I’ve been waving the flag of rest and wintering for a while. I’m riding the wave of discipline and heat and it’s enlivening!
I used to exercise in a way that was a little bit rude.
I didn’t run naked through the streets, cursing. Not that kind of rude. Rude on the inside. The voices in my head said dickish things.
I leveraged self-violence to get moving as though movement was punishment for my imperfections, instead of a joyful expression.
I knew and could feel the positive impact of hard, pushing exercise. Of heat. Of running until I was queasy or roaring through push-ups I didn’t feel I had in me. I could enjoy the aliveness that came with a push. But what got me to the push was often cruel.
And then something extraordinary happened. About 8 or 9 years ago, I met a life-changing personal trainer.
He was awful.
He was mean. He objectified the shit out of me and my sister and said demeaning things.
We decided to hire this guy on the recommendation of some friends who were loving it. We didn’t quite notice the style at first, though he was “bootcampy”, y’know? But that’s cool. We were there to build strength and push ourselves!
He’d made some objectifying comments about how much harder it is to be a woman, like a co-sign on the BS that we exercise to be more desirable. We ignored it.
We’d leave tired. This was curious to us. We were both fairly active and knew exercise to be energizing, so we were trying to figure out what felt “off”.
One day, after making some audible grunts with a heavily weighted bicep curl, the trainer says “well now we know where you’re weak!”
That’s what was so draining! Each time we’d reach our edge, instead of helping us dig into our strength, and meet the moment with heat, he’d make a remark about what we lacked. A tactic meant to push us, which it did, but at what cost?
We didn’t want to be quitters, so we kept at it. And then the life-changing moment came.
I’m standing, facing the mirror, doing shoulder presses. The trainer comes up behind me and with both of his hands, GRABS MY BACK FAT, and says “don’t worry, we’ll get rid of this.”
To be clear, I had not once said I was there to lose weight or trim down. But my body was somehow this flawed object he was helping me fix.
I froze. Shame coursed through me. I felt enraged. And you know what? I said nothing and I even went back for my final session. Shame layered upon shame that I didn’t stand up for myself, and went back week after week being told I was weak and fat and flawed.
And then I realized, ‘holy crap, this man spoke to me the way I’d been speaking to myself all along!’ A very different experience when it’s out and overt like that, not these little gremlin voices of the soundtrack within.
I would never allow that to happen again. And I haven’t. Not from within and not from without. I vowed never to exercise from a place of self-violence.
For a long time, this meant that exercise had less heat to it. Ease. Softness. Care. It wasn’t until I could feel myself craving the strength and power that came with push, that came with heat, that I ramped it up. And you know what? The voices in my head sounded like a chorus. Cheering. Joyful. “Yes! We can feel where you’re strong! Go! Go!”
Things have been full and busy on the work front lately. On all the fronts actually. A couple of years ago, I made a similar promise to myself as the one around exercise:
I will not self-extract for my work.
Simple statement. Complicated to live by.
Content Warning: I’m about to talk about my morning practice. I’m not on instagram anymore but I know how douchey those morning practice posts can be, especially if you don’t have one, have children or like to sleep. I’m no hero, folks, just staying regulated in a very busy season of life.
I recently started getting up at 4:30 am and have been side-eyeing myself with suspicion. Have I fallen into old patterns of busyness? Am I trying to do too many things? Am I setting myself up for burnout?
Since humans tend to repeat patterns. And since patterns won’t change without conscious intervention. And since even with conscious intervention, our most entrenched patterns are unwieldy beasts seemingly impossible to murder, I have good cause for concern.
It started because twice per week, I host a co-writing/co-creating session at 5:30 am with the amazing people in the Creative Cauldron. I was waking at 5, but that didn’t give me enough time to do morning pages and yoga (I did warn you). Sometimes I even light candles and pull cards. #alwaysbegrowing.
For the past several years I’ve been working with seasonality and life-and-death cycles as a compass for the various facets of my life, work and projects. At the time I made the above self-extraction vow, I was burnt out. Desperately needing to winter, but caught in a pattern of productivity that was not regenerative. So I pulled back, just like all those years ago around exercise.
I wintered. I gave myself time and space. I played with my creativity. I waited. I slept. I gardened. Lifeforce has been coming back, projects have been queuing up. Some timelines are a touch aggressive. I’ve been fearing the heat, fearing the push, fearing what it means.
I’ve worked so hard to not work so hard.
But then I realized, I’ve created whole new rhythms. I don’t work on Fridays anymore. Those are my little buddy days (aka – I parent). I take a half-day one of the other four days to take my teenager skiing. I finish my workday by 3 quite often. I mean, when I write that out I have to ask myself are you even busy on the work front? Or is life just full with the life you want?
My work hours do not meander. Every 15 minute block is intentional and focused. My life is incredibly scheduled, which is not the winter life I was recently living. It’s packed with regenerative ways of working and living. I’m giving myself what I need to show up, to exit my comfort zone, to go for new dreams.
I started this gawd-awful-early morning routine and the disciplined heat is creating a sense of spacious relief. I have time to myself, to move slowly, to write, to attend to my body and my inner world before the chickens and dogs and kids all yell “SNACKS!” and before my calendar starts pinging with 10 minute warnings for all the things. And when they do, I’m ready.
I’m not waking this early to sip on the workahol and beat myself with a productivity stick. This is my pre-game. It’s GO season. I’m here for it.