The Tao that can be named
Is not the eternal Tao.
–Lao-Tzu, The Tao Te Ching
Yesterday I wrote about the movie Moneyball and confidence. It’s often the lack of confidence that prevents us from reaching out, from trying and ultimately from getting all we want out of life. This lack of confidence is actually an expression of something deeper.
In the second of Chip’s grand videos on fitness, exercise and the philosophy he and his tribe have developed, Brutal Recess, he talks about the excuses we use for why we don’t. In particular he was talking about why we don’t exercise or push ourselves in the gym, but the truth is these two excuses apply to why we don’t do anything.
Those excuses? Fear and laziness.
If you really want to get down to it, laziness is actually an expression of fear, it’s frequently just so convoluted in it’s journey from the feeling, fear, to its expression, laziness, that we miss the connection. At it’s most basic laziness is the expression of the fear of failure and so is a lack of confidence.
Remember Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes? (Do kids still read Aesop?) In this fable a hungry fox comes across a large bunch of grapes hanging from a vine. He makes several attempts to reach the grapes but they always remain just out of reach. Frustrated and hungry he gives up after only a few tries. As he walks away he mutters to himself, “They were probably sour anyway.”
How often is this our approach to our goals? How many New Year’s resolutions, that this is the year to make change, get fit, quit some bad habit, end by February 1st with the belief that the goal was just not worth the effort, even though we really had no concept of whether it was or not?
When faced with any significant challenge we must first face the fear that we might not be up to the task. Given the choice we find it safer, more “empowered,” to choose failure by not actually trying than to do our best and face the potential reality that we’re “just not good enough.” The laziness of “not really trying” then is the expression of our fear of “not being good enough.”
And that is scary.
Most of us spend the better part of our lives “faking it.” It’s actually one of the things our educational system is best at teaching us how to do. Just show up, put on a pleasant face and you’ll muddle through.
We learn to squash down and deny our anxieties and fears, which are, incidentally, biological mechanisms designed to alert us to the fact that something is amiss. Instead of learning to pay attention to our feelings, to see them as early warning systems, and to understand how and what they are trying to communicate to us, we squash them down and come to see them as pesky annoyances that get in the way of achievement.
Which is really the great irony of this situation.
Chinese Taoism is symbolized by the taiji, or as we call it the “yin-yang symbol.” You can see it below.
The elegance of this symbol is belied by it’s simplicity–and it’s overuse in the 80s. Consider; the basis of Taoism is the interplay of opposites, yin and yang, represented by the black and white areas on the circle.
Our understanding of this universe is limited to the interplay of opposites. We can only see things in terms of what we’re observing and it’s relation to it’s opposite–as such, black is defined by white, positive by negative, heads by tails, up by down, etc. Whether or not this interplay of opposites is a true reflection of reality or just our perception of it is a totally head trippy, mind blowing conversation best reserved for another time. For now, let’s assume that what we can see is.
Another thing you’ll begin to notice about the symbol is the little circle of white inside the black and the one of black inside the white. This is a cool way of showing that everything contains a small part of it’s opposite. We see this all the time in people. It’s especially apparent when we start looking at the biographies of famous people.
Martin Luther King? He’s easily one of the greatest leaders of the Twentieth Century. He was also a womaniser who cheated on his wife. That’s a small touch of selfishness in a man who dedicated his life to the betterment of an entire race.
Hitler? He’s one of the greatest demons of the Twentieth Century. His goal was the eradication of an entire race and he came close to succeeding. It’s hard to find a better example of evil nastiness. Did you know he was a frustrated artist? Deep inside the cold, hard soul of the man responsible for an unfathomable amount of death, misery and sorrow was a soft, tender, expressive side–just a touch of white inside a field of black.
My final point about the taiji is how the black field tapers into the white and the white tapers into the black. This is to indicate the mutable quality of nature, the zenith of one quality inevitably leads to the beginning of it’s opposite. We often refer to this as the “pendulum swing.” Take the history of politics in the world. Pull back your perspective enough and you begin to see a pattern, a shifting back and forth of repression and opulence, conservative to liberal. As one side of the coin reaches it’s apex the other side begins to gain ground.
Remember way back when when I was talking about feelings and our need for achievement? The irony is that actually learning to follow our feelings, to pay attention to our anxieties, can lead to us to a path of greater understanding and then surer achievement. This is going into our fear, riding the apex of one side of the taiji because we know that the rise of it’s opposite is just on the other side. All too often we instead fight our fears, squash them down, and they in turn end up ruling us.
So what does strength training, fitness and exercise have to do with any of this? From the micro to the macro. Read any of the more philosophical writings on martial arts and you learn that the dojo, or training hall, is viewed as a metaphor for the real world. The dojo is a place to practice all the battles of the real world in relative safety and security.
Your gym is a dojo, or least in my opinion it should be. This is a place to train, to practice, to act out the battles of the real world. Success build confidence, confidence is the best antidote to fear I know. The confidence that comes from hitting a lift you’ve never made before, carries over into other areas of your life. “If I could do that…then maybe I can do this, as well.”
It’s practice. Practice that leads to greater ability, greater vitality and a more vibrant and real life. (Here’s the wind up…)
Come practice with us. This weekend is an excellent opportunity, the Bodytribe Workshop is Saturday and Sunday (…and there’s the pitch!). We’ll be exploring new ways to push ourselves, build our confidence and realize greater, realer, more vibrant lives. Go HERE to register.