More Life Lesson from the Weight Room

I want to thank everyone who commented on the last post. It confirmed my belief that life, itself, will tell us everything we need to know if we are just paying attention.

Here are a few more lessons from the weight room.

You Will Be Asked to Take Risks

For many years, I had a small clipping on my refrigerator that I had taken from a magazine. It read, The Only Risk is Not Taking One. No, I don’t do extreme sports. I have climbed a Fourteener or two (that’s shorthand for one of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. mountains), but I don’t make a habit of taking risks just for the sake of taking risks. But life itself is a risk and a well-lived life requires a willingness to take frequent, calculated risks, as well as some that feel like a trusting jump into the abyss.

Even getting to the weight room in the first place is a risk. I really didn’t know until I tried it if weight resistance training was something I would love enough to do consistently so I could have the stronger body I wanted. It was. And while I will not suggest for a moment that I have a body to envy, it is stronger thanks to the training. Every time I have tried something new at the gym or increased the weight on a machine or the free weights, it has been a risk. Can I do it? Will I hate it so much I’ll avoid it? Will I embrace it? Will I stick with it?

In the gym, there are trainers to help us and colleagues to encourage us. In the rest of life, there are those to teach and encourage us as well. But we have to take the first step. We have to be willing to take the risk.

Meditation Can Be Practiced Anywhere

The gym is a very meditative place for me. Yes, I do sitting meditation, as well as other forms and other activities I view as meditation–including my workout in the weight room. Counting repetitions is similar to repeating a mantra, though, admittedly, one without the spiritual underpinnings. Not every weight room session is meditative, but they often are. What makes it so meditative? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty quiet in the weight room. While there is always a certain amount of chatter, most folks are intent on their workouts. And by intent, I mean focused. My own experience is that of turning inward, concentrating on what I am doing in the present moment, and keeping that focus relatively narrow during the practice. And, yes, there is the counting of repetitions.

Am I suggesting that I am not engaged in thinking? No. Just as with other kinds of meditation, the mind continues to think and, just as with other forms of meditation, I just choose not to pay attention to it.

To be sure, one can enter a meditative state practically anywhere (so long as it is mindfulness meditation when we are doing things like driving a vehicle). The weight room is just one example.
Meditation happens.

A Bit of Courtesy Makes Everything Run More Smoothly

Gyms have rules meant to make things run smoothly. At my gym, there are both official and unofficial rules. For instance, we are asked to use antiseptic spray when wiping down the equipment after use. The implication here is, of course, that we are also asked to wipe down the equipment in the first place. We are also asked not to tie up a piece of equipment for more than twenty minutes, so others have access to it. And we are asked not to rest on the machines, which is not an admonition to eliminate pauses between sets but, rather, a gentle request to not just sit on a machine for a long period of time without using it as one talks to a colleague or gets lost in reverie.

It is also understood, though not an official “rule,” that it is bad form to interupt someone else’s workout by trying to nudge them off a machine or other piece of equipment. Likewise, it would be considered bad form to tie up more than one machine at a time.

What all of these guidelines have in common is that they encourage those in practice to employ a bit of courtesy. Consequently, the weight room is a fundamentally civilized place to be. For the most part, folks get along.

It is a reminder that a bit of courtesy goes a long way.

There Are Good Days and There Are . . . Not as Good Days

Some days are good in the weight room. The machines and the free weights flow, one to another, and you accomplish your practice with ease. Even the machine on which you have just increased your weight seems relatively effortless. On other days, even the things you have been doing for months or years seem difficult, or some of them do. I know this is more than my personal experience because we trade notes on these things at the gym.

Is it biorhythms? Does it have to do with how much sleep we got the previous night, what we have eaten (or drank), or the massage we did or did no get a few days earlier? Who knows? It’s not a bad idea to sort it out, but no amount of sorting it out can always explain it.

