Searching for meaning in my training

It’s funny when the same thing comes up again and again, over and over. This time, it was about my growing strength.

The first conversation was with my classmate, to whom I found myself saying “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.” “Ever?” He said. “Yes, ever. This is the strongest I’ve ever been in my life.” It felt good to say that and mean it.

My body has been ready for this my whole life: To be strong. I have become tired of not being able to carry my own weight, to feel burdened by my body and its history.

The second time it happened came from the other direction. My coach and I were talking about various aspects of training, including the fact that my body is recomposing rather than losing pounds (meaning, the eating plan I’m on has me gaining more muscle and losing more fat, but the pounds are staying about the same). He said, “That’s actually a really good place to be. You’re the strongest you’ve ever been.” “It’s really true,” I said.

My whole life, I’ve felt like my body was capable of being really strong, thick, powerful, and capable. I’ve never been much of a dancer (although in fourth grade I did a school-wide performance where I interpretive danced to a Eurythmics song). I’m not particularly nimble or sproingy by nature. But I am a damn good deadlifter, and can carry five giant bags of groceries all at once. (#TrainingLifeGoalz)

But this training program I’m doing right now, where I’m training for a specific goal rather than just putting in work, does something to me psychologically. It gives me a purpose, a meaning to the work I am putting in. I tell myself it’s about the contest in September, but really I think I just need a purpose outside my immediate situation to help me keep track of the long-game. To stay in the immediate feeling is too much, too overwhelming sometimes. If there is some kind of destination, even though that destination is not the “end”, it helps me keep going when the accessory work gets boring and the lifts get heavy. Having a long view takes the pressure off of having to be good at what I’m doing right now. It reminds me that there is something else I’m lifting for.

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust concentration camps, expanded on Nietzche’s idea of having our own “why” in life: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Frankl’s life experience led him to understand that if one can find meaning in their situation, one becomes more prepared to survive it. Witnessing the lives of the people in the concentration camp where he lived, the sickness and the misery, he noted that those who maintained a sense of meaning– be it keeping family and loved ones in mind, or in Frankl’s case, writing a book on scraps of paper that he kept hidden in his bedding– stayed healthier. People need a sense of meaning in order to keep going.

Though I am in no way trying to compare our situations, Frankl’s experience and mind has helped me through many dark times in my life. Training is by no means a “dark time,” but it certainly challenges me to put my all into everything and survive what feels like a momentary potential of death or serious injury. It is a psychological game as much as a physical one, and teaches me to trust my body, trust my coach, trust my history, and trust myself to show up for these moments where the implement feels heavy, scary, and overwhelming. It’s a small laboratory which helps me experiment with how I might handle the more terrible things in life.

We are now in a situation in this country where children are again being stolen from their parents (this happened with impunity to Black people and Indigenous people for centuries here, and it is happening again) and locked away in camps. Hard-won rights are at risk of being lost, and it’s being plainly exposed that those “rights” are built for some but not for all. Like the right to bear arms. Philando Castile was a licensed gun owner and shot in front of his partner and daughter because the officer was racist. This is our country. We can’t pretend it “doesn’t happen here.”

The meaning we find in it all has to come from somewhere. If my body is strong I can be strong for the people who need me. I can think more clearly about my actions and how they support or antagonize my white supremacist indoctrination. I can know more readily where I am located in this system. I can survive my own white fragility and turn my anger to where it needs to go: Toward finding alternative systems, alternative structures, and an end to the way oppression plays out over and over again in this country built on bloodshed, genocide, and terror.

I can carry my own weight when I’m strong, so I can better help carry those whom I have wounded by my structural position over generations as a colonizer. That is my bigger purpose, the long game: It is Audre Lorde’s words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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