Spin Spin Spin

I went to another spin class at my gym the other day, triumphant and inspired after my first, successful spin class. I learned a lot in my first spin class. I learned that I wasn’t going to die, I learned how to size the bike, I learned the basics of the digital display, how to switch stages and where to monitor RPMs. Most importantly, I learned that I could have fun and get a good work out, all in a spin class.

My second spin class was a bit different. First of all, the class was packed, almost every bike was taken. I overheard one participant say, about the instructor, before the instructor arrived, “she terrifies me.” Now, I was a wee bit terrified, too. Moments later, in bounced the instructor, a tiny-framed woman, with lean, extremely well defined musculature. She was my age, I’d say, at least, but more fit that I’ve ever been in my life, at any age. She looked familiar, and though I have yet to verify it, I think I went to high school with her. She resembles someone, a year ahead of me, who was, even way back then, small-framed, with lean, extremely well defined musculature. We’re talking the front cover of a body building magazine muscle definition. She could stand at the front of a classroom and be put to good use as a visual aid in naming every muscle in the human body. And I truly mean this with the utmost admiration, respect and a touch of jealousy.

The instructor straddled her bike on the pedestal at the front of the classroom, cranked up the tunes and gave us explicit instructions. We were going “uphill” as soon as our “warm up” was over. If I had a dollar for every time she said, “add some gear”, I wouldn’t have to pay my gym fees for the next year! She knew many of the people in the class by name and even included songs in her playlist she knew they, specifically, would enjoy. Three minutes in and I was already dripping sweat onto the floor around my bike. Yikes. We were still going uphill. As a matter of fact, I think we went uphill pretty much the entire time. Who picked this ride?

Though, it seemed, much of the class consisted of regulars, the instructor seemed attuned to the fact that there was some “fresh meat” in with the veterans. Me, for example. With this in mind, she provided very precise, explicit and valuable information on the use of the digital display, every number being given a meaning, a use, and a measure. At the end of the class, I somehow survived, I felt far more informed and in mastery of the bike, the gearing of the bike and how it all related to the digital display and, ultimately, to the best workout I’ve had in a very long time.

As I understand it, this all translates to actual cycling, too. Having grown up in a “cycling” family, my dad being a cyclist for most of his youth, and owning a bicycle shop for most of my youth, I have some vague knowledge of the sport of cycling. I know that the goal is to maintain a steady cadence. There, that’s the depth of my cycling knowledge. You shift gears to maintain that desired cadence. Got it. What I learned in this spin class is how to “make room, add gear, gain power.” This makes sense and it works. As it was explained, several times throughout the class, you have a cadence range, between so many revolutions per minute and about ten more revolutions per minute. You pedal furiously and as you reach the upper end of that range, in other words, you make room, then you add gear, giving you more power. You continue to pedal furiously after adding gear, which, logically, causes your revolutions per minute to drop towards the lower end of the range. Pedal more, get closer to the upper end of the range, making more room, add more gear. The “power” is measured by the “watts” readout on the digital display. By the end of our mostly uphill ride, we were pedaling at about the same RPMs we started our ride with, but we were generating far more power. The watts I generated more than tripled, even though my cadence was the same, during the course of this exercise. I know this all translates to the street, to real riding, to real hills, and I find it fascinating. Power excites me!

I thought about this a lot throughout the day; making room, adding gear, more power and repeat. I think this method can also be applied to life; to our goals and to our evolution as an individual. Think about it.

We have a goal. Some folks never get past the setting of the goal. Others of us plink away at our goals a little bit, here and there, kind of like pedaling the old Schwinn Varsity around the block. And for some of us, that’s it. The seat makes our butt hurt, we get winded, the chain falls off, the tire goes flat and the old Schwinn Varsity reclaims its dusty post at the back of the garage with the car washing towels draped over it, perpetually drying. Am I right?

pedal, pedal, pedal, make room, add gear, gain more power to get up that hill. Repeat.
pedal, pedal, pedal, make room, add gear, gain more power to get up that hill. Repeat.

