Taking the Sting out of a Thorny Day

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There's nothing like a vigorous workout to blunt the sting of a thorny day. Thorns are interesting devices of nature, nasty in construction, yet existing in the environment to protect and preserve it. I bare a few thorns myself and suspect I am not alone.

We need to be sharp in the increasingly dangerous and cynical world we live in and the barbs we encounter are unfailing reminders. Look sharp, stay sharp and watch your back sounds obsessive, but it's not the worst counsel one can give. This caution requires awareness and self-preservation, discipline and hard work. The trick is not to become a prickly thorn in the process.

We return to our workouts to strengthen us against the sharp spines that claw at the flesh. Training has a way of making us bigger and stronger, while reducing our size at the same time. Such is the paradox that provides both shield and armament, enabling us to trek through the day without backing down or striking a blow.

Barbs can be spiky formations of our own making. One of our most piercing shortcomings is our lack of gratefulness for things small and commonplace. We take life for granted; we hurry to gain more or we're idly complacent. Life's grand, but we fail to notice.

The bad, though outweighed by its opposite, is sought after and magnified. We allow, almost encourage it to grow, like a devilish, hypnotic wildfire. We should extinguish the spitting and fitful flames, but their searing intensity penetrates the soul like Lady Luck.

A workout in down times is akin to a life preserver to a drowning man. I know men and women who deteriorate when their day-to-day training routine is disrupted. It's pure oxygen to the brokenhearted, a consolation to the overwhelmed, a friendly place to the lost and lonely, freedom to the trapped, a solid expression for the voiceless and an elixir to the weak and downtrodden. Workouts can breathe life into a hopeless form.

Lest we forget, health and fitness through lifting and smart nutrition is a passionate lifestyle for a select culture of bright people. They are few, but they are strong. They find delight in training, as they balance and temper their lives. Sharing disciplines, sacrifices, grunts and groans, a distinct joy is evident among those who are dedicated to the cast-iron cause. And a dust of rust adds fine flavor, color and credence to the deed.

People have been known to be restored to life by the energy gained from a good workout. I once knew a man who knew a man who was critically ill and the worst was expected. One sad afternoon the fellow was pronounced clinically dead. An alert team of personal trainers hooked him to a defibrillator charged by electricity generated by 25 stationary bikes powered by robust athletes from the neighborhood gym. He was revived instantly.

Why would I lie to you?

Working out adds sensitivity and awareness to the heart and mind of the dedicated lifter. The softer side of life, fine qualities can be pierced by daily thorns or they can render them harmless. You can be sure of this: The sensitivities gained by lifting weights are about as soft as the iron that formed them. Thorns are hard pressed to poke holes in the backside of seasoned lifters. Instead, they are gathered into a pile and used as kindling for mouthwatering, muscle-building steak barbeques. Hot thorns! Hot thorns!

My life, I admit, has always been a prickly mess when my workouts were not in order. Further, it's difficult to determine which came first, the prickly mess or the workout disorder. You can bet I've spent many fruitless afternoons trying to sort out this conundrum, only to slip into the gym out of frustration, have a monster workout and forget all about whatever it was that puzzled me.

I think we're getting somewhere.

Don't you love it when your training is in good order; you're regularly arriving at the gym on time, you're unhurried and you know what you want, can and should do, and the latter three needs are in harmony?

The energy is solid, the pump is within reach, the equipment is available and you're in good repair. Life's not perfect and you accept its flaws. The weights feel tight and your muscles feel loose and the groove is easy to find. You settle in, you flow, you become absorbed -- distractions are locked out; they don't have a chance. The first 45 minutes go by firmly and you're in charge, the next 15 minutes are a good fight and the last 15 are a winning struggle to the end... you walk away without a limp.

The thorns drop like dried leaves in the fall. They no longer scratch, draw blood or impart pain. They disintegrate, they evaporate, they dissolve. They go away.

In my fight against stress, doubt, fear, anger and insecurity, no weapon or defense has served me more effectively than a strong bout with the iron. One might suggest confronting the source of the conditions directly, but their origins are often disguised, hidden or unapproachable. Through the force exerted during a good workout, and the discipline and focus to apply such force, troubles are often clarified, diminished, resolved or eliminated.

And this not by magic.

It has something to do with -- I'm guessing as usual -- the release of endorphins in the brain that soothe our pain. There is the distraction of exercise that frees our subconscious to work on problems unimpeded by our oft-confused conscious minds. There's the fulfillment of concrete achievement in our daily lives, augmenting our confidence and undermining our doubt and insecurity. Further, we can't deny the sense of physical power and wellbeing -- the exhilaration -- we derive from the mighty expression. That alone will conquer the foe.

And then there is exactly that: The expression we make by hefting heavy metal over our heads, clearly conveying who we are, at once a declaration, admission, confession and revelation. Such is the need and tendency of the individual aware of his individuality: to speak out through his deeds.

Let's not dwell on the briar patch. Take one sting at a time and allow it to direct your course. We learn from our mistakes, stumbles and stings. The point is this -- be aware and beware of thistle and thorns; be prepared for them, heed them, walk a circle around them, nip them in the bud, dull their edge and, when you must, set them ablaze. Don't let their sharp points penetrate your tender yet toughened skin.

As lifting weights goes a long way to tear down our enemies and paint who we are, so does the moving of iron develop our flesh and bones, our hearts and lungs. Only a whack or a liar would claim he doesn't want strong and well-formed muscles. Muscles are cool and might is in.

When the sun is warm and overhead and the roses are flourishing and standing tall and our hearts are filled with goodness, yet it's time to clear the thriving briar patch, this is what to do: Say "to heck with the dagger-sharp thorns, I'm coming through. Got my gym bag and rosin and wraps and belt and favorite T-shirt; got my water bottle. I've got a beating heart and a handful of exercises, from presses to curls and deadlifts to squats. I know a rep from a set and I can count to 20 if I have to. I've got the time; I've got the will; I've got the guts; I've got the love."

If we don't, we're in trouble and the thorns have pierced the skin deeply.

The sun never sets on those who fly high, long and swiftly toward its brilliant and life-giving rays. Stay warm, stay cool.



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