Category Archives: Ramblings
Last weekend I caught a break in the torrential downpours occurring for days on end and wandered into a nearby woodland. The quest was simple, to see what I could see. I was not disappointed! All the rain had kept the general public away for the weekend and the woods were a vibrant green. On top of that, the birds and wildlife were taking advantage of the break in the weather as well. Still looking for my first snake of the year but this was a solid trip.
It was a good little adventure. Come on along with me on a bit of a wet and slick ridge climb!
Next weekend, I’m heading into the woods on my first bushcraft/minimalist camping trip of the season. I’ll be taking the camera with me to be sure. I’m super excited about the trip as I’ve had to cancel three times previously. If all goes well, I’ll be in the woods for two straight days.
More to come!
I’m not sure why I’m writing this.
My muse has been quite certain about the fact I’m supposed to write something here and has been very annoyed I’ve not been listening. You can tell your muse is annoyed when the idea she’s sent you becomes a constant, nagging and repetitive thought in your mind no matter how much you try to ignore it. Matter of fact, the more you ignore it, the worse it gets! At this point, I’m only really writing this in the hopes of getting some sleep. (Don’t tell my muse!)
When I find myself worn at the end of the day and still looking an hour long workout in the face, a blank word processing screen or maybe just frustrated with the job and or ignorance and hatred around me, I like to watch short motivational interviews. While watching one a week or so ago, I heard a quote from motivational speaker, Les Brown.
“Oh no, there is no guarantee you will show up tomorrow. There are a lot of people who were here yesterday, but they’re not here today. There are a lot of opportunities that were around yesterday; they’re not here today.”
When I heard those words they stuck with me. Maybe it was because of my own recent experience. My mind rolled it around and around and then I came up with a slight variation. It’s my mantra. I try to carry it with me into and through every workout, every day going into work, every time I sit down to write, every night as I go to sleep. Sometimes I forget but, lately, it seems to have a memory of it’s own, popping into my head like a helpful genie. It goes like this.
“There were people around yesterday that wanted to be here today. They’re not here. You might be the one that doesn’t show up tomorrow. You have today. You have right now. “
I’ve said it to myself so much it’s not really the words anymore. It’s the essence behind them. The key is taking the time to really sink into the concept that, really, you may not be here tomorrow. What does that look like? How does it feel? What immaterial things disappear? What dreams for the day come to the fore?
I’m no stranger to history and philosophy and I was struck with the similarity it carried with all manner of ancient thought regarding the concept of Death and “Not being here tomorrow.” There is a massive amount of literature and internet links out there on the concept of carrying Death with you. It’s not my intent to go deeply into all of them. However, I did want to present some of what I found.
First, I thought it was very similar to the Hagakure, the 18th century treatise on the Samurai code. That simple idea that by acknowledging Death daily you fully experience Life. I did a bit of digging and found this little gem written by Daidoji Yuzan, an Edo samurai.
“One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind…the fact that he has to die. If he is always mindful of this, he will be able to live in accordance with the paths of loyalty and filial duty, will avoid myriads of evils and adversities, keep himself free of disease and calamity and moreover enjoy a long life.”
And the unstated, “If things don’t go well and you accidentally step in front of a bus, at least you were at peace with your impermanence!”
I also found a reference that I was unable to validate to an original source. I have no idea which “masters of old” he is referring. Regardless, I thought it was pretty good. It came from Philip Kapleau and “The Zen of Living and Dying”
“Masters of old advise, ‘Stick the word Death on your forehead and keep it there.”
Finally, while bouncing around the web, I found a great piece by the Dali Lama. If you want a more in-depth read I highly recommend it. I’ll leave you with this part of it.
“Our present lives, however, are not forever. But to think: “Death is the enemy” is totally wrong. Death is part of our lives. Of course, from the Buddhist viewpoint, this body is in some sense an enemy. In order to develop genuine desire for moksha – liberation – then we do need that kind of attitude: that this very birth, this body, its very nature is suffering and so we want to cease that. But this attitude can create a lot of problems. If you consider death is the enemy, then this body is also the enemy, and life as a whole is the enemy. That’s going a little bit too far.”
