The dislocation of your faculty of perception

If you are interested in the "hidden" dimensions of Strength training. Buckle your seat belts, here it is in 90 seconds:

Lifting weights: To call it lifting weights is to already be distracted. Your mind is already divided and lost.



The real discipline is called strength training. The accessory may indeed be weights. And, the accessory might be your body, bands, water or any other form of resistance. The point is the dislocation of your faculty of perception. Read that a few times. Real strength is the ability to open and broaden the aperture of perception such that perception is not longer exclusively tethered to your body-mind. Until you know this strength, you know next to nothing about strength training. To my point of you being intimate with your weakness and vulnerability. He is steering your minds in an all important direction. Take note, straighten your spine, stop wasting your life and attune to a facility of presence that you MUST become. True strength, the real heart my friends, is powerfully present in the most painful, vulnerable and humble of positions. If you resist this, your faculty of perception will remain firmly encased in a limited vehicle that will by necessity betray the very purpose of our existence.

Rob McNamara
Harvard University Teaching Fellow, Author & Leadership Coach
www.RobMcNamara.com
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Jedi Athletic Performance


Ask just about any elite athlete and they will likely tell you that their best performances emerge in a state of consciousness that is free from discursive activity. You know, it's that "self-talk" or "inner dialogue" that is often narrating the story of your life.

When athletes are executing and performing at their very best this symbolic functioning of the mind and its automated inner commentary are suspended. What is happening inside their mind is a simplicity that reaches beyond yet includes immense complexity from years of training and often decades of studying their sport.


All in a fraction of a second, clean precise execution unfolds almost effortlessly. 


This is not slipping back into an unconscious, pre-reflective and pre-symbolic way of functioning that psychologists find in early development. This is an increase in awareness, a more refined attunement with what is happening and a demonstration of greater skill in the face of competitive pressure. Peak performance is, in many ways, a function of a more evolved and integrated brain and nervous system.

The challenge of course is as the pressure increases with competition, the drive to make sense of what is happening becomes louder and louder. And by make sense, I mean tell yourself a story that holds you, situates you and coheres what's happening and how you fit in, or don't fit in. The bigger the competition, the more challenging the pressure to make sense of your experience. One of my clients was recently recounting his different experiences of getting in front of 70,000 fans. Sometimes they are devotionally cheering for his best performance. Other times, they are awaiting to celebrate any mistake he may make. At each stage the pressure mounts and so does the pressure to make sense of your place amidst the increasing level of competition.

How did I get here?
Am I really prepared to compete at this level?
What if I make mistakes?
How can I win?
Have I done everything I can to prepare?
Who am I if I lose?

These and many other questions are being answered by the stories we knowingly and unknowingly tell ourselves as we sit in locker rooms before taking the field and as the game begins.

While there are stories and narratives that are more adaptive and supportive of your growth as a competitor as well as stories that will stunt your athletic development dramatically, we aren't investigating this today. The narratives that make sense to you and create a skilled relationship with discipline, hard work and passion for the sport that most speaks to your heart outside of and leading up to competition are essential. But today, we are investigating when you step into your sport and execute at your very best when it matters most.

It's what Trevor Tierney and I have begun to talk about as being a LIOV Hero (more to follow on this front soon). This isn't just a random occurrence, although it may appear to be at first glance. There is a curriculum that can be mastered thus enabling you to elevate your play. One skill is what we are calling postrepresentational experience. It's a big fancy term, but it's pointing to something very simple. It is about quieting the mind's chatter so you get more contact with what is actually happening moment-to-moment. It is a skill and it is one that you likely need to polish if you want to be able to perform at your best under immense stress.

There is a part of you that is beyond your stories. It is beyond the mental chatter. It stretches outside of your mind's habit of symbolically representing everything in a story. Winning is a story. It is a map of what happened or a strategy of what you will do to hopefully gain a "W" in the win column. The story inside of you is different from the actual territory of victory and defeat within the heart of competition. The more connected you are to the actual territory of competition, the better you can perform.

Great athletes know the difference between being in the story and being immersed in the actual territory of the game. A captain may ask his team, "Are you ready?" with a fierceness in his eyes and a passion in his heart as he stands in the huddle with his team before the game.

Some cheer yes, because that is what the story in their mind tells them to do. These athletes are playing out a narrative. They may indeed be playing the same sport, but don't be mistaken, they are playing a different game than the jedi athletes who are fewer in number, yet possess greater capacities to perform.

These warriors may too cheer "yes," but underneath the passion is a silent presence that is palpable. There are no words for it. In an instant, just in a glance, the great competitor will recognize this readiness in a teammate. Inside of this momentary exchange is a recognition of each other. There's no words and there's no story about it. They are "plugged in" and already competing together on another level. When the pressure is high, this is where a deep trust resides.

As the inferior athlete is distracted and consumed by strategy, personal stories, desires to be perceived in preferred ways and for the story of the game to fit the narrative in their mind where, in the end, they win, something more profound is happening in the jedi athlete. This athlete is quietly attending to precisely what is happening within himself, his team, his coaches and, of course, the displays of his competition.

Now you may think I'm bring in some fantasy narrative into this blog as I reference a jedi from the Star Wars movies but make no mistake George Lucas, writer and director of Star Wars, filmed sections of the movie with Zen master Maezumi Roshi on the set helping him sculpt the character Yoda. Yoda and the jedi culture are in many ways modeled after this Zen master's perception of the world. While Star Wars is indeed a story, what the jedi represent and are pointing toward is not. Master the mind and amazing feats are possible.

The Zen master has gained a refined capacity for freeing his or her mind from the conventional limitations it often remains trapped within. The symbolic and representational functions of the mind is a cage of sorts. It traps you into a particular story. Dr. Daniel Siegel discusses these as "top down cortical enslavements" for this reason. Most human beings are slaves to the stories their mind rehearses. But the elite athlete is no slave to story. The more refined excellence stem from an open and direct perception of the game. Faster responsiveness occurs. Clear perception into next steps is apprehended instantaneously. Novel adaptations to competitive strengths, weakness and strategy emerge, often without effort. The list could go on.

Many athletes get accidental trips to this postrepresentational domain of performance, but few master this inner game. As such they roll the dice, hoping to achieve their best performance. The story of hope ultimately is no substitute for the well practiced and disciplined ability to drop stories and attend to life, sport and competition in a more direct way.

As an ongoing part of your training on and off the field, consider cultivating your ability to suspend and drop the inner dialogues, narratives and stories your mind is often automatically rehearsing. The greater this mental strength the more powerful your resilience will be in the face of high demands  in critical situations. And, above all... pay close attention to the teammates, coaches and other leaders in your life that display the jedi qualities described here.

Rob McNamara,
Author
Strength To Awaken & The Elegant Self

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The Wolverine, Psychosynthesis & Athletic Performance

Last night I was lecturing to my graduate students on Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli and his system for personal development called Psychosynthesis. His system rests upon leveraging the power of creative imagination to cultivate, refine and establish a more integrated self. Instead of the self being taken over and controlled by "subpersonalities" this more integrated self can control, regulate and mediate how the various subpersonalities find expression, or not. 

After class last night I found myself swimming laps and doing some agility work in the pool when I was visited by a story I had watched years ago on NFL.com. The story was on NFL safety Brian Dawkins and how he prepared for his games. Dawkins played at the highest levels for 16 years while being selected to the pro bowl 9 times. He's considered one of the top safety's to have played the game of football. Needless to say, he's worthy of some our attention and study if you're interested in consistent high level performance. 

To cut to the chase, Dawkins undergoes a transformation of sorts as he takes the field. He transforms from his normal self into the Wolverine, modeled after the Marvel comic character, who embodies intensity, fortitude and an unbreakable spirit that, regardless of the situation, brings a warrior spirit to the game.  

He even goes to the lengths of having two lockers, one for his normal clothes and conventional persona and a second filled with action figurines, posters, images and other reminders of the characteristics of the Wolverine as he knows it. Above this second locker "Weapon X" is listed instead of his name "Dawkins."

The intersection between our Italian psychiatrist who's famous for challenging Freud's model of psychoanalysis and Brain Dawkins can be found in the creative imaginative faculty of the human being. Dawkins is not a likely future hall of fame athlete because he was playing with imagination and participating with a realm of fantasy. Instead I would venture to guess he was leveraging this powerful human faculty to connect and participate with an energy, consciousness and will that in many ways transcended his everyday self. 

