Saturday, May 9, 2009

From the early morning calm emerges a loud voice...

There's something very calming about the early morning. And I've only grown to realize this in the past year or so. Growing up, I was a nightmare to be around first thing in the morning. I loved my sleep. During my university years, it got worse, and I recall my bed in residence at the University of Waterloo as being among the most comfortable I've ever slept in... which is astonishing considering it was a twin-sized foam mattress, and I certainly wasn't a twin-sized guy back then!

Part of why I th
ink I loved sleeping so much (and don't get me wrong, I still enjoy a mid-afternoon disco-nap) is because I didn't have much energy. I would go to school, do my work, eat, hang out, and sleep. A long life of inactivity led to a lot of time in bed. And as time rolls on, trying to drag your butt out of "the scratcher" (as my Dad calls it) first thing in the morning becomes more and more difficult.

Well, since I've started exercising, I find I have much better quality sleep and oddly enough find getting out of bed much easier every day. And this morning, it occurred to me as to why getting up early is such a wonderful thing.

Each day, I wake u
p somewhere between 6 and 6:30am to the same sound -- it's my dog Rosie (an Airedale Terrier), shaking her head and making noise with her collar to let me know that she has to go outside for a pee. Ironically, I normally have to do the same -- not outside, though. So, I get up, open the back door, trudge into the loo, do my business and bring Rosie back inside. In the winter, when it's still pitch-black dark outside, it's still really easy to bring her in and crawl right back into my bed for a bit more sleep. But as spring is now upon us, the birds are chirping, and the sun starts to shine earlier and stronger each day, I notice how much more energy even Rosie has as she bounds out the door to chase the squirrels who torment her from the roof of the neighbour's garage, or to sniff around the backyard in search of something new and exciting to dig up.

There's something special about her energy. So this morning, like many others, I let her play outside while I put on some gear, grabbed my baseball hat, a toonie for coffee, and her leash to head outside for an early morning stroll. The fact that the weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms and rain all morning was great motivation, because an un-walked dog makes for a bit of a disaster inside the house later in the day. I had to take advantate of the opportunity to get her out for some exercise while I could.

We headed out the door, me still a little groggy from my sleep, but Rosie prancing along like the little princess that she is. She has an amazing spring in her step, and as she sniffs around, stretches to the sun, and leaps along beside me, I realize that it's not just the weather but also the excitement of being outside that gives her this much pep.

In one of his early blogposts, my trainer Sebastien called walking the dog a bit of a spiritual experience. And it really is. While I live in the heart of the country's largest city, there's not a lot of noise at 7am. The only thing I heard as we walked along Queen Street this morning was the sound of Rosie's collar jingling, and the occasional whir of a passing streetcar. People who passed by us were friendly. Dogs who trotted by stopped for a sniff. There was something fresh in the air as the sun peeked through the clouds and those sounds of early morning that you read of in poetry and in stories really did fill the air.

We made our way along Queen Street, and eventually arrived at one of my favourite early morning destinations: Red Rocket Coffee Shop. They have great coffee, an amazing sun deck that is dog-friendly, and free wireless!!! I love spending time sitting outside on a warm sunny morning with a coffee in my hand, the morning paper on the table and a very content terrier by my side. Everyone there is friendly. There's no pretense like some of the larger chain coffee shops, and many people (most of whom live in the neighbourhood) pop over to say hello, pet Rosie, and talk about the weather (we're in Canada, it's what we talk about). Rosie's veterinarian, Dr. Clifford Mardinger is often there, where in fact, he also has some of his artwork on display. There's just something very calming, warm, and welcoming to enjoying a good coffee and a bit of sun at that time of day -- especially amid the hustle of what is normally a very busy city.

So, all that sun and calm considered, walking the dog each morning brings with it tremendous opportunities to think, to reflect, to contemplate. There are no interruptions, very few distractions.... just me, my dog, and whatever is on my mind. Indeed, it is a spiritual experience. It's a time when I have the uninterrupted opportunity to be fully inside my head and think about anything and everything. And this morning, I thought a lot about privilege.

I thought about all of the things that I have accomplished in the past year. I've lost a lot of weight. I've lost a lot of inches. And in some ways, I've lost a part of who I am. And yes, I have found that to be very unsettling. A few weeks ago, I talked about having a lot of balls in the air, and how this life-changing transformation has caused me to question so much about who I am and where I stand in the world. And no, my walk with the dog this morning didn't provide any epiphanous answers. But it did clarify for me just how lucky I am to be in a place in my life and in the world where I can even ask these questions of myself.

