We all experience resistance when we are challenging ourselves to engage in something that is worthwhile. It seems like the activities that are healthy for you or are good for your soul or your intellect or your spirituality should be easy—that they should come naturally, gracefully. In my experience they do not. In my experience they do not, and whenever I begin to write, to meditate, to run, to play guitar, to socialize—there is always resistance. Always. Sometimes I get pushed over by this and do not proceed. Sometimes I push back and push through. I am getting better at pushing through, or at least understanding what this resistance is so that I know it is temporary, so I know what is on the other side of it.
Let’s get one thing straight: for the fist 33 years of my life, I did not run. I hated running. I despised joggers, even heckled them. Smoking cigarettes, sitting on front stoops, writing poems, walking slowly through city streets—that, I believed, was the best way to live. Still do. Though I do less of all that now, and I have not smoked cigarettes since I was 33. I take no pride in being a runner, but I began to do to fight my depression, my muddled head, and because I watched a documentary on Netflix at work one day (called Happy) which told me you could lose your happy-juice neurotransmitters if you do not use them. I did not like the idea of limiting my capacity to feel alive, engaged, enthralled, and positive about life. And my belly kept getting bigger. So I ran to feel good. But I found more in running than I would have guessed.
When I began running, I slipped on the last pair of athletic shoes I had bought—a pair of all white Adidas Stan Smiths which I bought in 2005 when I had to go on a family vacation where we would be playing tennis or golf or something that my Kenneth Cole beetle boots would not suit. Flash forward to 2012. These were not the best shoes to run three miles in, but I am cheap and I only went to go buy new ones a year into running when I developed plantar fasciitis, which is an aching sore in the arch of my foot. A pain I only had felt before the next morning after bar-backing at a blues club in my brown leather lace-ups (maybe the only thing worse than being a jogger is wearing athletic shoes out into the world—we are trying to feel good about ourselves people, so look the part). I went to Fleet Feet in Lincoln Square, hoping that they could tell me how to heal my condition. They watched me run around the block—embarrassing but necessary—determined I pronated—over? under? I can’t remember—and told me to buy the Asics GT2000 (and a foot massage ball). This worked, but what kept with me even more is what the owner of the store said to me as I was waiting to be seen by one of their shoe salespersons: he said, “You don’t start burning fat until after the first 20 minutes.” Bad news—all those under 20 runs were not helping my waistline. Double bad news, he looked at me and knew I was thinking about burning fat. I am sure I told him I run for the experience, for the way it makes me feel—which is half of it. I have always tried to push beyond the 20 minute mark because of this. But it was today—6 years since he told me—that I saw how meaningful this fact is.
Our body keeps accessing energy as usual from the immediate sources available to us which are those calories most recently introduced into our digestive system. But there is an entirely different system for finding fuel that kicks into gear after a certain amount of exertion. This storage of energy—our fat cells—is always there but we have to push to get into it. We have to push through that first 20 minutes of resistance, and then wallop: we are accessing something not previously available to us. In fact we are accessing energy that we want to use up—all that energy we took in but had nothing to do with—all that extra: that slice of pizza, that chicken, that asparagus which we devoured so we would have fuel to engage in our life—now it is there and it is wanting to be used. Calories desire to be burnt just like books desire to be read. But both are equally accustomed to sitting on the shelf. And after 20 minutes, our body begins to sing for satisfying this latent drive.
And today, running on the treadmill because it is too cold outside, thinking about this in just this way, I saw how much this parallels so many other worthwhile activities, which for me are: reading, writing, meditating, socializing, playing guitar. In transitioning into reading a book, especially challenging books (the difference is similar to running versus walking) each time I struggle to get the rhythm, struggle to know why it matters, struggle to keep my attention on the sentence as it throw me out or my phone diverts my attention. Sitting down to meditate, transitioning into an art project, a musical mindset—all of these things have their initial barriers of resistance, and we must recognize those, and know that once we push through them then something else clicks into gear--just like the fat cells,we gain access to what we previously could not activate. In music, maybe we enter a sacred space of groove and resonation. In writing, maybe we wander far enough for our imaginations to take control and convince us what is not there does matter. In meditation, our breathing patterns, our neurotransmission, our heart rate all shifts once we settle into it. And it is here, past the wall of resistance, though the first 20 minutes, that we are present with the spaces where the magic happens. We are in the place where what drives us is able to be activated and expressed. And I would argue that It is when we do not access and express these drives that we become stuck in life, frustrated, neurotic, anxious—full of latent energies that feel impossible to activate, to bring into reality, to know and to benefit from, to realize in our daily lives.
Psychologically, the more routinely we practice whatever it is we are driving to do, the easier it is to fight though the resistance. Still, we must remember that our ability to sustain these activities is what allows us to be entranced by them and have that special access to the stored possibilities they offer. Sustain and withstand—I think of what my son’s karate sensei speaks about in pushing though the sensations that we interpret as our body telling us to give up. These blockages—these walls—we must be disciplined and know there is something beyond that is not a prize but an activated state of consciousness, an activated potential stored within our bodies.