by Daniel Oakes | June 14, 2023

loaded bar on a platform

Let's think like true adults for a minute about something that's all over the news: Ukraine. most of us reading this don't live in Ukraine, so do any of us really know what's going on over there? When I took a minute to think earnestly, I realized that I actually have no idea what's happening in Ukraine. I've merely been told about what's happening in Ukraine by the media. All I know, from videos on Reddit, is that people are shooting each other's heads off. But can I discern anything more from that? I'm not too sure.

Each year, as I get older, it feels like the narratives that I've grown up with have slowly dissolved and been replaced by quantitative observation. In other words, I am learning to try and see things as they are, not as they are described. So all I see in Ukraine is people shooting lead into other people's heads.

But how can I be arrogant enough to assume that what I observe is really the case, and not just what I perceive to be the case? For example, when I say “All I see in Ukraine is people shooting lead into other people's heads,” my frankness is also, paradoxically, suggestive of many things, like “fighting is bad,” or “fighting is futile,” or “fighting is fighting for its own sake.” It seems, ironically, that the most honest and “quantitative” descriptions are also the ones that are most loaded with meaning.

Being aware of how little I actually know, and also being aware of how my seemingly “objective” observations are riddled by subtext/narrative, I've learned to keep my mouth shut – on most matters. Am I saying that it's wrong to have an opinion on something? Perhaps I am. I'm all too aware that the word “opinion” infers an “opposite opinion.” So I'm very careful when it comes to “opinions.”

The only thing I know to be the cleanest of truths is the weight on my barbell.

The weight on my barbell is...the weight on my barbell. Simple, straightforward, verifiable. I'm trying to filter out everything and make the weight on my barbell nothing more than just a number. I try to stop at the number and not infer anything beyond the number. If something “good” happens because of X number, so be it – if something “bad” happens because of X number, so be it. But, in my own personal secular world of growing nihilism and doubt, I have found a candle in the darkness: I have found meaning in The Number On The Barbell.

It doesn't really make much sense, I know. The weight on the barbell must have meaning beyond the weight. Can the number really have meaning in itself? I think it can. A 300 lb squat has a “feel” to it. It feels different than a 200 lb squat. Not in the obvious sense that it feels heavier, but in the sense that 300 lb is not 200 lb. This sounds pretty anal, but my goal is to say “Today I deadlifted 450 lb as opposed to X number of pounds.” What do you take from that occurrence? I try to take nothing from it, but the fact that 450 lb was lifted.

Standing there, with 450 lb in your hands, with absolutely no meaning attached to it whatsoever, is like sipping on distilled water during a drought. The mind clears like parting clouds and I can wildly laugh at the brick wall in front of me. Because, why not? Because I can.

I don't really take anything from this article. What do you take from it?  

I know. You don't have to tell me. You feel dreadful. Genuinely awful. There's an actual sensation of heaviness that floods your body. That's the best way you can describe it. You can barely do anything except stare at the ceiling and wait for sleep to come.

What should you do in this situation?

I have an idea: let's make things worse.

Yeah, that's right. Why don't we get off our asses, together, and go and lift something heavy, just for the hell of it. It's the worst feeling in the world. The unnecessary strain on your body. Ah, Lord, the pointlessness of it all... We're all gonna die some day. Why are we bothering to put ourselves through this meaningless torment?

I'll tell you why.

If you're sitting in an ice bath you're gonna have to pour a hot kettle all over your face for you to appreciate, no, adore the freeze. That's right. It feels utterly trash to lift heavy as hell, so when you rest afterward, it feels good to have felt dreadful.

I tried it. It works. I'm now laying in bed. I feel like crap, but it's a good crap, because it's better now.

It's the contrast.

This is what the world's come to. Most of our ancestors were struggling to find a few sour berries. And people died skinny. Now we're whining about being fat and dying at 70. Our ancestors barely got to 25. It's perverse.

We feel like rubbish because everything is too good.

The best thing I ever ate was a plain ol' ham sandwich. Not because I consumed some of Rip's finest ham, but because I had spent the whole day laboring on a canal and I was starving. Similarly, the nicest drink I ever had was a cold beer after a busy shift in a pub. I don't even like beer. But I drank the thing like I'd drink cold lemonade in a drought.

Now? I could eat the nicest food and feel nothing. I could drink the finest drink and feel nothing. To get better, paradoxically, I need to make my life harder.

That's why I'm lifting heavy weights. It's perverse, I know. You should try it too.  

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