Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” This is a Japanese proverb that came my way once on a tear-away calendar. Of the 365 sayings that year, this one stuck. As I ran intervals on Signal Hill Tuesday morning and rode intervals on the bike on Tuesday and Friday, I was thinking about courage. It takes courage to begin. Whatever you are beginning. A new job. A big task. Changing a habit. Making a speech. Climbing a mountain. It takes courage to take the first step, to overcome inertia, to make it happen.

As I progressed up the back of the hill, doing interval after interval, I thought, “It takes even more courage to begin again.” To go at something a second time or fifth time or twentieth times, takes much more courage. To overcome disappointment or disapproval or discouragement or shame or failure, requires a bigger dose of bravery. I just looked at the word discouragement, dis-courage-ment. To be without courage.

A wise friend of mine always said, “You have to do something twice, because if you do something only once, you can regard it as an accident.” So when I jumped out of an airplane, she said I should do it again. When I had a BIG Mac after then years of vegetarianism, she bought me a second. Each of those second attempts, required more courage than the first because I knew what it was like. I knew the horrible discombobulation of letting go of the airplane and dropping into freefall and the aftershock of the chute opening all within 5 seconds. That knowledge and experience demanded greater courage of me to experience it again. I also knew the great joy of flying under canopy and that provided the motivation for walking through the fear a second time.

As I headed back into the gym after being away from it for six months, I couldn’t help but notice how I had lost strength in all areas. The number of pounds on each lift diminished a little or lot depending on the body part. I realized that it would be very easy to pick up a stick and pummel myself for that loss in strength-for not getting back into the gym earlier. Quickly, though, I decided that that way of thinking wouldn’t increase my strength and wouldn’t help me feel motivated. Instead, I chose to celebrate the courage to begin again. I have the courage to rebuild my strength one lift and one repetition at a time. I’ve build up it and lost it many more times before this, so I can do it again.

Fitness is a wonderful teacher of impermanence. Sometimes if we stop training, we gain strength (i.e. when we are resting). If we stop training for too long, we lose what we had. We can’t keep it forever. It, like everything, will pass. If I try to hold onto it too tightly, I will train too hard, and lose it. If I am too lax, I won’t train hard enough, and I will lose it. It would be easy to jump to the mental place of “If I’m going to lose it anyway, why bother?” For me, I bother for many reasons: The joy of early morning light during pre-dawn runs, the absurdity of running in the rain on a Saturday night, the endorphins, the life lessons, the confidence, for health, and to accept the invitation to exert courage over and over again.

My favorite definition of discipline is bravery plus gentleness. For me, to take on big projects like climbing mountains or writing books, I need the structure of discipline to make it happen. The routine and the regular invocation of courage keeps things moving forward and in perspective. Too much structure or too hard a structure belies the gentleness, too little does not require bravery to pull off. In discipline as in life, the middle way is what I am for.

I’m headed back to my second day of meditation. We’re studying the four foundations of mindfulness this weekend. Things seem on track for Ojos-training is happening and the rest of life fits in the interstitial spaces left by training. Life is busy and good. Toques broke even today…let me know if the cold weather makes you lust after one! ☺

Take care and take courage to begin again,


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