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I recently listened to an interview with the poet and philosopher David Whyte. As I was listening to him read the following poem, I was struck by its relevance to my experiences in the gym

“The Bell and the Blackbird

The sound of a bell

still reverberating,

or a blackbird calling

from a corner of the field,

asking you to wake

into this life,

or inviting you deeper

into the one that waits.


Either way

takes courage,

either way wants you

to be nothing

but that self that

is no self at all,

wants you to walk

to the place

where you find

you already know

how to give

every last thing



The approach

that is also

the meeting


without any


at all.


That radiance

you have always

carried with you

as you walk

both alone

and completely


in friendship

by every corner

of the world



 In my reading of Whyte’s piece, I see a distinctly unique exploration of attention. In one moment, we hear the ringing of a bell, calling us to action, to attention. The bell asks us to stay present in the physical world of this life. This is the world of realities, of seconds per reps, of power and intensity. But in the reverberating echo of that bell, the call of a blackbird emerges from the distant corner of the field. Our intention is quickly pulled in a contradictory direction. The blackbird speaks of a world of unknowns, of imagination. This is the world we can’t observe, measure, or repeat.

Asking us to choose between the sounds seems to create a conflict between where we must focus our attention; but I argue that the conflict is an illusion. In the end, whichever path of attention we choose will require the same surrendering of ourselves, the same degree of personal courage, the same depth of vulnerability. The second we allow ourselves to truly surrender our attention in either direction, we find that the choice doesn’t matter. Both paths are one and the same and will reveal the “self that is no self at all.”

As I listened to Whyte read his poem and as I went back and read it myself, I couldn’t help but see a CrossFit athlete about to begin a workout. So often CrossFit enthusiasts will espouse the emotionally transformative power of a WOD. “CrossFit makes me better at life.” I’ve heard it said, and I’ve said it myself, more than once. 

But isn’t it just a workout? Yes, and no. As I read Whyte’s poem, his language dissolved this arguably false duality of meaning in a WOD. Like the bell, when the clock beeps at the beginning and again at the end of “3-2-1…,” we definitively measure the limits of the workout. We find ourselves awake in this life, at this moment. We watch the clock. We record our splits. We feel our bodies tire, recover, tire more, and eventually physically fail. But there often comes a point where we recognize that we have entered a liminal space that transcends the physical realities of the workout and invites us deeper, into a place where we see a “radiance [we] have always carried with [us].” Time no longer registers in a rational manner and you “walk to the place where you find you already know how to give every last thing away.” And at that moment of surrendering to something beyond the physical realities of the clock, the workout is both just a workout and not just a workout.

As I explored Whyte’s poem it made me chuckle in regards to my willingness to dive so deeply into this thing called CrossFit via deceptively non-CrossFit paths. I could easily focus on the nuts and bolts of programming, work capacity, squat depth, and Fran times, but those don’t seem to always capture my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I will nerd out in those areas, but like the call of the blackbird, things like Whyte’s poem expand the horizon of my experience and remind me why what we do in the gym is so important.  

I am reminded of a story I once heard about an Egyptian stonecutter in the age of the Pharaohs. This stonecutter had been working in the mines his entire life and had no idea why or what he was cutting his stones for. He showed up to work, put on his apron, grabbed his chisel, and cut. One day, he simply could not take it any longer so he walked off, not looking back once.

A few months later, the stonecutter returned to the mine. Without a word, he climbed into the hole, put on his apron, picked up his chisel and began to cut. His co-workers, noticing his return asked, “Why have you come back?” The stonecutter, not looking up from his work, replied, “As I made my way down the Nile, I came to a place where I saw the mountains of stone we have cut, piled so high I could not see the top. The stone was loaded onto barges and floated down river to a plain. On that plain, I saw what our stones have made and I wept. Our hands and our chisels are building something beyond the imagination of men. We are building the immortal. Without our stones, without my chisel, it will not exist. And that was both the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow I could imagine.”

Keep cutting your stones. Keep listening to bells, to blackbirds, or to whatever captures your attention as long as it keeps you in the game. We are building something beautiful together and as long as you are willing to go it alone from time to time and suffer the ups and downs that inevitably come, I promise you will be “accompanied in friendship by every corner of the world crying Allelujah.”

See you in the box.

-Coach Jack