Monday, October 20, 2014

Honoring Our Ancestors

A large and often overlooked aspect of striving to be fit physically is the effort to also strive to achieve mental fitness as well. I know that one of my major fitness goals is mental fitness. My need to reduce the stress in my life and the need to release that stress is actually what led me to weight lifting in the first place. The two for me are inexorably linked.

One of my “mental fitness” exercises is to practice “Letting Go.” As a practicing Pagan I do this a lot with built up energy—especially after ritual. In my personal life I try to use it to deal with the losses of loved ones I am remembering during Samhain. The energy of so many memories builds up inside me. If I am not mindful of this energy it can build and build and work against me.  

This Samhain I am remembering my Uncle Jeffrey. He is deep within my mind and this year I am planning a special alter to honor him.

Jeffrey was my godfather and even though I did not get to see him often he was a very important person in my life. The man had a lot of baggage he was holding onto. Baggage in life isn’t always a black and white term. Baggage just is. I think how you deal with it determines the weight of the luggage. My uncle’s baggage was very heavy to him – a burden he could not escape and he used drugs to lighten the load. His drug problem eventually defeated him.

I was devastated when he died. For weeks before his death I had wanted to write him letters—telling him all the things I wish I had been able to tell him to his face. I wanted those letters to bring him back to reality, to remind him that I was someone who would miss him. I was afraid to write him—which I found absurd as writing is what I do right? It’s the medium by which I express all the things in my head I’m too fucked up to say. Nope. I wrote him letters but I wrote him silly ones full of nonsense.

I think sometimes when I’m having a bad day I particularly like to torture myself into wondering “what if.” What if I had written him honest letters, what if I had actually let him into that place in my head that is so like him? In general though, I have been through this before and I know that the “what if’s” in life lead nowhere. During Samhain it is time for me to remember that instead of allowing sadness to enter my energy spectrum I need to turn it around and allow joy to alleviate that negative energy.

By honoring my Uncle I am honoring all the things I wish he could have found in the universe. I honor him by being truly and uniquely myself. I honor him by being Pagan and proud even though my religion is not main stream. I choose to not let the prejudices of others direct my stars. I honor him by remembering to be kind to myself—that a branch too rigid does not bend but breaks apart. I know that he would not want me to break but bend in all the ways he could not. To honor my uncle I need to remember to have fun in my life, to not let the burdens of my life kill the childlike nature within me. Fun for the sake of fun—we only live once.

To honor our ancestors is to bring honor to ourselves. To reach into ourselves and learn the lessons they were here to teach us. Some of these lessons are painful and full of regret—and like the Five of Cups are a warning to us that it is not too late to change the course of our lives and be the people they know we can be.

When I create my alter for my Jeffrey I will fill it with happy memories and promises for the future. I will bring into this New Year the lessons I have learned from his life and I will give us both the courage I knew he had but couldn't see. I will let go of all this energy within me, I will send it to him so he will know that yes, I am listening and yes, I can hear him. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Making the Connection: Everyday Sacred

Three years ago, if you had asked me if there was a connection to working out and being a Pagan—it would have taken me a long time to answer. I would have had to really think about it. I don’t believe I really made the connection between my spirituality and what was then a “lifestyle change” I was attempting to make permanent for health reasons. I was enjoying my workouts and I was happy to see the changes in my body as I continued them, but it wasn’t until this connection that my dedication really took hold.

The gym I go to is located in an industrial park and is next to a very well attended Baptist Church. After class one evening, as we were cooling down, the instructor was explaining that we would only be able to push sleds (weighted sleds used in our fitness class) on certain evenings because there were complaints from the church next door that we were taking up too much space in the parking lot. Now I can respect that. It’s not a very big parking lot and everyone has to share.

We were discussing this and then suddenly a woman next to me stated “I’m not very religious… this is my church.” It was that statement, said almost to herself, that flipped the switch for me. It’s wasn’t just like a light turning on— it was like Handel’s Fireworks Suite. “This is my church.” Four words that have changed me, changed my thinking, changed the way I approach fitness, and changed the way I celebrate and connect with my goddess.

As Pagans we make offerings to our gods/goddesses. Sometimes we offer them wine or beer. I would offer Freya mead or gold jewelry. It’s a token of appreciation. It is a connection leading to further meditation when spending time at my alter and really, it’s just good manners. I still make an offering before meditation but I began to tie my workouts to my offerings as well. 