Others of us work a little harder at our goals. We sit on that spin cycle in class and just pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal. We pay no attention to the numbers on the display. We show up, we pedal and pedal and pedal and you know what? We end up right where we started. We could attend spin class and pedal mindlessly and never increase our effort, never stand to pedal, never add gear, never gain any power, assuming we are making a difference, but we find that we never make any progress. That goal is always there, in the same exact position, never changing, never closer, truly like trying to reach it by riding a stationary bicycle.

Perhaps if we set a “cadence” for our work towards our goal, some kind of measure of achievement, of progress, and, as we work towards the first measure, we “add a little gear”, maybe some intermediate or clarifying goals towards the bigger goal, making it, initially harder, but through which we gain some energy, some power, making reaching the next level not only possible, but, in fact, a bit easier. We add more gear, gain more power, make more progress, and so forth. You see?

So, yes, I encourage you to check out a spin class because it’s hecka fun and a real sweat fest. And, I also encourage you to apply some of the principles of spinning, or cycling, to the goals you’ve set for yourself. Keep up a good pace, make some room by setting intermediate goals or meaningful measures of progress towards the ultimate goal. As you approach each of those intermediate goals or measures, increase your effort and use the power to propel you towards the next intermediate goal or measure. Watch as you quickly and powerfully crest that hill and reach your goal!

Grab your yellow jersey, wave it over your head triumphantly, bask in the glory, and enter another race!

Powerful

Powerful! Look at the word – powerful. It is full of power. Are you? Empower yourself. Be full of power!

Don’t let anyone “make you” feel something.

My kids “make me” feel tired
My mom “makes me” feel guilty
My husband “makes me” frustrated
My boyfriend “makes me” happy
My life “makes me” sad

Whether a good feeling or a bad feeling, they are your feelings and no one else is actually capable of “making you” feel anything. You are completely in charge of your feelings and how the actions or words of others cause you to react. Realize that and half the battle is won. I’m never going to say it’s easy, I struggle with this issue constantly and have to consciously listen to how I talk to myself and correct my thoughts, and words, to reflect the truth. The truth is, for all of us, we, alone, have to power to choose to be tired, or not, to be guilty, or not, to be frustrated, or not, to be happy, or not, to be hurt, or not. Attributing someone else with the responsibility of inflicting those feelings onto us is depriving us of the power to take control and ownership of those feelings and change them. For the better.

It is human nature to react to the actions and words of those around us, to let those words and actions define our moods, our responses, our feelings. To make matters worse, the closer someone is to you, the more reactive you tend to be to their words or actions So much of our lives is impacted by our moods and our feelings, that by letting others “make” us feel or react as a result gives the other person complete power over us. We lose ourselves in not being in control of our feelings.

When we allow someone else to dictate our feelings by reacting to their words or actions, intentional or not, it is often said, “we let someone get our goat”. This is an old saying that I recently heard the explanation for. Whether urban legend, or not, the explanation I heard is as follows: racehorses, being very high strung and excitable, often have companion animals to keep them calm. This is particularly beneficial before a big race. Often, a suitable companion animal for a horse is a goat. Before a race, some less than savory racehorse owners would steal their closest competitor’s horse’s goat, hoping the horse would be so out of sorts at the loss of his or her companion, they would be unable to perform well in the race. That being the story, don’t ever let anyone get your goat. Whether intentional, or not, if the words or actions of someone close to you has you reacting, stop. You are in charge of your reactions and of your feelings. Take control. Do something positive, whether in your head, or physically, and maintain control over your feelings.