I’m far from any kind of guru or samurai and I think sticking Death on your forehead would make for a very weird tattoo. It would probably, depending on the job, cut down on job interviews. Would maybe a post-it note work? It would probably fall off a lot. I think it might also get you a visit from your office Human Resources.
Joking aside, I’ve simply found a nugget of old wisdom, a phrase that works for me and which, oddly enough, brings me peace with a daily thought process and routine. I feel blessed to have stumbled upon it. It’s a helpful reminder and it brings me focus about what is important. I share it in hopes it helps someone else down the road.
So, this is my final post in this particular series. As I mentioned in Part One, and with a direct reference to the amazing movie “Hook”, back in June I had a bit of an apostrophe.
The first goal that came out of that was to be stronger and more healthy than I had ever been before in my life. The second goal was to get in shape and to run obstacle races. Those are now in full swing. Now, it’s time for me to go over the third, and possibly the most important, goal which came through that little “lightning to the top of my brain” experience.
I’m returning to being a writer.
You see, Life came around a little while ago and I kind of forgot I was a writer. Like Peter in Hook, I got spun around in the world and forgot. In this world of finances and internet and fun computer games and laundry and hiking and children and, well, all of that, it’s an easy thing to do. I think it happens to all of us. You forget your passion. Like anything else, you get your hands full with everything else and, in haste, you set it down and forget it.
It seems odd you would treat your passion with such abandon but we do it, don’t we? Your passion is important! It’s what makes you YOU. But, it’s easy to do. We all have done it for one reason or another. We do it out of Love, out of Survival and, yes, out of fear. (I think it happens mostly out of fear but we’ll talk about that later.)
You passion comes whispering back to you in quiet moments. For me it is always, “Hey, this would be a fun story.” or “You know that epic fantasy story you’ve had in your head. You want to get back to that sometime? If so, here’s a cool scene to write out.”
They come in during the half-asleep times or when I’m running or in the shower. (My creative muse, for some reason, lives in the shower. I really need her to show up more while I’m running…) They come back and you wave your hand at them, sending them away. “Not now! I’ve got this THING to do.”
And they flitter away, flying off into the bushes. But…
“Listen to us,” they pleadingly whisper. “You’re supposed to do this, you know?”
They always come back.
I actually made the decision to do this back in July. However, I wanted to have a month or so to get focused on my workouts, on being with family as we got through a transitional August and I wanted to get the rest of my RPG rules written. However, I quietly made a very fierce goal with myself. September. Regardless of anything else going on, I’m starting this in September.
And so, I am.
I have several goals in this but most important is just the simple one of focus. Like my workouts, I started slow. I’ll start by looking at a few old stories of mine and starting edits. I’ll start small batch writing on projects that interest me. I’m not worried about the fire coming back and pounding out 3000 words. That will come of it’s own.
I’m just going to, every day, turn my head to the writer’s block.
I know the momentum will build from there because that is what happens when you listen to your Passion.
In my last post I mentioned the commitment and investment of working out and getting healthy.
What I’m spending financially in September on my health goals and personal training, once it’s all said and done, could do a lot of things. It could get our family a new television, a new computer. It could buy a new set of winter clothes. It could help get our old car ready for winter. I had to get my brain around spending that money on myself in order to get healthy, especially with the fact that I am not overweight or in poor health to begin with!
I wanted to discuss it further here because I think the idea it’s ok to invest money on our health while we are healthy is something which is not thought about or supported in our culture. We are taught to consume and to play and to have fun, to spend millions of dollars on items we are told we “need.” It’s even alright to spend money on fixing ourselves AFTER we have consumed too much; IE – food, movies, video games, etc. Yet, when it comes time to spend that money on ourselves and improve ourselves, when there is no “obvious” reason why we should do it, the mind (and the minds of your friends and family) seem to take a stutter-step. At least this is what I found mine doing. Why is that? What is it about our culture that teaches us to hesitate on our goals like this?