Assagioli points to a process called Spiritual Psychosynthesis which is his advanced stage of adult development following the completion of Personal Psychosynthesis. Dawkins was knowingly or unknowingly participating with many of these features. First, Dawkins was making contact with the imagery, symbolism and energy that was in many ways beyond his every day personality. Competition often requires this of us. We cannot be inside our preferences, anxieties, fears and doubts if we are to compete at our highest levels. This contact creates a transformation of sorts. 

The transformation Dawkins appeared to participate with was not into a make-believe action hero as our less nuanced understanding of his actions and behavior might suggest. The Wolverine for Dawkins exhibited a few interesting characteristics. First, there was integrity. He would not swear. The Wolverine abided by high standards for his personal conduct. This illustrates greater control, and from my vantage point more integrative maturity. 

Secondly, and more importantly this warrior he transformed into game in and game out was also a figure who prayed to himself, his team and even prayed to the football as he crouched down on elbows and knees looking at a single football resting on the field. He even spoke in tongues all as a means of entering into and participating with the energy, consciousness and will of the Wolverine. Dawkins outside of the game of football is a devoted religious man off the field. Again, we see features of the wolverine appearing not to be merely a pretend character but instead a living integration or synthesis of dimensions of himself that are beyond his conventional self. By going beyond himself, he naturally included what was most important off the field. 

I find this interesting as perhaps this is what sport is about. Sport is most certainly about conflict, fierce competition and the drive to win. However, inside of these conventional aims we can find how sport can be used to grow and develop athletes. Perhaps sport is a powerful integral practice than can cultivate and refine the many facets of the self. In Dawkin's case perhaps sport elicited a synthesis of personhood and the enlivening dimensions of human experience that stretch beyond conventional personhood.  

Interested in watching this video on Dawkins? Check it out here.


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The New Performance Paradigm

Ok, let's level with each other for a moment.

Observable measurable statistics are absolutely essential. If a football athlete is aiming to join an NFL roster, his 40 yard dash time, vertical jump height and broad jump distance are essential metrics. If he cannot demonstrate an adequate physiological benchmark, he simply cannot play at the next level. It is as simple as that. Or, as we are about to see in the coming weeks with the NFL draft, shaving off or adding on 3 tenths of a second on a linebacker's 40 time can be the difference of gaining or losing tens of millions of dollars.

These measures are what I like to call the tangibles, because they are more easily measured, grasped and observed.


In strength training we can measure tangibles such as starting power, progressive acceleration and total power output. These all provide measures to performance metrics relevant for just about every sport on the planet. Our above NFL aspirant is wise to grow these metrics as efficiently as possible if he is serious about that contract and the opportunity to play at the highest levels.

But we cannot stop at the tangible metrics, there are also what I like to refer to as intangibles.

Intangibles are subjective and intersubjective capacities that are not separate from the tangible dimensions of performance. These subjective facets of training and performance are also measurable capacities that are just as essential to performance assessment.

What is the complexity the self-system is capable of managing? What is your mental fortitude for pain tolerance? What is our NFL hopeful's level of emotional resiliency under stress? How efficient can a person's conceptual framework integrate coaching cues? These all point to subjective, yet measurable, dimensions to performance. Just like starting power, these are essential measures of capacities required for high level performance.

Strength to Awaken integrates the split between tangible and intangible, between what is objectively measurable and what is subjectively measurable.

We need both because the highest levels of performance are integrative in nature. 


Myopically focus upon one, either one at the exclusion of the other, and you will never see your highest performance capacities, period.

While Strength to Awaken is high-grade rocket fuel for developing the all to commonly neglected intangibles, I want you to consider carefully who is training, developing and refining your intangibles? Who has the requisite experience and skill? Who demonstrates the "inner" mastery and who can guide you toward your "outer" mastery?

If you're interested in an example, see one of the top athletes on the planet rigorously working both the tangibles and intangibles: Trevor Tierney. Carefully study what he does and says.

These are essential questions if performance is something you really want to devote yourself to.

Become curious about how intangibles integrate into the full spectrum of tangible performance metrics. Be careful though, many people who love tangibles (at the exclusion of the many intangibles) are not even seeing the whole picture of the tangibles clearly and thus leaving out essential parts.

Whatever you leave out ultimately stunts performance, regardless of whether it is tangible or intangible. 


When considering growing aptitudes for performance the following manual guides you into how to consider the full territory of the human being and its capacities.

One of the ways I like to frame strength training as is it can become a training ground for this integrative approach to refining your tangible and intangible abilities to perform. Learn it in the gym and apply it in any area of your life.

Anything less than this integrative embrace of your full complexity is bound to conceptual limitations (itself an intangible that can be measured) that itself closes down your greater possibilities.

Get curious. Keep your mind nimble and open as you refine the tangible and intangible dimensions of yourself. And, get suspicious of yourself and how you are approaching performance and training. You are practicing something, rehearsing something whether you are aware of it or not. There are likely hidden limitations to your methodologies and approaches. Curiosity can lead you toward greater performance capacities.

Rob McNamara
Author
The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken
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The Role of Meditation in Sport

I remember going into the green turf room just down the hallway from my locker room before my lacrosse games in college at Susquehanna University. I would disappear from the locker room for 5 or 10 minutes to find my posture of stillness. These brief sessions are amongst the most important meditation practices I did throughout my time in college. They were always, without question, the most enlivening meditations. Meditating before a highly competitive game that you pour hours of practice into every day is a different beast altogether than the meditations I would do outside of athletics. Even today, as I write about this experience, I can feel the subtle threads of anxiety coursing throughout my body, my mind trying to figure out a way to cope with the stress of competition and leadership and the vibrations of aliveness that would build throughout my meditation.

To be honest, I was trying to calm myself down. I was sitting in an attempt to be less attached to the outcome of the game. I was sitting to be more accepting of my performance, good or bad. I was in my meditation posture to be more present to the game so that I could perform better. But underneath I really wanted to get rid of this intense vibration of aliveness that felt like immense anxiety.

Did it work?

Yes and No.

Without fail, the longer I did my meditation before a game the more anxious I became. I couldn't distract myself from the energies coursing throughout my body and mind. While I calmly breathed and the experiential intensity grew I started noticing that my body and mind had an intelligence all to it's own for conducting this energy fluidly throughout myself. The more "conductive" I became, the more powerful of presence I had to lead my team on the field. Meditation appeared to galvanize more strength and energy within me. This undoubtably made me a better competitor.

What was failing in my mind was I wanted meditation to make me more comfortable before games. This never worked, ever. While I didn't know it at the time, meditation was powerfully sculpting my nervous system. I was becoming more "vertically integrated" as Daniel Siegel eloquently describes it.

Intense anxiety for athletes often results in a fragmentation in their nervous systems which compromises performance... always. The mind usually starts to spin out into various scenarios following a few basic fantasies. The first involves disaster scenarios the second involves fantasies of everything turning out positive and for the best while one of the most fearful fantasies formulates a story that the game doesn't "really" matter. The first two are an imaginary world that is disconnected from the actual territory of what's happening in the larger reality around the athlete, while the last option is a fantasy fueled with a blunt lie to themselves to buffer just how much the game (and their life) does mean to them. For athletes caught within their own private fantasies they are "sitting ducks" to a competition who's nervous systems are sculpted to attend to the specificity and nuance of what is actually going.

For me, my anxiety was increasing but my mind was getting closer into contact with what was going on in my body. While I didn't realize it at the time, this was growing my nervous system in essential ways.

To cover just one point, meditation practice strengthened my anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC as it's often called. By growing my brain's connectivity to the ACC I was able to have greater influence and control over my attention. I was becoming more in control of what's called my "executive attention," not my less complex and impulsive facets of my brain.

For you young athletes, the one's who are traversing the territory out of adolescence and into young adulthood take this into consideration: Your ACC is often called the Chief Operating Officer of your brain. You started to grow a tenuous connection to your ACC between the ages of 3 and 7. But this integration will not be complete well into your adulthood.

Accelerate your ability to aim and sustain attention with your intention. 

The better you get at this, the more mature your brain becomes, regardless of your age. The more mature your brain, the greater your capacities become for performing on the field and in life.

