Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lessons from the Gym

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)

I've been working out 5 days a week and watching what I eat for 5 months now and so I've spent a lot of time at the gym. All this exercise means I've become more aware of my body, and especially when my body is in pain. There is the bad pain from when I've pushed my body too hard or performed an exercise incorrectly. The pain that means it hurts to climb stairs.
There is also the good pain, the ache of muscles growing and stretching. The moment when the encouragement of the trainer helps me do 5 more reps than I though possible...and even that can lead to the pain that means it hurts to climb stairs.

I'm slowly learning to distinguish between bad and good pain.

On the treadmill I have a lot of time to think. This week I felt God nudging me, telling me to look at any emotional pain I'm feeling in the same way. To realize that there is both good and bad pain. The ache of grief, the struggle of resisting temptation, the anguish of surrender to God, the pain of fractured relationships. The disillusionment of betrayal. As I am developing a greater awareness physically, I am trying to develop a greater awareness mentally, to not just experience my pain, but to ask it questions about its causes and cures.... is easy to philosophize. I am also aware however that I talk about pain very differently when I am in it. I can speculate about the growth that comes, and the different types of pain that exist, but when I'm experiencing pain, all of that gets discarded, and all I know is that I am hurting and I want it to stop!

Like most gyms, mine has mirrors everywhere. I find them distracting. When I'm straining away with weights in both hands, unable to to remember even the simplest exercise because of the burn in my muscles and the sweat pouring off my bald head, the last thing I want to do is see the reflection of my contorted face staring back at me. The first thought that usually springs to mind is - Wow! I look like an idiot.....

...this of course is not true. I look like everyone else at my gym who is straining to build muscle and lose fat. The truth is, it's not the mirror that is distracting, it is my interpretation of what the mirror reflects. It is as if I have replaced the mirrors in the gym with Fun House mirrors that distort.

We all see the world reflected in distorted mirrors. Much of the pain we experience in life comes from us trying to hold together our false views of the World, Self, God, Others. A person or an event comes along that doesn't fit in our well ordered (but incomplete) worldview and rather than allow our views to be reshaped our mirrors shatter and we cut ourselves on the shards of broken glass unwilling to let go of the pieces. When I was young I thought my parents were invincible, that they would live forever. In my teens I was convinced that the correct bible verse properly applied would solve any problem. In my twenties I thought that if I could just hate parts of myself enough I could change them. In my thirties...well you get the idea.

We move from one carnival mirror to another leaving behind a trail of broken glass.

The Apostle Paul wrote For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12

And it's not just us...

We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.  And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience ~ Romans 8: 22-25

Pain is not just confined to us, it's all around us - even our planet is longing for release from it.

We are constantly bombarded with messages on how to avoid pain. instead I'm slowly learning to sit in it and ask it what it has to teach me.

Maybe, just for a minute each day, we could all try to do the same.

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