Why HARD Training is a Spiritual Experience

I was having a conversation with my wife and she was mentioning the different changes she has noticed in society.  She mentioned how people have ventured away from religion, which tends to provide for societal controls, and that it has been replaced with a “free for all” libertine attitude rampant in today’s society.  She was concerned about the implications for our children.  I ventured forth that many people have looked to religion for a “spiritual experience” and may have gotten great wisdom and “rules” to live by, but at the end of the day there was no “spiritual experience”.  For example, me and my wife were raised Catholic, I said to her that we should literally have “transubstantiation” during Communion at every single mass, which means that the ordinary bread and wine LITERALLY turns into the blood and body of Christ.  I asked her how many people would have a different view of their religion if every Sunday they could witness true “transubstantiation” right before their eyes, thereby substituting faith for solid conviction.  Of course she mentioned that it was symbolic rite, but for some reason our conversation really got me thinking on this subject of “spiritual experiences” in everyday life.

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For a large segment of society “working out” is something they do for reasons of vanity.  Workouts turn out to be mindless pedaling on a stationary bike while reading the newspaper and success is measured in “calories burned.”  Others simply want “big arms” or to “lose weight and fit into my skinny jeans.”  In other words, most people train for looks so that others may view them differently.  The focus of their training is OUTSIDE themselves.  A gross simplification for a lot of men and women on their reasons for training can be “positive attention from the opposite sex.”

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However, there is an increasing number of people who are finding in HARD training a unique set of characteristics and life experiences.  As the focus of attention turns INWARD and personal fears and obstacles are overcome, HARD training takes on a lot more than just the physical dimension, it also trains and uplifts your mental and spiritual capabilities.  For some, HARD training has become something sort of a religion.  Robert Ettinger in his book The Prospect of Immortality forwards a very interesting point: “One of the organized religions, Buddhism does not even concern itself with a deity!  Millions of Buddhists have religion but no God.  Furthermore, many writers have acknowledged that Soviet communism has essentially the character of a religion.  Seeking the common elements, we can probably say that the essence of religion lies primarily in extreme dedication, and secondarily in fellowship.”

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Extreme dedication and fellowship…perhaps this explains the fanatical zeal of cross-fitters.  Anyone that has trained really hard and pushed beyond their limits knows that they tap into something much more than just their physical capabilities.  During hard and demanding training the mental pain before you start the exercise is greater than the physical pain of exertion once you begin.  It is this triumph over the mental fear that you and only YOU face alone that builds up your resiliency and for some, may provide the inklings of a “spiritual experience.”  For others the “spiritual experience” is a realization that comes after they have achieved a physical transformation of some sort and change the whole course of their lives.  For example the person who drops 100lbs and switches careers to help others achieve a healthy life.  This person then becomes a “proselytizer” for the fitness lifestyle with the same passion that a preacher has to convert people in order to “save their souls.”  Or look at what Elle Lakovanko, the BC Championship overall bikini winner, answered when asked about her experience on becoming a champion: “The most amazing transformation is the one within; I am a completely different person today because of the discipline, commitment and work ethic I have learned through my love of fitness.  I remember religiously buying fitness magazines every month, cutting out models I aspired to be like someday and making dream boards.”

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Another type of spiritual experience is the “mind over matter” feats that Strongmen perform.  For example, the life story of famous Strongman the Mighty Atom, is called the Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein.  Becoming the type of person that can bend steel forces you to turn INWARD and call on greater powers than those who are looking at a calorie counter on their stationary bikes.  As Noah Jeffries once mentioned to me during a Super Human Workshop in regards to bending nails, “I project my energy into the nail and then will it to bend.”  Willing steel to bend, if you can do that, what else can you will yourself to do?  How does your view of life change when you can do this?

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As for me, it is the personal triumph in the most demanding workouts that really impact me the most.  As I am getting ready for an MMA Conditioning Coach Instructor Certification course I am doing a lot of conditioning workouts which involve a lot of   explosive movements done back to back with little or no rest (the “rest period” is walking from one station to the next).  As I finish one set and walk to the next my heart is pounding out of my chest and my breathing is labored and hard to control.  As I get to the next station a little fear creeps into my body and starts to tell the mind to back down, to cut it short, that this is going to be painful and screams at me to “STOP!”  I acknowledge it and do it anyway.  Every circuit gets harder.  However once the this mental and physical test is completed I know I tapped into something greater than myself.  This is a lone personal triumph that no one but you will understand or acknowledge.  Over the long term your “reward” is improved functioning and conditioning, but that day you have your own private “spiritual experience.”  In the end there are no angels, no heavenly music, and it may feel as if you have literally gone through hell and back, but you know you pushed up against the edge of your humanity and WON and that is a spiritual experience!

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