Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finding My Fit

"A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise." (A.A. Milne)

The New Year's now almost a month old; the glow of the holidays has long been dimmed by January's foggy blankets. The Rogue Valley, where I live, is infamous for the seasonal inversion that socks southern Oregon into a dreary, bone-chilling, soupy haze in the early winter. One's desire to do anything active can be mightily influenced by where you live: in the valley or just a hundred feet higher, as you can see below.

Looking down into the Rogue Valley from Mt. Baldy near Medford
So over the years that I've lived here, I've slipped into a comfortably predictable pattern. When December and January rolled around, I usually quit exercising. If the animals have the sense to hibernate, then why shouldn't I? Rest up - enjoy life. Hunker down by a friendly fireplace with something warm to eat or drink and wait until the sun returns. Then I'll get back into shape. It won't be too hard. I'll find my fit.

True when you're 34...or 40...or 46...or 52...and working full time. Not so true when you're 56...and semi-retired. Looking in the mirror in early December told me an uncomfortable truth.

It wasn't that all of my favorite pants had mysteriously, conspiratorily, been shrinking. I had been expanding in a most Pooh-like fashion.  I had to admit it. I needed to do something different to find my fit again.

So in mid-December, well before the January "rush to resolution", I quietly committed to working out - every day - at the Club Deborah and I belong to. I knew there was nothing magical that would help me. As my sister Julie once cheerfully chirped, "If you want to lose weight, it's simple. Eat less. Move more." So I began with the moving more, and haven't stopped since.

Walking. Riding the stationary bike. Jogging on the treadmill. Lifting weights. Repeat. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Some days for over an hour. Other days only 20 minutes. But always go. Keep moving. Work a little harder this week than last.

And then for Christmas, Deborah gave me the perfect gift: a Fitbit activity tracker bracelet. Strap it on and it tracks the steps you take, miles you travel, calories you burn, and will even tell you how well you sleep. Its accompanying software even lets you log the food and water you eat and drink and sends you encouraging "Way to Go!" messages when you walk 10,000 steps a day or meet another goal.

The Fitbit has been way cool, and it's definitely reinforced my renewed regimen. I even bought Deborah one, and now we push each other to work harder (it doesn't help that we're both VERY competitive!). Late night walks around the block in the freezing cold - just to beat the other person's steps total - have become a regular event, complete with all the prerequisite bragging and boasting for the winner. Parking the car further away from our destinations so we can walk farther. We both have enjoyed developing new habits and feeling ourselves getting stronger and fitter as we go.

"The secret of getting ahead is just getting started." (Agatha Christie)

But the Fitbit alone would've never gotten me started moving again like I am. It would've been just another fancy gadget.

If I really wanted to make a change, I had to act and I had to persist. I had to be willing to suffer a little and to make a new priority in my day. And I had to be willing to work harder than a part of me thought it wanted to. I had to make a change in what I was giving my Time and Attention to.

That all sounds self-evident. But it's so easy to wind up listening to a voice inside of you, telling you "You don't need to do this"...or "You're fine just the way you are"...or "You don't have time for this - do it tomorrow". There are always a legion of whisperers who just want to stay snuggled in the cave, undisturbed. It's a precious gift received when you start realizing that none of those voices are really Me, and that they have no interest in what's good for me.

I know this entry seems all about getting in shape and celebrating physical health - and part of it is. But I also wrote it because I can see so many parallels between these things and my interior life as well. It's easy to be lazy and find comfort in familiar thoughts; to be deceived into thinking that "I will be different tomorrow", but then do nothing different.

I want to remember that if I want to continue to grow and be healthy spiritually, I must also do the work required. To persist when a part of me would like to take the day off. To be willing to suffer a little and to be honest about what I give my Time and Attention to.

Find the time to meditate and pray daily. Feel when a part of me is trying to avoid a difficult moment and go into it instead of trying to go around it. Catch those familiar fears and worries that something in me wants to "set up camp" in and try to drop them and "move on". Work to learn something new about myself, no matter how small, each day. Keep growing. Keep learning.

Being open to doing what is difficult is inviting something greater than me to change me.

"Learn to see the "easy way" as a lying thought that keeps you tied up and doing "hard" time. Do what's"hard". That's the only way to learn that there's nothing that can stop you." (Guy Finley)

I want to remember all of this as the year continues to slowly creep along. I know there'll be times when I will forget the wish that drove me through the last 6 weeks of hard work and its rewards. This will be an entry I can look back on when something inside of me shrinks from doing the hard work and just wants to sleep.

"There is no way around the hard work. Embrace it."

And then start again. One step at a time. One moment at a time. 10,000 times a day.