Friday, August 21, 2015


      I suppose I should call it the new shackle.  Ever since I "won" my Fitbit in a drawing last spring, it has been difficult to know whether it served me, or I served it.  I have made sure it was fully charged.  I have "synced" it to the Fitbit Dashboard.  I have linked it to various other health-oriented applications and websites.  I've learned how to tap it just right so that it will measure how well I sleep (of course, I have to tap it just right in the morning, too, to tell it I'm awake).  I've given myself a high-five when I've felt it do a happy dance on my wrist as I pass the 10,000 step level (and stress over why the Fitbit and my step-counting iPhone don't agree).  And, I've found myself looking at others' wrists to see if they're part of the similarly-shackled club.
       The Fitbit, of course, is just the latest piece of exercise/fitness related technology to which I've succumbed (fortunately, at least, I didn't have to pay for it!).  It supplements my heart-rate monitor -- one that "talks" to my iPhone  via bluetooth, of course!.  The iPhone, too, uses GPS to help record my daily commutes (and I wonder why there might be a one one-hundredth of a mile difference between Tuesday and Wednesday morning's identical trips!).  And let's not forget the bluetooth cadence counter on my bike that tells me that my pedalling rate slows down when I go uphill 
(duh!). Now, I'm certain that all of this data could be useful to someone, but if I spend any time thinking about it at all, I have to wonder whether it's helpful to ME!  I suppose if I were to pay for a highly-qualified personal trainer, that person might correlate my heart rate, number of steps, average elevation gain and cadence to arrive at some spell-binding conclusion:  "For an old guy, you're not in too-bad of shape." But I'm a data guy. I love the numbers -- especially if I see the "right" ones go up, and the others go down.  And so I look at the results . . . for the results' sake.
       It's not just the constant looking down at my wrist that has caused my musing about this piece of rubber and circuitry.  I've recently read a blog-post and listened to an interview -- both of which have me re-evaluating my attitudes towards "fitness".  The blog-post suggest that we have "militarized" fitness; we are waging war on our bodies. We're supposed to "feel the burn!"  If we miss a workout, we're washed out!  On the other hand, the subject of the interview suggests that we ought spend less time "plugged in" while we're running/cycling/lifting, and more time just being in our environment.
      The question of "struggle" to prepare, or tame, one's body is just about as old as our recorded history.  Greek philosophy speaks of the agon, the struggle or contest -- often referring to a contest between two parties, but also as a metaphor for an internal struggle.  St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9.27 writes of "pummeling his body into submission". Many Muslims will point to an interpretation of jihad as implying a struggle against oneself.*  The Hindu classic Bhagavad Gita is ostensibly about a great battle, but is also read as a parable about the battle within one's own person.  
      So, I get it.  The imagery is potent; it is easy to understand. But, does it lead to an overall better state of health, or quality of life?  Do I miss the scenery (let alone an on-coming car) as I stare down as my iPhone cycles between heart-rate and speed?  If I'm busy listening to music, or a podcast (gotta multi-task, you know!), do I miss bird-song or the rush of the river next to which I'm riding?
      I mean, I DO want to be fit, but . . . .   As Jonathan Angelilli asks in the conclusion to his post referenced above: 

Are you willing to destroy your body to look super hot at age 30? Or are you willing to take a deeper look, explore the “less is more” philosophy, let go of your “no pain no gain” programming, and let your health, strength, and goals evolve in a natural way so that you're having new adventures and movement experiences well into your 90s?  All health and fitness goals require sustained motivation. It’s an adventure, not a destination, and you’ll enjoy the adventure way more if you make it your own instead of following the herd.

What is health, anyway?  I've always found it instructive to remember that the various roots behind the English word "salvation" have to do with health and wholeness.  Being shackled, therefore, to the health of only one facet of my being may not help me be whole.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

No debating

      I have to say that I have mixed feeling about missing the debate this week between the   ten (considered) front-runners for the Republican presidential candidacy. On the one hand, I would have been interested to see/hear how they answered the moderator's questions, as well as how they responded to one another. On the other hand, I had few expectations that I would learn anything useful, and feared that the spectacle would turn bizarre -- as it apparently did in some instances.
      The various reactions on social media were fairly predictable, given which of my "friends" were commenting on the debate. Most of my friends on the left side of the political spectrum bemoaned the negative overall tone of the evening. Those on the right didn't deny it, and seemed to revel in it. From the news reporting I saw or heard in papers and on broadcast media the following day, it would appear that my friends' assessment was fairly accurate. One of them distilled the debate into: "Anti-xxxxxx; No-yyyyyyy; Opposed to-zzzzzz." It would seem that the debate was simply following the now-normal pattern of political discourse: point out the bad, heighten anxieties, provoke fear, and lay it all at the feet of one's opponents (inside, or outside, one's political party).
      I couldn't help thinking about an article I read some months back about the language often employed those who wish to protect the environment. The article was entitled, "Saving the world should be based on promise not fear." In short, the author, George Monbiot, suggested, based on research, that focusing on real or perceived threats makes people anxious and likely to, mentally, put up their dukes or disengage: "It's an issue taken up in a report by several green groups called Common Cause for Nature. 'Provoking feelings of threat, fear or loss may successfully raise the profile of an issue,' but 'these feelings may leave people feeling helpless and increasingly demotivated, or even inclined to actively avoid the issue'. People respond to feelings of insecurity 'by attempting to exert control elsewhere, or retreating into materialistic comforts'".
       The opposite, however, is equally true: "Surveys across 60 countries show that most people consistently hold concern for others, tolerance, kindness and thinking for themselves to be more important than wealth, image and power. But those whose voices are loudest belong to a small minority with the opposite set of values. And often, idiotically, we have sought to appease them." Monbiot doesn't believe we should avoid talking about the threats; they're real. But, he concludes: "[W]e should embed both the awareness of these threats and their scientific description in a different framework: one that emphasises the joy and awe to be found in the marvels at risk; one that proposes a better world, rather than (if we work really hard for it), just a slightly-less-[crappy]-one-than-there-would-otherwise-have-been."
      I can only wonder how our political process would be different if those who hold (or seek) office would focus on how we might build a better, more just, economy/society instead of pointing fingers at each other and casting blame (and calling names). Or, in religious terms, fear of hell (or a bad reincarnation) may be a motivator for some to get "saved" or to "behave themselves", but does it increase compassion and openness and hope.
      I'd much rather see the latter as the desired outcome in all of our debates.