CF in a World of Distraction
Every semester I show my students a talk by writer and an M.I.T professor, Sherry Turkle, who wrote a book about the effects of technology on human relationships, titled “Alone Together.” Turkle delves into the fact that with social addictions and easy access through vaious devices, people have a constant avenue of escape from their immediate realities. By allowing people to escape their realities, wherever they happen to find themselves, they are losing out on the experience, the immediate, and all the physical components that come with “being” someplace. Most people are strangely aware that this is the case. People have come to accept this simply as the new paradigm. I ask my students to talk about this in class and all of them admit that this is so. I once had a student admit that she spent so much time on her phone, that she felt she often neglected her children. Turkle points out that this tendency to escape, or option to remove oneself, if only momentarily, affects people’s relationships with each other and their environment.
And so if our world is constantly over-saturated with information, with incessant news, and twitter feeds, or peoples' status, compulsive log ins, and a slightly warped idea of connection and sharing, if so much of communication is one interface removed and dependent on technology, if the typical American's life is not in constant threat of a terrorist attack, or war, or hunger, and if the comforts of modern life don't require much of the physical self, or if life traps you in loops, in patterns, then maybe CF provides a kind of antidote. Perhaps CF's prescription of intense movement satisfies the need for enduring, the beautiful feeling of disappearing into a void of energy.
Just last weekend I was at the Plaza Theatre for the El Paso Symphony presents the music of Pink Floyd. Towards the end of the show a few audience members were called on stage to sing the words to Another Brick in the Wall. After the words were over and the the musicians kept playing the instrumental parts, these people brought out their phones and proceeded to take not one, or two, but numerous pictures of themselves on stage as the entire Plaza Theater audience watched.The spontaneous moment on stage became someone's status, or tweet, only to got lost in the feed a few minutes later, swamped by countless of other things fighting for your attention. Meanwhile the actual moment was tainted with this obsession for self documentation. There was something utterly unattractive about watching this unfold. It was as if the people on stage became the center of it all, as if they were trying to steal the moment, to own it. As if because of them, I became aware of myself in the moment, reminded that I was not, in fact, watching David Gilmour or Roger Waters or Nick Mason. I was not sixteen listening to Pink Floyd in my room blowing smoke out the window and dreaming of the life to come and in complete awe of the music. All of this was broken and I was reminded that this was a concert, that this moment would soon be over, but worse I was also reminded of the strangeness of having our most precious moments reduced to a few characters and the existence of this non-dimension where people escape to when something extraordinary happens.
These platforms make us more aware of our own narratives, rather than being present in them. It's not uncommon that I attend a music function or concert and the view is blocked with people's extended arms and the glowing lcd screens of their phones. Being of short Mexican stature, this not only ruins the experience, but it reminds me that I am watching a concert, and it removes me from the immediate experience. But it's not only the awareness of the self narrative, it's the strange idea that one can control it, can construct it and mold it, and the end result is, an illusory impression of ourselves? A construction of identity? An abstract, so to speak.
I've been thinking a lot about how the "intensity" aspect of CF seems to be so integral to its popularity and its addictive nature. I think that just as the idea of variation this "intensity" offers something that the minutiae of the day in and day out takes away. In the middle of a CF workout, I can't opt out to go somewhere else by checking my phone, can't view notifications, or construct one, can't go on twitter and hash-tag thoughts or feelings or narrate the current experience. One is stuck in the confines of the experience. One experiences thoughts of quitting, and self-doubt, while the heart is beating fast, the body perspiring, muscles working. This is what we were built for: to endure, to suffer, to overcome. Change thrives on it, but it's difficult not to fall in to comfort or stasis sometimes. During a workout the only focus is movement, breathing, and the goal (infinitesimal, in the grand scheme of things) of simply finishing. And yet, this infinitesimal goal slowly begins to mean something and CF slowly becomes more than just exercise.
For me, CF serves as an antidote for the everyday over saturated, distracted existence, but it's also a way to keep one active in the realm of persistance and endurance and maintain ones relationship with discomfort.
CF trains in the discipline of "pushing through" discomfort, of meeting your weaknesses. I've learned that I will never be a competitor, that I will never be athletic, but I've also learned that I can progress, as painfully slow as it may be. This is encouragement for the outside world, where progress is just as painful, where being as present and dedicated in everything you do is essential, where learning how to fend off distraction is imperative.
My work outside the gym feeds off of my experience inside. My work requires aspects that exist in my CF training: laboring through something: like taking the time to break apart the movements that construct the Clean and Jerk, understanding it theoretically, but also to drill it into your body until it becomes natural. When I first started CF, I needed to break myself down, to strengthen muscles that had not been used (literally and figuratively speaking) for some time. I needed to remove myself from the wold of Academia that had so disappointed me. Work requires persistence, curiosity, consistency, discovery, and risk taking. Reminding myself of this was important at a time where everything else seemed to fall short, when I began to feel exhausted and spent. It becomes difficult as one grows older, but one must seek out meaning and purpose, one must make living an art even.