Inevitably, we all struggle with something in our lives. Deep down inside, beyond the veneer of calm and ease, we all have something that eats away at who we are. And it's completely okay that some of us choose to ignore it. Some of us choose to acknowledge it. Some of us choose to do something about it, and even blog about it in a very public domain. But choosing to do something isn't always as easy as it seems. Many people I've encountered in the health and fitness profession talk a lot about simply making a choice to take action -- that tackling weight loss is about putting one foot in front of the other, moving your butt, and eating right. I don't discount that philosophy one bit. It's what has worked for me. But I also realize what a privileged philosophy that is. It takes a hell of a lot for a morbidly obese, gay man in his mid-thirties who feels like an outsider to make that choice. I sometimes have to call out Sebastien during our sessions where he doesn't fully realize what it's like to move through the world as a fat man. Yes, I'm sure he's had his own battles to fight, but in terms of physical health and fitness, the world is a much easier and friendlier place to a good-looking straight guy, who is athletic and can do pretty much anything he puts his mind to. And I don't begrudge him that. However, one of the issues I have with the fitness industry is that it lacks empathy in a lot of ways. It lacks a complete understanding of how multi-dimensional this battle is for so many people, and that it's not as easy as simply waking up one morning to take action and change your life. Quite simply, it's not easy at all.

I think that in marketing health and fitness as 'easy', or as something that can be accomplished by taking just a few pills, or sweating for 15 minutes a day to a video, is highly irresponsible.
In another of his blogs, and in his response to my comments, Sebastien used the line, "All is fair in diet and exercise." This opinion or way of thinking still troubles me to the core. Yes, we live in a capitalist society, and yes, the fitness industry is guided by the power of the almighty dollar. But the fact that the health and wellbeing (physical and emotional) of the people who need the help most from the industry that is the most well-resourced to provide it, is secondary to the drive to make a profit, is fundamentally disturbing to me. It angers me. I have yet to encounter any piece of marketing that tells the truth about how unbelievably difficult this journey really is -- about how it takes an unimaginable amount of self-determination and faith to succeed, that no video or pill can ever provide. No program I have ever participated in, or seen promotions for, have ever been able to address the tremendous psychological transformation and paradigm shift that in some ways is so completely necessary to nurture and support the physical transformation to which so many people aspire. The closest I have come to the 'truth' in this transformation is Bob Harper's work -- he's one of the trainers from TV's The Biggest Loser. His book is a great read, but unfortunately a lot of his messaging gets lost at the hands of clever television editing and programmatic marketing of the Biggest Loser brand.

This work also takes a lot of sacrifice. Many people over the past few months have asked me how I've managed to accomplish so much -- how I managed to achieve a goal four months ahead of schedule. I acknowledge that I'm in the privileged position to be able to make my fitness and my health my absolute number one priority. Yes, I'm a busy guy. I've got a demanding job, but I also work with people and in an environment that is so completely supportive of what I'm doing. I working on a PhD, but I can afford to take a break from my studies to focus on my health. I've got a dog, who enjoys the attention that comes with a long early morning walk in the sun My obligations are also opportunities. But beyond that, I don't have a lot of other commitments in my life. I don't have a mortgage to worry about (I'm an eternal renter!). I don't have kids or a spouse to make time for. I can choose to be quite self-indulgent and selfish at this point in my life, and make this journey and this process simply all about me. And I never want to lose sight of that reality. I want to make sure that, amid all of the success I've had and will continue to experience, that I never forget the fact that I am in a position where external obligations are minimal, and that I can choose to focus exclusively on me. Do I feel guilty about that? A bit. But it is what it is. I don't mind taking advantage of this privilege I have, as long as I continue to acknowledge that it's there, and that it's not somethat that everyone has.

So, as I walked throughout my neighbourhood this morning, and thought more about this idea of how narrow-minded the fitness industry can be, and about how privileged I have been to have the emotional, intellectual, physical, and financial
('cause this hasn't been cheap, folks!) resources to make this change, I began to have a bit of a moment of clarity. Maybe one of the things that can emerge from the multi-dimensional chaos that accompanies my transformation is some sort of advocacy in the fitness industry that helps people understand that reality to all of these success stories -- that it's more than just a glossy photo in a magazine, or clever editing on weight-loss show on TV. With my privilege comes a level of responsiblity. A responsibility to let everyone know that there is a very real, very complex, very important story to tell here. And there's tremendous power in that story. Power that I think has the potential to truly help transform some of the ways people think about and interface with this confusing industry. Unfortunately, at this point in time the voice of that story is either silent or tragically under-represented in the multi-million dollar fitness industry.

Hmm... maybe my voice is loud enough. I think I've got an interesting story to tell. More to think about. What do you think???

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.


2 comments:

  1. Morning Chris...great post this morning (so glad we are back in touch so i can read this!) -its still early in BC - and i'm sitting in the quiet country reading your post - waiting for my night shift working man to get up and work out together :) I love your idea about systems change in that industry...If you ever need a buddy on that project or want to hatch plans together...let me know :) happy saturday to you!

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  2. Chris, I think you have a much larger voice than you give yourself credit for. Don't question that. You are living and breathing the story you want to share, so I believe that the authenticity with which you speak will move people further than you know.

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