Answers are an illusion.
Over the last few days, as I was thinking about what I wanted to write this week, I looked back at the posts I made through November 2019. This time last year, it seemed like I was hell bent on saying something about being curious and cultivating what Buddhists like to call a Beginner’s Mind. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year, the sense of winter approaching, or an instinctual need for introspection, but as I read those posts, I feel a similar desire to explore the idea of existential metacognitive awareness.
Beginner’s mind, or as the Vietanmese monk Thich Naht Hanh calls it, “I Don’t Know Mind,” asks us to let go of the need to know things. I don’t mean knowing in the sense of memorizing rote information or knowing where I left my keys when I came home last night but rather cultivating a deeper sense of curiosity about who we are and what it all means. Bottom line, if you come across someone who tells you they have the answers, don’t trust them.
One of the foundational tenets of CrossFit is that our fitness regime must remain constantly varied. Routine is the enemy. This means that we are always changing how we approach this thing called general physical preparedness; but a word of caution – constantly varied does not mean random.
Think of it like a meditation practice. A practiced meditator will often tell you that she has a daily routine. That she practices whether it feels right or not. She sits in the morning, perhaps in the afternoon, maybe even right before bed. She watches her breath and focuses on the moment whether she’s surrounded by noise or peacefully secluded. The specifics of the practice do not matter as much as simply doing the practice because the act of acknowledging the moment during the practice is the thing.
Practicing lifelong fitness via CrossFit is very similar. What we do in the gym isn’t as important as why we are doing what we do in the gym. Functional movements, performed at high intensity through short, medium, long time domains, four to five times per week is a pretty simple prescription. But it’s also a beautifully elegant opportunity to practice a beginner’s mind.
I harped on this thing called consistency during some of my Nerding Out On The Creek videos. So often, me included, an athlete will see a workout and think, “Oh, I know I don’t like that” and will decide that a specific workout isn’t worth his time. In the biz, we like to call this “cherry picking.” This, folks, is the complete opposite of keeping a beginner’s mind.
I’ve maintained a meditation practice for almost a decade. I don’t do anything special. I sit for 10-20 minutes and I watch my breath. It comes in, it goes out. I drift into thought. I come back. I list tasks. I replay moments of embarrassment, guilt, anger, sadness, happiness. I drift. I daydream. I realize I am not watching my breath anymore and I come back. I do this day after day. I will do it for the rest of my life and because I think I know exactly what’s going to happen every time, I must keep practicing because the deepest and most authentic sense of “I don’t know mind” still eludes me. So I practice. Again and again.
Couplets, triplets, AMRAPs, chippers – these are systems and constructs in the practice of improving my ability to move large loads long distances as quickly as possible. They are a means to an end: fitness. Whether I put squats and pullups together. Whether I run and deadlift. Whether I burpee and box jump…the goal is intensity and if I can hold onto an authentic sense of curiosity about how to maximize that intensity, then I will continue to improve my fitness and continue to be as healthy as I can be for as long as I can be. If someone finds a better way to accomplish that goal, I’m all ears.
So, in the spirit of cultivating some beginner’s mind here, the second I think I know what a certain workout will feel like or I stop feeling a sense of curiosity around the program and methodology, I question whether I have fallen victim to the illusion of knowing something. Ironically, I always come to the same conclusion.
“The fuller the cup, the less it can hold.” I recently challenged myself to empty the cup a bit. To let go of what I thought I knew about how to program, how to plan classes, and how to chart the course for our shared fitness journey. And in just a few short weeks, I’ve found an unexpected joy in leaning back into the basics, and that there’s plenty that I have been missing.
If you’re just starting out on this journey…lucky you. Your cup’s barely got a drip or two in it. Been at this awhile…lucky you. You get to pour a little out and start all over again.
But don’t take my word for it. Who the hell am I to tell you this, I don’t know anything.
See you in the box.