One night, right before the final round of a very punishing finisher when I didn’t think I had much more to give, I suddenly offered my exertion to the goddess. I was tired, my legs were sore but I pushed on and pushed through the tired and found a place I never knew I could go. Offering that energy to the goddess gave me tenfold in return. I found I could push harder, test my limits, because I was dedicating my efforts to her. My sweat was in honor of her.

Freya would send her Valkyries out among the dead and wounded on the battlefield to find the best warriors to bring back to Valhalla. What better offering then then testing my strength and endurance in her honor? I knew then that the best way for me to honor my goddess was by testing myself physically and by bringing this element into my workouts it gave me a sense of connection and a sense of purpose. I wasn’t just working out—the gym had become my secondary circle, the weight rack my secondary alter and that last round of the night my true offering in sweat.

I always quote Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, and once again remind myself “True magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own and not expect to get it back.”

I have since made sacred my workouts. I like to get to the gym early—many people can often see me with my eyes closed while waiting for our class to begin. I am meditating. I am asking for strength, for a safe and effective workout. I am offering up my sweat to the goddess that I might honor her, that I might push harder, faster, lift stronger and push out one more rep than I think I can. I will not take the easy road.

I’m not just a Pagan with a fitness hobby. It is an integral part of my spirituality. I am learning lessons about myself and my values. I am seeing strength within myself I never knew existed. Deeds not words. I cannot honor my goddess with words when I have actions to prove myself with. 

Honoring our gods and goddesses need not be limited only to offerings of wine or mead. Sometimes we must get to the heart of the matter and leave our comfort zones in order to truly connect to the sacred energy around us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alter-Craft: Keeping It Simple

I read a lot of Pagan based forums and one of the main things I have noticed when it comes to people who are new to the Pagan path is that they have a lot of questions on Alter creation. Alter creation is a very personal thing and also depends often on what your spiritual path centers on. I can honestly see how new people can get very confused with alter craft.

The books tell you to represent all the elements, the books tell you the elements must be represented by certain objects, the books tell you the pentacle must go here or the wand must go there….that you have to have a wand, that you have to have special crystals or that you have to set up your alter on specific moons etc. The books can, for the most part, go fuck themselves.

I don’t say this to shock anyone or to show disrespect to other people’s spiritual path. I say this to liberate those of you who might be having an Alter based melt down. Books are books. They represent a helpmate, guidance if you will, to aid in those who are looking to learn more. When you become more comfortable in your practice and when/if you begin interacting with Pagans who have been practicing for a long time, you will find that the actual process of Paganism is much freer, much more organic then some of the books on the market will have you believe. It’s the path that you ultimately choose and the intention of the alter that often dictates the creation process.

I often use AA slogans. I come from an AA family and they have been ingrained in me from a young age. They are useful because they hold their own simplistic truths. In this instance I would say “keep it simple stupid.” Some of my more meaningful and beautiful alters have been the most simple and heartfelt.
I criticize Hollywood the most for this sort of thing. Television shows and movies lead people to believe that in order to wield power we must have “stuff.” The energy in ritual comes from within, it comes from the universe, it comes from our community and it comes from our deity of choice. It does not come from the “stuff” we purchase or collect for our alter. Most items only have the energy we imbue them with. 

You don’t need to go out and purchase beautiful cups, expensive jewel encrusted wands and large brass pentacle alter makers for your alter to hold power and meaning. Unless they hold some kind of significance to you, don’t take on the burden of that expense until you want to or you are ready to. You don’t need to bury it in feathers, mounds of stones or vessels full of water, herbs and salts. There is no need to have a rock from every corner of your property or a leaf from every tree represented in your radius. You don’t want to confuse your intention. You want to focus your will like a lighthouse in the darkness.

The singular light of one lone candle—charged with our energy—can be the beacon representing your will and intent.  This can be enough. We must first find the power within. We must find the strength to know that we, as we are, are enough. Once you find that, items on your alter can help focus your intent.

The key to a personal alter is to find things that speak to you—that speak to your intentions and help you focus your energy. Begin simply and build as you change and the seasons and situations around you change. Life and Spirituality is only as complicated as you make it. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perception is a Harsh Mistress

Like the title states, perception is a harsh mistress.

