December 01, 2005

Idle Mind and the Struggle

Last week, the Kerns and Mel's parents drove up to Richlands, NC to spend Thanksgiving with Mel's Grandparents. It's a great retreat; just a modified trailer sitting on some sandy-soiled farmland, far enough away from civilization that you can see the tiniest ribbons of stardust around the constellations. Three clear and cold days of simple living. Pleasantly enough, there was nothing to do but take walks and talk with my wife and her family.

The only drawback was the sleep schedule. Out there, there's no reason to stay up late, so the house was down and quiet by 8:30 PM. This came as a bit of difficult adjustment for Melissa and I, who often stay up to Midnight watching movies and playing on the computer.

So I sat there in bed for a long time in the dark, nothing but my mind to keep me company. But I like times like that. I am a big believer in idle time. Not free time, where you find tasks to occupy yourself, but conscious time when there's nothing to do but think and let your brain process all the things that are rolling around inside it. Time like that is absolutely necessary for personal development and learning, because that's when you can make discoveries and connections about the world and your life that you never would think to look for.

As my mind wandered, I thought about the constant struggle of my life, my weight. It's not a huge problem, I know, but I have always been moderately overweight since I was a kid. For contrast, it didn't help that my brother was a walking stick compared even to normal people. My only break came in high school, when a sudden growth spurt stretched my mass out to a medium-build 6'2" gawky teenager. Unfortunately, a few years of College dining halls brought me back to overweight status.

Aside from that, I had a brief period of svelteness a few years ago because of a strict regimen of diet and 30 minutes a night on the treadmill. However, I just couldn't keep eating the same tiny thing for breakfast and lunch EVERY DAY and walking, and eventually got back to being "Obese" by current medical definitions.

The questions remained: Why couldn't I keep fit? Why do I have no real discipline? The answer came clearly in my mind: "Because I've never really struggled with anything, and overcome it, in my whole life."

Like in Poe's "The Raven", I was taken aback at how plainly it was spoken. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. All the big problems that I've struggled with since I was a kid, they're still problems now. I'm still overweight. I'm still shy and awkward around people. I still have problems talking to people, even making simple conversation, even to my own wife. I've never overcome these things.

But I have a good life, and I've had a lot of accomplishments that I am very proud of: My singing, my proficiency with computers, getting my Bachelor's Degree, marrying the right woman, having a great son, getting a great job that supports us. The only problem is that, aside from my quest for the right woman, I never really struggled with these things. Once I left elementary school, I never really studied in school. I had a natural talent for computers and singing, we conceived Matthew as soon as we started trying, and I'm still (essentially) working for the same company that I started with out of college.

Just about everything good that's happened to me in my life, has come easily or luckily, not by hard work or discipline to overcome any real difficulties. That's my problem. That's not to say that I don't work hard, because I at least have that going for me, I've just never worked hard to overcome anything real AND come out victorious.

I was no good at soccer as a kid, so I quit the team. I never practiced my saxophone or piano, so I was never any good at them, and quit playing. I was absolute CRAP as an actor in high school, so I quit it and started singing. I struggled for years with Calculus, only to quit and change my major to one that didn't require it.

The only thing real that I've conquered by struggle was that trivial habit in college. It took me 7 years, but I'm finally clear of it. Addictions, even the petty ones like this, never go away. You never stop wanting or craving it, you have to actively deny the temptation every time it arises. 7 years to fully quit and not start up again. This is the only success I've had overcoming an issue with hard work and discipline. (Finding the right woman was just hard work.)

It might sound like psycho-babble, but I think my problem is that I've almost never struggled and succeeded, I've always given up or tried something else.

Applying this to my weight problem is another matter, though. How do you discipline yourself to overcome a lack of self-discipline? It's like trying to remember to be less forgetful (which I also suffer from). Well, at least I think I have a bead on the issue now, so that's something.

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