Well-Being is a Skill

I have a client who was told ~ at age six by her kindergarten teacher ~ that she did not skip correctly.

That’s right. An adult who was charged with the task of fostering growth in young children criticized the skipping technique of a six year old.

My client has suffered a lifetime of feeling disconnected from her body. The put-down from her teacher might not have caused this disconnect, but it certainly played a huge role in shaping my client’s view of her own physicality.

I meet with this client weekly and nearly every time our session begins, she tells me that she’s not looking forward to the workout because she’s tired, or that she has a pretty strong belief that she is the most uncoordinated person in the world, or that she recently read a study about how some people are genetically predisposed to hate exercise and she is certain that she is one of these people. This dynamic has been going on for years.

I get it. There’s a lot of mental anguish around movement for her due to several things that happened to her as young child, things that she had no power over. And she’s also correct that there have been studies published showing that some people ~ because of their genetic makeup ~ are less likely to respond positively to exercise. And it’s true that some people are just naturally more coordinated and graceful in their bodies than others.

But by focusing on all the factors beyond her control that make it challenging for her to exercise, she’s missing what’s most important: All the factors within her control.

In life there is what happens to us and there’s how we respond. In every situation, there is always a piece that you can control. Sometimes this piece is huge, sometimes it is tiny, but it always exists. There is always something you can choose to improve or make worse. This is the piece with which we must concern ourselves.

Instead of telling me that she is not looking forward to our workouts, my client could say, “I’m happy to be here.” If she feels the need to voice her upset, she could say, “It was really hard for me to make it here today, but I’m glad I did.” This would be better.

It’s not that she must entirely ignore the little girl who still lives inside her heart and feels ashamed of her body. She can honor this little girl, grieve for this little girl, AND ALSO TOO continue to move forward. This is part of being a strong, capable, healthy adult. We must hold contradiction. We must, in the words of my friend Kerstin Martin, “Do it anyway.”

My client is coming to me for guidance in this area, to learn how to cultivate strength and well-being for herself. This is essentially the reason that every person engages in an exercise program.

Strength, well-being, athleticism, health, inner peace…these things never come easy. They are all skills that require constant practice, and one of the abilities we must cultivate along the path to well-being is the ability to know what is within our control and what is not. We must let go of what we cannot control, watch it leave our sight like a helium balloon slipped from our fingers.

With what we can control, we must be diligent and honest and compassionate and wise and unyielding and fierce. What you can control might be even more than you realize. As we are coming to know through the study of epigenetics, even the expression of our genes can be altered by what we do and do not do. Nothing is set in stone. Not even stone.

Over two years ago I wrote in my journal, “All of life is preparation.” Every moment leads to a next moment. What I think, say and do in this moment prepares me ~ either positively or negatively ~ for the next moment. It goes on like this into infinity. This is how I understand the concept of karma: Our actions prepare and seat us for what is to come. We are either ready or we are not.

Well-being is created through continuous effort, one step after another. Strength ~ inner and outer ~ is built breath by breath, thought by thought, word by word, action by action, repetition by repetition.