For better or for worse our perception of a person or event or even a thing blinds our view of it and changes us. I don’t believe we can ever escape this. We are only human after all and I think, at least of late, there has been a very hard push on humanity to foster perfection.

For the purposes of this post let’s focus on the term “Body Shaming.”

What is it exactly to “body shame?”

The definition is as easy as the name. When we think a woman or a man is too thin, we’re body shaming. When we think they are too fat we are body shaming. Any criticism, no matter how minor, any opinion no matter how trivial comes under this new vogue umbrella term.

Is it fair to criticize others on their physical appearance? I’m thinking that answer is a no. It’s not fair. A lot of people cannot help the way they look and pre-conceived societal notions of beauty change moment to moment. I mean hey, just look at the renaissance and the early 90’s.

I applaud the fitness industry’s brave new world of “let’s all love each other no matter how we look” and Hollywood’s new stance on “why can’t women eat?” I totally love the fact that people have yet again coined a new “term” they can now use to shame others who shame others who shame others.

I am highly attracted to cyclical hypercriticalism. It’s my favorite, along with wine gums. Wine gums are awesome.

I don’t want to “body shame” people…. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought isn’t “Hey! Let’s go find a fat man to verbally haze!” No, really… it isn’t.  In fact, I seem to collectively make it through the entire day—everyday—not giving a flying fuck about the bodies of the people around me.

It’s amazing the sense of freedom having an actual life is. I go to work, I stress out about my job. I go to the gym and I lift very heavy things and I put them down. I do so with other men and women who are lifting heavy things and putting them down. Occasionally I will notice one of them is wearing shoes I’d like to buy. Then I come home, I make dinner, and I watch television commercials full of brain washing and still… somehow… I manage to see them for what they are and not buy a container full of chemicals to make me instantly [insert social desirable stereotype here].

Occasionally I’ll see an actress on TV who is skeletally thin. I use the term skeletal in a factual sense here as I can see, with my eyes, her actual skeleton which, if this is the look she is going for, is quite impressive. Occasionally on the street I will see a man who barely fits into his enormous sweat pants eating a double cheeseburger and drinking from a 2 liter coke bottle (true story!). 

I see these people. You know what though? They are not my problem. If a woman wants to starve herself to look a certain way then it’s her decision. If a man wants to fuel his body with high calorie foods then it’s all on him. When do we stop blaming society for making us sick, for making us fat or for making us thin?

As a pagan I am a true believer in free will. As I always say, are we not our own gods? If each of us contains, by nature, access to the power of will then where can the blame be placed but upon our own heads?

My will chooses Muirakai. All my focus is on her. What is her power? What is her will? How can she better serve the goddess, the universe and the men and women around her? 

There is something bizarre in humanity that makes us want to “focus on what other people are doing.” I hear it all day long.

“Oh. My. God. Look at what he’s eating.”
“She went to lunch for over an hour.”
“He’s buying his kids an iPad for [insert mainstream seasonal religious holiday here].”
“Her ass is so fat in those pants.”

You know what? Her ass might be fat in those pants but who gives a shit? Sometimes it’s all in perception like “My ass is so FAT in these pants! YES!” because some people are really into a fat ass. Goddess knows I’m working on my squat pattern for a reason. These gluts won’t stock themselves.

My trainer always quotes “comparison is the thief of joy.” She’s not wrong. When we let assholes rent space in our head we relinquish our power and let the actions of others dictate our path. Life is not immune to comparison and I am not on board with the total and utter censorship of my internal workings for better or for worse.

I refuse to hold myself to standards outside myself. One day I might look at someone and I may, in my head, “body shame” them. Sometimes I “body shame” myself. I know that both of these actions have internal consequences but I’m not going to make a pledge to not “body shame.” I don’t make pledges. As a pagan I understand that the energy I release into the universe comes back to me for good or ill.

We don’t want to judge others, but we sure will judge ourselves for judging others and we sure will judge others who judge us or who judge others in front of us. Why? Because we are just so amazing that we feel we need to hold the world to a certain set of standards that even we cannot comply with. Piss off. 

I’m not going to delve into the dark world of existentialism today. One woman’s evil is always another man’s good.

We are complex creatures filled with power, laughter, passion, fear and anger. We are horrible to each other. We love and support each other. We kill and we birth. We wage wars internally and globally. We seek peace and reflection. We seek to hurt and we seek to heal.

