Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

There Will Be Push Ups

At a meditation class last week, I was paired up with a young man for a time of sharing reflections. He told me this story.

When he was 19, he joined the army. During basic training, the drill sergeant would find some mistake every day and make his group do push ups as a consequence. Maybe a bed was not made properly, or shoes were not polished, or someone was a a nanosecond too slow in obeying an order. Every day they would strive mightily for perfection. Every day they would fail, and drop to the ground in frustration and despair to perform their punishment.

Finally, he realized that the point of this pattern was not the daily mistake; the point was the daily push ups. The drill sergeant was always going to find some excuse for push ups. He accepted the inevitable. There will be push ups. Every day. No matter what they did or didn’t do. He began to view the push ups not as punishment but as exercise. Difficult exercise, yes. But exercise that was a required part of their training.

The push ups were the same, but his experience of the push ups changed. He said that he suffered less than others in his group who continued to struggle to attain that magic perfection that would avoid the ordered push ups.

Our conversation generalized to life’s basic training. We strive for an ever elusive perfection that will avoid challenge, disappointment, distress, heartache. If I learn to meditate better, I will always be peaceful. If I practice martial arts long enough, I will never be afraid. If I pray hard enough, my prayers will be answered according to my wishes. If I love strongly enough, my heart will never be broken.

But here is life’s reality. There will be push ups. I will be fidgety during meditation. I will be frustrated when I don’t handle situations as well as I would like. I will be embarrassed by something that was misunderstood. I will be disappointed when I hoped for something different. I will be sad when I lose something important to me. I will be angry when I perceive being wronged.

Yes, there will be push ups. I can struggle to avoid them but I will fail. Or I can see them as a part of life, weaving them into a tapestry full of experiences and opportunities. I can embrace all that life brings me.

A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach

14 thoughts on “There Will Be Push Ups”

  1. There will be push ups, always . . . Wonderful insight here, Galen. We may strive for perfection, but we will never find it wholly in this life. Still, let's do those push ups cheerfully.

  2. I had my own example of this today, Martha, when I woke up with a bad migraine and was unable to go watch my daughter participate in a dragon boat race. I struggled with it for a while, but finally yielded to reality and spent the day in bed. My push ups for the day! Feeling better now.

  3. I love your take on life, Galen. I had this post in my inbox, waiting for the perfect moment to read it and contemplate its message. Perfect for me today, as I fight sadness over the state of the world. Yes, there will be push ups, but it will definitely change as time passes. Blessings to you, dear, for your lovely post. 🙂

  4. 'We strive for an ever elusive perfection that will avoid challenge, disappointment, distress, heartache.'

    We want to increase reward,happiness and pleasure while avoiding loss, sadness and pain. But, our ability to live life well, depends on our level of possible endurance during the storms and lulls of life. I learned awhile back that trees need wind to grow strong root structures and overall trunk strength.The yang forces create the blissful yin of endurance. Perhaps we need yang to enjoy yin in our lives. We want to lie on beds of roses without the pain of the underlying thorns. But, its the thorns of life that cause us to grow strong in character so we can learn to appreciate life's ups and downs. Adversity teaches us to slow down and stop,long enough, to smell the roses without having fear of the thorns.

    I appreciate your thoughts on day to day life Galen.

  5. Me too, Lynne. It's funny how that happens. Not what I was expecting from an evening of meditation. But maybe that is another lesson about expectations!

  6. Thank you, Brian. That is interesting information about trees. It is all part of the tai chi symbol (the yin yang symbol). Each part has the seed of the other in it and they change into one another over and over again.

  7. Wow, I really enjoyed this one because it is all so true. We can't avoid the push-ups of life. As we accept them and learn from them, we will improve and grow from the experiences. You stated it all perfectly.
    I loved your thoughts today! Blessings and hugs for you dear friend!

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