To do this, we really have to pay attention to the conversation that goes on in our heads. This is extremely beneficial in many areas we may be seeking to evolve in. But if you want a more cheerful, sunny, happy outlook on life, take control of your feelings and of your reactions. Listen to your internal conversation and correct yourself when you hear “so and so makes me feel so …” This will take significant practice, the sooner you begin, the better. Be diligent. As soon as you begin to gain mastery of this, you’ll find your general outlook and attitude are vastly improved.

Shit gets serious, though. The control we allow people to exert over us goes way beyond just the feelings and reactions we have to their words and behavior. This goes beyond feeling grumpy because your significant other left the toilet seat up. In a lot of relationships, especially family relationships; parents, children, siblings, spouses, one party exerts power over the other willfully and knowingly by prompting a predictable, desired reaction. Manipulation. In other extremes, one party exerts their control over the other party through deliberate and malicious acts of violence, abuse, whether verbal or physical, and neglect. Humans are far more savage than we give them credit for. Out of fear of greater harm, out of fear of abandonment or loneliness, or for lack of knowing what else to do, we often allow this to continue until we become unrecognizable as our former selves. Or worse. But, we need to know, we have the ability, at any point in time, always, and without question, to regain control. We are powerful. All of us. And equally.

I have a friend I’ve known since high school, so, for over three decades. She was beautiful, vibrant, popular, and usually the life of the party. She had a joie de vie I always admired. She was daring and wicked and fun. She was a couple of years older than me and I always looked up to her as someone I’d like to be more like, though my tendency was to be a bit quieter, I was, at that point in my life, never really the life of the party. I was at the party, no doubt, but never the life of the party. She had a string of men after high school, but one, in particular, she seemed to always come back to. He was loud, phony, but somehow destined for fairly good things. They eventually married and started a family. From the outside, they seemed a magazine cover sort of family; incredibly good-looking and quite successful. She was progressing well in her own career even without having gone to college. His career was solid and he made good money. As the years passed, though, she changed. Her self-confidence deteriorated. Her health was deteriorating. Her vibrancy and joie de vie were completely gone. He was abusive. He never laid a hand on her, his weapon of choice were words. He told her, daily, that she was ugly, that she was stupid, that she was worthless. Years of this and she believed every word. She couldn’t hold a job, and though she still had school-aged children, she turned to drinking. First it was just in the evenings after the children were tucked in. Then she began to sneak drinks earlier in the day. Before long she was drinking straight vodka beginning in the morning, just after dropping the kids off at school. Her alcoholism progressed to the point where she was hospitalized, near death. She recovered, thankfully, and her doctors told her that her liver was so damaged that a single drink could kill her. By this point in time, she was separated from her husband and battling for custody of her children. She was still lost, though, as an individual, and she did drink again. She was admitted to a rehabilitation program and made a long, grueling recovery, only to drink again. She is still alive, and is now sober, but only because of the incredible support her family is providing her. She is now divorced and her children are in the custody of other family members. Every day is a battle to regain her health, her strength, her self-respect, and her integrity. Her friends and family always fear she will relapse. She struggles to find the most basic of employment, and then to keep it. She still has many ongoing, chronic and incurable health issues. All because of the words of someone who vowed to love, honor and cherish her. Hateful, mean and untrue words. Sadly, and very hard to say, it is all her fault. She had no reason to believe those words, to let them destroy her, except that no one has ever taught us that we are in complete control of our own feelings, our own reactions, that we actually have all the power we need to prevent someone from hurting us and destroying our lives. Until now. I’m telling you, if no one else has, you are in control of your own feelings and your own reactions. Be strong, brandish your power. You have the power. You are your own superhero! Save yourself!

