Gentle Pressure Consistently Applied

Since the spring we’ve been cycling with L. to school every morning when the weather is good. It’s an excellent way for all of us to start the day in motion.

The on-ramp is not always a gentle one, though, and starting last night there was some anti-cycling lobbying going on. I allowed a case to be formally presented this morning, ruled some of the evidence inadmissible (“I need to preserve my energy”) and some of it mitigable (“I can carry some of your load on my bicycle”), ultimately ruling in favour of cycling.

At this point I might have waffled, fearful of whatever reaction might be thrown my way.

This is a normal human reaction to the possibility of discomfort and conflict and, in my case, a reaction enhanced by 23 years of parenting O., for whom the “whatever reaction might be thrown my way” is something I’m so inured to that I have an autonomic reaction deep inside me that kicks in and molds my behaviour toward avoidance.

Last week I hired myself a personal trainer and started going to the gym twice a week. It’s not my first fitness rodeo, but it’s my first time paying any formal attention to my body in 14 years. I’ve only worked out three times so far, so I’m under no illusions that I’m a man-reborn, but in the same way that improv has given me lessons—yes, and…—that I’ve been able to use offstage, working out has already gifted me some mental lessons, chief among which is that I am stronger than I imagine myself to be.

Yesterday, for example, “today we’re going to work on the bench press” was the introduction. While I could imagine push-ups and rowing and barbells being part of a fitness program, it had never occurred to me that mystical things like bench presses existed in my realm of possibility. And yet, there I was, with 45 pounds bearing down on my chest (not a lot of weight, Olympics-wise, but for me it’s a lot) and I was alive and capable. And, more importantly, I have learned that expressing strength can be more a matter of “gentle pressure, consistently applied” than it is “explosive burst of muscle power.” 

This is a lesson that I can carry outside of the gym. And, indeed, that’s what I did this morning: previously, fearful of conflict, disappointment, afraid of walking through whatever blowback funk might result, I would likely have acquiesced, and we would have left our bicycles at home.

Instead, working from a position of strength, using gentle pressure, consistently applied, I took us through the blowback. As soon as we hit the road, the clouds lifted, the joy of being in motion together emerged, and we parted company with hearts pumping and warm.