This translates into you focusing on the right cues under pressure and in the face of distractions. It means you can process emotions quicker and not get suck in the stories that surround challenging emotions. During games the ACC supervises what is happening with your attention. For example, if you start focusing on outcomes during a play, the ACC can stop this daydream and sharpen your attention onto the specific cues your mind needs to be tracking to be successful. Furthermore, in the face of adversity, which good competition always provides, you can stay focused on you, your behavior and your strategies instead of uncritically watching your opponents.

So, meditate. As I often call it, practice managing your attention. Do it rigorously. Do it regularly. What you are capable of achieving depends largely on your ability to manage attention.

If you're interested in joining attention management to strength training, consider killing two birds with one stone and do them simultaneously. Strength to Awaken is the most nuanced and sophisticated approach to integrating attention management into the discipline of strength training.

Rob McNamara
Author of The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken






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The New Program that Changes Lives

Ok, here's the deal. I've been searching long and hard for this program and I finally found it... 

Pause a moment and take note of your experience right now. 

What are you focused on? 
How do you feel in your body? 
What are you anticipating? 

Isn't amazing what 24 words can do to us? 6 in the title of this blog and 18 in my first sentence. Chances are you just experienced what I call "The Lie of Novelty."

Novelty is an interesting and seductive property. The very presence of novelty shapes your mind into a point. Your attention becomes more focused. As a result you become more present. Distractions fall away and suddenly the novelty that has captured you and drawn you in.

Generally speaking these are all good things. Greater presence and focus while becoming less distracted are all qualities many of us would gladly sign up for. However, the frightening problem is this: 

Too often you are not in 
the drivers seat of this process.  

When this happens novelty governs attention. If you haven't noticed, whatever governs your attention governs you. As such, novelty often steals your autonomy, grabs you by the seat of your pants and takes you wherever it wants to. I don't know about you, but this is a problem. 

Take a look at the kind of innovation within the American auto industry over the past 30 years. Minus a few innovations, a "new" automobile often involved changing the shape of the lights, maybe adding some subtle changes to the shape of the car and adding a few options. I recall being asked if I wanted power windows as an upgrade when my father and I got my first car in the 1990's. 

I'm no auto expert, but I raise this industry as an example of the power of novelty as it's a multi-billion dollar industry resting upon very little innovation. Make it shiny, add a few superficial changes and essentially sell the same car the public is already driving. Sadly, it worked for way too long. 

Inside of the focus that novelty often creates there is a second problem. Your focus is not passive, it is active. What hides inside of this activity is a common feature: projection. Novelty seduces your projections out of you. When this happens you don't simply take in what is novel, you project your desires and aspirations all over it. When this happens critical thinking and analysis are a secondary issue. An emotional decision has been made and you must now get this new thing. Justifying it in your mind is an after thought, you've already been sold. 

This shows up in a shinny "new" car that likely functionally cannot do anything "novel" that your existing one does already. Regardless, novelty often means more happiness and getting what you really desire, or so the story goes. It shows up in relationships when someone "catches your attention." As you are no longer managing your attention, this stranger is now unknowingly or knowingly in control of you. You've never met them before yet suddenly you are seeing the possibility of some desire being fulfilled. You're in the "what ifs" land. And this of course shows up in your training. You likely are not seeing the results you desire, but that "new" program... maybe I can get it there. 

Tour the fitness / health magazine rack and you will see novelty leaping out at you. Go to the library and find the 1993 or 2003 magazine cover from the same month as the one at the grocery store today and I would guess you will find the same messages repeated. Yet somehow it feels "new," as we look at the covers yet 10 or 20 years ago it was the same messages. 

What's going on? 

I'll add this: commerce often times rests upon novelty. This is actually how it should be. You get something for the novel emergence and innovation it brings to your life. The problem is that we have figured out how to wrap the same thing as if it was genuinely novel. In this climate, we find ourselves being driven by appearances. 

The solution, in part, resides in the cultivation of your brain, nervous system and subjectivity such that you remain in the drivers seat of your attention. You must grow your capacity to manage your mind and attention. When you do this the once seductive charm of novelty loses it's ability to govern and enslave you. 

When you take control of your ability to focus and attend, you take control of your happiness. You begin to find it right here, in this training routine, in this relationship here and in this car you are already in possession of. You can cease to be like a dog chasing its own tail and you can appreciate your life and derive greater pleasure, productivity and proficiency from penetrating into the life that already has you. 

Perhaps this "new" way of attending to your focus and attention may indeed change your life ;-) 

Enjoy, 
~Rob McNamara 

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Movement & the Development of Your Brain

New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds writes, "It's widely accepted among scientists that regular exercise transforms the brain, improving the ability to remember and think." Reynolds goes further pointing to a promising body of research supporting the idea that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. The National Academy of Sciences published a new study showing how testosterone increases in the brain after training could be fueling neurogenesis and brain plasticity.

It turns out your brain likely produces a significant amount of the hormone dihydrotestosterone or DHT (as you might have guessed by the name, a derivative of testosterone). Researchers found that the hippocampus - critical for memory formation and spacial navigation - in particular was bathed in this hormone after training and that new neuron growth likely resulted from DHT's uptake in the brain. Reynolds summarizes this stating, "In essence, exercise prompts the production of more DHT. And more DHT helps to create more new brain cells."

Turning our attention to brain-derived neuro-tropic factor or BDNF we find yet another body of research supporting brain development and training. BDNF is a protein that promotes tissue growth and health throughout your body, including that brain of yours taking in these words. Training increases your levels of BDNF. It is vital in the learning, memory and higher thinking regions of the brain (not to mention it is well established as an important part of the regulation of body weight, in particular fat oxidation in muscle tissue, and energy homeostasis). Of all the chemicals that help stimulate and control neurogenesis, BDNF is perhaps one of the most active. Harvard's clinical professor of psychiatry Dr. John Ratey calls it the "Miracle-Gro" of the brain.

So, if you happen to be interested in enriching your neurons with the right "nutrients" to fire more quickly, grow faster and develop stronger connections then get into your training, NOW!

Furthermore, I can't think of a more rich neurological climate to pick up meditative or contemplative exercises with the power to yield multifaceted transformations throughout your life. Get training and while you're at it you might as well make strength training your new spiritual practice as Strength To Awaken illustrates.

 Enjoy,
~Rob McNamara


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The Weakness of Conventional Goals

To begin, there's nothing inherently wrong with your conventional goals to get stronger, leaner, faster, more powerful and so on. Conventional goals are needed, helpful and in many cases necessary ... AND they are inadequate and insufficient for most people. Conventional goals fail us more often than any of us would like to admit.

Furthermore, if you are interested in your greater abilities as a human being, conventional goals almost always fail to yield post-conventional capacities. Occasionally I see conventional goals creating a training or "practice" environment for eliciting post-conventional capabilities; however, these are what I call a form of "accidental progress." These certainly happen but they are rare (my suggestion is not to wait around for a miracle).


So, conventional goals are good in many ways. The more specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and defined in clear timelines the better, or so the researchers tell us again and again. However, they continue to be ineffective for most of us and they are largely impotent at eliciting integrated adaptations to the complex demands of your life.

We will briefly unpack inefficiency but we will save post-conventional integrated adaptations for another blog. I will que you into some important tips for how you can move forward.

1. First, conventional goals tend to be focused on outcomes. 


That means they happen in the future. Keeping your eye on the future is fine, but if this is the posture of your mind during your training it will take you ten times as long to get to where you want to go. Sometimes much longer. Depending on the specificity of the goal you may never get to your desired destination. There is no short supply of drives for future change that yield negligible results.

2. Conventional goals often obscure the path to getting to your future destination. 


The more your attention goes toward getting to your future destination the less you pay attention to what you're doing right now and how you're doing it. Having a future aim and direction is important; however, these outcome goals only find their pragmatic strength when held in a larger context that focuses your mind upon the specific actions most essential to getting there. This brings into focus how you are engaging in the required activities. Getting the right steps is essential. What you do is paramount, but how you execute and engage the "whats" often differentiates those who achieve more and those who fail to. So once you have your outcome and you know the necessary steps to get there, focusing on the outcome more will often hold you back.

I often use the analogy of a tire making contact with the road to explain this. The broader or wider the tire, the more contact you have with the road. In contrast, skinny narrow tires slip easily because they have very little surface area in contact with the road. Future oriented goals are like narrow tires aimed at getting down the road but they don't do a great job of bringing your attention into the immediacy of activity.