I have another friend, from college. And, thankfully, this is a far less tragic story. But, still, tragic, in an unsettling way. We were extremely close for a period of time. Again, she was fun and outgoing. I’m, to this day, not really sure if she was my sidekick, or if I was hers. It may have depended on the party, but we were at them all. I actually think I corrupted her and, despite what she’d lead you to believe, she was never quite as deviant as I. We parted ways at some point late in college, just weird personality differences girls have as we mature. Years later, though, we reconnected through an online high school forum. My mom had kept me filled in with her marriage and other newsworthy items in the newspaper, as had mutual friends. Not so very long ago, a few years now, I had the opportunity to work near where she was living at the time. We agreed to meet. After work, I made my way to her house for dinner. She always planned to marry for money, and had managed to follow through with her plan. In spite of her college education, she did not work, except for charitable causes, which I respect. And don’t. But that’s my issue. She, well I guess, technically, her husband, had a nice home in a very nice area. When I arrived, I was given the tour and she and I visited, joking and laughing and carrying on, just like old times. It was wonderful. The doorknob turned and the front door opened, there stood the husband; a tall distinguished, sneering, sort of aloof, arrogant man. I am incapable of hiding any thoughts, so I’m sure I had a raised eyebrow and a look of disgust on my face, but we were introduced and I made nice. We had stimulating conversation throughout hors d’oeuvers, once he found out I worked in a professional field. She said barely a word, “more peas?”, was about the extent of it. It was as if she’d been exorcised the moment that doorknob turned. After dinner, she and I were allowed to leave together, without an escort, for dessert, and she returned to her “normal” self, save for a moment of stress over the ten dollars dessert was going to cost. I offered to pay, to avoid any issue at home, but she refused.

A few months later, we met again. We were, by coincidence, going to be attending the same sports event. As soon as we met, we fell into familiar banter, antics and conversation. We were talking and laughing and considering plans for after the event. Then it happened. Her phone went off, she quickly answered, and her face went robotic. When she got off the phone she said “he” wanted to go to, and she name-dropped some very famous and expensive restaurant, for lunch. She turned and walked away without even looking back. My friend was a slave. She sold herself for status and a country club membership. Not much more than a bearer of children, children who would be properly educated at the best schools money could buy, coached in the appropriate sports, and even their college admissions essays would be the product of high priced, consultative services. She kept house, or hired the proper housekeepers, and she kept appearances. She paid to learn to cook and had dinner on the table the second the doorknob turned. The exorcism was complete. And tragic. To be exorcised of your very self, your soul, your being, your freedom, independence, autonomy, is a fate nearly as bad as verbal abuse. This, I am quite certain, is an incomplete story, there will be a manifestation, not to be a witch foretelling of evil, but I am fairly certain that something unsavory will manifest on one side of that relationship, or the other. And happiness and joy and self-fulfillment will not be the manifestation of which I speak.

I have told the story of my friend that suffered physical abuse at the hands of her husband. I have also told of her eventual and brave escape from that marriage. That she saw her power, reclaimed her power and wielded her power. She fled, leaving everything but her children behind. They lived in shelters for abused women for a time, until something better could be provided through assistance she researched, through assistance and support from her family and from her friends. She made it out alive, with her self-respect and her kids. She found her way to self-sufficiency, to independence, to success. Her abuser rots one imprisonment after another. And though this story, at first, seems a happy ending, it does not yet end. She now battles for her life from another abuser, cancer. And though she is certain, as am I, as are all of her supporters, that she will again prevail, because she is powerful, this does mark a setback. I can’t help but believe, cancer as mysterious as it is to us all, still, that years of abuse, of denying her own power over her own life, of relinquishing that power to a coward of a man, could possibly have had some contribution to her eventual weakness to disease. It is believed by many smarter than I, that a life of stress is a major contributor to an increased risk of cancer. Is not suffering, physically, painfully, at the hands of someone who vowed to love, honor and cherish you, stress? Is not thinking you are powerless against not only the attacks, but also the attacker, stress? Isn’t attempting to contribute to the household income and raising the children in as normal an environment, though actually a warzone, stress? She found the power once, she is finding the power again. An aggressive and seemingly unstoppable cancer has, at this point, halted in its tracks. She has the power. She always had the power. So do you. Use it now. Whether your attacker is a person you are committed to, or a disease that eats you alive, find your power, wield it, and regain your self.

