Saturday, January 19, 2013

Janathon 2013 Day 19 - Action by action

Run (treadmill) - 4.1km, time - 20m, Weights 20m

If I hadn’t already planned most of my January exercise to be in the gym, today I would have been here. Snow fell yesterday  and as the temperature has not since risen above zero it remains on most pavements as a slippery mess. I’m sure some hardy souls will be out there showing they can take mucky conditions in their stride, proving that nothing can stop a run if you are possessed of superior determination.

To all such people - I salute you. But I am not one of you. If conditions outside are adverse (i.e. majorly unpleasant not just a bit meh) I prefer being inside. It is after all one of the reasons gyms were invented.

Today a lot of people thought the same and the place was packed (though this might also have something to do with it being January: the month of resolutions). Sometimes I had to wait for a machine but I felt quite relaxed as it gave me a chance to look around and watch all the other people with their different routines and aims: some working on their strength, some on flexibility and some on just trying to get going. The thing is that we were all trying, and I liked that. Today everybody in the room was in earnest. I looked around out of curiosity but also on the chance of seeing something I could copy. Not today  though.... but I did see something extraordinary. A lady on a treadmill had taken off both her trainers and was balancing on one of them i.e her rear foot was placed across it, whilst the other leg was stretched out in front, not touching the ground. She slowly moved it to increase or relax the stretch, whilst squatting on the rear leg and then lifting up. It was controlled and wonderfully balanced and looked difficult. I have no idea what she was really doing or why she was doing it on a treadmill.

It is one of the fascinating things about being somewhere like a gym. We all share a common high level objective i.e. to get fitter but the reasons for this fitness, and the uses we want to put it to, vary. There are common machines but that are used in slightly different ways (according to those objectives), and everybody is going at their own pace (nevermind different speeds on the treadmill, weight and crunches are pushed at vastly different rates). Everything is similar but not the same. There are very few clues as to what anybody else is thinking and there is limited interaction. It is all perfectly civil, people smile at each other when their paths cross, and there are some small groups of people working out together, but for the most part the room holds individuals working on their own.

When I looked around I thought it a very stoical space - everybody was working on just what they could control and not worrying about anything else or anybody else's opinion.
One of the core aspects of stoical thinking is the division between things you can control and things you can’t. You must do your best with what you can control (in other words attempt to act virtuously), whereas for the things you can’t - well those things must take their course.
You have to assemble your life yourself - action by action. And be satisfied if each one attains its goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening
  • But there are external obstacles ...
Not to behaving with justice, self-control, and good sense.
  • Well but perhaps to some more concrete actions
But if you accept the obstacles and work with what’s given, an alternative will present its self - another piece of what you are trying to assemble. Action by action.(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VIII 32)
This is what you see in the gym: action by action.

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