Damir Spanic on Unsplash
And why that can make all the difference.
I rolled out of bed, late for me, at four am. I'd already lost an hour. Hadn't slept well. Mild headache. Gah. Bet you can understand. I got up, threw the covers back, padded to the toilet, threw on my workout gear. I was supposed to leave at 4:40 am to be at the gym when it opened.
I crawled back into bed, having taken two Tylenol to deal with the thudding between my eyes.
I don't drink. Not a hangover. It's just that some days you just feel like going back to bed.
That lasted twenty minutes, at which point, not without some colorful language, I threw the covers back again and got my angry, annoyed, irritated self into the car and over to the gym.
I did NOT want to be there. I moved like frozen molasses. The normal lift in my step felt like lead weights. Bet you can relate. Bet you've been there.
Out of sheer spite I walked over to the free weights area, hit the floor, and punched out 100 pushups. Perfect plank, no rests, just one hundred bad boys. Just an opening salvo to my recalcitrant body that we WERE going to exercise, we WERE going to do it.
Two hours later, sweaty, justifiably proud of myself, my headache having backed off, I waved at James at the front door and headed to the car. With a lift in my step.
That makes all the difference. Do it anyway.
The author and Misty, photo from my trainer's phone
Yesterday at my stable in the small town of Veneta, just west of Eugene, I rode Misty. Misty is a bit aged, but still quite lively. She's also lazy, and I've been a bit annoyed that I've had to keep kicking her to keep her in the trot, or encouraging her canter. She trips a lot, because she's not very collected; if you make any move at all to bring her head back gently to collect her body underneath her she uses that as an excuse to stop or slow down. She's exceedingly well-trained and she knows damned good and well that this isn't what you're asking. Yesterday we fixed it, much the same way I did this morning to my own lazy carcass.
I wore spurs. Not those huge, ugly spiky ones. Small, dull ones, just enough to get her attention without doing harm or causing pain. When I first asked for the canter I used one just a bit too much, at which she bucked, laid back her ears and waited until I got the message. You don't have to be a sh*t about it, she might as well have said. She was right, too. I backed off and touched her lightly. For the rest of our training hour she was far more responsive, I didn't have to kick her repeatedly. Just knowing that I had spurs and would use them solved the problem. The message was that I expected her to perform as she was trained. As soon as she understood that I wasn't going to take half-assed for answer, and that I wasn't going to be mean, we had a terrific session.
I did the same thing this morning with myself. My spurs are to look hard at myself in the mirror. Sometimes that's not easy. If I look hard, and I often do, and all too often I also don't look at myself with kindness, I can see what changes time has wrought. I can choose to be depressed by the increasing slackness of skin that gravity, age and the reality of having been obese at one point caused. I can choose to frame my likeness with judgement and sadness.
I don't have to be a sh*t about it. Neither do you. I can look with genuine pleasure at my muscles, the firmness of my flesh, the strength and balance with which I do complex, challenging exercises which push every single part of me from my attention to my patience. That is a battle worth fighting and winning. Because I can. I can't win against time. But I can indeed win against laziness, sloth, avoidance and emotional defeat. I am far stronger in many ways now than ever I was at twenty, forty, sixty. A great deal of it is emotional and mental. None of that came easily.
Of course this is hard. That's why I do it.
Of course proper feeding of the body is hard. That's why I do it.
Of course taking care of my home and my heart and my life are hard sometimes. That's why I do it.
Because when I do these things on the days I don't feel like it, don't want to, those are the days that build my strength. My resilience. My commitment. Because those are the times that I lean on when I am in serious trouble. In terrible need.
When I do what needs to be done on the days I don't feel like it, the days I most need that strength, it's there. There have been times I've laid on the ground in Kazakhstan with a broken back. I got back up anyway. I found myself at the base of a set of stairs in a tiny, remote town in Iceland with a smashed pelvis, concussion, broken wrist and elbow. I got back up anyway. Laid out on the hard stone of a Ugandan village with broken ribs, a concussion and my eyes crossed from the impact. I got back up and on my horse again anyway.
If you and I do not do what we know needs to be done on days when it is simply inconvenient, what on earth are we going to do when we most desperately need that strength, that resolve, that mental toughness? This is precisely the question you and I faced this entire last year under quarantine. Many of us didn't do well at all.
While I can't speak for anyone else, when I interview my caregivers and ask them what they see, they see the same kind of limited resilience born of the resistance to work. The dependence on convenience. Can't be bothered to go turn on a light. Squat to plug something in. Do housework, yard work, body work, mind work, emotional work. You and I cannot build any kind of emotional, mental, spiritual muscle without pushing ourselves. Putting on a little spur action, if you will.
Misty minds when I ask her for more. But Misty also takes great pleasure in doing things right, doing things well. You can tell by how she holds her head. And you can always tell when I take her back to the stall, and she and I spend a little extra time communing. Misty knows that if she gives me a good hour, I will give her a treat, and an additional butt rub, which she adores.
When I got home today, my head was still sore but thudding less. Workouts help my migraines a great deal, as they also help my moods, life outlook, self-esteem and general mood. I gave myself one big pat on the back. I bloody well earned it.
Workouts center me in a hundred different ways. When I skip them I skew everything sideways. Workouts are self-care, self-respect, self-love all wrapped up in one big sweaty package. They are just one small part of the constellation of self-work that forms the foundation of life.
There's a big difference between feeling sick and in need of rest, being exhausted and in need of an off day, and just not wanting to do the work. When I just don't want to do the work, I do it anyway. Not always, but most of the time.
And that has made all the difference.
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