I go to Goodlife Fitness several times a week. I'm in good shape for a male my age, especially one who dealt with a serious brain tumour in 2003. I regularly come in the top third or quarter in races I run, even beating runners young enough to be my nieces or nephews. I confess to feeling smug as I pass them.
However, I realize that I have settled into certain bad habits and postures over the years. Some are the result of a lifetime of ways of acting and standing and exercising. Some are the result of my attempts to compensate for the imbalance that was caused by the tumour. As I observed others at Goodlife, and the way the trainers worked with them, I realized that I was not as effective in my workouts as I could be. I decided that I would take advantage of some sessions with a trainer, in the hope that I'd un-train myself from bad habits and replace them with good habits.
I'm getting better at reflecting on things I can learn from my mistakes. For example, in my recent half marathon, I realized from analyzing my stats, that I ran faster in the first half than the second. It's not that I was not up for it. Rather, I think I just settled into a comfortable, easy pace. In other words, I didn't challenge myself to speed up. I was content to have a nice long run on a beautiful fall day. It would have helped if I had someone next to me, to say, "Wake up! This is a race!" Well, now I kind of do have that someone!
"Training ready!" I hear that phrase from Christian, my personal trainer, several times in a session. That is shorthand for standing upright with chest out and being attentive to inhaling and exhaling. Basically, it serves as a reminder to be focused and intentional about what I am doing. It is so easy and natural to stop paying attention and to lose focus.
I naturally glance around to see what's going on. Christian has to call me back to readiness for my training. I've spent a great deal of time over the years helping those who pray to have a similar stance of intentionality. I know how easy it is to get distracted and lose that sense of intentionality. It’s my own experience in prayer and it is the experience of those I have journeyed with in my years of spiritual direction.
We are sometimes half asleep, almost in a slumber – whether with our physical or spiritual exercise. I find that Christian helps wake me up, at least when I am at Goodlife. Part of the gift of a spiritual director is that he or she can wake me up spiritually. Just the fact that I'm meeting with her will make me more attentive to what is happening in my interior life. I might speak of a movement in my interior life to my director and he asks a subtle question that causes me to look at my situation in a new way.
There are times when a spiritual director has to offer a corrective. Perhaps I'm approaching my prayer in too strict a manner. Maybe I'm not spending enough time on the review of prayer. Maybe I'm rushing through the prayer or the rhythm of my day and not reflecting on how it's going.
I'm realizing that all of these roles of a director have their counterparts for how Christian helps me. He points at my posture in the mirror and shows me something. The fact that I'm meeting with him will make me more determined to work on things and get them right. He points out how I tense up in the shoulders or I start to hold my breath. I'm not relaxed, and, therefore, unable to focus on the exercise at hand. I forget to take the "training ready" stance. My hope is that the new habits he is giving me will plant themselves in my brain and truly become new habits.
Already, I find myself telling myself, "training ready " when I catch myself slouching at the dining room table or when I'm walking or running. Christian's voice was a motivating element in my recent half marathon. Not everyone can benefit from a spiritual director or a personal trainer. But we all have people in our lives who know us well enough that they can offer us some perspective on our physical or spiritual exercise. “Training Ready!”
Source for all photos: Philip Shano, SJ