Think of a simple movement. Something like raising your hand, or straightening your leg. Maybe pushing a deck of cards across a table.
Do it a few times. Cool, you got it? Good. Do it 100 times.
Wow, you’re a natural. Now do it 100 more. Done? Ok, 100 more. Done? Awesome, but guess what? You should probably do 100 more. (I’m here all day)
If you’re a normal person, your tolerance for this sort of repetitive movement is probably pretty small. I bet you never made it past the third set- you know better than to do everything you read, and you probably had something more productive to do with your time than push a deck of cards back and forth across a table. Good for you! You’re obviously very well-adjusted.
Yet if you’re a different kind of person, you might have done all the reps. At 300, it may have crossed your mind that you could be doing something else, but at that point something interesting might have begun to happen. The sound of the cards sliding over the table, the surface of the table of itself (is it glass? wood?) or the coating on the box might have grabbed your attention. You might have noticed the muscles of your arm working to move the box. You probably noticed they were getting a little fatigued.
By 350 those muscles are getting harder to ignore, and by 375 they’re insistent. Stop this nonsense- really, what are you even doing? Pushing cards back and forth? How ridiculous. Yet the sound, the surfaces, the way the corners of that perfect cardboard box meet the varnish of the table- you can’t stop. You start to focus on ways to slide the box really well; really efficiently. You sense your muscles mastering the motion, and suddenly you’ve hit 400. You find a rhythm, and then it’s 450, 500- your arm is screaming but you’ve done more than you ever though you would, or could, and there’s something wonderful knocking at the edge of your mind. Honing a skill, any skill, is like that.
You might go about your day afterwards, holding this skill like a golden egg in your belly. None of the people you encounter know how to push a deck of cards around, none of them know the amazing joy it can bring. You find you can accomplish other mundane tasks happily, knowing that whatever nonsense occurs, you can still escape and practice your card pushing. All the other demands on your attention smooth themselves out as you test more and more of your limits.
One day you’ll notice that your body is beginning to change into a card pushing machine. You’ve got one gigantic arm and all of your non-essential muscles have atrophied almost into nonexistence. You look ridiculous, but you know that “ridiculous” is only a standard created by the un-enlightened, non-cardpushers of the world. You wear your huge arm like a lobster-claw badge of honor; you shave it. You tattoo it. Then one day you see a similarly disproportionate person at the grocery store.
You eye each other, freakish arms gleaming under the fluorescent lights. “Nice tattoo,” your counterpart might remark. “Thanks!” You’ll reply, with a ironic smile- you both know you’re both hopeless. But then- “You competing this weekend?” The stranger might ask, and suddenly your world expands.
Imagine, an entire community of people who share your same maniacal goals! Men, women, all with beautifully gigantic single-arms, pushing cards around like there’s no tomorrow. You sign up for a competition and get your ass kicked- you had no idea how far this thing could go.
Yet you still feel a sort of protectiveness over it. This was your passion, you found it, you worked at it, and you got good at it- all by yourself. Damn it, you were a natural! Now you want to be the best, and it’s not just that; you begin to notice more the harder your try. You didn’t want to admit it before, but you’d kind of plateaued when you were card pushing alone- the textures and sounds had begun to dull. Now, with others to drive you past the limits you thought you had, you’re beginning to learn things you never even dreamed of.
You might form a relationship with your pain. You get to know your mind intimately, and soon you begin to feel something like joy when dancing with that edge of reason. Slowly, you begin to climb through the ranks.
Someone might give you a specially-coated pack of cards, just to see how you do with it. You thrive. Then someone else could give you a shirt to wear with their brand on it. You soar. You might even get to go some new places to compete; you’ll see new cultures, new perspectives, and get your butt kicked in ways you never imagined. You see how the card-pushing techniques of different countries compare to yours, along with their different ways of life and ways of talking. You’ll discover all sorts of new flavors, but you also learn how to find your favorite foods no matter where you are. You’re mastering this.
Then you get hurt.
It’s a simple injury, really- just carpal tunnel, very common among card pushers- but it’s debilitating. You see doctors, each with two normal-sized arms, and each blinks their eyes when you tell then how many weekly hours you spend pushing cards across a table. Their unanimous verdict? Nothing. No card pushing until you’re healed. It’s a cruelly indefinite time frame. Your world crumbles.
You struggle to reenter real life, watching sadly as your lobster claw assumes human proportions. The tattoo sags. You watch your card pushing friends on their rocket trajectories to the top, and you’re increasingly doubtful that you’ll ever be able to reach their level again. Your specially-coated pack lays untouched on the kitchen table, then later in a drawer, gathering dust. The mundane tasks of life demand more and more of your attention, and little by little you siphon yourself away from the cards.
Slowly your injury resolves, and one day you might give the cards an experimental push. Your muscles creak. They complain. You remember how difficult and repetitive this endeavor can be. It feels ridiculous, but you put your head down and do it anyway, faithful to the joy you know is waiting out there somewhere. You might feel it immediately, and pick up easily right where you left. Yet you just as easily might not.
Weeks could pass. You might keep pushing those cards, but find that the motion is a shell of what it once was for you. Other tasks, relationships, and challenges could be diverting your attention. You might sign up to compete, hoping to dredge up that old passion, but might not be there, either. You might fail.
You could practice half-heartedly, but somehow the stupidity of it all outweighs the joy. Baffled, you might finally take up other hobbies, like hand raising or leg-bending. You might find a new sort of beautiful balance in other parts of your life. You’ll be happy again, but the ghost of card pushing will keep haunting you- you probably won’t be able to forget how awesome it used to be.
So one day, armed with the new balance you’ve found, you might take out that specially coated pack and go harder and longer than you’ve ever gone before. You may get scared- thinking you’re injuring yourself again- and everything in you will plead for you to stop, but maybe you don’t. You might channel all the anger and frustration of past years and combine it with the grounding knowledge that you don’t need to be doing any of this. You can find contentment no matter what. You might discover that you’re completely in control.
Suddenly you’ll notice your muscles working in a new way. You’re not just observing the the motion of the cards any more; you’re holistically part of the table, the molecules in the pack, the air around you. You acknowledge the stupidity, and just as easily dismiss it. You’re mindful in a way you’ve never been; you’re back.
The motions we make, no matter how repetitive, can change our world, both within and without. It’s never a straightforward journey, but the question is: are you moving or just going through the motions?
These are the things I’ve eaten lately that I’m really crushing on- I’m not a food blogger, really.
Kale, spinach, tomatoes, blueberries, sunflower seeds, cashews, broccoli, red onion, and edamame. If food was divided into nutritional teams, all the star players would be in your bowl.
I like it grilled. My mom never cooked us fish growing up because they scare her with their eyes- as a result I eat a lot of fish now.
Halved, microwaved, tossed with olive oil, and also grilled. Everyone hates brussels sprouts, but I love them.
Coach’s oats, farro, chia seeds- cooked together. Add peanut butter and maple syrup. I worship this meal. I go to bed thinking about it, wake up thinking about it, and sometimes making it is the best part of my day. Not for the calorically faint-of-heart.
Black beans, grilled zucchini, grilled onion, avocado, and quinoa in a whole wheat pocket.
Cut in half, put in oven, remove from oven, consume. Try to remember to breathe between bites.
Microwave a TBSP each of honey, maple syrup, oil, and brown sugar. Pour over about two cups of assorted nuts and stir.
Put on a foil-lined baking tray and bake at 350 for fifteen minutes.