3. Conventional goals require lots of motivation and energy. 


Perhaps you have too much energy and motivation, in which case have at it. But most people lack these often seemingly scarce resources. It takes quite a bit of self-generated mental, emotional and physical energy to get you from today to your goal that may be 6 weeks away or worse yet, 3 or 6 months out. How do you sustain it? This is inevitably what we all end up asking ourselves unless we fear our survival depends upon attaining our goal. Get big enough goals with enough fear and anxiety around failure and sure you'll be "motivated," however we now have a nice recipe for adrenal fatigue, burn out and a life that is stamped with the "you're miserable" stamp across your forehead.

So what's an alternative? 


My recommendation is goals that take aim at the immediacy of your life. Elite athletes call these "process goals" as these are the cues they must focus upon, moment-to-moment, if they are to be successful, in some cases safe. For example, a downhill skier thinking about future goals at 80 miles an hour down a mountain often results in an 80 mile an hour barrel roll down the mountain, hitting snow fencing at 60 mph, a knee surgery and 18 months of rehab.

While this becomes plainly obvious in elite competitions, it is fairly easy to "check out" mentally during strength training and start thinking about your goals - or worse yet, something entirely unrelated. Your mind and body split, and in this separation goes any chance at progressing with greater efficiency. Just like the elite athlete, if you are interested in your higher capabilities it can be found in the integration of body and mind. This means your mind is focused upon the specific cues you need to execute on right here and now.

My book Strength to Awaken gives you what is perhaps the most nuanced set of post-conventional process goals found in any training manual, so if you're interested in diving deeper, don't hesitate. This book can save you decades of wasted effort. For now, I want to challenge you to differentiate between your outcome goals and your process goals.

Outcome goals are established, preferably with an expert, outside of the gym, before your training begins. Process goals are clarified again and again moment-to-moment in your training. Know what you're going to do before you even start. Then, once you begin focus your mind exclusively upon the quality of engagement you have with your training.

Mind and body come together and then the fun begins.

Enjoy
~Rob McNamara

PS: If you're looking for some process goals that might evolve your training, sign up for my free 12 training tips - you'll learn some within these short tips. You can find it in the sidebar at the top of my home page.
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Caution: Don't Train This Way!


Last week at the Integral Center I was fortunate enough to sit down with my Strength To Awaken small group plus a handful of people from around the world visiting Boulder for the Whats Next Conference. Again, motivation was a big topic. I think it is the major challenge for most people when it comes to training.

I'm going to share with you part of what we explored together because it is essential. If you don't get this there's a very good chance you are digging yourself into a ditch that quite honestly you probably don't want to dive into.

Whenever I speak about motivation I end up talking about discipline. They are interwoven in complex and important ways. For those of you who are already receiving my free 12 Training Tips, you'll hear more about this topic there and for those of you with my book Strength to Awaken in your hands already please see Chapter Nine for a deeper dive. Right now though, we are going to cut right to the heart of the problem.

Conventional discipline divides your mind.

Conventional approaches to training divide your mind.

Got those?
Good.

The common element I'd like you to que into is the divided mind.

Is your mind divided now?

Chances are it is. This is a problem. It is actually a very big one although it's probably familiar so you likely aren't that concerned. Having a mind that is divided is kind of like having your kitchen roaring in flames. Go on, picture that. You're in the living room going on as usual simply because you're used to that fire.

A divided mind is in many ways similar to your kitchen engulfed in flames because:
- both block you from nourishment you need.
and …
- both keep you out of places in your life you need to go.

The divided mind can be defined as two or more oppositional drives inside of you with divergent agendas. Part of you is going this way and part is headed that way. Most of the time these discordant drives are in a struggle with precisely what is happening in the present moment.

Strength training, or any kind of training, from this divided mind is a tremendous waste of energy. It is inefficient. It wastes time. It steals your enjoyment and pleasure.

The divided mind is what most adults live in. They haven't grown their mind to become strong enough to unify and cohere a drive that brings the mind into a synergy. Don't get all hard on yourself here, research suggests that less than 1% of adults do… this is our potential not where you "should be already."

So, training with divisions in your mind is the common climate of most people in the gym. And it also shows up in bed, in the office and in cars on the drive home. The problem is that training is supposed to be an activity that you do for a short period of time that carries you forward. Do this and it will take you FORWARD. Training a divided mind may give you some relative physical benefit when compared to a sedentary lifestyle; however, it often fails to draw you forward in any legitimate fashion. Instead, conventional training results in more division within yourself. Mentally you are not training, you're simply rehearsing or repeating. You're getting better at something that you already know how to do.

If you're like most adults you are not in any need on developing the ability to waste time and energy, be inefficient and erode your own joy and pleasure in or out of the gym. I think these come built in, they are not our future but our current predicament.

Stop repeating the habit of dividing your mind when you train. See what happens when you draw your mind into a greater coherence. Divide your mind and will likely find yourself saying that you are "struggling with not having enough motivation" as I hear often. Bring your mind into its larger resonance and direct it completely into the activity of your training and you will discover the heart of discipline. Become your mind's larger coherence and you will save time and energy, you will become more efficient and proficient. You will discover more joy and pleasure. And if you do this in your training you'll be shocked at how simply a unified and coherent mind shows up in other facets of your life.
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The Lie You Believe about Motivation


Most people struggle with motivation in one way or another and when it comes to embodiment, motivation is one of the perennial obstacles.

Most approaches to dealing with the obstacle of motivation, whether it's related to embodiment or something else, lack the architecture to take you from where you are to where you need and want to be. Most approaches are obligatory in nature, coercive by design and pretend that hype or excitement is sufficient. Take a look around and you will see "experts" rousing excitement and energy, manipulating people with the best of intentions (sometimes) and reinforcing obligations.

The problem is 99% of all of these fail and the reason why that 1% does work has little to do with the "expert's" conventions and everything to do with a simple yet profound shift in you.  You and I both know this.

What you might not be aware of is this:
Most people are colluding with the fantasy that you do not have enough motivation, and by getting more (somehow), you can actually get to where you want and need to be.

This is largely wrong.


Your motivation, right now, is sufficient to change the world. The power you possess is immense.  Quite honestly I don't think any of us truly understand, appreciate nor access the strength, elegance and capacity that resides within the human vehicle… right now.

You likely do not lack motivation. There is often something more complex and underlying at work in the human being, which is why so often mainstream approaches to 'change' fall short of being able to bring us to our larger potential as people. So if the amount of motivation is not the real problem, what is?

Meaning-making.


Meaning-making is the essential nutrient for the mind. It's like what oxygen is for the body. Furthermore, meaning-making manifests into each of your cells, the expression of your DNA and literally permeates every facet of your being.

You are doing meaning-making all the time and issues around so-called motivation are just about always rooted in the meaning-making system.

One of the fundamental patterns within human meaning-making is the movement toward significance. When I use this word, I am talking about what matters most, what captures your attention and engagement and what ultimately brings structure to how and what you perceive. Significance is ultimately what draws humanity towards greater and greater degrees of 'progress.' Whatever your meaning-making system holds as significant, take note, you will not have a problem with motivation. It's hardwired in you. You will methodically - sometimes obsessively - pursue that which is significant to you, whether conscious or unconscious.

To be clear I am not talking about what you "think" should be significant in your life. That's one step removed from what you at a fundamental level presume to be significant. Instead, I'm asking you to consider deeper levels of how you engage your world, your relationships, your inspirations and intentions.

Consider this: the vast majority of the elements we hold as significant at a fundamental level are not your's. They belong to the fabric of your culture(s) and have more or less chosen you. It's not the other way around.

For those of you who are more developmentally privileged you know that you can "out grow" your unconscious loyalties to your cultural presumptions as to what holds significance and what does not. By doing so, you can actually start to choose, author and create your central significances that will drive your motivation in life.

But this requires a series of major transformations in developmental complexity to get to this "self-authoring" stage. So when struggling with motivation, one of the short hand assumptions to explore that I use with my clients is that in this particular area of their life, they are perhaps functioning out of socially defined loyalties, or earlier more self-centered modes of complexity that are largely unconscious.

Motivation that is tied up in earlier stages of developmental complexity help fuel the feeling of not having enough motivation. You want to do this, but in a series of unconscious moves you are expending your resources towards maintaining habituations in many other areas of your life. How do we uncover whether this is true for us? We must begin to pay attention to our habits, our inner dialogue, our thoughts and particularly what drives 'motivation.'

