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  • Writer's pictureLG

The Meaning of Life, Triathlon and Suffering

I think I bit off more than I can chew by the looks of that title. I’m going to try anyway.

To Live Is To Suffer

From what I understand, Buddhist doctrine says that all suffering comes from ignorance: ignorance of our true nature.  As a card

The enlightened one

carrying member of the human race, I do everything I can to avoid suffering.   In order to avoid it, I subject myself to it.   Think of it this way: each year I want to avoid getting the flu so I get inoculated with the flu.

Much like flu vaccine stimulates my body to fight off the real flu, training for triathlon teaches me to endure long bouts of pain and boredom.

Lessons Learned From Suffering

I have also learned many valuable lessons while training for triathlon.  For example, no matter how tired I am, I can always do one more: one more lap, one more mile, one more interval.  The question becomes, “How hard do I want to push myself in training or racing?”  I have learned that there is a consequence of pushing too hard and that a balance is what is needed.

Julie Moss forces herself to cross the 1982 Ironman finish line.

I have also learned that growth is the result of an ebb and flow, give and take, ying and yang.  Everyone experiences this.  We have good days and bad, easy and hard.  Good athletic training programs are full of work intervals and rest intervals.

Aristotle (and I mean THE Aristotle,  not the rich guy that married Jackie Kennedy),  gave praise for the “golden mean.”  There is virtue in finding a balance between extremes.    However, my experience has shown me that we must fluctuate around that mean in order to understand our place in the universe and to appreciate the value of the mean.  By no means does the mean mean ordinary.   (That’s a pretty mean sentence!).

Why Do We Have To Suffer?

Somehow all this fits together quite nicely in LG’s little book on philosophy.  Reality is a bit messier, but I do believe that the human race is becoming complacent in their own survival as a species.  As we develop life changing technologies, we distance ourselves more and more from our surroundings. For example:

  1. With houses, we protect ourselves from harsh weather

  2. Agricultural innovations mean we don’t have to expend much energy to consume energy.

  3. With internal combustion engines we don’t have to move as many muscles to travel or perform work.

Essentially we, as humans, have devised ways to make life easier and reduce suffering.    I make no apologies to my creationist friends, because there is just too much evidence to deny that the factors that caused the suffering is what pushed the human species to evolve to where it is today.  However, this lesson is also loud and clear in the writings of the three main religions of Abraham . Job suffered immensely, and came through it a much better person: spiritually, at least.  The suffering was even sanctioned by G-d, the force for good.

Had our species not suffered, there would have been no reason to find better ways to survive.   This applies to superior DNA that makes one fittest, or to an individual who just felt the need to invent something like a wheel.  With regards to the DNA, this falls under the common term, selection pressure.

This suffering, this pressure is what I want when training for and racing in triathlon.  I know that once I come through a difficult period, I will be better for it afterward.

But this isn’t the only reason.

The Challenge Of The Cubs

T-Rex on the hunt

So here we are in 2015 and the new movie, Jurasic World, was recently released.  Remember the first one of that series, Jurasic Park?  The T-Rex stopped eating the live goats that were offered because it wanted the hunt.  It wanted the challenge of finding and catching its own food.  We’ve completely lost that in our modern society.  I’m not writing to make a judgement on that.  Rather, I’m writing to say that we need challenge in our lives: real or artificial.  A real challenge would be trying to grow/raise your own food.  An artificial challenge would be the Cubs trying to win the World Series or anyone getting to level nine of Super Mario Brothers.   I use the term artificial here to mean self imposed.  Not that the Cubs can’t win the World Series: anything is possible.

It’s All In The Mind

The game of triathlon is very much a mental game.  So is everything at some level.  I can only think of two instances during races when I’ve completely hit a physical wall:  DNF.  In one instance, I became ill with hypothermia at mile 40 of the bike ride (see this post).  The other time was when I became so seasick in the swim that I learned very quickly how to vomit and swim at the same time: not pretty.   In the former, I could have avoided the DNF by recognizing that I was sick the night before the race.  In the latter, I could have prepared better by swimming the ocean a bit more or using my anti-nausea  medicine better.

More To Come

This is a subject that could go on for 1000 more pages.  I’ve already rambled enough, so I’ll cut it short here and hopefully address this in future posts and videos.   Until then…

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