Monday, March 02, 2009

Just a Bigger Treadmill

I took a walk today in the French Hill/Mt. Scopus area of Jerusalem. I try to keep up on my exercising as best I can when I travel. Not an easy endeavor a lot of the time.

The cardio routine that I've invented here is to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood, followed by 10 trips up and down a long flight of stone steps. This works pretty well to keep my blood pumping and my muscles strengthened.

My Jerusalem Stairmaster

Today, as I was going up and down those stairs, I was reminded how much I dislike doing tasks that don't seem to get me anywhere. If I'm being productive and making progress it is easy for me to stay motivated in a task. If, however, the task doesn't really produce a noticeable outer change or result, I feel a little bored and can lose my motivation quickly.

I do cardio exercise on a treadmill when I'm at home. It always bores me a little. I pep it up by listening to music I like and staring out into the woods behind my house.

Today on the steps, I realized that the steps were "just a bigger treadmill." I was covering the same territory over and over again, but not gaining any ground what-so-ever. As I hauled my body up the stairs on about the 6th trip, I felt myself wishing this was over so I could get on to something productive!

Then a light bulb went off in my head. Of course doing these steps (or walking on the treadmill) is productive! Not in a 'gaining outer ground' way, but because of the impact it has on my body and my health. I'm not one who exercises because it makes me look better. Not that I mind looking my best - most people want that for themselves. My primary motivation in exercising is to be fit and strong. I want to be healthy enough to live my life and fulfil my purpose on this earth. The healthier I am, the more energy and vitality I have to direct towards the work that I believe is mine to do on this planet.

I thought about the fact that from one day to the next, as I 'do my treadmill' or 'do these stairs' I might not notice any change in my physical fitness level. Yet, after many, many repetitions, perhaps I will encounter a big hill to climb, in the course of a regular day, and I'll be able to bound up that hill without a thought to it's difficulty. Without my daily efforts where I travel the same ground over and over and over again, perhaps that wouldn't be possible. maybe I couldn't make it up that hill or maybe it would take me too long. Who knows?

As my thinking continued to expand (as I huffed and puffed up those stairs), I realized that this same dynamic is present in many human endeavors. Sometimes we work very hard towards something and might not see any outer confirmation that our efforts are paying off. Think of people who were the first wave of any great social movement: abolishing slavery, gaining the women's right to vote, the civil rights movement. The people in the early days of those battles met with unbelievable odds, persecution, ridicule, abuse and sometimes crushing blows to their very bodies and livelihoods. Many people who begin a campaign or an effort like that, don't live to see much progress at all in their particular effort, yet they are part of a collective, ongoing evolution. Without them, the process would not unfold in the same way. Without them, perhaps the eventual success that is finally achieved, wouldn't have been possible.

In any great movement for social justice and positive change, things must be done over and over and over again before the shift happens. Think how many marches, demonstrations, petitions, legal challenges and crushing defeats were endured in the early days of any of the movements I listed above. to those living through those days, it must have seemed as though nothing would ever change. Yet history shows that, although much work is still needed, we have made progress. Things have changed.

I sometimes lose patience and get disheartened when I consider the situation in the middle east, particularly the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Sometimes it seems like nothing will ever change, and that those of us who work for peace, justice and reconciliation just keep doing the same things over and over and over again. We write, we speak, we demonstrate, we sign petitions, we rebuild houses, over and over again. Yet, here we are, in seemingly the same place. Sometimes it even seems like we slide backwards. YET... we are growing the strength and the muscles to do what it takes to actually shift this reality. Each day that we repeat our efforts, we need to keep in mind that we can never know the exact importance of our work in that moment. We need to believe it's like a workout on a treadmill or a giant set of steps. We might feel like we are covering the same ground over and over again, however, we are cultivating strength, knowledge, wisdom and willpower to stay the course for the long haul. Those 'seeming to go nowhere' activities ARE worthwhile, no matter how they might appear on the surface.

This was kind of a revelation to me. My daily workouts don't actually physically move me from one place to another, yet they do have a cumulative affect on my overall health, fitness and stamina. The same is true of our outer efforts working towards any great endeavor in our lives. The larger and more daunting the task, the less likely a day's effort, or week's effort, or month's effort, or even a year's effort may seem to make. Yet it all actually does move us 'forward' in the direction of achieving our goal.

It's just a bigger treadmill. Keep walking the same ground over and over again... as long as it takes to find yourself in a new reality.

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