I cannot control the people around me. I do not try to. I cannot possibly force another life to adhere to my whim. If you want to “body shame” me then feel free. I’m emotionally OK with it. I would rather celebrate the will that enables you to think freely then celebrate the brainwashing that removes your free will.

Perception is a harsh mistress. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

It Takes Time To Kill Bears

No bears were harmed in the writing of this post. 

A new trainer at my gym wrote a very personal and very honest blog post about his struggles with body image. It really blew me away. I don’t spend enough time talking about the women and men who are my trainers at the gym that I belong to. This is mostly because I want to honor their privacy. Due to the nature of this blog, although I am well out of the broom closet, I generally tend to not use many details when it comes to other people in my personal life. They don’t even know I write this blog. My trainers Christa and Karen have been amazing in the past by sharing their own personal struggles with body image.

Recently they took on a new trainer named Luke and it was his turn, via his blog The Strong Kitchen, to share his own personal journey with the way he views and has viewed his body. I thought it was such an amazing feat of courage to post such an article as he has only just joined the gym as a trainer. His honesty not only raised my already high opinion of him but also made me realize how special the trainers in my life are, how true they are to themselves and to those who train with them. 

Male body image is something, as a woman, I know nothing about. I can only imagine they go through very similar things that women do. Yet I feel I don’t know how men are trained by society to see themselves or how socially they feel around others if they do not conform to whatever the societal “norm” is for them. In his article he mentions that he used to wear more than one shirt because he was self-conscious. I, on the other hand, abhorred layering because it made me feel fatter. I felt like another layer would add to me… not slim me down. Men are expected to go shirtless at the beach, which until now, never really seemed odd to me. Yet, to be honest, that is a lot of skin…and I can see now how men might feel vulnerable in that manner—especially if they feel that they do not meet their ideal body image.

His article really gave me a lot to think about in my own life. It made me ask myself questions on how I view my own body. These questions are not unfamiliar. I ask myself questions all the time about how my Pagan views shape and change the way I see the world. I specifically ask myself how they help motivate me and aid me as I try to reach my own personal fitness goals. I have never really thought about how they affect my body image. It’s not a secret that I grew up in a Christian orientated household. It is also no secret that I harbor no ill will towards any religion. The best and most honorable thing about this great country of ours is that, for the moment at least, we still maintain the freedom to choose our religious preferences and practice them freely without fear. Even though I grew up with a basis in Christian oriented faith, it was most assuredly a very easy and very free thinking sect of Christianity to which I belonged. My parents were not the kind of people to censor things. My sister and I grew up on a healthy diet of reality and Rocky Horror Picture Show. Therefore, even as I made the transition into Paganism, my opinions on my body did not change drastically.

A very young Me, ready for Samhain!
Among our own, we know each other as a very free style of peoples. We generally tend to enjoy our lives. Even the charge of the goddess tells us: “Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” Although finding my best body and testing my personal limits is my choice, brings me pleasure, and is therefore a ritual with which I choose to honor the goddess… not all in our group feel similar. We are not taught nor are we in the habit of teaching others to be ashamed of the physical body—no matter how it manifests itself. I have posted before my beliefs in the pros and cons of this and for the purpose of this post will state that often times it has given me more strength then weakness. 

College Me, I'm the one on the Left!
That didn't mean that, as a female child living in America, that I didn’t feel bad about myself. I was always larger than my friends in grammar school. I was the heaviest one in ballet class. I did get made fun of a little bit in middle school and I most assuredly did not win the boy I was crushing on when I was 13. I grew into my Pagan beliefs more as I entered high school. Aside from trying to tell myself that I needed to shed my layers of self-hatred and accept my body I also needed that miracle to occur that happens about the time that one’s growth spurt occurs. A major part of my mental dysfunction when it came to my body was that I didn't begin menstruating until I was Fifteen. That is a long ass time to wait. I think even my mother was beginning to get nervous. I was not an athletic child nor was I unusually thin. There was no reason, other than nature’s whim, that it should take so long. When it did happen, the growth spurt I was looking for also occurred and I was, in my opinion, finally a decent size. I had gotten some more height and was finally thinning out from a chunky middle school Muirakai to a sleeker Muirakai bent on heartbreak and destruction. (I’ve always had a soft spot for destruction.) I felt very confident. I liked the way I looked. I probably wasn’t eating as much as I could have been but at least the choices I was making were complete crap. (That last bit was sarcasm. In case you were wondering.) I might eat only once a day and that choice was probably a slice of pizza and a chocolate chip cookie. I digress...back to the story.

