On a recent, easy, 30-minute jog I had a thought. First, a thought alone is pretty amazing because typically my mind is a blank void whenever I exercise. This is my way of meditating and taking a “brain break”. When exercising, the best I can do to think is focused on the task at hand and maintaining basic bodily functions such as breath, movement, hydration, and managing any physical pain. If it’s a bike ride, I may have a cue sheet for directions. In that way, I don’t need to think, I need only follow.
Second, the thought I did have, which has stuck with me, was:
What if even the tiniest of distractions are preventing us, from dealing with, our true hurdles in life?
In the past 2+ months, I’ve been doing a lot of self-work. Perhaps it’s related to the Covid-19 pandemic but for now, I’ll just say, I finally reached my limit watching the morning news programs and the evening news “updates” so I just stopped. Yup, I stopped watching the news, cold-turkey! Can you believe it? And I haven’t suffered in the least. In fact, life has only gotten better!
Instead of 2-3 hours of distraction a day, even just as “background noise”, I’ve replaced the news with reading. Wow, what a concept! I must be some kind of genius… not.
To be honest, I don’t read a lot of books. I wish I did, but that hasn’t been my “mode of relaxation” especially since I read all day, every day, in the form of journal articles, blogs, social media, emails, research papers, etc. However, the reading I’m doing now, which is currently non-fiction and human behavior related, is serving as a catalyst to explore different aspects of myself.
I won’t bore you with all the details but I have “slowed down” since the pandemic and I already had a pretty uncomplicated life. I am truly grateful. But wait, there’s more!
In addition to most aspects of my life slowing down, I also wasn’t exercising. Those who know me might find this shocking given my 20 years of triathlon training. But since hurting my leg in a February 2020 marathon (because I made the error of “running through the pain”), I’ve only just begun to run again. I also couldn’t swim because pools were closed and I wasn’t biking because the weather still hadn’t turned for my liking.
Have I had an issue not exercising like I’m used to? No way! It’s been awesome! Now, I didn’t even have to feel guilty about not exercising, and frankly, I have been LOVING this break!
Since kicking the news habit, no longer exercising, and reaching my limit at a 6-9 hour workday, I’m digging more into personal growth in other ways. So, what does that look like?
In the past few months, I feel like I’ve made great strides in self-awareness and self-improvement. I’ve been tapping into feelings or trying to, and it’s been eye-opening. It’s also been damn uncomfortable. It’s hard. It hurts. I’ll admit, I’ve been doing my share of crying and I’m sure there’s more to come. Cue “It’s Alright To Cry” from the Free To Be You And Me soundtrack:
Light is shining on aspects of myself that I’ve been aware of for a while but never quite in this way. I don’t like what I see. I’m actually pretty ashamed of it because I’m seeing how I’ve treated myself and others, subconsciously, and it’s not what I want. This is not who I want to be. I want to change. I need to change. I am changing and I can feel it’s starting to happen. It feels good.
Whatever changing and transforming I’m experiencing (i.e. to be more openly loving and compassionate, rather than hide it, in case you were wondering) is not the purpose of this article.
The purpose is I’ve noticed that even the tiniest bit of energy expenditure elsewhere in my life causes my efforts toward emotional growth to all but stop.
Not only does the work stop but I also stop looking, much less am aware of the need in the first place. Meanwhile, the negative effects continue in my life.
Even though I am motivated and committed to continuing to change, for the better, in a matter of days those efforts stopped and I simply didn’t have the energy to continue to work on my self-improvement. I didn’t even have the energy to think about it in any substantive way. I almost even forgot about the areas of ME I want to address!
In short, my life has slowed down so much (you might say boring, in a good way), with far fewer “distractions” (some may call them activities, hobbies, responsibilities, busyness, passions, etc.) that I’ve been able to see and more importantly FEEL a lot of emotions that have been buried, suppressed, and repressed for most of my life. And I’m not talking about some catastrophic life event(s) I’ve suppressed such as child abuse or growing up with an alcoholic father (neither of which applies to me, thankfully). I’m referring to everyday life, however, it happens to be perceived, from infancy until the present day.
It’s incredible to me that something as little as a 30-minute jog could require enough energy so as to prevent me from doing this emotional work. Granted, a 30-minute jog may not seem like much but that’s just where my fitness level is currently. In years past, it was more like a 2-hour run or a 6-hour bike ride… or both, back-to-back. It seems I’ve needed progressively more “activity” to exhaust my energy to the point where experiencing my own deep emotions wasn’t even a blip on my radar. That’s a heck of a lot of time and effort “distracting” myself while doing something “good for me”.
Regardless of the activity, what I’m noticing is that in order for me to be in a state where I’m able to really tap into and feel the deep feelings I haven’t felt for decades, I’ve needed this time to slow way… way… WAY down. Even then, it’s still hard to allow myself to feel and give myself permission to experience those feelings for as long as needed. And, I know there’s more work to do!
But what does this mean? What does it mean when something as socially acceptable, even revered, as fitness and physical health is preventing me from doing the emotional work that I know I need to do? I’m doing good, right? I’m exercising regularly and eating well. I’m doing what I “should” be doing to be healthy, right? And exercise is just one way I’m distracting myself.
How much exercise is really needed to “be” healthy? I’ve thought for years that a daily, 1-hour brisk walk was plenty good. Heck, if I recall correctly from 20+ years ago, that’s what Dr. Andrew Weil recommends. If you’ve read The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner then you know most centenarians simply lead an “active” daily lifestyle and don’t even exercise formally, in any way.
I wonder if less time was spent on physical exercise and more time honoring and experiencing our emotions, we’d be even healthier overall.
The latest research shows most chronic illnesses have less to do with genetics or poor attention to one’s physical health as it does with not attending to one’s emotional needs. Maybe this is why your grandmother was able to eat bacon and eggs, cooked in lard, smoke cigarettes, sip a little whiskey here and there, never exercise but rather sit for hours on her porch and still live to her late-90s. Perhaps the time she spent not doing was beneficial and she was in a more balanced emotional state with an incredibly healthy perspective on life and what REALLY matters.
I wonder what other distractions I have created, consciously or subconsciously, to prevent or “protect” myself from feeling anything uncomfortable or painful that still does need to be experienced in order to grow? How “slow” must I go in order to have the energy to do the real emotional work I want and NEED to do?
How tiny of a distraction is all that is needed to not feel what needs to be felt? If those feelings were experienced and released, how many of my own self-destructive behaviors would no longer be relevant?