Sometimes truth contains apparent contradictions. Contradictions that come as a result of the intellect struggling to comprehend that which lies beyond intellectual comprehension. Such truths speak to that which lies well beyond the facade of ego and instead communicates directly with that which is the spirit within us. The spiritual side of us- timeless and ever present. The side that we so often choose to ignore in favor of what we can see, hear, smell or touch. Time has taught us as a people that the physical can indeed be a gateway towards the spiritual. By using the shell of the body, and taking it to an extreme where it can no longer carry on, we find ourselves in a place where another side of is manifested.
A silent side. A side of us that is powerful beyond all imagination, and a side where all things are possible, and all hardships can be endured and overcome. Bodybuilding, on the surface, relates almost completely to that which is physical. The body is developed through years of toil and struggle into a work of self expressive art. Sadly, it is often a superficial pursuit, with the culmination of the body as a true work of art presented and prepared for only specific times of the year, and very often in a competitive arena. After this time, the focus on caring for the body and development of the physical falls to the wayside until another time of competition draws near.
In this modality, it is a limited pursuit, and one that many in the general public find difficult to understand, much less emulate, but it can be more. So much more, if we only let it. In the Japanese martial tradition that I follow there is the idea of 'omote' and 'ura'. ?Omote? refers to that which is on the outside, the obvious outer signs, while 'ura' refers to that which lies within, often hidden from cursory observation. They are two sides that mirror each other but together constitute a whole. All practices begin with the outer manifestations- but for there to be true mastery and self development, there must be a movement away from that which lies at the surface and an exploration of what is within, an internalization, so to speak. Few seek that which lies underneath the impressive veneer of bulging muscle and fat stripped sinew, but those that do find a path, a way of life, that develops more than mere biceps, but one that nourishes both the physical and the spiritual.
The contradiction: In order to truly experience bodybuilding as a path, one must first make the difficult resolution to no longer look at the outer self as a gauge of progress. Contradictory, yes, but it is the first and perhaps even the only path towards making this endeavor a lifelong internal process, as opposed to a temporary external pursuit. I recall in my early years of training, jumping on the scale, measuring my arms and spending countless hours in front of any mirror or any reflective surface for that matter, all in the need for some tangible sense of progress. Like so many others, I looked at every turn for a sign of my progress- something that would validate my pain and sacrifice. As the years went by, this ?need? for validation was satisfied by upcoming contests and photo shoots, and the acclaim that it brought from both my peers and others around me. Nevertheless, it was still a constant part of my daily routine, but it was only after I made the decision to stay on my diet as a constant way of life that would serve to take care of me as an individual, did I then make the difficult step of not looking at myself in the mirror anymore.
As hard as it was, it was a necessity. The training, the discipline and most importantly, the joy and vitality of the experience became something far more rewarding than any trophy or screaming crowd could equal. In the gym, I would wear clothes that allowed me to see and connect with the outer aspects of my pursuit, but other than these brief times, the way I looked was of little concern to me. The irony of it, and herein the contradiction, is that I look better now than I ever did, and I have continued to improve far more than I ever believed possible. All without the aid of any supplement, drug or exterior crutch of any kind.
The training became and is more. If we stop and silence the inner noise and turmoil that we so often use to define ourselves, we feel ourselves almost in the presence of something else that resides within each of us. It is this self, ever tranquil and always at peace that adds the final dimension to the beings that we truly are. In rejecting an emphasis on that which is without, we then find ourselves more and more in touch with this which is within, and in so doing, we open ourselves to a potential that knows no limits.
Within the context of my training regime and philosophy, the body is carried to the point of complete and utter failure, the weights becoming such an impossible and unbearable load that every fiber of our being screams to drop and be free of. Yet it is there, at the very border of our human threshold, that we strive to do more. To go past the physical, and to do so requires an effort born of something else- something that lives well beyond the self imposed realms of pain and impossibility. Finding it, finding that place within, we achieve what appears to be almost superhuman, going far beyond our limits and into a place of infinite possibility and potential. It is this knowledge and mastery of self in all its forms that brings about true strength, a strength that is intrinsic and inseparable from who we are, and not an artificial one that is born of chemicals, pills and powders and thus virtually unknown by our spirit.
It is a strength that allows us to endure. A spiritual strength. One that carries over to every facet of our individual lives. A strength that allows us to accept that which is difficult, both emotionally and physically, as it is a strength born of our own indomitable spirit, a spirit that recognizes, knows and accepts pain and suffering as an inevitable part of life, and stands unaffected by it. Knowing this part of ourselves and melding it with the outer, is a natural progression. One where suddenly, the outer is no longer the focal point, and yet becomes greater than it ever could have been before.
This is a way of health, of compassion, caring and self development. True, you are rewarded with a muscled physique with a consistently low body fat level, remarkable strength and a vitality that can be defined only through experience, but throughout it all, the body in all its manifestations is respected and lovingly provided for. Diet, a term that before would invoke an idea of negativity, instead begins to take on an almost sacred air, becomes more and more an important part of the path. Thus, eating only that which is natural and wholesome and never even stopping to consider indulging in that which is harmful for our bodies becomes an effortless exercise.
Fasting, an integral part of so many religious and spiritual practices is defined as the abstinence from food or drink in some form, with the idea of bringing the flesh closer to the spirit. While fasting is a temporary undertaking, within a religious context, this practice creates a fast that lasts for the duration of one's very life. Abstaining from all that is potentially harmful creates a bond of respect to the physical body itself- one that will not be broken for any social tradition or custom, while also serving to build an unparalleled inner strength and a connection as well to all things spiritual. This abstinence and care in eating makes our most basic function- the consumption of food and water, an essential part of an even greater spiritual and physical pursuit.
Time, however, is the fire that allows all these elements to simmer together and stew into a perfect whole, and it should never be expected that such integration of body and spirit be realized instantaneously. For me it came after the toil of almost a decade and a half, but it is a struggle that bore great fruit and a struggle where every fall brought me closer to a realization of something unimaginably rewarding. The reward that such a focus on the physical and the spiritual and the integration of every basic activity towards the realization of a higher plane is not only limited to the individual practicing it. Others see and are inspired themselves to strive towards the realization of their goals, and the creation of their own paths, founded as well on the idea bettering their overall health and fitness.
Those that find their way towards this path can know that as time draws on that we will always have the vitality and strength of good health and an inner musculature that will never be eroded by the ravages of time. We can have the clarity to know that all that we envision is indeed possible, but most of all, such a practice makes apparent that which lies beyond the material. A connection that manifests itself as well as a need, and a sincere desire to do all that we can to help others. A contradiction, once again in that the way of focusing on the self, ultimately becomes a portal towards helping and caring for others.
To truly focus on the inside, leads always once again the outside, but in a much more meaningful and fulfilling way. Thank you for listening, and I wish you all the best on your individual paths.
Thread: Bodybuilding As A Spiritual Path