Calibrating Fear

I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to tap into the core of movement and the body. I even got so far as to get to the root of stillness. I can say that I have never been more types of sore than I have been in the past two weeks. It is as if training your body is not even really about conditioning your body to be stronger but more so conditioning your mind to be able to accept and process exorbitant amounts of pain. No I don’t mean discomfort, like when you are kind of sitting in an awkward yoga pose for a few minutes. I mean real pain like when you are leaning into a stretch that is bringing you to the bring of tears.

In G.I. Jane Master Chief John Urgayle says “Pain is your friend, your ally.” and there are a million other quotes like that you will hear in the military but this one rings like a proverb to me now. There seems to be a very clear distinction between pain tolerance and strength, and ability. I know the longer and harder I train and endure the sadistic practices I put my body through the more fortified I become in my resolve and ability. The interesting thing about fitness is that it makes these changes to the mind and body simultaneously.

I have found that wrestling with the discomfort of my experiments with yoga have made it easier for me to be patient in line at the DMV or addressing mundane administrative tasks while working.  At the highest level my pain tolerance has increased from doing things like pushing through severe cramping during a run or muscle failure when lifting, and here is where it gets interesting.The more pain I am able to endure and recover from, the less I am afraid of pain itself. It’s not that I become desensitized to the pain necessarily but I become better at managing the fear that prefaces it. This is what I have come up with so far from my month of fitness exploration:

When we approach a task  we calculate the possibility of success or failure based on an assessment of our ability and the task at hand. The further from our core ability the task is, the less lower the likely hood of a desired result. But right along with that ability assessment is the fear of failure.  The fear is based on an outcome that might be as subtle as embarrassment or as severe as death but can be categorized as unpleasant or painful. Fear is in direct opposition of desire, because both live in the imaginative mind (there and only there). Just as we can perceive all the positive possibilities that come with success we can can see all negative possibilities that come with failure. The real fear factor is how far our abilities are deteriorated as a result of an aversion to pain.

Now let’s go back up to the top.  As I am training, I am not only working to condition my muscles to do a specific task but I am making them better able to manage the strain of that task and manage the associated pain. The better I am at managing pain, the less I am averse to it because I have developed my condition to be suitable to endure the strain of the task, so even if it is not any less painful, I already know it is a pain I can tolerate.

Until now I have always viewed fear as wall to break through. Acknowledging the fear-pain and pain-strength relationships has been breakthrough for me. I now see fear not as an enemy, but for exactly what it is. A tool that helps me assess my ability. Through training, I calibrate my fear to align with my condition and pain tolerance, and reflect against my goals and desires. In short, If I am afraid, I’m not ready. There is more pain for me to endure yet, before I am strong enough to capture my desires.

Synopsis: The path to fitness is a continuos conditioning of the mind and body to exert the necessary amount of energy to execute a given task. Along the way we manage pain, and calibrate our fear to be an effective tool to estimate the outcome.