in its right place so that we can be comfortable in order to survive as efficiently, as painlessly and as disconnectedly from others as possible?