Which leads me to embodiment and motivation. We in the West, as far as I can tell, are by and large developmentally stunted around embodiment. This is largely a cultural construct that most of us participate in. It isn't that we aren't capable of being more fully embodied human beings, it means we live within systems that fail to support our emergent embodiment as our larger potential. Embodiment is mis-perceived to mean the "body" as we tend to think about it in the Western medical model. The body is then presumed to be "fundamentally" important - not "significantly" important. When this perspective is inhabited, motivation naturally moves towards other objects, investments, and loyalties in your life and embodiment holds a less significant place.

It is here in the inner architecture of meaning-making that we find the root of "motivation" issues around embodiment. Even in the face of death, human beings all too often fail to un-couple their attention, energy and genuine commitment from their habituated ways of living. That's how strong meaning-making is, it can change the world and it can put you 6 feet under.

So what now?

1. Free your unconscious loyalties and habituations from your historical conditioning. This frees up your motivation to be conducted into your larger significance in life.

2. Closely inspect your meaning-making. This is hard to do on your own. Find someone with greater clarity, elegance, more experience and more flexibility than you possess. Get their help. This is very hard to do on your own because it is precisely your own meaning-making that is often holding you back.

3. Discover what has already chosen you, that is also liberated from cultural conventions, and participate with embodying this greatest significance… Right Now!

For those of you wanting an overhaul on your meaning-making system around embodiment, I want to recommend my book Strength to Awaken. It is "psycho-active" meaning that simply reading it rewires and evolves your own complexity around embodiment. Check it out, you are likely to find yourself inhabiting a different landscape when you think of strength training, embodiment and/or any other movement discipline.

Finally, help me kill the presumption that human beings are lacking motivation. Let's stop colluding with the premise that we lack motivation and start participating with the immense power that is the future of our co-creative evolution.

I'm co-evolving embodiment, right now.

What are you participating in that unfolds your greater elegance as a human being?

Enjoy,
~Rob

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Can Strength Training improve your emotional intelligence?


Strength training may be strengthening your body-mind's capacity for interoception just as much as, perhaps more than, it is strengthening your muscles, connective tissue, and your neurological capacity to innervate muscle fibers through your motor units.

So while strength training is often focused upon conventional measures of strength, power and endurance I propose that strength training may also be effective at strengthening your ability to identify, assess and control emotions.

Interoception, or the perception of the inside of the body, is a central foundation in strength training. The process of feeling down into your body (or part of your body) creates a more "vertically" integrated nervous system. The prefrontal cortex
- the seat of your conscious awareness and decision making center of the brain - connects through the insula down into the body to receive all sorts of information such as heart and breathing rates, tension and fatigue in the muscles, pressure upon the skeletal system, pH levels in the digestive system amongst many others.

Strength training vertically integrates the nervous system which is very similar  to the neurological wiring needed for self-awareness and social attunement. So while you may be focusing on lifting more weight, the interoceptive process required to do so may be fine tuning your neurological capacity for a larger emotional intelligence.

It's likely that through the process of staying calm, open and relaxed in the face of high levels of pain and intensity during your training that some important neurological changes may be under way.

The assessment of when to be reactive and to be receptive that happens in the brainstem might be undergoing some sort of change making you a more receptive human being even under immense stress. As your posterior insula registers your bodily states during your training a more robust connection to your anterior insula (the part that is invariably activated when you are aware of your bodily states) may be developed as you consciously focus on the direct and immediate sensations of training.

This in turn may introduce stronger connections between the anterior insula and your prefrontal cortex. Spindle cells are responsible for precisely this and research supports that as spindle cell density increases, so does the experience of self-awareness.

Strength training, it's usually focused upon waist lines and muscle tissue, but perhaps as we outgrow these limiting orientations we will discover how strength training brings greater plasticity to the nervous system and shapes a more integrative human being.

Enjoy,
~Rob
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Fitness, Spirituality & The Quality of Your Life


Spirituality has two basic drives. It's first drive is for you to be not as defined by the the circumstances of your life. We can call this freedom. You need to be less governed by the events, people and contexts that you find yourself in. When you don't have freedom, the quality of your life suffers and you remain entrenched in the limitations of your life as it presently is.

The second drive of spirituality is for you to be more present, connected and engaged with your life. We can call this fullness. While you need to be less governed by the circumstances of your life (freedom) you also need to be more present to what is going on in your life. The quality of your life erodes when you become less connected and engaged with what is happening. Attuning to your relationships, vocation as well as your self that is in the world improves your life and the quality of the lives of those around you.

Fitness used to be optional. Generically speaking we can say that "back in the day" evolutionarily speaking movement and survival were intrinsically connected. You had to move to hunt and gather, often times throughout much of the day light. Today we live in a different world where many of us are what we can call "knowledge" workers. If you are a knowledge worker you gain the means to support yourself by creating, following and managing information flow. If this is you then you can spend large portions of your life without moving much. You can spend the vast majority of your days inside a small circumference facing some piece or pieces of technology and or people. In the meantime, movement spikes while walking to the bath room, someone else's movement circumference (office) or to get into your car to then sit still while technology loco-motes you.


Lifestyles that support sedentary patterns will kill you.


Biologically speaking inactivity sends powerful messages to your body and they sound like this: "you are sick" or "you are dying." Chronic persistent inactivity meant you were sick or dying 10,000 years ago. Today ongoing inactivity sends the same biological messages.

The result, many of us need fitness. Our lives depend upon it in a very direct way. You need an intentional period, each day, to rigorously move your body. Please note, I said "each day" as 3 days a week is not enough. Each day you are not vigorously moving your body you are likely shortening your life. Fail to move and you are actively drawing death just a bit closer to you. So whatever you do, move!

But it is not enough to just move your body every day. Fitness needs spirituality. Movement needs to refine both your ability to be more free from the circumstances of your life as well as your ability to be fully present in the circumstances of your life.

Sadly much of the movement that happens as people move their bodies is an expression of dissociation. Movement that is divorced from attention is a form of dissociation. If your attention is not placed on or into your movement you are likely dissociating from your fitness. I often see people on the stair stepping machines, stationary bicycles, treadmills and the like exercising as they read the latest issues of fitness, fashion and sports magazines. Occasionally I see folded up sections of the today's newspaper in front of glazed over eyes. Or, better yet, they are watching TV as CNN's latest coverage of the political campaign to the White House flickers before their eyes.

Fitness is often riddled with dissociation. Dissociation is a function of not having enough freedom yet simultaneously being unable to be present in life. You dissociate precisely where you are too controlled by the circumstances of life and unable to be present in your life. That's when you "check out" so to speak.

The body is perhaps one of the most challenging dimensions of life. Most adults have tremendous difficulty not being dictated by the embodied circumstances and thus they have immense limitations when it comes to being present to their embodied sensations (this shows up by stunting results yielded in fitness and in every other facet of adult life). Many adults have yet to grow, reinforce and strengthen the neurological wiring and processing power to be genuinely free from their body yet at the same time present in the fullness of their body.

Fitness is an ideal training ground to grow the faculties of spirituality. Next time you train, don't “check out” to what's going on in your body. Check in. Turn your attention into and upon the embodied sensations of movement. You'll find that you will yield much more in return.

Enjoy,
~Rob
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Habituation, the enemy that is closer than we like to admit


A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents discussing how my book is landing with their congregation and friends. My mom said to me, "one question I've gotten a few times is, What is habituation?" Considering I mention "habituation" or "habituated" over 160 times throughout a 263 page book, this question is a big deal.

Here's how I define it: "habituation is at its essence an automatic response."

I continue on to say, "It's opposite is the conscious presence and agency for intentional action. Habituation has two sides. On the one hand some of your automatic conditioned responsiveness is absolutely necessary for your fluid functioning in life. On the other hand some of the automated responses deteriorate your conscious presence and erode your capacity to intentionally direct your life."


I spend so much time exploring habituation for a few reasons.

1) Habits stand squarely in between you and the change your heart genuinely desires.

2) Some of the most entrenched habits you possess are organized around how you move & don't move.

Interestingly, I have not seen books on fitness or strength training that adequately address how to work with the immensity of habituation (yet another reason why I wrote Strength To Awaken).

3) As those of you who have read part one of Strength To Awaken know, some of the root habits your conventional self uses to define itself are organized and structured to keep you from the happiness you simultaneously desire. That's right, these habituated attempts at happiness actually wall you off from true happiness.

