The CF Experience for the Un-athletic
by Mari Gomez
Intro: The traditional view of consciousness, the Descartes model, suggests that there is a center, an immaterial soul, that is “you” and that there is a point of connection between this immaterial soul and the body. It is actually quite difficult not to think of conscious experience in this dualistic way sometimes. As if the mind was something inside the body rather than the body itself. It is common to hear things like: “train your mind and body." A phrase that suggests that they are separate entities. Other views of consciousness however, argue against that Cartesian dualism and suggest that there is no immaterial soul or mind or consciousness, but rather just a series of processes that come together at different points to form experience. Philosopher Daniel Dennett would say that consciousness is simply a series of tricks in the brain and that there is no “mind” the way we think of mind as something magical and expansive. Rather the mind is only a bunch of neurons performing their electro-magnetic tasks. This would mean that there is no one point of connection between mind and body, everything is chemical processes; there is no one place where the essence of “you” exists.
I have always been interested in the nature of experience. CF has gotten me thinking about the nature of experience and how we often limit ourselves, especially when it comes to our physical self. For some time now, I've been trying to figure out what it is that keeps me going back to the gym. Part of it, I think, has to do with using my time in CF as a time to think differently about things.
The CF Experience for the Un-athletic
I’ve always been fascinated and somewhat envious of athletes or people who engage in the physical with grace, efficiency, and dexterity. I’ve always felt there was a degree of separation for me. I over-think, analyze, and become hyper-aware. Coming into the gym and learning new exercises, engaging in the awkward process of training, was a painful process.
Every day in the gym I had to slowly get over the incessant thoughts that I was ‘not built for it,” or that I was "incapable." I have days when certain workouts will provide real challenges for me; it's difficult not to walk away. I always think to myself: God damn it, just finish it. This mindset, I've found particularly useful in life as I've grown more and more weary and often disillusioned. My natural default setting seems to be one of self doubt, one of “I don’t think I can do this,” when it seems others posses an automatic, “I will do this.” CF, through a lot of work, has helped me to slowly move towards the latter.
I've recently become interested as to why CF is so important for me as someone not athletically well-versed, as someone whose progress in these things is quite slow. It's certainly not because I aspire to compete, but it has something to do with the richness of the experience, how it varies, and what it makes me think about. The process is the thing.
A few months ago I was doing a strength workout that included back squats. It was a weight I had done before, had just finished three reps of it and was going into my last set of three. I wasn't having any major problems with the weight. Then, I got the bar on my shoulders, got into position, lifted my chin, and began the descent. Within a second I no longer felt the weight. Before I knew it I was walking away confused from the bar without having completed the lift. My coach, who was spotting me had somehow sensed this and had dealt adequately with the situation, relieving me of the weight. I was befuddled. The word he used was disconnected. “You disconnected from the lift,” he said. So what did that mean? What, exactly, disconnected? Where did my mind go at that moment that made the motion fall apart? Did the mind disconnect from the body? Is this possible? I don’t remember thinking any particular thought.I don’t remember being distracted. I just remember a moment of blankness. I wasn't fatigued or sleepy. If there is no point between the body and mind, then what disconnected? Was it a state of nothingness? And what if I’ve lived entire days of my life like this, disconnected? Or what if I've developed an ability to disconnect in this way, during difficult moments?
When I first started I had no idea what most of the movements were. I had never done a Double Under, or a press, or box jump, or a Turkish Get Up or any Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts include lifts like the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, which seem to have become integral to CF repertoire.
What I love about the Olympic lifts is that they require this process of learning that is quite rewarding. What is interesting is what happens during the process when there is an internal battle to fight your fear or trepidation. The entire being works together when a lift is successful. No part of you could be disengaged. The mind is not exactly absent because there is a theoretical understanding of what you are performing. A lift of this nature requires that the mind accompanies the movement in a kind of perfect harmony. This is, of course, if we think of the mind and body as two separate entities. If they are on in the same, then how does it work? Perhaps whatever “I” is becomes completely absorbed in the motion.
When trying a lift like this, especially with weight that is somewhat heavy for you requires commitment. There must be commitment to every motion. Doubt can be paralyzing and even a small amount of it will manifest itself physically. This happens to me constantly. Over and over. This is part of the experience that has become so fascinating for me: a constant confrontation with the self and the limitations one constantly tries to break.
Then, there is the added element. When trying new weight, the lift requires something that is a combination of aggression and confidence. These are two difficult things for me to muster. Aside from this, there is a kind of letting go involved: trusting your body to perform.
When I was in middle school, I was on the basketball team. Well, I made the team because everyone made the team. I spent most of my time on the bench. The one time the coach put me in with more than twenty seconds on the clock, I was so overwhelmed that I was unable to bounce the ball and run at the same time. I seem to remember coming to a complete stop and watching, in slow motion, as the girl from the other team simply snatched the ball from my hands, while in my periphery, the coach dropped his head in disappointment and embarrassment. This has pretty much been my experience with everything most of my life, at first anyway. Everything I've done that has been worthwhile has required a deep effort and struggle. Process is the thing. Life, after all, is just a process to the inevitable end. Perhaps if the coach had continued to put me in the game I would have eventually succeeded. Of course he didn't and I never really played basketball again.
If I go up to the bar, set up, and begin thinking about how I might fail, about how it is pointless to even try, then the body will not respond. This was my experience for so much of my life.
The movement’s success is contingent on “your” ability to synthesize your knowledge of what you are doing and your actions. So on a day when we are looking for Clean and Jerk PR’s I am ever so clearly reminded of these questions. Slowly, I fight to have control, to get better, even if better is a somewhat elusive state measured by 5 pound increments in PR’s; getting a new PR doesn’t just mean that I am a little bit stronger, it means I prevailed over my self doubt for a moment. In the daily workouts I try to focus on the movements and breathing; in this way CF is a very freeing experience because whatever you may be feeling, or thinking about, or worrying about, disappears and quite literally converts into energy.
If the nature of our experience is really just the result of tricks of the brain or chemical processes, then why is it so difficult to prevail over ones own idea of what we are capable of? The experience of constant variation and constant challenges isn't just in the gym, but it's finding these instances in life where you question this idea of "you" and these predefined limits you've set for yourself. then, the trick is, forcing yourself to push through. Maybe all this time what you thought you could do was an illusion and what you thought you couldn't do was just a few hours of hard work away. Maybe all this time what you thought was "you" was just a complex symphony of cells.