Baby steps

When I started working with Keith, I was not in great shape.  I had pains in my lower back, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic headaches. But I just grinned and bore these maladies. As far as I was concerned, these were just part of being me, aches and pains that I’d developed since I’d first started pounding on a computer all day, decades before — my imperfections, unfixable.

As for going to a trainer, well, that was all very well, paying someone to hold my hand while I walked around the gym, counting off reps, giving me encouragement, helping me build my biceps or lose a few pounds. Eventually, there were some meager results so I could take it or leave it.

Keith taught me otherwise. He showed the point of exercise is not six-pack abs or marathon times. It’s about making the most of the equipment we have for living out the rest of our days and that making certain little changes could make huge differences to my body and to my life.

We worked on tiny muscles hidden deep along my spine and  between my shoulder blades. We focussed on the exact angle of my tailbone when I crouched, correcting and re-correcting. We looked at the angle of my pelvis in the mirror. We rolled the fascia alongside my left thigh with rubber logs and built up strength in my right quadriceps.

After a few months, standing and moving in a balanced way became second nature. The unnatural way I had held my shoulders, my neck, my stance, were replaced with alignment.  Now if I hunched my shoulders or sat in a cramped and twisted way, my body told me something was wrong and I adjusted.

My headaches vanished. My hands no longer tingled. My feet, which had always splayed out like Charlie Chaplin lined up toe to heel. My carriage grew more and more erect. Jenny noticed that I was getting taller, soon by a couple of inches. I felt better all the time. And happier too.

For the first time, my relationship with my body changed because I saw what truly is. Not just a couple hundred pounds of annoying meat but an amazing machine that just needs to be tuned and maintained.

I discovered that my body is a miraculous system of complex interconnected processes that can be adjusted, honed, perfected. The way I was didn’t have to be the way I’d be. The unhealthy adaptations I’d made to certain chairs, desks, sidewalks, stresses, ways of standing, sitting, sleeping, were not carved in stone. And my assumptions about my physical being, that it was some sort of curse to be endured, an uphill battle that would always let me down, was nonsense. Being out of whack, behaving in ways that hurt me, limiting my ability, assuming that there was no solution — all these behaviors and thought patterns were replaced by balance and a better way of being.

For the first time, my relationship with my body changed because I saw what truly is. Not just a couple hundred pounds of annoying meat but an amazing machine that just needs to be tuned and maintained. Not for vanity but because of how it helps me live better and get the most out of each day. A few small adjustments in my body led to a change in my entire being. In my life.

Similarly, when I began to draw, I had no idea what seismic shifts this small change would cause in my life. Many of friends tell me that picking up a pen and opening up a sketchbook ultimately led them to change careers, travel the world, publish books, make new friends, new priorities, new plans for their remaining days.

Why? Why does this simple habit make such a difference? When you start to draw, you set things in motion. You start to see what is. Perhaps you’ll see beauty where you overlooked it. Perhaps you will fill books with stories about your life, an ordinary life, and suddenly see it is actually quite rich and wonderful. And perhaps the power of seeing so clearly will make you want to go and see more. And that desire will cause you, like Mole in The Wind in the Willows or Bilbo Baggins, to lock the door of your cozy little life and wander out into the wide world.

Maybe seeing clearly will show you that you have been hiding your true self from yourself, have been leading a life that wasn’t really what you wanted, that you could do more, that you could be more. That your childhood dreams are still valid, that your parents, your banker, your boss, your children can’t call all your shots. And that time is running out.

When you make art, you slowly brush the cobwebs from your inner life and sunlight starts to stream in. Who knows what it might reveal?

Maybe you will see that drawing is a thing that you actually can do even though the monkey has too long told you that you can’t, because you suck, because you have no talent or time. And, when you discover this power, you may come to wonder what else you have overlooked or deceived yourself about, what else you can do and be. Maybe you could paint or play the piano or visit Rome or hang-glide or open a store or be a clown or run for Prime Minister.  Or hire a trainer and get rid of your headaches.