More College Me, and that time when I cut off all my hair....

I was never the thinnest of girls. I know this and although I was self-conscious in some ways I was not at all in other ways. For the most part, I wore what I wanted (mostly a mixture of jeans & sweat shirts and full on Gothic regalia) (Yes, I go big or not at all.) and I didn't care so much what others thought about that (I didn't have to. I had a lot of friends in high school… no real tales of woe here; everyone was generally very supportive of each other). I did have one boyfriend who probably not so delicately would have liked me to be thinner. He once said to me “You know…I’d never really dated a girl with your body type before. It surprised me, when I liked you so much because I think all the girls I’ve dated have been really really thin.” Now this sentence of his has actually stayed with me over the years, but at the time, although it disheartened me, it didn’t push me to change the way I was. Even after this incident I didn’t identify myself as “fat.” I’m not sure how much of this was because I was happy with my height/weight/body image etc… or how much of it was due to the fact that I was completely and utterly clueless that change was even possible or how it would be accomplished. I really think I felt that I was the way the goddess fashioned me and there was no further I could go.   

I do not feel, despite my imperfect form, that I had ever felt shame. I suppose if I had felt a little more shame, I might have made it through my younger years with a little more of my reputation intact. I was the girl your parents warned you about. I even have a war story or two and more than a few tales of “I couldn’t tell my mom I was hanging out with you.” The Pagan in me, in that respect, could not be dissuaded from all sorts of madness. (I told you I had a soft spot for destruction.) I regret none of it. I have always felt my strength comes from trusting myself and the universe with my path. 

I choose and my choice is my own and I live with it and I let it happen and I let it shape me.

England, circa 2005
When I moved to England in 2004 for graduate school my weight dropped drastically. In 2005 I found myself the thinnest I had ever gotten.  I was eating with portion control because I had limited funds and I needed to make sure all my dinners were also lunches. I cooked a lot. I didn't have a car and I walked everywhere. I was also stressed out with the writing of my thesis and giving in to a lot of bad habits. I used alcohol as a meal replacement and I was under pressure to produce work. I wasn't sleeping very well—but that has been the case most of my life. (Sleep? Eh, who needs it. Throw that shit away.) When I came back from England I was engaged to my best friend, dealing with immigration issues trying to actually marry him, and I was depressed that my academic life as I knew it was over. I was trying to find my way back into a life that hadn't yet been created yet. I think that’s when I started eating my feelings. (Like ya do…)

218 lbs of Me in the first 1X shirt I ever purchased.
I would join Tuff Girl Fitness in March of 2011 

Three years ago, I woke up and realized I was 218lbs. I had no idea how it happened. I mean, I have a pretty good idea now how it happened, but it was such a gradual transformation that I felt like one day I woke up, looked in the mirror, and was blown away by the person I saw starring back. I had no idea how to remedy it. I have mentioned before how new I am to this idea of fitness and thankfully I was able to find the trainers and the gym that I belong to now. Body image is such a strange and unusual beast. At what point did I begin to feel unhappy? At what point did I suddenly feel self-conscious about it? I think it was when I began buying clothing labeled “Plus Size.” I never thought I would ever need any size larger than an XL and the XL label never bothered me. The 1X label bothered me. At my largest, I was shopping for jeans in a size 18 which was only one size away from a 20 which instilled in me a fear I almost couldn't deal with. I think most of the fear stemmed from the fact that I didn't know how to reverse the process. I wasn't opposed to changing my habits, but I didn't really know which habits were leading me down this trail.

I have already begun my fitness journey. 
My relationships began to suffer. I felt a loss of confidence and in that loss I felt the connection I had with myself begin to fray and sever. My connection to the world around me frayed and severed. I felt lost and trapped within myself. I couldn't shop in normal stores anymore. Clothing I had loved and saved for years no longer fit—clothing with memories, clothing for rituals, clothing that I had connection with began to disappear from my use. I felt like I couldn't get out of my own way. I was uncomfortable in theater seats, I got tired walking short distances, and the photos of me began to torment me endlessly. Who was the girl in these photos?