So, if you want heartfelt change that matters to you, if you are interested in embodying these changes in a full way throughout the movements of your life, and if you're interested in happiness then habituation is something to investigate with rigor, right now.

Some habits support. Notice that the fluidity you may feel as you walk has a lot to do with habituation. There's a plethora of neurophysiological processes that make you proficient in walking. It took you years to master this. This is just one example of how habits can support higher level functioning.  To a certain extent, we need habits.

Yet, some habits inhibit, close down, and collapse your conscious presence, ability for autonomous functioning and capacity for adaptation. For example, you may waste energy as you hold unnecessary tension in your shoulders, hips, back and legs. This chronic tension rigidifies your body and mind in both subtle and not so subtle ways. This habituation may stem from a neuro-psychological defense pattern established early on in life.

One massive habituation, one of the most pervasive enemies that you, me and most of our friends, family and colleagues keep too close, is the habituated preference for comfort. Sometimes your habituated strategies to be comfortable are completely harmless and should be celebrated. Other times, though, these unconscious strategies steal your larger capacities as a human being.

When you withdraw from life - whether that be in your training, relationships, and/or professionally, because of some uncomfortable experience - you may be stepping back from the life you are more deeply called to be living. This is where comfort stands in distinct opposition to one of your life's greatest pleasures: living your purpose.

Next time you see your habituated preference moving you toward the most comfortable route, evaluate it. Do not blindly follow and trust your automatic responses to be comfortable. Pause, feel into the discomfort, and assess whether going through the discomfort may be of service to your larger purpose in life.

Regardless of what you discover, freeing yourself up from habituation strengthens you psychologically. Every time you see your habits (and thus are not identified as them) your self gets bigger (more inclusive), more flexible, and more capable. Liberating yourself from the comfort habit enables you to trade in for greater aliveness. Does this greater aliveness have more pain? Often times it does, and it also comes with greater multifaceted pleasure as well.

Enjoy,
~Rob

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Why You Can't Learn Your Way Out of Limiting Habits


Habits are a challenging obstacle for everyone. Whether you are trying to get to the gym more consistently, attempting to change how you show up in an intimate relationship, growing out of some old patterns that are holding you back at work or simply trying to attune to your child that's challenging your preferences, habits hold you back.

My book Strength To Awaken is an in depth exploration of how to work with habituation for precisely this reason. If you want to change in any area of life, you must confront the habits that hold you. In many challenges learning new strategies, applying new techniques to some area of your life or training yourself to behave differently largely fail. To put this into the words of Robert Kegan, Harvard's professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development, you don't need "technical change" but instead you require "adaptive change." Strength To Awaken is an adaptive approach to working with limiting habits.


If you needed technical change you wouldn't still be struggling with trying to change. Learning a new technique or appling a different strategy would have already worked. The persistent challenges, the type of change that bumps up against your more entrenched habits, requires adaptive changes. This means you must qualitatively grow the complexity and size of your psyche. If you don't grow, that is undergo adaptive change, the habits of your life have you, possess you and thereby govern you. Instead of being captured by your habits you need to possess your habits.

This all important shift is the process of growth and development. One psyche is smaller than the habituations thereby allowing limiting habits to have, hold and govern you. The psyche that has undergone adaptive change is larger, more complex and thus capable of holding, governing and mediating habits. Instead of struggling with limiting habits adaptive change allows you to set limits on your habits which is a remarkable transformation.

When ever you are working toward changes that require adaptive growth, consider a these points:

1. What would you have to experience if you actually did change?

Typically your habits are organized around you NOT experiencing facets of yourself and your history. Deep change work (whether that's losing 20 pounds of fat and gaining 10 lbs of muscle, taking responsibility for creating intimacy in your relationship and self-regulating yourself in the face of contact that creates anxiety or establishing new leadership capacities in your organization that require you to hand off greater responsibility and freedom to your team) almost always places you face to face with facets of experience that you are equally if not even more so committed to not experiencing.

Identify what you are likely to experience, physically, emotionally and mentally as well as socially and perhaps economically. Moving this commitment into your awareness shifts essential dimensions of your limiting habits from subject (that which holds you) to object (that which you hold).

2. Make an explicit commitment to yourself to metabolize these unseen and guarded facets of your experience.

If you don't feel through and welcome these facets of your experience you will likely not change. Move neglected, guarded and strategically avoided facets of experience into awareness. Clarify these objects and make commitments to experience these parts of your life without manipulation.

3. Live into the decisions that most serve your life (not necessarily the ones that most serve your habituated sense of comfort).

Move habits from subject to object. Learning new strategies, approaches and or techniques will not result in the change you desire if the change requires adaptive growth. Learning adds tools but often fails to bring underlying habits into the light of your attention. This movement from subject to object frees you up to live into the decisions that support your well-being, excellence and elegance as a human being.

Enjoy,
~Rob
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The Fitness Revolution



When we think of fitness revolutions our minds habitually go toward some "fad" or some "new" trend that does indeed change the landscape of "fitness" for a short while.

This isn't what I am talking about.

Most fads and "new" trends in fitness adhere to the same socially conditioned aims. As long as a fitness movement does not have a genuinely novel orientation, one that is liberated from the social habituations that we are all scripted in, there is no revolution in sight.

None at all.

Fitness as I am re-framing and re-claiming the term here is not interested in shaping your body in some socially habituated aim. 


This isn't to say that through this fitness movement, your body may begin to shape and inhabit joy in ways you never considered and perhaps in the process some of these changes may shape you in ways that society looks at and says "yes, I want that" in a deeply conscious way. But, this is not the point.

Maintain your clarity and do not fall into an unconscious loyalty with your social conditioning.

Fitness actually has little to do with the way you look or appear. Fitness as I invite you to relate to this term and practice is something quite different.

The fitness revolution I invite you into is your capacity, ability and skill to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment. Here it is again…

Fitness is your capacity to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this, and every, moment.

This is your true "fit-ness" and, as you can see, this does not have much to do with the shape of your body, the measurements and stats your body possess nor the desires and aims you aspire to.

This fitness revolution serves your liberated embodiment.

If you're like most people you require training for the type of fitness I am pointing at requires you decoupling yourself from your unconscious habituations. We are not trying to get your body "more fit" in the conventional sense. We are cultivating your ability to fit your conscious participation into the larger immediacy of your life.

Try it!

It is "hot!"
Meaning, this is an alive, liberated, joyful and deeply engaged embodiment of the full unmediated immediacy of your life.

The next time you find yourself looking at something that's claiming to be "revolutionary" put it to the fire to see if it's aims are genuinely liberated from social conventions. Likely you will see that it's the same old intention, aim and goal wrapped in a new costume jumping around like a clown saying "get me and you'll be happy!"

I recommend using these as wake up calls.

There are many!

If you're like me, you need MANY!

Say thank you and move on, cut through and deepen the participatory immediacy that is always already holding you, co-merging with and as you.

And if you're like me, you can use a conventional tool - strength training - to yield unconventional aims with unconditioned results.

Join me!
Explore fitness from this lens. Engage your yoga from here, ride your bike from here,  sit on your meditation fusion from here, cook dinner tonight from here, write your e-mail from here, run from here, read this blog from here.

Fitness, the ability to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment.

Enjoy your revolution.

Big Love
~Rob

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Performance or Preference, Which Do You Serve?


Performance, genuine elegant performance, requires that you step beyond your habituated preferences.

Performing within the sphere of your conditioned preferences is never an expression of your highest levels of elegance and achievement, but instead rote repetition. While repetition is necessary for performance, it is not sufficient.

Habituation serves adequacy. Preferences are most often in slavery to comfort. Performance moves with elegance. There is a mysterious effectiveness and grace that is simple, direct, fluid and refined. Look into your peak gestures of performance, I think you know what I am talking about. Put simply performance celebrates what is beautiful - not our cultures conventions around beauty - I'm talking about the heart and essence of beauty. I'm talking about your complete rapture in and as the simple movement of joy.


When you train today, when you pick up injunctions to engage your full embodied experience, start with the intention to explore your experience outside of the boundaries and limitations of your habituated preferences. If your preference is not to train the larger sphere of the elegance that is your emergent beauty, all the better!

Cut through preferences and I think you'll find something much more precious, or rather something precious will take hold of you.

