When I wrote this title I was reminded of The Style Council song, “My Ever Changing Moods”. The lyric is really wonderful and one line speaks to me and my particular changing moods, “Bitter turns to sugar, some call a passive tune / But the day things turn sweet, for me won’t be too soon…” The video is a flashback to 80s and cycling….awesomeness.
The song, for me, harkens to an idea that goes right along with Buddhist thought: the idea of impermanence and the ever changing conditions we find ourselves in. Our own bodies are ever changing, never the same from moment to moment. Filled with food or water or something else; empty, drained, a whole variety of physical experiences changing and moving day after day, even minute after minute.
In the past couple of months, I have changed my body radically. If you saw me in August and then jumped forward to today, you would find someone who looks different….30 pounds of flesh burned off of my silly bones. Internally, you would find changes to oxygen uptake, muscle strength and endurance, and chemical changes that are equally dramatic.
I developed an exercise routine that has been a powerful shift in my daily movement regime. I move a lot more than I did just three months ago. I stretch and push and ride and run and MOVE for hours during the week. All of this movement has reshaped my body to the point that I can now move more efficiently. What do I mean? Here’s an example: in the morning I wake up about 6:00 AM, get out of bed and take the dogs out. As I walk downstairs, I step on six steps to a landing and then through the den and out the back door.
Before I started this shift in physical exercise, when I walked downstairs I had to grab the handrail. I woke kind of woozy, and needed some support to balance. Now, I walk down the stairs without need of support, foot stepping on each step one at a time with a feeling of stability and strength. That one subtle change has made me feel better…I can’t tell you why. A small change that adds to my mental well being.
The other thing that I’ve noticed, and in fact noticed today, was that I do not breathe as hard as I work out; I’ve just become aware that, when pushing hard during exercise, my heart rises but my breathing rate rises slowly. Today, with my heart pounding at 140 BPM, I was not out of breath. I pushed myself on a spin bike, hard, testing my strength and fitness. The feeling was surprising, shocking even. What had happened to me?
The best way to describe these changes is to start with a basic idea: that it had been years since I had exercised in such a way that I could measure, in a very specific way, my progress. Since November, I’ve been hooked to machines and measured my progress using a Polar watch that measures my workouts, heart rate, cadence, steps, etc. The information is interesting to see in that I can watch what I do and how long it takes me. I’ve also seen how my body reacts, through graphs, and noticed that I don’t work as hard to exercise at the same rate.
All of the numbers really just boil down to how I feel. When I exercise, I feel good…positive, strong. Those changes did not take long to kick in at all. Maybe after three weeks; I started to feel better. I noticed that I walked a bit taller, stood a bit stronger, and really felt like I was stable in some way. It’s a feeling I took for granted for a long time. Now, I’m more confident in my body.
The lovely benefit of these physical changes is the changing mental capacity to continue my practice. My body has changed my mind, in effect. I’m capable of staying in meditation longer with less physical discomfort. Too, being on a strictly plant-based diet fits within the context of my Buddhist practice. Simply put, I’m using my eating as a form of Vajrasattva purification. In fact, the whole idea of purification, as I’ve discussed, has these various levels of engagement. In a sense, Vajrasattva is very much about basic, intermediate, and deep levels of purification. My eating plan fits nicely within that context.
Finally, each night, before I go to bed, I dedicate these changes and purification to all sentient beings struggling with their own maladies and illnesses. I completely understand the fear we go through when faced with a health crisis. I sincerely hope that my practice can make a difference.
Be well my friends.