Last week we started a new Foundations class. For most of us in the box, we may not have noticed because we were finishing our 2020 CrossFit Games Open experience. The duality of these two things struck me.
On the one hand, the majority of the Fairwinds Community closed out a long, five weeks of physically and emotionally intense competitive exercising. We cried, we laughed, we hit PRs. It was great. On the other hand, on Monday, five new people started their Fairwinds CrossFit journey. For some, this was the first time they had been in a gym in over a decade. For others, it was a final step in getting themselves back on track towards their fitness and health goals. Regardless of their reasons, all of them met their first CrossFit WOD with smiles and determination, and they too cried a little, laughed a little, and hit PRs.
So what’s the difference between those five people and the rest of the Fairwinds Community? Well, for me, having done this CrossFit thing for a few years, as the Open comes to close and we re-enter the normal routine of the rest of the year, things start to feel a bit, well, routine. The PRs don’t come as often. The warmups drag. The motivation wanes.
But for the Foundations members, and for the ones who will follow after them, EVERYTHING is new. They’ve never heard the word, “AMRAP.” They still don’t know what a snatch is. And they certainly don’t know why we keep telling them to jam a lacrosse ball into places on their body that most people wouldn’t imagine rubbing with a hard piece of rubber. But they do it with smiles and keep coming back because the experience is oddly exciting, even if a bit frightening.
Being new at something has the most unique way of being both the most exciting and the most frightening experience possible. In most of our adult lives, we don’t often find ourselves in situations where we get to truly be beginners. The Open scratches that itch of fear and excitement, even if just a little bit. We don’t know what the workouts will be, we don’t know how things will go, and we get to be a little bit uncertain again.
As the Open comes to a close, many of us have a new list of “things” we want to work on. If you are like me, you probably got your butt handed to you by most of Dave Castro’s creations these last five weeks. The motivation to improve burns brightly right now. But what about 6 months from now? What’s that motivational fire going to look like in April? I ask these questions mostly of myself because I wonder what I can do to cultivate the excitement of being a beginner again, and again, and again.
Beginners let go of any expectations of being anything but new. That’s the excitement of being a beginner – the absence of expectations. In the book, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn, Master Sahn explores the idea of letting go of expectations through a series of stories. In one session, he says to his students,
When guests come to dinner here, I tell them that kim-chee is very hot. But they don’t really know what this “hot” means until they experience it for themselves. So I give them a piece of kim-chee. Ow!! Hot!!! (Laughter.) Other people understand that kim-chee is hot, but they haven’t tasted it. Once they taste it, then they really understand what hot means. They have attained “hot.” So understanding ‘hot’ is not the same as attaining “hot.”
He goes on to explain how most American students of Zen fall into the same category of misunderstanding the emptiness of beginner’s mind because we get lost in thinking about it rather than actually experiencing it as the path to enlightenment. After frustrating his students with a series of seemingly unanswerable questions, he cautions them that,
True emptiness is clear mind. In original clear mind there is no name and no form. Nothing appears or disappears. All things are just as they are. If you are thinking, you are in a dream. You must cut off all your thinking and wake up.
I think about our five new Creek People and I love that without even trying, they already embrace a sense of beginner’s mind. Their minds are clear because they have no idea what the words we use during the workouts mean. They don’t need to. We tell them to move, they move. They move well, that feels good. They feel good, they get fitter. The program works. Thinking about all the details just gets in the way of feeling what it feels like to move well.
And this makes me smile because as much as I think I need some well defined, fully flushed out training plan for the next year, I realize, I just have to be curious, consistent, and courageous. I have to be willing to go back to the beginning and start over.
Coach Greg Glassman calls this idea of continuing to learn the basics until you are truly an expert as virtuosity. He cautions the most skilled and experienced CrossFit coaches and athletes against rushing into the illusion of complexity at the expense of doing the common uncommonly well.
At the beginning of my CrossFit journey, I just showed up, day after day, with a clear mind, because I truly knew nothing. It felt as if I was on the road to virtuosity. Now I’m in a position where I feel as if I am supposed to know everything, and that’s not helpful because a vessel that is already full doesn’t have room for anything new.
So I will know nothing again, and as scary as that is, it’s also the most exciting, and most fun place to be. Move. Move well. Move well often. The rest will figure itself out.
See you in the box.