A couple of months ago I joined the gym.
I never believed I would ever join a gym, I dismissed them as an unadventurous, over-priced way of keeping fit and believed that there were far cheaper alternatives, like cycling out towards Bekesbourne and getting a puncture that entailed a much earlier than scheduled return home with very few sweat beads accumulated, or jogging enthusiastically down the Old Dover Road only to feel dispirited within seconds from the first humored honk of a passing van.
My ‘cheaper alternatives’ never really had any scope to keep me fit, and so when I recently signed up to a Triathlon I knew that I probably needed to finally accept this, else run the very real risk of letting down a valuable charity by an inability to do what I’d promised to do.
Much to my surprise, it turned out that not only did I actually know the way to the gym, I wasn’t allergic to it either. Having made the risky decision not to update my will before entering, I had half expected to come out of the building with a huge rash or congruous fever, but instead all I came out with was a membership card and a desire for more exercise.
Perhaps the place does make me unwell afterall.
I now spend a good few hours a week at the gym. It’s a great place to go to fence off the working day and let those endorphins bop about to the tunes on my MP3 player, and much to my surprise it’s a great little place to learn about life.
The instructor told me that each time I go to the gym I need to push myself a little harder. He gave me a record sheet which I complete each session of what I’ve done – what pace, what incline, what level, what weight – and I’m in a constant competition with my last attendance.
And that competition hurts. Pull-downs are painful. Abdominals ache. Running almost ruins me. I’m relieved when I come to the end of the hour, but so happy that I’ve done it.
Last week I racked up the weight of the pull-downs to 25.5 kg (which comparatively isn’t much) and almost felt tears in my eyes as I disciplined myself to do 8 sets instead of the previous day’s 6. Although never doubting the long-term benefits, part of me wondered why myself and others around me put ourselves through this pain. Life doesn’t demand that we do, it only tells us that things might be a bit better if we do it, it’s not an obligation, so why am I disciplining myself like a strict Victorian headmistress?
But then I thought about how I’d feel if I reduced my targets, and it led to a bit of a philosophical moment (which I’ve not had whilst profusely sweating before). What if we just stuck to what we know we can do with ease? What if we never challenged ourselves? How boring would that be? We’d never know the extent of what can be. If we don’t ever reach the wall, how can we look over it to see what else is there?
I suddenly became extremely thankful for some of the hardest and most stressful moments of both my professional and personal life. Where would I be without them? Curled up comfortably in a blanket of naivety, I suppose, with much less knowledge, much less resilience and much less appreciation for when things go right.
Life is exceptionally challenging, particularly when you have a tendency to worry neurotically about whether or not you put the lid back on the highlighter pen before leaving the office. Gratitude for life does not make anyone exempt from having shit happen – sometimes repeatedly – or make stress vanish as fast the box of chocolates next to my bed. Life is hard. Work is hard. Personal relationships can be hard.
The gym is hard.
However, each of these little seedlings of hardness will most often bloom into something greater. Life provides enough beautiful moments to counter the bad; a christening for every funeral or a success for every failure. Work provides opportunity, and the ability to afford good things. Personal relationships are the essence of our heart and soul; and I’m hoping that the gym will eventually blossom into a stomach that no longer resembles one of those classic childrens’ stack toys with the colourful rings.
It’s all so obvious yet it’s something so often forgotten with the expression of each expletive or the shedding of each tear. Some of the greatest decisions you’ll ever make are made on the back of an unpleasant experience, and some of your greatest strengths are those you develop through adversity.
“Clever gym”, I thought to myself, “not only do you make me feel a tad better when I’m tucking into the third packet of crisps a day, you also remind me why there’s a value to pain”, and with the energy from that thought, I completed set number 8 and went straight to the rowing machine.
Song of the Day: Erasure – Stay With Me (Acoustic Cover)
Not normally big on acoustic stuff but this is simply beautiful and is well worthy of a listen.