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Fly Like an Eagle . . . If You’re An Eagle

28 May

A couple of weeks ago I came across reference to “The Tortoise and The Eagle“, one of Aesop’s Fables. (It’s really short; read it now!) It got me thinking about my fitness mindset that’s been evolving over the past year or so.

Beginning last Fall I started paring back most of my other fitness activity and started concentrating more solely on yoga. This focus is the funneling of a number of considerations, all filtered through one primary lens: I’m 56 years old. Before you think, “Oh, aging Taekwondo master starts wimping out” let me explain.

Before starting Taekwondo at age 33 I’d never been an athlete or fitness enthusiast of any sort and, beyond practicing Taekwondo, I really didn’t start any broader physical conditioning activity until age 42. That’s when I had my first opportunity to take part in a training trip to South Korea, along with a team of other black belts of various ages. We were led by our Korean Grand Master, about 60 years old at the time, former competitive athlete and military veteran, a true phenom. Our invitation letter welcomed us to “Hell Training” and stories from those who took part in earlier trips affirmed the accuracy of that expression. I had less than four months to get ready (crazy-short time) so I got to it: running (in fifty-below wind chills), training with weights, dropping fat (nearly 20 pounds). I went to Korea and did pretty darn well, actually, surprisingly. I returned home and kept up the training in good measure (not nearly so the running).

These past several years I haven’t kept up with the weight training on nearly the same basis; likewise, my dog walks largely have become only walks, without the running/sprinting part quite as frequently. This easing-off happened because I was finding that I had to keep myself fresh for Taekwondo classes in case I was the guy who had to lead training and set the pace. I had to keep some gas in the tank. I couldn’t find a balance of activity that worked for me for all contingencies. Age seemed to be weighing in on the matter.

About a year ago I heard an interview with Christopher Sommer, former U.S. Junior National Team gymnastics coach. He talked a lot about people’s tendencies to go at things too hard, particularly before setting a proper foundation. These quotes came out as Sommer talked about easing into training and small steps of progress over time: “We need to go slow now in order to go fast later” and “If you want to be a stud later you have to be a pud now.” The bottom line: don’t let ego screw things up.

I was particularly struck by something Sommer said: “I like yoga.” In 2017 many of us know a lot more about yoga’s challenges and benefits than the years-ago impression of skinny dudes from India folded over backwards.  A lot of it  seems similar to gymnastics and a lot of it is hard. You can get stronger doing yoga, and do so in a way that adds to, rather than subtracts from, other qualities such as flexibility and mobility.

In my prime of weight training and conditioning work I never really hit the results I’d hoped for. That’s because I either wasn’t clear on my goals or had competing goals.  I was doing both too much and not enough of different stuff. As Confucius (maybe) said: “The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Why would someone even try to catch two rabbits? Because they think they can. Back to ego. Perhaps I simply needed to be smarter, know more, but my ego kept me from using information in front of me. Others’ information and experience. Because . . . I knew better.

Five to ten years later I have new goals to consider and a new balance to find. I need to think about the one rabbit I need to catch in order to eat tonight, and get clear on how to do that. I have to drop the ego so I can see the smart choices and take the right actions.

My goals are to be able to move well for many years to come — even Taekwondo level, as best I can — and be strong enough to allow me to do what I want to do, in the dojang, at home, on the trail, with kids and grandkids. I want to be THAT grandpa, the one who can still move smoothly, crawl around, hop across rocks, climb trees. I want to be a role model of an older Taekwondo practitioner, or of a former one. I want to fix or strengthen weaknesses I have, still undergirding for the future. The comprehensiveness — and requisite patience — of yoga seems to be a tool to get me there, one of them at least. Still, Chris, remember: one rabbit. Remember: pud now, stud later.

This doesn’t mean I won’t add in some other goals or training tools at some point. It doesn’t mean that I won’t do something competitive and push things to a limit (hopefully, with smarts, to avoid injury). But, since I’m beginning to stretch toward THIS and THIS, that’s more than enough for quite a while, combined with yet-improving my Taekwondo abilities. That, and some occasional sprints that leave Eko behind when I’m walking him, and hopping rock to rock up and down the trails around Enger. And an occasional tree climb (don’t tell my wife).

Perhaps most prominent for me going forward are two truths that have formed in my heart during prayer. One is the importance of joy being a motivation, in this case, doing physical activity that meets my needs and challenges me, yes, but which brings me joy. I shouldn’t work at something I don’t like, or go about something in a way that steals the joy of doing it. I don’t want to let ego take me places or lead to results where my motivations are somehow rooted in impressing or appeasing others, or to pat my own ego-self (sometimes known as younger-self or master-self, in my case) on the back. Find the way of joy and freedom.