I latched onto the idea of an investment. This is my investment to myself. However, it is also an investment for my family, for my wife. By getting healthy I am insuring I am able to help carry items in my son’s move, to pick my daughter up for a hug, to go for a long, adventurous hike with my wife to see beautiful wilderness or to help my mother as she gets older to help keep up her house with outdoor maintenance chores. When I go to volunteer, as I did last weekend for a food drive, I could carry more bags of food to the waiting car. I could stand longer on the concrete and hand out flyers without my back or feet hurting. The amount the investment will return on itself is incalculable because it does not focus entirely on dollars and cents. It has a much higher payout down the road.
On the fifth week of my Spartan workout (my second 4th week because I repeated it) I had to do my workout later in the evening. It was close to 9:00 PM, going on 9:30. I had a full day under my belt and not much food in my belly. I was tired. When I took a breather I muttered, “Why am I doing this again?” I laughed because the answer came to mind immediately.
Because, right now, I’m building the body I will grow old in. As time goes by, do I want it to be strong and healthy or weak and problematic?
As I looked at our budget and what my wife and I are doing for ourselves, I shared this thought with her and she agreed. Our souls may be fiery meteors of energy and life but our bodies are infinite and will, eventually, decline. We, right now, are building those bodies as strong as we can so we can, hopefully, grow old in them.
And that, hands down, beats any kind of new television, clothes, laptop. Besides, when I get in better shape I won’t need a car in winter, right?
I’ll just super leap over to my job! Problem solved!
Another challenger arises!
Tomorrow morning my son and I head north to GenCon, the largest gaming convention in the country. This is a very good thing and I’ve been looking forward to it all year. (Next year, depending on how this workout thing goes, I might even do some costuming.) I’ve been going to GenCon for mucho years. I’m no stranger to what I like to call “the hallowed halls.” For the event coming up, I’ll be posting pics and commentary over on my game blog. Feel free to wander over there if you want to see more.
However, because I know this arena, I know where the pitfalls lie and what dangers lurk! The challenge comes in the fact that I have three workouts to get done over those four days. My son, who is also in a workout program, has four workouts to get done. “No problem!” you might say, “Get those workouts done at the hotel either before or afterwards.”
This is a true statement and exactly what we are going to do. However, it’s easier said than done. Here are the details.
- Our hotel is not close and we have about a 20 minute drive.
- We need to be downtown by no later than 9 AM to stand any chance at all of decent parking. The real deadline is 8 AM.
- Most nights we will not be returning to the hotel until around Midnight and we will be wiped out from lots of walking and enjoying ourselves.
- We each have 30 to 45 minute workouts. We also need to shower afterwards and clean-up.
- We absolutely have to get a good breakfast before hitting the convention floor.
You should be able to see where this is headed? It would appear that we are looking at around a 5:30 or 6:00 AM wake-up time for us to get those in, get cleaned in the hotel room, get breakfast AND make the downtown parking garages in time.
Tomorrow is somewhat easier. My son has a rest day and I plan on hitting my strength/calisthenics first thing in the morning. It will be tomorrow and the weekend where the real test will happen!
The secondary challenge comes in the fact that it could be a struggle to find healthy food in this haven for dice, food trucks, board games and soda. Oh, it can be done but it will not be easy. We’re packing our own snacks and protein bars for back-up. Though I am not placing myself on any kind of strict diet just yet, I’ve been trying very hard to watch my sugars and any kind of fried foods, etc. My son is on a very regulated diet with his program. We are going to have to dig deep in our creative convention exploring skills to find what he needs. I’ve scouted out at least one vegetarian option for him and I’m sure we will just have to be creative when the time comes. (Or walk a butt load of city blocks to find a good food place.)
Will we have the skill rankings and the fortitude scores to succeed? Will we succumb to the seduction of late night gaming and an inability to hear our alarms in the morning?
There’s only one way to know for sure!
