Last week we focused on laughter; this week we focus on beauty. They both have more to do with fitness than you might imagine. For beauty to have that effect, (1) we need to notice what’s there. Beauty is always there, but we don’t always notice. (2) we need to enjoy what’s there. It needs to make us smile. (3) we need to appreciate what’s there. Gratitude will do more to keep us fit and happy than any other emotion. Read on for some inspiring passages and poems from a variety of authors who will help you to make it so.
When we think about getting fit we probably don’t think about savoring beauty; it’s more likely that images of sweaty bodies on treadmills come to mind. But the “hard body” vision of fitness fails on several counts. For one thing, most people just aren’t into that image. It is either so far out of reach or so undesirable that it fails to motivate and change behavior. For another thing, it sends the wrong message when it comes to optimal wellness. Fitness is not about working out all the time; fitness is about having the ability and taking the time to enjoy the life we’ve been given.
That is, according to the dictionary, the meaning of wellness: “the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.” It’s not about being able to finish a marathon or press your body weight; it’s about being healthy enough to live long and prosper as individuals and communities on planet earth.
These days that takes plenty of deliberate effort. Every time we turn around there are more threats to health and well being. Beyond the obvious, such as global warming, nuclear proliferation, and tobacco smoke, there are plenty of hidden threats in our food supplies, environments, and lifestyles. It takes education and attention in order to successfully work our way through the minefields of everyday life.
One of the best things we can do for health and well being is to deliberately get enough sleep, rest, relaxation, and recovery. Before the advent of the electric light bulb, that came naturally. As the sun went down so did human activity levels. Even as the sun went up, to the peak of the day, humans would often take shelter from the heat. There was a lot more sleep, rest, relaxation, and recovery than work, toil, and sustained, vigorous activity.
Perhaps that’s why people invented art in the Paleolithic age, tens of thousands of years before we invented agriculture. We had and took the time to savor beauty. Although our Paleolithic relatives used only basic tools, their cave paintings demonstrate high levels of artistry and interpretation. In addition to large, wild animals, their paintings included tracings of human hands, abstract patterns, and schematic representations of human beings.
We will never know all of what their artwork represented, how much of it was related to the business of hunting, for example, and how much of it was just for fun, but we do know all about their urge to create and to notice beauty. That same urge courses through our veins today; we have but to let it loose in order to reap its benefits.
One of the ways I do that is by utilizing Jeff Galloway’s run-walk method when it comes to distance training and running. Based upon pace, Jeff suggests different splits between running and walking in order to optimize endurance and speed. In addition to improved performance, he also wants to give runners more of a chance to savor beauty.
Jeff started his electronic newsletter the same month and year I started LifeTrek Provisions, in January of 1999. In that first issue, he wrote:
I have a friend, close to 50, who started using my marathon training schedule recently. Although he’s now run in one marathon and says he might do one or two a year, the race itself isn’t his primary motive for training. “I love those long runs. I’m out in the hills for 2-3 hours, alone, it’s peaceful, just a pair of shoes and shorts, no hardware, no motors.” He finds joy in the exertion, the solitude, the tiredness when it’s over. He says he’d follow the program now, even without the marathon as an incentive.
That’s the attitude I wish most runners would adopt toward the long run. Whether the race is a fixed goal or a hazy sometime-in-the-future dream, the long run should be fun, easy, relaxed and not too fast. It’s obviously going to be much more enjoyable to you if you can run in the hills, the woods or the park as opposed to pounding monotonously down the same city blocks. But wherever you run, try to approach the long run as an enjoyable experience. Not coincidentally, relaxing and having fun will improve your conditioning and future performance more than any other single aspect of your training program.
That’s what I love most about the run-walk method. It’s not just the promises of improved endurance and speed; it’s the opportunity to move around with eyes wide open. We live near a park with about 12 miles of trails for hiking, running, and mountain biking. I love to run-walk those trails. I run for about four minutes, with laser-like focus on the ground. Otherwise I end up tripping on a root or twisting my ankle. And that’s no fun!
After four minutes of running, I walk for a minute, shifting from tunnel to peripheral vision. I look up, down, and all around. I see and hear birds galore. This past week I heard an owl that brought a smile to my face. I also enjoy the Pileated woodpeckers, since I have their GISS (General Impression, Size & Shape) and calls down pat. I also enjoy the sights and smells of spring, with fresh flowers blooming every day. I can even enjoy the feel of rain gently falling on my body. There’s plenty of beauty to savor while run-walking.
There’s also plenty of beauty to contribute. During my walk segments, I like to clean up the trails. Since there is no end to the production of forest debris, there are no shortage of ways that I can leave the trails more beautiful than I found them. When it’s time to start running again, I feel both rested and invigorated. By savoring beauty I inspire gratitude for life.
Like humor and laughter, something there is about nature and beauty that restores the soul. That’s true regardless of our situation in life. Last week I quoted Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychotherapist who survived the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, on how humor and laughter were important to getting through that ordeal. He writes with equal profundity as to the importance of nature and beauty:
As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that factor • or maybe because of it • we were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.
In camp, too, a man might draw the attention of a comrade working next to him to a nice view of the setting sun shining through the tall trees of the Bavarian woods (as in the famous water color by D•rer), the same woods in which we had built an enormous, hidden munitions plant. One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw the sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate gray mud huts provided a sharp contrast, which the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be!”
Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was gray around us; gray was the sky above; gray the snow in the pale light of dawn; gray the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and gray their faces. I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying, when, in a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom, I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.
At that moment, a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable gray of a dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet” • and the light shineth in the darkness. For hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed silently with my beloved wife. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was very strong: she was there. Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me.
That’s what savoring beauty will do for people • it fills us with hope, motivation, meaning, and significance. That’s also why I think it has so much to with fitness. By savoring beauty, we are grounding ourselves in the ease that, as Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, countermands the dis-ease of illness, violence, greed, hatred, fear, and ignorance. To quote Kabat-Zinn:
In order to not be terminally tainted by energies that pose ongoing dangers to a harmonious society, by vectors of dis-ease, we need to keep grounding ourselves in ease, in health, reminding ourselves over and over again of the possibility of balance, trusting in and building on what is healthy and already OK, all the while keeping the shadow side of things in both ourselves and others in full awareness.
But how do we do that, you might ask? How do we get there?
Simple. There is no “there” to get to. The ease is already here, underneath the dis-ease. The balance is already here, inside the shadow. We need to remember this, and realize it in the sense of making it real, through the ongoing cultivation of mindfulness, in other words, through practice. Ultimately and profoundly, it is ease that is the substrate, the ground of our being, as individuals, as a culture, and as a world. We do not always know this, but we can recover it, dis-cover it, precisely because it is already here.
So too when it comes to savoring beauty. First, we need to notice what’s there. It’s always there, but sometimes we run through the forest, and sometimes we run through life, without taking note. Second, we need to enjoy what’s there. It’s not enough to give beauty a nod as we move on, in a hurry, to the next thing. We need to allow beauty to have its way with us; in short, to make us smile. Finally, we need to appreciate what’s there. When beauty is fully appreciated, whether it be my run through the park, Frankl’s light in the farmhouse, or Kabat-Zinn’s experience of ease, it fills us with gratitude. We end up feeling fit for life.
The 13th century Turkish poet Rumi has a poem that encourages such appreciation:
Today like every other day
We wake up empty and scared.
Don’t open the door of your study
And begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel
And kiss the earth.
The musical instrument in this poem can be taken both literally and figuratively. Playing music is a great way to savor beauty. But our bodies, minds, and spirits are also musical instruments. We play them when we “let the beauty we love be what we do.” By noticing, enjoying, and appreciating beauty, we unfurl ourselves into wholeness. Kabat-Zinn concludes:
Physicists now believe or are giving serious consideration to the possibility that the universe that came into being with the big bang out of “nothing” in one, infinitely short, unthinkably brief moment that defined the beginning of time some 13.7 billion years ago is an eleven-dimensional universe. Apparently seven of the original eleven dimension failed to “unfurl” at that moment of creation, giving us the appearance of the three we know now, plus time.
How sad for them to have missed their one chance to manifest. But they are nevertheless still “here,” curled up in their primordial potentiality inside and within everything.
So, too, we might say that there are multiple dimensions in our own lives that are tightly curled up within us and for whatever reasons have not had the opportunity to unfurl, at least so far. If they did, perhaps it would come as quite a big bang in our own lives. Many stories speak of revelation and clarity in the meditative traditions in just that way, as sudden “explosions” of insight. They are hardly stranger than what science has been cooking up for us.
One such hidden dimension is the present moment. The present moment is always right here, yet more often than not it is not apparent to us and therefore, practically speaking, unavailable, that is, we cannot avail ourselves of it. Its rich dimensionality is hidden and unknown in the press of our preoccupations with getting somewhere else, speeding through the present without noticing it or that we are always in it, there being literally no place else to go, no other time to occupy.
Might this dimension that is the present moment unfurl for us? It might. it might. What would it take? How about stopping, looking, and listening? How about coming to our senses? To quote T.S. Eliot’s immortal lines in the Four Quartets, it is:
Not known because not looked for,
But heard, half-heard in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick, now, here, now always,
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
Optimal fitness = wholeness = wellness = mindfulness = savoring beauty. It’s not just about our maximum blood oxygen volume (although we talk about that in weeks to come). It’s about connecting with the goodness imbedded in life itself. It’s about recovering our strength through appreciating the best life has to offer.
Coaching Inquiries: When you look around, what beauty do you notice? How could you enjoy it more? What would fill you with gratitude? How could savoring beauty become a daily practice? How could you hold on to your appreciative thoughts for longer periods of time? Who could become your appreciation partner in life?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
Greetings from Heaven above! With hope this email will get you in good emotional condition as we are in Ghana. First of all I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate you for the good work you are doing, not in America alone but in the whole world as well. Please I want to encourage you to keep it up, because Jesus is with you. I also encourage you to read Isaiah 54. Nothing more than my prayers to you. (Ed. Note: Thanks. I especially like Isaiah 54:10: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.”)
I just discovered your email. Having done some trekking in Nepal several years ago, I like that name “LifeTrek Coaching.” I look forward to learning more about you and to staying in touch.
My husband is going to be officiating at the wedding of our son and his bride to be. I remember that you had some fun and unique things in your son’s wedding. Could you easily tell me what date LifeTrek Provision Archive that might be in so that I could look it up again. (Ed. Note: Thanks for remembering. It was Provision #415: Relationship Matters. Enjoy!)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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