This can be scary, feeling the first winds of freedom and change sweeping through the open door of your golden cage. But if you don’t face this fear from some angle, how can you ever see your life for what is and can be?

When you make art, you slowly brush the cobwebs from your inner life and sunlight starts to stream in. Who knows what it might reveal? Who knows what journey you are about to embark upon once you uncap that pen and take that first little step? Don’t you want to see?

18 thoughts on “Baby steps”

  1. Love this post, Danny. And I’ve copied your quote into my facebook page – When you make art, you slowly brush the cobwebs from your inner life and sunlight starts to stream in. Who knows what it might reveal? – attributed to you, of course. Thanks!!!

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  2. I credit picking up a pen and drawing to helping me pick up barbells and lifting heavy weights. Seeing how much better I felt after making art, made me realize that I could feel that good externally if I stuck with an exercise plan.

    For years, I eschewed both (girls don’t lift weights, you’re not an artist) out of a need to please other people. I’m not apologizing for the things I love (deadlifts with a heavy barbell, doodles with a micron pen) and for not liking the things I “should” (yoga and running, oil painting and scrapbooking).

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  3. What an encouragement! I have been in the “Don’t you want to see?” part of my journey. This is the only moment I have and I don’t want to wish I had done whatever it was…so I show people my art work. I throw the crabbing cages into the Pacific. I go to Canada and go caving with total strangers on a whim! My drawing has improved by practicing and by being part of SBS. Thank you, Danny. I smile when I read your stuff! I love your huge heart!

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  4. There is a definite “tipping point” slightly past habit, leading toward a positive addiction. Now I feel as if something is left undone if I don’t draw, as if I squandered the day. Without a journal entry, the day is not completed with integrity..

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  5. Wow, that is one of the best pieces I ever read from you Danny. And believe me, I read you quite often! It is well considered, human, easy to capture, inspiring and most of all full of love and care. Thx

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  6. It was hard for me to find something I could do because my back is that bad. I finally found a yoga physical therapists — who could modify the yoga positions for me allowing me to do the dang things (when I was young before the dance accident I was a pretzel.) Now I am starting on aerobic because I CAN WALK better and move better so being in shape is within possibilities. Hallelujah!

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  7. Danny You are a person who helps the rest of humans to be brave and to get out of themselves the best they have. Inspiring and brave. Thank you very much! I agree with “brokentulips” above. Love your words of wisdom!

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  8. Wonderful post, Danny. You never disappoint. I almost always find connections to my life in your posts. I am an exerciser and a sketcher too. I am also looking for a way to use my gifts (whatever they may be) for and with others. I haven’t found the right outlet yet but your words always inspire me to be brave and opened minded. Just taking my own baby steps, I have met so many great people – in person and online through my sketching habit. Finally, and you may find this strange, but I find your philosophy connects so well with the spiritual teachings of St. Ignatius. I have been learning something about this because my boys are in a Jesuit school. You make art accessible to all everyday and he makes God and prayer accessible in every day life. I just love that they are both working in concert together in my life.

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  9. I just started physical therapy and I see so many of the same things you are talking about! So many possibilities open up with therapy as well as with drawing. It’s a whole new world.

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  10. Love this post! The exercise thing spoke to me because while I would never consider myself an athelete I learned in my late 20’s how important it was not only from a physical aspect but a psychological aspect. The moments in my life that I struggled to maintain it were doing 12 hr. shifts as a nurse, but I still exercised when I was off. The exercise thing has stuck and I do it to be as healthy as possible. It is my number one thing to do for myself most days. That way I will be my best self not only for me but for others.

    As for art, I wish I had learned the secret of sketching just for joy a long time ago. My journey with SBS was the start of that. While I have not participated in all the exercises I continue to sketch on a regular basis. While I am not perfect in my practice as in everyday. I do it most days just like exercise. It keeps me centered, balanced and makes me happy.

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