Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mind over matter? Well, it's not that easy a battle

Some days I wake up horribly early.

I know, I know. It means I’m getting older. It’s the only explanation. But before you do any gloating, just remember – so are you.

On occasion, if I’m awake at around 5:30, I think “I really ought to go for a swim.” This is because I’m convinced that I need exercise. If nothing else, it might help 
me sleep through the night and not wake up before the alarm goes off.

But a conviction that it would do me good isn’t the same as any enthusiasm for the prospect of exercise. Especially wet exercise. So I may be up and making coffee at quarter to six in the morning, completely convinced that this is a great opportunity for a swim, but it doesn’t mean I actually want to.

Inviting? Not at stupid o'clock in the morning

Why swimming at that time of day? Well, firstly because the pool is open to its full 50 metre length. So you don't have to turn so often. Which is a boon. Besides, I find that after three or four hours work, I’m even less inclined to struggle into the pool than at the crack of dawn; after seven or eight hours, reluctance at the idea turns into abhorrence. 

So it has to be first thing.

Now the reluctance isn’t intellectual. The mind is fully convinced that I’m going swimming. Which is easy enough for the mind. It isn’t the mind that has to deal with the water. It can loftily choose to do this horrible thing; the victim, the one that has to undergo the experience, is the body.

What therefore comes into play is that deep, veiled will that’s buried in our bodies themselves. It knows it can’t challenge the mind directly: it’ll always lose a rational argument. Instead it acts deviously, it works by misdirection.

“Look!” it says, “Washing up. You said you’d get it done.”

Washing up doesn’t take long. Might as well do it quickly. And the minutes crawl on.

“Does the cat have enough food?”

“Did you let the dog out in the garden?”

Eventually, in a last desperate throw of the dice, when already on the threshold, ready to lock up and head for the door, the horrified body raises a final objection: “did you lock the back door after you let the dog back in?” It knows that my mind is much too neurotic to say “screw it. Who cares?” and just go.

This rearguard action doesn’t often avoid the dreaded fate. But it means that it doesn’t matter what time I get up – it can be 5:00 in the morning – I’ll never be in the water until after quarter to seven. Delaying tactics live up to their name: they make you late.

Talk about mind over matter. Well, my body has a mind of its own. The battle
s no pushover. The body fights back. 

And at the very least, buys itself some time.


Awoogamuffin said...

There's nothing like exercise to draw attention the body-mind duality, eh? That's why I like to listen to podcasts while I swim - my body just gets on with it while my mind listens to Melvin Bragg angrily tell a researcher to answer more quickly

David Beeson said...

Yes, Bragg can be as exasperating as the water itself, can't he?