12 December 2011

Re: Sinews

A few months ago I mentioned here that I've committed myself to a more active lifestyle. Motivated by a health scare, I started walking every morning and eventually added an evening jaunt to my routine as well. I'm happy to report, many weeks later, that the committment endures.

Physically, the results are striking. My legs are stronger than they've ever been, as is my lung performance judging by how steadily the pace of my walk has quickened as the months have passed. Most of my clothes no longer fit, and I have more energy so I'm constantly looking for ways to get in more activity. I'd like to get my bicycle fixed so that I can start touring the countryside on the weekends, for instance, and begin commuting into town on two wheels instead of driving.

In "Sinews" I wrote that I viewed my walks as not just physical exercise, but spiritual exercise: in introducing myself to physical disicpline, I hoped to improve my mind's mastery over the body. The fact that I'm still going on a daily basis, having overcome a great many mornings of discomfort and outright pain, testifies to my success, I suppose. In the beginning I had to stress endurance and persistance to myself, as my feet were still adjusting to the routine. Now they typically no longer pain me, and the aches and soreness come from my legs, protesting at the ever-quickening pace that I speed down the road with.  Some mornings are effortless, and I come home feeling exhilerated from the action and not tired in the least -- but there are mornings when I struggle for every step, when my mind constantly chatters distraction. I must work to keep my focus and maintain my stride, knowing that most of the time this discomfort is temporary and the barrier it represents a phantom: if I push, if I persist, I can make it all the way and marvel that I contemplating giving it a rest earlier.  I suspect the physical results of my exercise are much more noticable than the mental effects: as I read the thoughts of those who have made exercise a daily part of their lives, I can't help but note that everyone admits to days where they have to force themselves to get out there, no matter how long they've been at it.

The walking has been good for me in other ways. The quiet time to myself gives me space and energy to think, and sometimes to muse. It gives me opportunities to appreciate nature. I'm able to practice Stoic nonjudgment every day, especially as we head deeper into winter and I find myself feeling frustrated that the weather is denying me tolerable walking conditions. I can walk when it is freezing out, but when it is freezing, windy, and raining?  I'm not that good at feeling indifferent to physical discomfort!  The most noticable physical result is weight loss, something that I'm quite happy about. That, too, is an opportunity to practice nonjudgment;  while I was able to maintain a losing streak for a couple of months,during the last week of November that ended when I gained an ounce. The next week I lost it and much more, but I had to remember that my focus is not losing weight but staying active.

Aside from the physical gains (or losses), the greatest boon of my walking is that it gets me active in my neighborhood. My neighbors have become accustomed to seeing me: I recognize their cars as they drive by me, and I wave cheerfully at everyone. I'm able to talk with someone almost every day -- kids riding bikes after school, a man raking leaves from his yard, an elderly fellow watching the ducks in the pond behind his yard in the morning. I know most every dog in the neighborhood. There are friendly dogs and hostile dogs, dogs that bark from behind fences but which are cowards outside of them, dogs that are friendly when I walk but who chase me when I jog. I feel like part of the neighborhood; my life is daily connected to the lives of others. I have even had people join me on walks.

And so, I look forward to many more future walks and my increasing good health.


Scott said...

"If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends,and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk."

To all our Sauntering, Cheers!

smellincoffee said...

Ah, Thoreau -- in the beginning, when I was just starting to make my neighborhood rounds and feeling somewhat self-conscience about it, I imagined that I was in the company of him or Epictetus!

(Epictetus strikes me as the kind of teacher who would walk the city pointing things out -- not just lecture idly from a porch...)

Scott said...

In "Down the River", by Edward Abbey, there is an essay titled 'Down the River with Henry Thoreau’. Abbey, a naturalist, environmental activist and part time philosopher, pokes a bit of fun at Thoreau but the essence of the essay speaks volumes on his admiration for the life and philosophy of Thoreau --a life he himself lived. I have yet to tire of both the above author’s writings. (Let’s make that all 3 authors and include Epictetus as well!)

I have been walking daily for the past year, and at least three times a week for the past two years. I also started walking to lose weight and improve my health. Now, while I'm just trying to maintain, the walk is about the spirit --the inner life-- what thoughts you take with you and what thoughts you find along the way. The best walks are indeed a saunter as Thoreau describes. A handful of times when I have set out with that 'spirit of undying adventure’ I have been pleasantly surprised at what I find along the way, and what I return with. It certainly seems you are finding this also.

And yes, Epictetus is of course another fine walking partner. Actually I see him more as a drill instructor or taskmaster, constantly turning our own assumptions inside out and making us look silly. This is probably why I have not invited him along as much as Thoreau (To my detriment).

"You, boy!" (I'm 44 years old but still a boy to Epictetus) "Look here, at this nail you just avoided, you did this gracefully with almost no thought at all, why is it you cannot yet do the same with externals?" He would say.

"When walking, you are careful not to step on a nail or turn your foot; so likewise be careful not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind. And, if we were to guard against this in every action, we should undertake the action with the greater safety."

Yes drill Sergeant!

smellincoffee said...

The impression of Epictetus I received from reading his Discourses is definitely in line with that of a no-nonsense drill instructor or 'fitness coach'. I do enjoy the way you bring Epictetus' voice alive -- have you ever considered running or contributing to a blog?

Thanks for introducing me to Edward Abbey! I'd never heard of him before, but browsing his Wikiquote page I rather like what I see..

"My loyalties will not be bound by national borders, or confined in time by one nation's history, or limited in the spiritual dimension by one language and culture. I pledge my allegiance to the damned human race, and my everlasting love to the green hills of Earth, and my intimations of glory to the singing stars, to the very end of space and time."


Scott said...

On the blog issue, it's something I feel I have been moving towards lately, certainly giving it real thought...

If I take the plunge it would be a privilege to collaborate with you on occasion, if you are interested, and I would welcome any advice you may have.

I run across all kinds of interesting quotes and texts in my own thought musings and sometimes think a piece would work great for your Free Thought Friday postings. Here is one from this week:


This came from a post made by the Occupy protesters --whom I happen to support --and I thought of your FTF.

Your choice of Abbey quotes is superb! That’s my favorite as well; of course there are so many great ones with Abbey. If you decide to read any of his books, "Down the River" (a collection of great essays) and "Desert Solitaire" are the two I have read. Both are excellent. I'm working on "A Fools Progress" at the moment. It switches gears a bit and is a fictional story with autobiographical elements from Abbey's own life.

Love that Reading list you posted recently, BTW, most there I have not read and will consider.

Scott said...


smellincoffee said...

Collaboration would be an honor! If you do decide to go for it, blogger allows me to add team members to a given blog, or you could simply email me -- whichever you prefer. (I use smellincoffee @ gmail, naturally.) My library carries Desert Solitaire, so I will be checking into it in a week or. At the moment I'm about to launch into reading Stephen King's new novel, and it's a monster.

That is an amazing quotation: I've always assumed The Great Dictator was just a parody film mocking Hitler. Seems as though it merits more attention on my part.