Me & My Best Friend/Husband on our 6 year Wedding Anniversary
I am kicking ass at the gym. Kicking. Ass. 

That was when I found my current gym, my current trainers, and I found myself again. I always knew I was a spiritual person, but I was blown away by the spiritual journey this new level of fitness brought me to. Perhaps it was my mournful prayers to the goddess that I wouldn't pass out during copious amounts of mountain climbers… or the immense sense of peace I felt after every workout… or perhaps it was the rage release I felt slamming down ropes and connecting with my inner Shiva, who knows. All I know is that connection happened to me once more and on a level I wasn't expecting. I felt like myself again. I felt like my ties to life were mending. I was making friends. I was running and hiking and living in ways I never imagined for myself. 

One Week Ago, Before Kicking Ass in The Warrior Dash
I love this man. He came with me on my path and we are stronger for it. 

I do not worry about my body. I do not have weight goals even now. I don’t even have size goals. (Although I did recently hit a size 8 in my jean size which was specific to me at the time. It reminded me of my size 18 jeans when I began this crazy journey and helped me gain perspective on how far I have come.) I just show up. It’s the feeling I’m addicted to, the use of my body. Being fit has made me a more complete person and I cannot give that up. I trust in myself along with the universe. I know that when I am scaling a 15 foot wall during a mud run that I can climb that rope and flip over the top with ease because I know I have trained well and my muscles can hold me. I never look down, I don’t have to—I’m already on my way to the next obstacle.

I choose and my choice is my own and I live with it and I let it happen and I let it shape me.

At 32 years old I feel the best I have ever felt. I feel comfortable and confident. I feel like I can face every challenge that comes because I have faced all the others that came before. I can only continue to walk the path, face forward, and feel the excitement of the unknown and the anticipation of what might be around the next bend. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Goal Setting: How Not To

When all this "fitness" began, I never set out to win any world records. In fact, I wasn't sure how I felt about it and I wasn't sure if I’d stick with it, so I tried very hard not to have any expectations at all. Everyone tells you that the clear path to success is through avid goal setting. I think that it can be, but like with everything, not everyone responds to goal setting. I find that my goals are more abstract in nature… if you can even address them as “goals” to begin with. I think I’m emotionally OK with this. My trainer, in the beginning, used to stress the need to have goals to “crush” and then set more and “crush” those too. After a year, a “goal-less” year, I was beginning to panic. Would I lose my interest or steam if I didn't start goal setting soon? I didn't want to run a Mud Run or a 5K. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to lift. I didn't have an ideal weight or clothing size to aim for. Really I just wanted to keep going. That, in the beginning, was the only goal I had: To. Just. Keep. The. Fuck. Going. When you are not a “fitness” prone person, when you are in the rough stages of introducing your body to your first “muscle” however tiny and almost invisible… you don’t want to scare anyone. I didn't want my brain to over think it. It’s like Wheel of Fortune Card in Tarot. I just wanted to relax and let it happen…whatever “it” was and whatever came from “it,” I wanted to relax and travel the path where it led me.
So far the path has been good to me and the Universe challenging but ever changing. Last summer (2012) I ran a mile for the first time. I never had any inclination to run but my sister signed her and me (and my husband) up to run the Rugged Maniac. As I wasn't a runner I thought I’d better start. We went to the track and I would run the lengths and walk the turns, rinse and repeat until I was running more than I was walking. I suddenly had a goal. I had to run a mile. I knew I’d never make it through a 5K obstacle course if I couldn't, at the very least, run one mile. Soon the dreaded goal was achieved. The day I ran that mile I can tell you the whole track new it. Walkers and children and the elderly all held their ears as a colorful medley of obscenities left my lips in an end zone dance to end all end zone dances. I never thought I’d see the day.