The moon waxes and wanes. Our lives move more in a wave form than cyclically. Sometimes things are good. Sometimes they are not as good. The weight room reminds me of this. But would it be better if I were not actually in the weight room on those not so good days? I think not. Would life be better if we tried to cocoon ourselves from everything unpleasant? Not only do many forms of spiritual practice suggest that it wouldn’t be, life itself teaches us that life, in all its aspects, cannot be denied.

Without Superficial Distractions, People Get Along Naturally

We are all wearing one version or another of gym clothes in the weight room and, for the most part, that clothing is ubiquitous. It is not just not trendy, it is pretty much anti-trendy. There is something very useful about that. No, I am not suggesting we all go through our days wearing uniforms. I shudder at the thought. For me, how I put myself together is a form of self-expression, as well as a way in which I entertain myself. But one effect of the nondescript attire is that it cancels out socio-economic distinctions.

True, gender and racial differences are still obvious, as well as age and ethnic differences. But removing the trappings of status, class, and vocation has has an incredibly freeing effect–and a leveling effect. In the weight room, we are all just humans faced with the challenges provided by a collection of equipment and our relationships with that equipment. We may have wildly different goals–from training for competition to just trying to forestall the physical effects of aging–but we are all facing down the same equipment. There is a bond created by that and that bond is forged more easily because there are not the usual distractions of occupation, community standing, and financial status to intrude.

Is there something to be learned about individuals and nations getting along in the weight room? Is there the potential for that elusive sense of oneness? I think so. And I try to carry the reminder out into the rest of my life.

Copyright 2008 by Melanie Mulhall

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5 Responses to “More Life Lesson from the Weight Room”

  1. sibylle Says:

    Melanie,

    I’ve found that as I get older, I need to train more in the weight room in winter in order to then climb outdoors in the summer. Last winter, I took a great weight course at the Boulder Rec Center to rehab my shoulder.
    One of the coaches for nordic ski racing in Summit county says,
    “Under 50, it helps to weight train.
    Over 50, you must train with weights!”

    Like

  2. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Sibylle,

    You make a very good point. If one is an athlete, training with weights is all the more important as one ages. (And when a legendary big wall climber like you says you need to do it, we should all sit up and take notice!) But even those of us who are just trying to live a good life should take note of what you say. As we age, weight training is one way to build muscle, protect one’s bone structure, and otherwise stay fit for life. And that is why there are so many people over the age of 50 at the gym!

    Thanks for your wisdom, Sibylle.

    Melanie

    Like

  3. Alex Says:

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

    Like

  4. Drea Says:

    Melanie,

    Another great post! I used to lift weights a lot, mostly to burn off anger and frustration. I think I overdosed, because now I avoid the gym completely. However, I’m sure I’ll be back. Reading your post actually makes me want to go. There is a lot of wisdom in weight rooms, isn’t there? And in other everyday things.

    Re: “would it be better if I were not actually in the weight room on those not so good days?” I know that feeling well. This past weekend, I summited Bear Mountain. I usually love the physical challenge of difficult hikes like that one, but this weekend, I was physically off. In fact, I had to take a nap at the summit, leaving my partner to hike further (which we had originally intended). The best part of the hike was being back in the car, sitting down. In retrospect, however, it was worth it. The hike looks more beautiful from the vantage point of memory. Despite the pain, I’m glad I did it.

    Drea

    Like

  5. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Drea,

    The image of a woman napping on a summit is going to stick with me for some time to come! Just don’t try it at the top of a 14er or you may never wake up again! Still, I think there’s a painting in this. Mind you, I’m an artist of the written word, not one who uses oils, acrylics, and watercolors. But it would make a pretty cool image–symbolic in many directions.

    Yes, sometimes our efforts–both in and out of the gym–are more pleasant in retrospect than at the time we’re making the effort. Anyone who has been through the process of divorce is likely to agree with that. The process can be . . . challenging. (That was me stopping myself from using impolite language.) The outcome can be wonderful.

    But “easy does it” is a concept that works for people outside the realm of Alcoholics Anonymous. Enjoying the journey–as well as the outcome, whether it is a summit or a strong body–is a very good thing.

    Melanie

    Like

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