Fortitude – Week 9

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

Over the week, I reflected on the relationship between rest and effort.

My muscles ache – I sit on the floor for a while, after dinner, and when I try to stand up, I’m all stiff. I realise that I set up on a strengthening routine, yet never thought of building in time for stretching.

Indeed, there are two different ways that we can think of rest. One is to stop all activity, sit on the couch, and gaze into the air. The other, a more truthful description of rest maybe, certainly more useful, would go something like this: rest allows our strained muscles to relax by tensing the ones opposite – emotionally, physically, cognitively. Therefore, the answer to ‘tired’ may not be ‘rest more’, but ‘do something different’.

Not everything that we do needs to be filled with an intrinsic sense of joy and purpose. Sometimes, we must clean up shit. After a plumber came to my house and a pipe blockage exploded out of the floor drain in my bathroom, I found myself literally doing so. It’s not always about finding a way to delight in the prospect of a task, but, rather, acknowledging: this is unpleasant, but has to be done, and I’m responsible. That is fortitude at its most basic.

Much of our lives are spent not on making new things, but caring for what is already there. Whether it’ exercise to tone up our brains and muscles, the drudge of repeated housework, or the broader needs of maintenance and administration, more effort is invested in keeping channels open than dredging new ones. Patience is accepting this.

Thursday six pm, tired, I made a list of all things I had to do. There was a lot, with limited time, and I felt that I should get some done that evening. ‘Maybe you should start with your exercises,’ says Philip, ‘since when you spoke about them, you said, I hate them.’ This regular strengthening routine is an enormous burden – I’m enjoying the new muscles, but it makes me physically tired without improving my sleep, and I’m not relishing an added line on my to-do list. But since I decided not to give up, I pushed ahead. By 7pm, I had finished not only my routine for the day, but also for the next – leaving two-days off to rest. I was on a high after this proper work out – and until 10pm, was able to tick a few more things off my list.

We do so little with the freedom we have. I have the luxury to work on my own terms – as long as I deliver. There is, in particular, no constraint on my physical location, apart from occasional meetings and workshops. I live in a beautiful city, with hills and the beach and world-class terraces – where I can now afford as much cake and coffees as I like. Yet I often stay home for most of the day, working from the kitchen table or the desk – not because this is productive, but from pure lack of spirit. Energised by my work out of the previous day – inspired by beautiful weather – I embraced my freedom on Friday. Took trams and sat on terraces, in short productive bursts, and a long afternoon pause. Then, from 8pm, I finished off the day reading Hong Lou Meng.

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 309

Sit-ups: 309

Squats: 309

Dog-cows: 309

Bird-dogs: 309

Back twists: 309

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 9 reps for each element

Meditation: 9 sessions

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