Well, the Rugged Maniac kicked my ass from here to Zimbabwe. I know some of you are reading this thinking “but it was sooo easy!!” Yes, I’m sure it was. But I have to tell you, those motocross hills killed my stamina and even though the obstacles (excluding a few higher walls in the beginning) were really easy, it was the running that kicked my butt. I just couldn't keep up. I did finish and was very proud of myself for pushing through the pain to finish strong with the rest of my group. I just wished I could have been just that little bit better. Bam! Just like that…another goal was born: to not suck as much on the next one. Bam! Another goal: that there would even BE a next one. (This year’s torture is The Warrior Dash!) Eh… see what I’m doing here folks? See what’s happening? They’re breeding like rabbits these goal thingys.
I guess the moral of this tale is the following: Goals are good. Crushing goals is even better…but don’t panic if you don’t know how to get them. Sometimes you have to begin a journey for the journey alone. It wasn't until I began actually walking this new path that I began to find my direction. Recently I had the opportunity to run the Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race. I ran the traditional 5k (3.1 Miles) in 38 minutes. I was very proud of my time. My only goal for the race was to run the whole thing…no matter how long it took me. I was very pleasantly surprised to come in under 40 minutes. Next year my goal is to knock time off my time and to get better and better every year. I like to keep my goals reasonable. In the recent gym “Meet Up” we had (a meeting where we all get together and discover our new personal records for various lifts we study in class) I managed to meet or surpass all my goals. I benched a PR of 110lbs, I back squatted 170lbs and I surpassed my conventional deadlift goal by 10lbs for a total of 210lbs. These things all took time to reach and even now I’m not certain what my next set of goals will be for the next meet up.  But I know as I continue the path I’ll get a good idea of where I want to be and the goals will come.

I pull the Wheel of Fortune a lot in my readings. I know that the Universe wants me to trust in myself and walk the path. Where ever I end up is where I’m meant to be. I have no expectations other than to perform to the best of my ability, continually testing my limits and trusting in the path set out before me… even if I cannot see further than around each bend. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Real Magic

“Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back. True witches know that.”
–Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

This quote has always resonated with me. From the moment I first read The Last Unicorn, it has been one of those key quotes that has stayed in my mind and helped direct my actions academically, magically and even in my own quest for fitness.

The Unicorn is speaking to Mommy Fortuna whose quest for power, in her own way, has led her to the capture of a harpy (as well as the Unicorn herself). Mommy Fortuna uses what magic she possesses to transform sad every day animals into creatures of yore to delight crowds and to make money. She believes that her illusion is the only way that the Unicorn will ever be “seen” as a Unicorn because no one truly believes in magic and therefore they are blind to it. Mommy Fortuna makes it known to the Unicorn that she will do all in her power to keep her, even if it means to harm her friend Schmendrick the Magician. The Unicorn reminds her "Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back. True witches know that.” The unicorn is reminding Mommy Fortuna that she can never truly achieve her aims through the sacrifices of others.
In my own life, I knew that academically I could not sit back and write mediocre work and reap the benefits of high grades and achievement. I had to study. I had to give up sleep and make sacrifices of my time in order to reap the benefits of my hard work. I was tearing out my own liver, not knowing if I would achieve the marks I desired, but hoping that my sacrifice would be equal to my reward.
We who practice the arts can infer this from the rule of three. Or the following popular bumper sticker:

No one rides for free. What energies we give out come back to us. In this way, when we practice our craft, we are giving our “livers” out to the universe… opening ourselves up to whatever recompense or payment the universe decides to take from us in response to our asking. Everything in nature is a delicate balance of give and take. Witches must make offerings in order to wield the energy in accordance with the natural order. Our offering might be time spent doing community service work when we’d rather be reading or finding ways to help protect an endangered species. An offering can come from energy when we send out healing thoughts to those in need. Doing good deeds, helping others, collecting food for food shelters and blankets and food for animal shelters… these are all offerings we make to balance out our use of the energy around us.
The pursuit of fitness is truly equal to me in this regard. It is easy to incorporate my beliefs into training.  If I want to achieve a 200lb dead lift then I must offer up my “liver” to the quest of it. To create the magic of this lift, I must make offerings of my time in order to train. I must make offerings of my comfort in order to build the muscle that will aid me in the lift. I must offer up my ego and utilize lighter lifts with multiple repetitions in order to better hone my strength. Sometimes I have to sacrifice “comfort foods” in order to better fuel my body or sacrifice a night out on the town in order to make sure I maintain my level of training. I also believe that by fueling my body and testing it physically I am honoring the energies around me by not taking my physical body for granted. Not letting an ounce of strength go to waste. Not letting my inner self become more important than my outer self. The most important temple I have to wield my energy is my body.

Real magic comes to me when I am willing to give offerings of myself. Let me never believe that I can command change without offering up the gift of myself.  Let me never know a moment when I take for granted the power of my physical self and the magic that it can perform.