What is strength? What does it mean to be strong?
Lately I have been redefining what the word “strength” means to me, and what it means to be truly strong. I had an epiphany yesterday with a friend and colleague of mine over a mobility session (because that’s the kind of thing I do in my spare time). We spent a lot of time talking about movement, eating well, but more so, the very essence of strength in it’s entirety. I have some nerdy fitness friends with a similar philosophical understanding of this word “strong” (and I wonder sometimes if these types of discussions will lead me back to my old Theological studies. It’s awfully tempting anymore. Hmmmm. . .). The discussion ended with an overarching theme of being fully human, and that warrants an examination of the very definitions of the words “strength” and “strong”.
A nerdy post this is, I know. But stick with me here. There is more to be said about strength in it’s entirety, and what that means for you, be it a trainee, a fitness enthusiast, or someone who is simply trying to find their way through their own course of life.
Strong- Having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks. Able to withstand great force or pressure.
Strength- The quality or state of being strong, in particular. A good or beneficial quality or attribute of a person or thing.
I took some time this week to take a look at these two definitions. I read them, re-read them, journaled about them, and even crossed reference them with some of my old college and graduate school assigned texts ( I told you I am a nerd) to dig a bit deeper into them both.
This lead me to two distinct books, one titled “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, and the other the Gospel of Luke, specific to the 17th chapter (ok, so I am a psychology AND theology nerd. My brain is hard wired for dense subjects).
Viktor Frankl’s “Mans Search for Meaning”
Viktor Frankly was a concentration camp survivor who survived the conditions of the immense mental, physical, and spiritual obstacles of his conditions simply by making the active choice to believe he could live. Read that again. He lost everything. Friends and family dying all around him. Every day, he made a point to reflect on his circumstances, but made the very survival of the camp his saving grace. Though he was faced with the worst of circumstances, beaten and mocked on occasions from the Nazi’s, he decided to recognize his inner strength, his will to live, and eventually (so he states) his very will to live would lead him out of the camp. Later in life, he would create a sect of psychological studies called “Existential Psychology”, the studio of finding meaning in life, especially in our darkest hours. What utter strength in this man’s character it must have taken to believe you could live beyond the grave circumstances at hand. He was physically and emotionally dischevilled, but chose NOT to let that kill his will to live. Think about it.
Luke: Chapter 17: 20-21
Jesus is an interesting character in history (side note: for the purpose of this blog, I am choosing to view Jesus with a historical lens). Much of my studies in graduate school were spent reading text after text after VERY DENSE TEXT to unravel who this “Jesus” person was in reality. This man, a carpenter, living a fairly simple life, took the time to educate himself on Jewish Law, and went as far as to challenge the very authorities of his time. He didn’t follow the religious laws of the time, but rather related to the common person, those that were suffering, by full expressing his humanity. He took pity on the poor, taught publicly on the dangers of powerful religious authorities, and lead a life of humility with a tight knit group of people to unravel what it meant to be human through basic interactions (fishing, dining, bringing wine to parties, etc).
He wanted to meet people where they were currently at in life, most notably those that were considered the lamest of lame.
In the above verse mentioned, Jesus was asked point blank by Jewish Pharisees (extremely powerful, wealthy religious types at the time) when the Kingdom of God would come. Jesus’s response was brilliant: “The Kingdom of God lies within YOU”. The implication of this was to suggest that the very powers at bay had forgotten who God was because they had become corrupted by their own power. The Pharisees had forgotten how to reach the common man, how to relate to people, how to be human and give back to society for the sake of their own power. Damn that Jesus was smart! Quite a strong thing to suggest, don’t you think?
I know what you’re thinking.
“What the hell does this have to do this overarching theme of strength and being strong?”
And here’s a solid example of the connection here.
I know two people very well that suffer from the same problem: addiction. One has willingly chosen to deny the problem exists, and now suffers from a number of health implications that run the risk of a shortened life. The other recognized the problem, suffered as long as she could bare, but willingly chose to overcome her adversities to live a better life because she began to believe in a better life. She is in and out of meetings a lot to keep herself sober, but 3 years later she is drug free, and couldn’t have asked for a better course for her life. One lives in a personal Hell. The other lives in a personal Heaven. Imagine that, all from choosing one course over the other.
(Re)Defining “Strength” and “Strong”
I wonder sometimes about the world in light of what we are blindly taught in the commonplace health industry. Years ago I was suffering from an auto-immune condition, and was told POINT BLANK to suffer for a number of years until I would be dependent on medications to balance my life. I made a tough call, an act of faith if you will, to challenge the authorities at bay and believe that I could live a life beyond the circumstances I was suffering through at the time. Nearly 7 years later I am a dual certified kettlebell instructor, internationally recognized author, oh! And no more autoimmune issues either.
I believed. . .chose. . .did.
And YOU have the power within you to do just the same.
My Personal Definitions of “Strength” and “Strong”
Strength is the degree of which we fully recognize our humanity AND fully express our humanity.
To be strong is to willingly choose a course of action to further our own livelihood for the better, and inspire others to further their livelihoods for the better as well.
Will you choose to be the victim of your circumstances, stay stuck in the realm of being overweight, sick, addicted, unwilling to relate to others for the sake of your own power, control, social status, vanity?
Or will you choose to turn the other cheek, to do the harder work, to challenge your personal obstacles and over come them because you believe in a better life, both for your own sake, and the sake of those you serve, love, cherish, care about?
I haven’t posted any photos in this blog post for a reason.
Today, I want you to think.
What does the word “strength” mean to you?
What do you think it means to be “strong”?
References: Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and Carl Ratzinger’s “Truth and Tolerance”.