My story is vanilla ice cream and rainbows by comparison, but I do have a story. Mine is a story neglect, abandonment, really, and worse of all, of loss of self. Eventually, a story of finding power. A story of regaining power, and then self. Mine is a story that does not present itself well in this article, in detail, the details I will save for a better time. But I am currently trying to put to a fair and legal death a long, miserable and terribly lonely marriage. It is possible to be abandoned by someone who is still physically present, and it is no less painful, it is perhaps even more painful and cruel, than someone who actually, physically leaves. My marriage was to a man of addictions; before we met, the typical addictions of foolish and misguided youth, then as an adult, and in my presence, food, television, the internet. Benign though they may sound, they are as self-destructive, if not more so, than any other addiction. A relationship that began with hope and promise and the poison of expectations, it was loveless almost from the start. Oh, the words were spoken, ad nauseum, but words are empty when actions don’t follow. After years of cohabitation, marriage was agreed upon like an informal business dealing. There was no proposal, to speak of, more of a summit meeting around a wobbly, oversized and hideously ugly dining table. And me a hopeless romantic, a believer in one true love, in enduring passion and joy. The wedding night was one of me pleading for consummation from an unwilling, unenthusiastic, and un-enamored groom, and this set the tone for the next twenty some years. We were not lovers, nor husband and wife, as much we were really just “business partners” of a sense, and, eventually, sort of a real estate investment trust. For as long as we both could argue our stake in the business end of the bargain, and the real estate continued to stair step up to the ultimate conquest, a forty-acre ranch home, I managed to endure the unimaginable loneliness, the loss of self, of self-respect, and self-esteem. I was second to whatever fifty channels of cable television had to offer, to news talk radio, and to the Drudge Report on the Internet, then to an ill-fated, impotent and flaccid “day-trading” scheme that he could never actually consummate. Again. And still. I compromised my career, working only part time, in order to raise our children, acting as both mother and father for most of their youth. I was the only female Boy Scout leader in a Catholic troop, for Christ’s sake! He was a reluctant participant in their upbringing and employed yelling, criticism and hurtful name-calling as strategies to exert his dominance, to demand respect, as “father and husband”. Respect, always, is earned, not assumed, and never required. Mostly, he sat in his chair, eyes glued to one screen or another, yelling obscenities or cruel names at us if we dared demand his attention for a moment. When the economic crisis unfolded, and truths were withheld that resulted in the eventual loss of everything we owned, I bowed out. I found the power to bow out. And the moment I set myself free, finally, I found myself, a strong, independent, self-sufficient, driven and powerful woman. The power had been there, growing, all the while. In earning my half of everything we’d built, and lost. In raising the kids as both mother and father, in fulfilling their promise of college with not a dime to my name and no assets to leverage, in enduring the slander and outlandish accusations of a man who cannot understand being left, not because of another man, but because he is not worthy of my love. I found within myself a power so indescribably pure, so indescribably potent, that I know, without a doubt in my mind, I can do anything. I have overcome my challenges; I have rebuilt my life and have since found that one, true, pure and enduring love, passion and joy. The power continues to build and I want to use it to help those, who feel powerless, to become powerful. To find their own power from within. To evolve.

I am not alone in the possession of this super-power. It lives within all of us. Sadly, in the trial that life can be, we let it sink deep within us, and it is often near extinguishment, buried in our bowels. Let whatever trials or triumphs life affords you, ignite that power. Nurture that power and let it possess you, do not let anyone exorcise it from you, it is yours, alone. Use it to find your voice, to find your destiny, to find your peace and solace in this challenging world. Your power will help you evolve into the whole and deserving person you are, capable of anything you desire. You are all power-ful. Take it, it’s yours.

Victim

We are all victims, if not right now, at some point in our lives. Our survival depends on what we do about being victimized.