Enjoy!
~Rob
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The Religion of Strength


A couple of weeks ago I was sitting on a bench in my gym recovering between sets when one of the guys who regularly trains there (who also happens to embody what I would consider a more rigorous practice than most) asked, "Did you just write a book on training?" I smiled and said yes, pausing for a moment as I searched for the best way to talk about my book in this moment; he continued about a coworker who was talking about Strength to Awaken and he said my book was like the religion of strength training.

I had to take a moment to really consider this framing - I was hung up on the word "religion" for what is probably an obvious reason. Religion has a lot of baggage. But as I softened into the phrase, "the religion of strength," I said, "Yeah, I guess you could call it the religion of strength training."

We dove into a really cool, yet brief, exchange, right there in the gym. He said something to the extent of, "I never thought of training like that before, but I've started to see how this has been a center for me in my life for years." We continued on from there; two things are still lingering with me.


1. The Religion of Strength & 2. Practices that help us find our "Center."


The Religion of Strength has started to grow on me since it was planted in my awareness. The term Religion is rooted in the concepts of bonding, to bind together and to join or re-join. It is in this sense (moving in a similar direction with William James' orientation on religious experience) that my book is absolutely a religion of strength and this is indeed one of the larger purposes of strength training. It is to join you with your larger strength as a human being and re-join you with facets of your strength that have become forgotten, obscured or lost in some fashion.

Training in this context is significantly different from what we often think of as training to get stronger in the conventional sense. Religion, at least in my mind, implies some form of worship and rigorous practice. So, how do we worship in the most mundane of places?

This what my book, at least in part, is about. But let's dive into a substantive response to this question right now.

The larger maturity of who you are is always yoking together, joining and integrating polarities. The sacred and the profane, pain and pleasure, being separate and being connected, being and becoming as well as freedom and responsibility (naming several) are held in a spontaneous conversation, with one always informing and co-creating and mutually establishing the other.

Your conventional self typically prefers to attempt to establish a static position, organized around preferences, that is in conflict with the other polarity. In strength training, or any form of rigorous physical training, the classic example is to prefer pleasure which is in conflict with pain. The attempt to get stronger in this context involves avoiding pain, which, as my book unpacks in greater depth, turns into a habituated strategy to maintain as much comfort as possible.

This is perhaps the most inefficient way to become stronger because it is not strength that is worshipped, but rather comfort. 


As most of you are aware, genuine pleasure always involves some conversation or exchange with pain. These two are not as separate as our conventional selves often presume. So today, my invitation to you is to bind, join and bond your awareness with  the dimension of you that holds, embraces and participates with polarities. Embody the self that is literally larger than polarity, and thereby able to integrate and participate in their joining.

Perhaps it is precisely this ability - to embody and participate with the full spread of polarity - that is more connected with "strength" than our conventional orientations. Perhaps it is stepping beyond our false simplicity of choosing this over that where we can find our more true, complex and beautiful center.

Let's build and discover this strength together today.

Practice Strong,
~Rob
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Do You Need More Muscle?

Building muscle should be a priority for everyone especially for adults over the age of 22 to 25. Around this time you started to lose muscle cells. When you lose muscle cells you lose muscle mass. When you lose muscle mass two important measures start to erode: 1. Metabolic Rate and 2. Muscle Strength. 

When your metabolism slows down, it becomes much easier to put a layer of fat on your body that you simply don’t need (or want). Worse yet you’re likely lining your organs with fat, which has serious long term health considerations. One thing you might not be aware of is that your body interprets the deposit of fat on your organs as a stressor. This stress in turn sets off a series of biological processes that make you more likely to store more fat (both the fat that you see on your body as well as the fat you don’t see on your organs). So fat triggers a stress response which in turn stimulates more fat storage which, you guessed it, produces more stress (Nice cycle eh?).


Here’s what you probably don’t know. 

Chronic stress shrinks your brain (yeah, read that again... your brain gets smaller and likely less integrated). Stress also shrivels the ends of your chromosomes in your cells accelerating cellular aging and predisposes you to anxiety and depression to point a just a few negative effects of stress. The physical stress of fat is obviously just one piece to a larger puzzle but for many this is a serious obstacle. Many live in what is now frequently being called an obesity epidemic, at least that’s what a broad selection of experts on the subject matter tell us. 

This lowering of your metabolism is one of the major problems because week to week you are likely to eat about the same amount of food. If you are losing muscle cells week in and week out you don’t need as many calories. Those extra calories, as we all know, end up in places that you don’t want - especially if you’re biologically functioning in chronic stress. Oddly it appears that the larger the belly, the greater the duration of stress and thus the smaller and less integrated the brain becomes. Yes, all this just from losing muscle mass and this is just a sliver of the impact of losing muscle mass.

Take a deep breath and liberate yourself from your habits of mind around what you prefer and how you relate to your lifestyle. You need muscle mass. Muscles are like a sponge soaking up nutrients that you consume. Simultaneously they are like a furnace creating immense amounts of heat burning off stress through movement. Generally speaking the more muscle you have, the greater the effects. As such, your life and the quality of your life is in many ways dependent upon your muscle mass.

Your life and the quality of your life is in many ways dependent upon your muscle mass.  


If you’re concerned about getting big and bulky muscles, remember muscles are the engines of what keeps us all lean. Adding 2 lbs of muscle will burn about 10 lbs of fat over the course of the year. That’s losing 8 lbs the healthy sane way. The interesting truth is that if you’re trading in fat for muscle, you get smaller, not bigger. Muscle is immensely dense, fat spreads out and takes up lots of space. Lose fat and gain muscle and you will see your measurements go down. As a long term strategy (I am talking about spread out over 2-10 years you can augment training methodologies that heighten the cultivation of size or avoid size gains. Most elite athletes avoid size gains like the plague, yet they train rigorously. If you don’t want to get bigger over the long run (once you have gotten most of the fat off your body and organs), there are many intelligent approaches to keeping your muscles powerful and efficient without gaining size. 

If you are like most adults though, you need more mass right now. 


Muscle strength cannot be reduced to a “macho” thing that you may or may not not be attracted to. The larger truth relevant for everyone is this: You need muscle strength, this is a pragmatic fact. 

If you don’t believe me go volunteer at a nursing home for a week. It will dramatically change your perception of strength and what happens to your quality of life when you can’t move around freely. Muscle strength determines freedom of movement perhaps more than any other single factor and science tells us that strength is positively correlated with quality of life. When you lose strength you also lose quality of your life. It’s that simple.

One of the questions everyone is wise to address is this: Does your day to day lifestyle increase your capacity to move about freely with greater ease and more flexibility? If you can not say yes to this, consider breaking out of your conditioned lifestyle that presently holds you. If you are not moving towards becoming more, then you’re slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, eroding the quality of your life. 

Strength and metabolism do not have to decline with age. In fact, it appears that these decline more in concert with lifestyle than with your chronological age. Strength training is a massively (perhaps the most) powerful way to reverse both of these measures as you grow older.

Strength To Awaken is the most integrated approach to strength training you will find on the planet. Greater integration means greater results. Train smart, learn to engage whole-heartedly into the discipline of strength training as this book does and you will enjoy multifaceted adaptations that will likely serve every facet of your life.

Enjoy
~Rob



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When you Should and Shouldn't Train for Size


Size, it's a major focus point in the field of strength training. Unfortunately size is not properly understood so I am going to chime in on a few things.

1. You need more muscle mass. 


If you haven't followed my blog on why - you need to read it here. Muscle mass generally makes you smaller until you have gotten your body fat down to fairly low levels. So for most people, training to gain more muscle mass means you'll trade very dense muscle tissue for very dispersed adipose tissue (this is especially the case when you refine your nutrition to support muscle growth and fat loss). Get bigger muscles & you get smaller. This is the kind of size that's good for most people.

2. Athletes, slow down! 


If you happen to be a aspiring athlete who wants to get bigger and stronger... slow down!


I remember coming back my senior year in college and telling my lacrosse coach that I had gained 10 pounds of muscle. He was sitting in his office studying game tapes and here was his two year captain rolling in telling him that I gained 10 pounds of muscle since last season. What do you think his response was?

He got angry.

He knew all too well what this typically means. To him, I was telling him something along these lines, "Hey coach, I trained really hard and got slower for you... but I look good on the beach."

What was my response?

I said, "Coach, I gained 10 pounds of muscle and...I got faster. I am faster than last season."

That's when he got excited.