This weekend I started Week Three on my journey of intensive training. (It was actually week 5 as I had started doing workouts two weeks prior.) I plowed through my running day with no problems and felt great afterwards. Sunday was my calisthenic and strength day. According to the workout plan, sets and exercises were amped up one small step towards reps. My energy was down a bit but I was ready. I could do this. I was excited for no other reason than the simple fact I would be putting those Bear Walk Holds to good use and actually doing some Bear Walking. I was also going to start doing Crab Walks. How exciting!
I opted after warm-up to do it outside. The sun was out and it was warm. It was also humid and because I had decided on a lazy Sunday morning, it was about mid-day. That laziness choice would bite me in the butt and teach me a solid lesson later.
My set rotation is push-ups, plank holds, squats, lunges, side lunges and then bear and crab walks. Today, I was to do 4 sets. A pretty tight and efficient workout. Right after my first plank I knew I was in trouble. It seemed like all my energy went into holding that plank and as I went into squats I was sweating and tired. The heat quickly went from mild to oppressive over the course of the set. (I’d not looked at the temperature before going out and found out later the heat index had been up near 90. Smart move!)
I took my break eagerly and then hit Set Two. After Set Two I was a mess. My Pandora music station wasn’t working for me. My form had been bad throughout and it felt like the wheels were coming off. Not only that but mentally things had started to crumble. I started having variations on the following thought, “This sucks. Maybe I should just repeat Week 2?” or, “You’ve not done that much and look at you. You’re no spring chicken. Take it easy. Just stop here and you can reset to Week Two.” And, my favorite, “The air conditioning feels so good back at home…”
I almost bought into it. I was gasping for air, my shoulders were on fire and I was pretty miserable. It just seemed like I had nothing in my tank! On top of that my monkey mind was chattering about how uncomfortable it was. I took a knee after that second set and decided to take a longer break to get everything back under control. So, with my knee pressing into the concrete, sweat rolling off my nose and chin, I stayed there until I could get my breathing back. I did some mindfulness meditation around my breath and went inward.
Did I want to tap out? No. Did I want to reset to Week Two? No but maybe I should… And that’s when something clicked. Wait a minute. Should? Should?!?! It was time to look at that word a bit more closely. I was told several years ago to be careful about “shoulding” on myself and how the word itself should (ha!) be avoided. I realized this was a defining moment for me.
In the past I would have opted for the reset to Week 2. The “should” would not have come up. I would have mumbled some excuses to myself and taken the reset. Make no mistake, I was miserable in that moment. Yet, somehow, I latched onto that one word and while I focused on my breathing and on the moment, everything fell into place. It was not just a simple choice at this moment. It was a big choice. It was a defining choice.
Thinking back on it I wonder what it looked like on the outside? I like to tuck myself away, back in an out of the way corner near my apartment’s workout building. I doubt no one saw me in this moment. If they had, it would have been a simple sight. An exhausted middle-aged guy, on one knee, recovering and getting his breath back. “Gee, he looks tired.” That’s it. No sign whatsoever of the inner battle, struggle and decisions going on. How turbulent it was internally! How often do we see athletes like this and we just think, “Oh, they’re just getting their breath back,” and have no concept of the battle being waged on the inside.
I made a decision. I was going to finish this damn thing. I would take breaks if necessary but I was not resetting to Week 2. I was finishing this damn workout. As I stood up it was as if the Pandora Gods were looking out for me because what happened to play next? Battle without Honor or Humanity from Kill Bill, Vol. #1. It was perfect.
Make no mistake, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t smooth, sure movements. It was a battle with myself with no honor and I’m real glad I was alone in that secluded corner because I was spitting, cussing and growling my way through every rep. Either I went down or it did. It was more than the “breaking through” I posted earlier. It was a fight with deep self-esteem based beliefs and habits that had made a little rat’s nest inside of me. When the fourth set and my past habits lay broken and bleeding on the concrete behind me I was exhausted. I stumbled home and had to use both hands to lift my water bottle because my arms were shot. The rest of the day was a downward spiral towards sleep and I crashed out at around 7:30 or 8 PM.
But, you know what?
I walked away from that spot knowing I had won, that I had surpassed anything I had ever done in my past. And that feeling? That sense of completion, attainment and courageously breaking new ground?
