shameI went to the gym today to see what kind of prices they had. I was introduced to a well-meaning man who appeared to have a vested interest in enrolling me. However, his methods were singularly geared towards making me feel inadequate. It could be argued that I am sensitive about my body – that much is true. Nevertheless his comments were harsh, focusing on my ‘average’ body fat ratio (“Tell me, what kind of man do you want to be? Average?”) and reflecting on some perceived failure in my remarkably Spartan diet (“There must be something… pizza on the weekend? Coffee? With half & half? Well there’s your problem…”).

I felt broken down afterwards, yet left feeling a strong incentive towards ‘changing myself’ because I essentially suck, and accepting that the only place I could repair these issues was in that furnace of strutting and posturing and flexing that seems to have less to do with physical fitness and more to do with social signalling. This felt like a mixed benefit. Would it get me in the gym? Probably. Would it be fun? Likely not in the slightest.

I get his technique. It makes sense, and I am familiar with the boot-camp style of knock ’em down and build ’em up. Find a weakness and then sell the means to resolve this weakness. Even now I find myself squeezing my body to seek out some perceived flabbiness or lack of toning. This is the modus operandi of the average advertising campaign and I’m extremely aware of the shit they try to pull.

This to me appears to be entirely the wrong way to motivate others or oneself. Start with shame and you end up with a carrot-on-a-stick motivator. Additionally, all templates of shame are rooted in the child parts of ourselves, and it’s important to ask, how would we talk to a child that we wished to encourage to some form of change? As summed up nicely on a random gym’s website I found:

Think of yourself as a child, perhaps one of your own kids, who is looking to you for help getting into shape. How would you talk to them? Would you say to them “You’re fat and weak and pathetic!” and then encourage them to head off to the gym with that message bouncing around in their head? No, you’d be supportive, encouraging and positive: “You can do this!”, “Showing up is half the battle!” or “Hang in there – it gets easier!”

Self-confidence is hard to sell to, so salespeople don’t like it very much. Yet, a healthy self-esteem provides the best middleperson with which to have a relationship with ourselves. It’s the broker that helps us negotiate necessary change. If we damage that by constantly feeling inadequate, then we’ll never be content with the progress we make and never truly learn to enjoy the benefits we work so hard to achieve.

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On the train

cta“I saw him on the train, a passing glance. Something not immediately obvious caught my attention. He was sitting upright, hands clasped over a small leather satchel, opposite me. Eyes closed. Peaceful.

Dozing? No. Meditating? Perhaps.

The sparsely populated train moved along, and yellow sunlight, permitted entry by the passing buildings, glanced and sporadically coated the metal surfaces.

I noticed, at first without concern, and then with a rising sense of unease, that as the train tumbled and bounced down the track, that he was still. Perfectly still. We all rocked and shuttled with the movement of the carriage and yet he did not. He was a dead body in the casket, painfully static as we desperately scan for any sign of movement. As if he was floating above this mild mechanical bull as we knocked about on the bumpy ride, though he was undoubtedly sitting, and certainly alive, but frozen. For three stops he remained, lids closed, no expression on his long face, no movement, resisting physics and any established reality that I knew. Then, his stop approaching, he returned, eyes opened, and his hips and shoulders and head began to move with the train again, as if becoming reconnected with the rest of the world. He did not see me staring. And when the station pulled into view, he stood, brushed down his short coat, and walked away.

To this day, I have never understood what I saw.”


Pollanassa_waterfall_MullinavatSometimes you don’t realize how many feelings you lock away inside until the right stimuli (a song, a few words, a movie scene) comes along and teases them out of you, and sometimes the dam breaks.

Sometimes you live with the pressure for so long it just becomes normal. And sometimes when you start crying, you can’t stop.

Life ®

Life-Is-A-StoryThe word ‘life’ is synonymous with complaints.

“Life is getting me down.”

“Frustrated with life”

“My life sucks.”  And so on. I hear it all the time and I use similar phrases.

Recently I tried something different with my regard of this word ‘life’ and I capitalized it, to ‘Life’, to make it a noun, a real thing, or sometimes I added a ® to make it a brand of some kind.

If I was going to talk about ‘Life’ as a thing that was ‘getting me down’ or treating me badly, then I was going to reference it as such, in my mind, or on paper. In doing so, I saw the absurdity of my statements.

life hc picIn humanizing it (more obvious when made into a noun) I was attempting to find a perpetrator for my problems, something, or someone to blame. As if Life is a mysterious yet malicious force that is out to get me. The problems I was bundling up into the term ‘life’ were a series of small problems, but more often than that the source of the problems lay within me, issues I didn’t want to face and therefore had become externalized. For an atheist such as myself, I had allowed a remarkably superstitious element to pervade my thinking.

I realized that what I’d been doing was separating this ‘Life’ away from myself, like I was having a relationship with it, like it was some ethereal thing that wanted to make my time hell. I get frustrated with Puck, my cat, and we grumble at each other. I get annoyed at ‘Life’ and I treat it the same way. Strange, because ‘life’ as I’m referring to it doesn’t exist. It’s a word co-opted by us humans to describe the sum of all experiences up this point, nothing more. It’s not a force for good, or bad. It just is.

Change-Your-Life-mission-for-michael-drug-alcohol-treatment-center-orange-countyThe danger when treating it like a perpetrator is that it’s too convenient to disregard the constituent problems or issues that are making up the general feeling of frustration. If those component problems are broken down, they can be solved, fixed, or accepted. As long as they remain in the form of this quasi-parent-like form that doles out punishment, deliberately makes our time difficult, it remains something we can’t deal with. And maybe that’s why I use the phrase ‘Life is a being a shit right now’ so I don’t have to handle it – perhaps it’s a coping function, the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears, ignoring the problems until they ‘go away’. Yeah, right.

So, yes, I’m really frustrated with Life ® right now. What a big old meany, eh?


Little Fly


Little fly,
Thy summers play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not though
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

– William Blake
Songs of experience – 1795

Thank you Tarquin.

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