Gaining muscle in the conventional sense typically slows you down. Training methodologies that are designed to just build muscular size (these have become the most popular and wide spread) are not the exercises that likely you should be doing. You want to build muscular power, joint integrity and your ability for something I was talking about yesterday with a young athlete - progressive acceleration.

If you gain muscle, make sure you're doing it in a way that builds more starting power, better joint integrity and higher measures of progressive acceleration. If you're doing this your coach will be happy with what happens come competition. Athletes, whenever possible consult with seasoned experience working with athletes at the highest levels of your discipline. Learn what they are doing and employ these methodologies strategically.

In most cases you will find out that you want to avoid size like the plague, unless size is also making you neurologically more powerful, explosive, dynamic, flexible and more insulated from possible injury. If size is slowing you down, chances are you're training yourself out of being competitive.

3. The real size everyone needs.

Here is what 99% of the discourse on size is missing. While you may or may not want more physical size, you should be training to inhabit more of your psychological size. That's right you want your sense of self to be bigger, broader, more inclusive and integrative.

You need a bigger self.

Training can grow your sense of self such that you are larger than culture. This means that you are bigger than social conventions. Social norms don't drive you, your larger intelligence directs you. The self that's smaller than culture is directed by culture. The self that's larger is the one doing the directing that stems from a larger integrity. This self is big, but to be perfectly honest it's not big enough.

If you're interested in training to become larger my book Strength To Awaken is perhaps the most nuanced discourse on the subject matter. I show you how to cultivate a self that is bigger than polarities. A self that is larger than the dualities of pain and pleasure is a massively large self that is capable of an elegance that smaller, less integrative selves can not even dream of.

The next time you dive into your training I recommend focusing on what size of self you are training. Are you "exercising" your self that is smaller than your socially constructed habits or are you training the self that is larger than your habituation? Are you playing inside the conditioning of pain and pleasure or are you playing in a self that is outside of this conditioned box?

And for those of you who are worried about having a big self, or a "big ego" as it might be referred to... relax. We are not talking about inflating the ego's sense of self importance to monumental proportions. We are instead talking about growing your ego functions to massively powerful and refined levels such that you can regulate social pressures, personal habits that may hold you back as well as unresolvable polarities. These become facets that you participate with, manage and regulate instead of being managed and regulated by them.

Expand your sense of self, train to grow a larger more capable self and you will likely be served in every other facet of life.

Big Love
~Rob
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The Evolution of You & Integral Practice


In my book Strength to Awaken I outline a system and philosophy of practice that steps beyond much of the current formulations around integral practice.

The old school model, whether you're talking about Ken Wilber's ILP (integral life practice) or Michael Murphy's ITP (integral transformative practice), they are both rooted in a sequential engagement of all of your major faculties. Both approaches totally rock and they have been robust approaches that are genuine strides forwards in the technology of evolving human complexity. And one of their central limitations is that neither explicitly in a rigorous way engage the integral nature of who you are in the immediacy of this moment.

How do you train this?

That's what my book is all about.

Sequence is an inherent part of life, and the natural unfolding of your schedule takes care of the sequential nature of practice. Pick up an integral framework and take it to heart and you will find an integral practice much like Wilber and Murphy propose organically forming in your schedule. Whatever you genuinely value, you will see it showing up in your schedule.

However, If you're like most people then you are likely in need of an upgrade from a sequential approach to integral practice to the robust discipline of the full unmediated participation with this immediacy.
This my friends is where your mature integral consciousness resides and as long as you temporally project your aliveness and complexity through time - or sequence - you're playing in the integral minor leagues.

From what I can tell we need more people inhabiting, embodying and participating with the honors curriculum of human development and this brings me to the maturation of integral consciousness and ultimately the maturation of...You.

Following yesterday's post - the vast majority of people relate to integral practice and state training from a conventional stage of complexity (or below). Let's look at some of the meaning making around these conventions.

"I am meditating"
"I had a non-dual experience"
"I am working on stabilizing my Witness"

These are just a few brief examples of conventional stages of interpretation regarding state-training and in the context of integral practice we might find someone saying,

"I am going to work on my body line tonight in yoga and I've got a shadow session tomorrow afternoon with my therapist and I'm going to try to meditate tonight before I go to sleep."

"I am doing a surrender practice following my strength training session, then I am going to do some journaling. This evening after work I'm working on my cognitive line of development by studying this amazing author's Blog. It's Rob McNamara, ever heard of him?"

Shameless promoting, I know ;-)

This kind of discourse happens all the time in the integral community and it is likely to happen within your own private narrative as well.

This is all conventional because it presumes that you - your sense of self - is distinct, whole and complete from the various objects that you are negotiating. Meditation times, contemplative states of consciousness, the physical, emotional, relational, and mental parts of an integral practice. This is through and through conventional.

Ok, I'm going to let you in on a little secret… ok so it's a BIG secret. Mature Integral Consciousness has an entirely different relationship to Integral Theory and Practice than the vast majority of people are participating with. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

…. that was exciting wasn't it?
Ok, now that we had our exciting secret you can tell anyone you want :-)

The vast majority of the integral movement has been enveloped by conventional stages of meaning making, I know… take it easy - it's OK. Ask yourself this question, Have you used integral theory to "evolve" or "develop" a more distinct, more distinctive, more complete sense of self?

Next, look around your integral circles and take note, Are they using integral theory to create, establish and fortify a more distinct, separate and complete sense of self? Are the constantly yearning to grasp the whole of integral theory by reading all the books, taking the advanced trainings and coaching with the supposed brightest minds?

This is often the landscape… Chances are you're doing this on some level and so is just about everyone else around you. For those of you who are sympathetic to the whole integral notion of being lonely in your developmental vantage point, float your rib cage gently forward, allow your crown to lift, soften your belly and allow this to penetrate through every facet of you.

Part of this is true, good and beautiful & the part virtually nobody talks about (because few people see it as an object in their complexity) is that your perceived isolation stems from your conventional stage of development. Yep, that's right, this felt sense largely stems from your conventional stage, not from your post conventional stages. Think of it as a symptom of "Integral Infancy."

The job of your conventional stage of development is to cultivate and establish a separate, distinct, complete self that is functionally autonomous. You can set your own boundaries, take stands for what you value most, clearly communicate, be loyal to who you are or who you can become depending on the circumstance. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

You are a complete, distinct self that interacts with the world. Oh, and if you do this really well with a high degree of competence, you feel alone, isolated and wondering how to bridge the gap between where you are - you "separate, discrete" self and those other people over there. Take this implicit conventional drive and jack it up on something like AQAL and of course you're going to feel even more "isolated" and hungry for community.

If you happen to have already established some sense of mastery over the "autonomous, discrete and distinct self" then it's time for the "honors track" as Robert Kegan calls it.

Right now your greater emergence is embedded in participating with the larger complexity that is here holding you and working you. Feeling isolated is only one pole of the larger truth that participates you. The dialectic of separateness and connectedness is fluid in your novel emergence into your larger more beautiful maturity. In fact, the interconnectedness of the immediacy of this moment is interpenetrating throughout you in an alive dynamic way. While your separateness and distinctness flowers into an even greater fullness, this is no longer a fixed consolidated position but an open interpenetrable incompleteness that's born from an uncommon intimacy with everything.

Enjoy!

Your sense of self that embodies your larger complexity is not distinct, not separate, not complete. Your search for greater wholeness - when not ejected into transcendent states of consciousness - actually inhabits your unconditioned incompleteness. The larger complexity that is holding you, working you, co-creating you is fundamentally incomplete, partial, open and a unique flux of interpenetrating unresolvable dialectics.

BAM!!!

...as always, more to come :-)

Big Love
~Rob


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The Future of Spiritual Praxis


Spiritual Praxis is, by and large, a progressive exploration of more and more subtle and transcendental states of awareness leading up to the simple, direct, unmoving dynamic that is your unmediated and obvious liberation. The vast spectrum of paths, practices and discourses around the world are an investigation into ever more expansive states of consciousness. Throw away the many labels and the differing value systems that rest upon divergent states of consciousness and you have one massive tradition, one broad lineage of human beings that are yoking their awareness from their habituated identities that consolidate limitations where liberations belong.

Let us all give a huge, wide open bow to the billions of human beings that have carved forth these groves of wakefulness. Both those who are here, alive in practice today and the many that are no longer animating their known and unknown forms. