Odd combination of thought processes, but hey, that's my style!
Today I visited my 87 year old Nan. She has 5 kids, 13 grand kids and 9 great grand kids in counting. She has worked on a farm since the war days. She annually breaks a rib falling over in the paddocks because she’s Turbo Nan and won’t slow down. She is strong and hilarious! She made us have her Wake at her 80th Birthday because she said funerals are “too expensive”, so best combine them with a party to save costs (plus you can see what people would say about you!) No kidding. There was her coffin and everything. Was a lovely occasion!
Anyway, on this random visit day, we were sitting in the sun, talking about old days and watching my kids playing. Nan is full of “you should do…” statements, as most loving Grandparents are. I was getting the usual - not so- tender grilling about my non existent vegetable gardens. I asked her what it was like raising 5 kids back when times were tough and what did she feed them? Like most rural people in NZ at the time, it was beef & sheep and whatever you grew in your garden. Carrying such a huge responsibility is so out of my reality! My kids would be long starved if I had to grow them all the food! Remembering this woman, along with Pop, broke in an entire 600+ acre farm covered in scrub, by hand with a baby on her back and shooting rabbits for dinner! Reflecting on the enormity of everyday life back then I said “Nan, how on earth did you do it!?” She just calmly says back, “well…You just keep going”.
You. Just. Keep. Going…. I freakin' laugh at the amount of self help/ personal growth/happiness/fulfillment books there are on the market (Lord knows I’ve read a fair few!). Our generation is struggling to motivate ourselves in every area. So authors write thousands of words formulating philosophies or little mind tricks to help you cope with your life. But maybe the solution is not so complex? Simply put. You just keep going!! I think that Nan would have repeated this mantra her whole life and never thought anything of it. Nowadays I google “how to manage 3 kids and housework”. What a joke!! I genuinely think I have a tough run some days. But yes.. I am just another human from the “Millennial” generation. Lots of chutzpa and not a lot of direction, other than 100000 different directions simultaneously! So what gives? Why are we so... lost.. sometimes?
Husband (who is a fitness instructor) was talking about why he programmes burpees in so often. “Because they’re hard out cardio and they’re just shit!” You will very often hear “I HATE BURPEES” from anyone who has to do them! They are hard slog. To Nan and so many of that generation, ‘doing’ fitness is so out of their reality. Because being ‘fit’ wasn’t a choice, it was a survival necessity. Working the land is the original 'functional fitness'. I think movement gave a huge amount of purpose to a human being. I began to formulate an opinion that perhaps we humans need physical suffering to be balanced. Not suffering in the form of torture of course (although, some people see workouts AS torture!). Some of us have to now plan brief amounts of physical hardship into our lives now via gym membership because many of us simply aren’t in survival mode anymore. We think too much and move too little.
The better life
I think of the irony of our ancestors working so hard, just go give their offspring a ‘better life’. Most of us in NZ are living this ‘better life’, yet we are struggling like mad! Depression, anxiety and stress related disease is rampant. Why? There will be thousands of theories about why we’re mentally struggling amidst prosperity. I can partly put it down to the simple fact that we have the time to think about being sad, or hurt or lost or rejected! I think about the one time I huddled up under my covers, crying to myself, thinking “I can’t cope with the demands of domestic life anymore. It is just too hard”.
I’m not playing down the incidences of broken parenthood. It is real. We are broke. Life is complicated now because of the luxury of easy survival. 100 years ago, I’m sure parents felt overwhelmed too. Starving kids because your food crop failed? How’s that for stress!? But you didn’t have the time to sit and get so muntedly depressed. Well you could, but your family would die faster. So we have this situation where our brilliance and ingenuity mean it’s now easier to physically survive, but it seems we changed the survival game to a ‘survive your own mental stress’. So what’s the point? What links do the mind and body have?
I have just finished reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man's search for meaning”.
Great short read with a heap of insight from a P.O.W. Being a psychiatrist, he had a unique way of observing captivity in concentration camps in Germany. He watched what happens when your mind gives up. The body follows suit and you pass away. They were all starving, sick and beat down. But mentally giving up or a “this is too hard” mindset, could literally seal your fate. He wrote much about the nature of man (you’ll have to read it yourself). He thought many of our modern day mental problems were in part due to boredom! Say whaaaaaat? I guess when you consider that procuring food took up most of your day back when, there wasn't time for much time for sitting down and thinking about your sadness. I think mostly It’s easy to survive now. So we’ve lost purpose and the motivation that used to be the sole driver of the whole of humanity! We have a long legacy of busting our butts physically just to survive. Same DNA - physical struggle + increased mental stress = the imbalanced human!! So, if you don’t have to work hard to get your food anymore, then you have to be deliberately physically active in order to keep that balance that your physiology demands on the innate level.
More than just positive self talk
In another true story of the mind carrying the body, “Unbreakable” is based on the life of Louis Zamparini, written by Laura Hillenbrand.
After Louis' bomber was shot down over the Pacific in WW2, he was one of three that survived the initial crash, then one of two to survive 47 days lost at sea on a life raft. One of the guys, right from the outset, was like “we’re going to die, we’re going to die”. Then he snuck their ONLY ration of chocolate and ate it all for himself. Dick move!! (Sorry dead fella). Sure enough, that guy died within days with no external wounds. His mind gave up and body followed suit. Yet Louis and his comrade went on to survive over 2 months of no food/water apart from what they gathered from the ocean or above. They would keep each other mentally sharp by asking each other questions, remembering recipes and song lyrics. They knew if they lost their minds it would be the end. There will be so many more extreme stories like these ones, where we see mind alone carrying a human. If our minds are SO powerful to overcome otherwise death, why do they enslave us with anxiety/depression/addiction? Is there a way to cultivate mental strength, without the pressure of life/death scenarios? Yes!!!! Get comfortable with discomfort. Workout!
Packing my bags and leaving comfort land
Hi, I’m Anna and I'm a brain. I read and write and do a shitload of thinking. My hands are soft and nails are long. I certainly don’t exercise!... Until of course my husband and opened a gym 10 weeks ago. Since transforming from a zero times a week worker-out-er-er to 4-5 times, I have noticed my ability to win the mental war getting that much better, inch by inch. Each time I suffer through a hard workout, I grow mental strength. Why? Because I overcome the drive to avoid hard slog, and I go harder than I thought I could. You completely exhaust yourself, then the husband says "one more round, but this time faster". And you are like 'nahhhh, can't be done!' But ya do it! Growing mental resilience wasn't something I expected out of exercise. I can’t convince anyone of this change but you'll figure it out when you make it. Everyone knows how ‘good’ exercise is for you, but some of us won’t go there at all (watch Mel Robbins talk here. about how we’re wired to avoid discomfort). It turns out I just need that regular 30-60 mins of pushing myself until I go beyond what I think I could. Every time you hit the rep you aimed for, or lifted a weight you previously couldn’t, you grow. TBH, I still don’t ‘enjoy’ the hard work (I'm only human!), but I do enjoy 'suffering' alongside others in a group fitness situation! Living life in my own comfort land wasn’t working out for me so well. So without over thinking why I should avoid physical struggle, I go. Work and sweat. Rinse and repeat. Don’t think. (Added bonus, you can’t actually be your usual busy brain when you workout. You are so focused on it that you forget everyday stress! It's like a forced holiday for your brain.
As for Turbo Nan. She is testament to hard work and living life fully present. She is still very mobile today although her body is now coming near its end.. She'll still scramble down a hill to grab me baby loquat trees to plant, or be reaching in the trees to get me mandarins. Nan wont know what a burpee is... but I reckon if she did, she could do one!
So be true to your ancestors and use your body for good, instead of carrying around the illness of that misused ‘better life’ they made for you. Go and grow mentally stronger by planning some physical hardship and it will help you cope with the over complex world we live in now. Give your overworked brain a break and put that beautifully designed body to work!!
More simple times..
Turbo Nan & I @ 2 years old
(Pop & my little bro on the left)
27 years later. Times are easier and more complex..
Planting Mandarin trees to hopefully feed the family!
Luckily I've been growing my biceps exactly for this... hahaha
Turbo Nan and I years on