This is not a commentary on the latest fitness fad. Because if it were, the little I'd have to say on the subject would be largely derogatory. I simply cannot see see how crouching in a stuffy, dark, cramped room surrounded by sweat-drenched strangers while expending a lot of energy and going nowhere deserves to be called fun, though aficionados tell me it is (fun). I tell these aficionados that if no pain no gain is your thing, discomfort can be had for a lot cheaper than $50 an hour. Try plucking your nose hairs. What we don't do for the sake of beauty. This endurance heir to the Stairmaster and elliptical is all hype. There's a name for the type who likes to run (or otherwise move) in place. It's called a hamster.
This reminds me of a joke my father likes to tell, about what living with a woman turns a guy into. You go from a wolf to a sheep to a hamster. After nearly 40 years of married life, my dad has added cockroach to the zoological lineage. Which I'm sure is no reflection on his wife. It's in the feminine nature to tame. And we can't really escape who we are. And being tamed may not be a terrible thing. The lap dog has a nice life, and the resilient cockroach will outlive us all - if it can avoid getting squished. Girls, go easy on your men.
This reminds me of another joke, which because it involves talking animals is really more of a fable. A horse is about to cross a river. In the original form it is a frog, but I like to imagine it's a horse. One with really powerful haunches and a thick mane of lusty brown hair who loves to munch on apples and carrots all day, which when he's not munching on apples and carrots he spends galloping through the fields as fast as the breeze. Because that's how I see me. But aforementioned perks aside, I wouldn't want to be a domesticated animal, not even a horse, and if I did, definitely not this horse. As this stallion enters the water he is stopped by a scorpion who asks to ride on his back. The scorpion (who I like to think is a she) has an important appointment on the other side, and her only way for safe passage is atop the steed's brawny haunches. The horse hesitates, for though it is in his nature to give lifts to the needy, he is worried that the scorpion will sting him before they reach the other side. The scorpion replies that she wouldn't do such a thing, for if she were to sting her only mode of transport and cause the horse to drown, she too would sink to her death. Convinced by this impeccable logic, the horse accepts his lethal passenger, who climbs aboard. Sure enough, midway across the river the scorpion takes a chunk out of the horse's hind quarters. As the waters engulf his dying form, the horse reminds the scorpion of her promise. The scorpion's reply: "I'm sorry, to sting is part of my nature, and I can't help who I am."
This fable, about the passage across a river, reminds me of Buddha, who spoke of the river of life. At least he did in Hesse's fictional account of his life, detailed in the novel Siddhartha. And the river of life brings to mind the soul's passage across its sometimes inquiescent waters. Buddha himself did not subscribe to the notion of reincarnation, though the Buddhists who have succeeded him do believe in past and future lives, and quite vehemently. Just like Hindus and Sikhs and practitioners of the other religions that arose in India (which I cannot think of at the moment); just like Plato too, who believed the immortal soul has many lives. He probably borrowed the notion form the East. But the idea of multiple lives may be the mind's attempt to explain the inexplicable. Why does my life unfold the way it does? Often in this tumultuous world we sing with the Pet Shop Boys: "What have I done to deserve this?"
Take the life of my brother Justin. The poor boy was born with a heart defect (both atrial and ventral septal defects, or "three holes in his heart" to the layperson); and in his 22 years on this Earth suffered a long list of afflictions and set-backs, among which were learning disabilities, a brain condition and finally cancer, which curtailed his adult life when it was just getting started. The question was, "Why all this?" What had the poor boy done to merit being born with a dysfunctional ticker? Since before this he was nestling quietly in the womb, incapable of causing anybody any offense, it is assumed that his actions in a prior existence merited the unfortunate condition in his present one. And my parents, who were familiar with Eastern philosophy (particularly Hinduism), embraced the notion. Perhaps Justin was a lady's man in another life, a womanizer, a heart breaker who came back with his own heart broken. Maybe in another life he had fought a duel to the death and been mortally wounded by a sword thrust through his chest which pierced his blood-pumping organ.
But I say that this is all hogwash. I am of the Buddha's mind. The mind tries to understand what it cannot understand, like the blind person trying to fathom colors, or a fish attempting to experience what it means to be on dry land. The fish can't, until it is dead. And we cannot know life before and after the physical one until we're there, that is until we're dead, and when we're there, we may not be us at all. At least we won't have the mind with its trying to know. We must reprogram ourselves. Life can be pleasant, good, enjoyable. We are not "made to suffer," as Annie Lennox sings. Original sin need not be our inheritance. Even Justin's life was largely pleasant. He had a lot of good times, many of which I got to share with him, as his big bro. And many of these involved Mickey's and Miller Lite. They don't call it the high life for nothing.
I was reading in this month's Esquire Magazine how even in this frenzied age, ridden as it is with hostility, petty fault finding and blood-sucking injustices, there is actually a ton of stuff to be thankful for. Such as longer life expectancy. An American boy born in 1900 was lucky to reach the age of 50. Today most males can expect to still be around at the age of 80. And more leisure hours. At the turn of the 19th century an American textile worker typically logged 100 hours of hard labor a week. Now we complain if we have to sit at our desks for even one hour over 40. And some experts, like the author of the new book Rest, believe we can be extremely productive in half that time, or just four hours of focused effort per day. We've eradicated many infectious diseases and nearly ended extreme poverty, which fewer than 10 percent of the world's population suffers from. See, the sunny side of life. Maybe one day even I shall get paid for putting words on the page.
Buddha didn't believe in reincarnation (like me, and now maybe you too), but he did believe in bliss, which he called nirvana, and which I like to name joy. The horse's nature is to gallop, the scorpion's is to sing, ours is to be happy. And the world is a reflection of our irrepressible urge to enjoy ourselves. So don't see the world as the media wishes you to see it, one filled with suffering and strife, which they focus on merely to sell advertising space. Don't view the world through rose colored glasses either, because this would only be a distortion of the way things really are.
I say step out into the sun and see things in the clear light of day. Take a deep breath of fresh air. Smell the flowers. Life is good. You are even better. You are grand. The best things in life are free, and I can think of a lot of better ways to spend half a Benjamin. If you ditch the SoulCycle I'll be happy to show you how. But only if you let me buy you lunch.