It was, and still is, amazing.
(However, next time, I won’t be waiting to do my workout at Noon in the middle of July!)
Post edit – Looking back over my workout schedule I saw that I was not required to do 4 Sets at all. This week only required 3. *headdesk* 😀 But I did it anyway, right? RIGHT?
I decided to move ahead and do a light run on Monday. With the family schedule getting jam-packed with the Otter Wife’s own training and schedule, I was unable to run until about two hours after dinner. I’m glad I did because I was treated to an amazing sunset and some lovely evening weather. It was a perfect time to be out!
Tuesday morning, I woke up from sleeping on my right side and the soreness in my right hip had returned. As the day rolled forward the stiffness stuck around. It’s about a 3 on a 1-10 and more an annoyance than anything. I made sure to get up from my desk at work about every 45 minutes to walk it out. Luckily, Tuesday was a rest day and after forcing myself out to do something Monday I gladly kicked my feet up and chilled out last night.
As the family scrambled for coffee, breakfast and prep for the work day, a topic of discussion came up. Maybe it goes without saying but my middle son is starting a workout/weight loss program for the first time. A lot of this is new to him. Getting healthy, and I mean going the whole route of exercise, diet and habit changes, requires a change of focus. It is so much more than just “working out.”
I think this is, ultimately, what bounces people off the path of getting fit. It’s not the workout. It’s everything else that comes along with it and what you have to sacrifice to do it! If all I had to do was workout 45 minutes five days a week to be healthy, so what? A little soreness, yeah. A little exhaustion, alright.
However, in order to do it right, it’s much more. You have to change your diet and your habits. If at all possible, you need to shop mindfully as well as make your own meals. This also includes lunch at work. This takes time. You also have to clean up after your cooking. This takes time. In the summer even a short thirty minute workout can drench me in sweat which tacks on a shower and clothing change to my day, sometimes twice a day if it’s bad outside. That’s more time added. In no time, that simple idea of a 45 minute workout can turn into almost 2 extra hours. Now, you’re talking close to 10+ or more hours a week. When you tack this onto a work day that often stretches to 9 or 10 hours (with prep for the day and travel and errands to and from), a need to get at least 7-8 hours sleep, and, well, you can see where this is going.
It’s not the workout. The real discipline comes with all the things surrounding the workout. That’s where the sacrifice comes in and can be tough to match if you have young kids or are, for instance, working two jobs. It’s also a challenge if you are just in an entirely different life pattern or in a different habit of what you eat. No more quick stops at the fast food joints! Instead, it’s time in the grocery store, time in the kitchen, time in the gym. You also cannot forget that buying solid, healthy food is more expensive. Now, you have a time sink AND a money sink.
Sure, the number of push-ups, squats and miles running help strengthen you but it’s the recognition of the need to change habits, your thought patterns, and making sacrifices to them that get you moving in the right direction!
Today is my first big workout since the weekend. The weather looks to be perfect and I am thinking of going to a nearby woods and lake to do it. Give me that over a gym any day.
Is it weird I’m actually looking forward to it?
I appear to be right on the edge of over-training. I pumped through a great workout yesterday. My left knee was bothering me a bit but it seemed to ease up ten minutes into the workout. Several exercises, in particular the planks and bear crawls, I did to complete, muscle quivering exhaustion. At the end, I found myself lying on my back, on the concrete, in the hot weekend sun with sweat pouring off of me and, oddly enough, feeling tired but good. It took about fifteen minutes to get cooled down and after some food I started to feel much better. In that time I stretched and eased myself down. A few hours later I bent over to grab some clothes off the floor and felt what I thought was the beginning of a cramp in my lower back and hip. It was just a light ping and I even laughed about it as I stopped, laid down and stretched it out. No more than a 2 on the 1 – 10 scale.