By survival, I mean our ability, as individuals, to live a life of endless hope and opportunity, to seek fulfillment. A life without limitations where all things are possible. For, without hope, opportunity, and fulfillment, we are limited to a life barely worth living, to merely existing.

Often, I hear people discuss how they were victimized. They lament the situation, retell the story, and, sadly, offer it as an excuse for some limiting behavior. To me, this is more tragic than whatever they suffered when they were victimized.

I firmly believe, and I have said many times before, we are only limited by ourselves. Overcoming our limitations offers us the opportunities life has to offer us. Living with our self-imposed limitations imprisons us from a life we were meant to have.

If we are all victims, why do some of us succumb to victimization more than others? I think many people truly don’t realize that they, alone, hold the power to overcome.

It is your choice, and that’s all there is to it.

If you are in a situation where you continue to be victimized, get out. There is always a way, and, again, only you are in control of whether you stay in that situation, or not. I have a friend, who after many years of abuse at the hands of her husband, after years and years of encouragement from her friends and family, left. She took her kids and went to a shelter, pressed charges, testified against the man she took vows with, and built herself a new life. She left the home she and her husband had built, she left a life with mutual friends, a neighborhood where her children had a school and friends. And she started over. It was hard, admittedly, it took courage, bravery, strength. There were tears, there was guilt, initially. And then, there was freedom, freedom from abuse, from pain, from shame, from fear, from victimization.

To this day, she never uses her past abuse, her past victimization as an excuse for anything. Nor do her children. She took advantage of work training programs that were available to her, she relied on the encouragement of her family and friends, she accepted charity when offered. Now she has a great, steady job with good benefits and retirement. Her children have grown into strong, well-adjusted, independent people. She recently bought her own home and has a long term relationship with a wonderful man who treats her like a goddess. This was all by choice. Hers. Alone. She took control, she walked away and took control of her life, of herself. Her abuser is powerless against her. He is broken. She is whole.

Whether you were a victim of abuse, neglect, or even bullying, as a child, as a spouse or in a close relationship, at work, or at the hands of a complete stranger, whether you were a victim of a violent crime, psychological abuse or identity theft, as a victim, you have been deprived of control over some situation. You remain a victim for as long as you allow yourself to be ashamed, afraid, hurt, scared or angry. Notice the words “allow yourself”. You are in control, you only need to realize it, then exert it.

Again, we have all been victimized in some way, at some point in our lives, and in being victimized, someone has exerted their power and control over us. Don’t you dare let them keep it. Notice the words “let them”. It is your choice. Take control, take back that control. By taking measures to overcome the abuse, violence, neglect, mistreatment, or the situation you were taken advantage in, you regain the power. Your power. And that is your first step to becoming whole, to being healed. To being limitless.

By playing the victim, by coveting your victimization, focussing on it, retelling it, you are first of all, constantly reliving it. You are never free of it and, you are allowing that person to maintain power and control over you. Many forms of victimization are demonstrations of power, and only you can revoke that power from them by reclaiming it for yourself. Then you can draw on that power, your power, to heal yourself.

We all have tremendous capability for strength, courage, bravery and healing, whether physical, emotional or psychological. The key to recovery is within you, find a way to tap into that strength, courage, bravery and healing power. Empower yourself, whether you do so by educating yourself, finding a support group, a therapist, or a sympathetic friend that encourages your reclamation of power.

But you have to make the decision and follow through. This is the hardest step, but once you walk out that door with your suitcase, once you turn your back, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and take that first step, the battle is won. You’ll find, once you take that first step, there’s a world ready to greet you, to help you, just ask. You need only take the first step, and your power is restored and it can be put to use fitting the pieces back together, the way they belong.

If you choose to hang on to your victimization, you are really only victimizing yourself. We are capable of overcoming, of moving beyond. To choose otherwise is just that, to choose. Why would you choose to be a victim at your own hands?