Zen to Tao

J loaned me a book by Scott Abel titled “Zen Fitness Tao Health.” It’s not a long book, yet it took me weeks to finish it, and even more weeks to get this post written. Perhaps I have been procrastinating, but there is just so much I love about it. I refer to J as “Abel Jr.” since he began reading/following/implementing some of his philosophies and training strategies. But even before there was the formal “Abel-inspired” sequences and conversations, many of the things J would say to me or use in our training are comparable to what Abel suggests and promotes.

But back to this book. I have found Abel’s books to be a lot like fruitcake tastes in my imaginings (fruitcake = another thing I do not eat) – dense, heavy, packed with all sorts of mysterious surprises. He does not disappoint, though. His book on diet (refer to this post for my thoughts) was excellent. I still have others in the library waiting to be read. I am even more of an Abel fan-girl after finishing this book.

With my quest for better health, I have found improving and transforming my thinking is as critical as getting regular exercise and paying attention to my eating. My own quirks with regard to traditional goals and tracking progress make most mainstream diet and exercise books potentially hazardous to my overall health and wellness efforts. Abel is not one to suggest detailed plans to accomplish fitness goals – the do this, eat that type traditional transformative books and articles in magazines. The books I have read thus far address the ingrained attitudes and biases we all possess toward our own unique healthy living and lifestyle pursuits. He periodically frames it as a athlete’s pursuit, but most of it applies to we regular people as well.

I freely and openly discuss how my mindset requires some work, enhancement, and improvement, and how I am handling the situation and addressing it. Returning to therapy this year to address it is among my better, more sure-footed decisions in 2016. I think of TM as my mental health coach, working with me directly to improve my self-esteem and overall attitude toward myself and my acceptance of good things that I earn in life (note I said “earn” and did not use the word “deserve” as it relates to this particular concept). The books and other materials I have been pursuing regarding diet and exercise help as well. Like TM and our work on my self-esteem and improving my emotional and mental health balance, J’s overall training and coaching techniques are working on improving my physical fitness in the same ways. Abel’s books offer exceptional guidance on the best ways to get my mental health and physical health working together.

My focus on life as it is seems relatively clear, yet I could use some clarity and assistance in staying in that focus, not drifting back too far into the past or feeling stuck here in the present with limited hopes of being able to move forward into the future.

Blogging is a terrific outlet for me. But I rarely (read: almost never) edit my posts for length or linear methods of getting the substance of my points out. They are frequently as jumpled and as candid as my own thinking. And mostly that’s okay. For me, the point is the actual exercise of writing, purging my system of all the random thoughts floating around out there in no particular order. Writing them down tends to naturally sort them into something more coherent and cohesive.

Reading through this book Abel reflects upon the writing of Tae Te Ching and the concepts of Zen Buddhism without going into a great deal of depth about either. Essentially he lifts the precepts from both and applies it to the concept he believe aids athletes and ordinary people get their heads together to be empowered to enjoy exercise and movement and the journey toward better health.

In the first book I read, he described the concept of inside-out changes and extends that in this book as well. He states it clearly in the final chapter: the Zen/Tao approach is a total embrace of “PROCESS,” meaning linking to the process than to being focused on the outcome, and this resonates so perfectly with me. When I am measuring my progress in pounds and inches lost, it is very easy for me to be discouraged about doing the day-to-day work. I can get up and go to the gym and do my sets on the List of the day and be very happy and satisfied that I have done good things for me today. I can think “eat more protein” and stay focused on recipes that fulfill that goal and feel good about continuing forward on my better health quest. But if I am thinking that this many days/weeks/months of steady, consistent exercise and I am only down this many pounds, this many inches … it minimizes how hard I have worked because results are not showing up as expectations and marketing lead me to believe they should. This altering lifestyle is not easy for me, and I surely do not want to do anything that minimizes my progress or my accomplishments.

Abel speaks directly to the insecurity in me and calms it down. He says things like “you aren’t questioning yourself or your own inadequacy.” And it makes me feel infinitely better. Anything else, I feel like I competing with others and always, always I fail to pass muster in the direct, head-to-head comparison. There is always someone stronger, fitter, graceful, flexible than I am, and the self-loathing and self-destructive urges become dominant in my thoughts and actions.

In revisiting, and finally finishing this book review this weekend, I keep reminding myself that my life’s journey with better health is not a straight, linear process. It’s a circle, the process as Abel terms it. I have had some significant success from the inside out – my diabetes control is a standout – and I need to never allow myself to discount the hard work that went into getting to this point. Abel’s books that I have read thus far stress the need to accept body, health, abilities as they exist in the present moment. For the most part, I think I do okay with this, until something weird happens and I am thrown completely off my game. Reminds me I am still learning, still building my skills, and it is not the end of life as I know it that I falter and have setbacks. The attacks of the “shoulds” still happen; I can and will develop the tools to shield myself from them.

Abel writes about the Tao is about “the path” and I have taken to referring to my quest for better health as staying on the path and the path being a circle. It’s sounds sort of new-agey and woo, but for me, it’s absolutely true. When my doc told me Wednesday that I could discontinue the diabetes medicine, I was not thinking that I could cancel training with J on Thursday because I had achieved goal. Nope, I was texting J (and just about everyone else I know) sharing the good news and planning ahead for what I would do in the gym the next day.

There are no shortcuts, no easy outs, no informercials that will shorten this lifelong commitment for me. Sometimes I wonder if I am becoming obsessive about this stuff, and occasionally yes, I am, a little. Mostly I am trying to get into better habits, and for me better habits require repetition. Abel also addresses this, at the end of the book, and he says regimentation, routine, and structure outweigh any benefits to not having these things in place.

I think Abel is writing his books and articles and speaking directly to me. And I am reading and listening and lapping it up like G’s lab puppy at her water bowl.

This book was about 70 pages long, and I could (and potentially will) write at least another 35 on everything that resonated with me. But that’s future posts, because this is becoming a book I will revisit with many ideas I want to read again, highlight, write my own thoughts about. But for tonight, I will stick with these three things that really fit perfectly in this moment:

Look for the feeling inside that says, “Well done, let’s do it again.”
Begin to aspire to inspire others, and yourself.
Forget about what everyone else has to say about your own experience and your own path.

My success with my “better health” quest has been more successful than I ever anticipated. Most recently I have had some setbacks and outside forces saying irresponsible and ignorant things to me that tarnish my accomplishments in my own mind. I needed to review my notes on this book, remind myself that this is my path and it is the right one for me.

One thought on “Zen to Tao

  1. I can state for a fact that you have accomplished the aspire to inspire task with me. And it wasn’t an easy task at that. You inspired me to go to the gym though I am no where at your level, you inspired me to get me act together both financially and emotionally and to keep on working on it. You inspired me to see a therapist and even to change therapists when the first wasn’t working.

    And by being your friend and knowing you I know there other you have inspired.

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