An hour later some serious stiffness was starting to develop and it was going into the range of a 5. I stretched some more and walked it out. Ibuprofen helped. This morning, it was not too bad. A minor tightness that could very well feel better by this evening. However, something else happened this morning or, I should say, didn’t happen. Usually in the mornings I wake up and after a small bit I feel pretty good. Since working out I usually feel pretty strong and confident in the morning. I can feel the muscles and the sense of solidity. This morning that feeling never showed up. I felt weak and just kind of “blah.” I know what that means and I could almost hear the warning klaxon going off in my head.
During my high school years on the basketball team, I suffered a lot of injuries and exhaustion. I remember nights where I lay in my room with aching joint pain unable to sleep or awoke at 3 in the morning with severe cramping. At the time I thought it was just me and, I realize now, it caused some self-esteem issues. I learned, in my college years after a sports physiology class and some martial arts, that as a fast growing 6’8″ basketball player, I had been over-trained and mis-trained by the coaching staff. I had been growing too fast and some of the exercises they put us through, while fine for a normally growing teenager, were actually doing damage to my joints and body. Hence, the injuries and exhaustion. This got brought home to me this weekend during my high school reunion. I was able to see some pics of me from the basketball team. I also got to see pics of me on the junior high team. I was surprised to see that in Junior High I had the initial beginnings of bulk and muscle. When I looked at the later High School pics I was surprised to see myself as I remembered from that time, thin, stringy and no bulk.
Tomorrow is a rest day. The question going through my head this morning is, “Do I push through a running day today, taking it easy, or do I go ahead and just take two days off for recovery?” I would not call my hip “injured” at all. The thought of calling it such makes me chuckle. It’s just stiff. It seems to warm up and do better through movement. However, on a more general level, am I pushing myself too hard? As much as I hate it I do need to be respectful of my age and my current level of conditioning.
I’m going to chew on it through the day and gauge the stiffness throughout the day. An injury will piss me off more than I can describe right now. At the same time, I don’t want to shy away from the hard work of simply stretching out a kinked muscle. Depending on how I feel this evening it may or may not be Go Time.
I’ll keep you posted.
I also welcome any thoughts or bits of information on the matter!
Quick Edit — Since my muscle issue faded through the day, I did decide to do a workout today. I did modify it into a light run. It was perfect. Afterwards, I felt good and was treated to an awesome sunset to boot!
Up in the middle of the night. I’m watching Robin William’s clips. I’ve been watching or listening to him since I was 12 or 13. I had his first vinyl record and as a proper adolescent would listen to it in secret and with glee. As a youth, I memorized his skits.
Currently, thanks to the wonders of the 21st Century, I’m in the dead of the night watching him on talk shows. I’m watching how he interacted with the hosts, how focused and silly he could be. I’m seeing how much joy he carried for their own jokes and how, on a dime, he could be honest, serious, heartfelt and wise.
Still trying to make sense of things a few days ago, I wrote a blog post about it and, like the tears on the news of his passing, the words just kept coming out and made quite a mess. That blog post ended up not making much sense so, like kleenex, I tossed it.
In that tangle of emotion and words, however, there was one idea that did make sense. So, I wrote another one. This one.
Did we lose a light in the world? Yes. Yes, we did. However to say that and just move on with your life is no way to honor his part in it. “Thanks for coming to the party and for the laughs, Mr. Williams. Take care. Have a safe drive. Mind the traffic on your way home…”
No. I don’t think that’s what his life was about, what he came here to do.
The only way to truly honor his gifts is to make a conscious effort to keep the damned torch burning. It’s about stopping and making a decision to carry intelligent foolishness, to not take this life so damned serious. Be funny to one another, carry joy. To represent not HIS style of humor and caring, but YOUR OWN. More importantly, it is about having the courage to share it with others. Passing it on and lifting someone else up with a laugh or a smile or a joke who may be having a harder time than you.
I suppose THAT’s the only sense I’ve been able to make of it. It’s my sense. It’s time to keep it burning, share it. I can’t believe I’m the only one having trouble sleeping and processing the past few days. Maybe this has helped, maybe not. Ultimately you’re going to have to find your own in all of it and maybe this will help.
God speed, Mr. Williams. Thank you for the laughs, the wisdom and the Light. We’ll do our best to take it from here.