The second sentiment is that my current body and its potential are gifts and I am to use them in service to others, both now and in the future. When picking an activity or setting a goal, when doing an honest, ego-free assessment of the potentials and risks to my body, the benefit or drain to my spirit, my commitment of time, I should ask myself, “Will this allow me to better serve others?” The alternative is to let myself become wrapped up in some ego narrative and rationalize away all kinds of conditions and consequences. With the gifts and opportunities I’ve been given, I want to make it about being able to better love and serve others.

It’s 12:50 on a Sunday. Time for this turtle to move along and work on that stud thing.

PS: As always, visit our North Shore Taekwondo site and ask yourself (not your doctor) if Taekwondo might be right for you.

Sharing Joy Should be More than Passing the Dish Soap

21 Sep

I was sitting in church having taken part in some uplifting music and now, with a thought-provoking, spirit-challenging sermon in my head and gut, we get to the time in the service when we share Joys & Concerns.

(In summary)

” Paul will be leaving for school.”
” Alison has a job and found a roommate.”
“Eva passed away this week.”
“My sister has pancreatic cancer.”
“My wife’s treatments are continuing.”
“Jim will be leaving for another tour in Afghanistan.”
(followed by more concerns. . .)

Typically during this part of the service I am struck by three thoughts:
1. There are many more Concerns than Joys, and often no Joys whatsoever.
2. If you want to share a Joy, you’d better do it at the front end because, I don’t know about you, but I’m reluctant to share a Joy after hearing many of the Concerns.
3. There should be three question marks after the word Joys in the bulletin (Joys??? & Concerns).

I’m left with one question: “Why are we reluctant to share Joys?” When I say we, perhaps I should reference Presbyterians (I used to be Roman Catholic). Or, perhaps, I should put it in the context of Scandinavian culture in Minnesota (I was born and raised in Massachusetts, to immigrant Azorean Portuguese). Perhaps it is a broader phenomenon that crosses faith traditions and cultural heritage. Or maybe I am living in space between the formality and privacy of the “Frozen Chosen” (Presbyterians), and the passive-aggression & self-deprecation of so-called Minnesota Nice. In any case, I feel there is supposed to be more.

Admittedly, it can be hard to mention good things in the face of other people’s struggles and tragedies. It doesn’t seem in good taste. There you are with a husband dying of cancer and I shove the Joy of my son’s new joy right in your face.

In northern Minnesota in particular, it seems people tend to refrain from talking about themselves, about achievement, good stuff in their family or about their kids; it can easily be seen as bragging, or at least we think it will be seen as such. I can just hear Garrison Keillor telling news from Lake Wobegon, imitating Sven Carlsen sharing his opinion with wife Ingrid after hearing someone at church coffee time going on about their son who’s moved to Minneapolis : “I t’ink he’s maybe a little bit full of himself d’ere. Yah, he might be a little too proud of his kid, ya’ know?”

Life can be challenging, even brutal. Work demands, schedule pressures, financial challenges, family turmoil, injury, illness, death. Facing these things, we can get pretty stressed, negative, beat up, despairing. We can even lose faith of whatever sort we have. I know that I can get pretty focused on the negative and let challenges, or even worries, pretty easily overcome me. I also know that even when I am thinking most bleakly, seeing a picture of a friend’s new grandson can really lift me up and think about all of the positive, uplifting wonders in life.

In the midst of all this, I think we need to share and celebrate Joys. Faith traditions tell us we should celebrate our gifts, that we should find the hope in challenge and defeat, and that we are made to enjoy life and be happy. Secular authors have written words that ring true about gratitude, joy, and hope. Social media abounds with positive and supportive memes. In the midst of fog and dark, we are meant to shine light, both for ourselves and others. Perhaps while in fear and dark over a spouse’s cancer prognosis, one can find light in another’s joy. Perhaps it can become like passing on a candle flame. When we have a basket full of rotten, stinking apples, it’s OK if someone holds out to us one of their crisp Golden Delicious and lets us sample a bite or two, or maybe eat the whole thing.

If there is any fault in this sharing Joy business, perhaps it is in not asking others to share theirs. Before offering up your own latest-greatest, a good habit might be to ask others what good things are happening in their life (judiciously, maybe, depending on struggles they are facing). This habit can perhaps lead us to a larger orientation of listening, appreciating and understanding others. Share in their Joy and they will naturally want to share in yours.

What might it do to a congregation to share and celebrate all of the plusses in people’s lives? What can it mean to a family to readily see, share and affirm the positive in their experience together? What would it mean to a workplace where the focus is on uplifting people and encouraging them bring their good things to their common time together? Yes, support and care for each other as we face challenges, but show and share the light in the gloom. Light does overcome darkness.

Joys and Concerns? I do think those are listed in the right order. I think I’ve just got to read more carefully. And, believe it or not, I do have the right blood type: B-Positive!

 

 

 

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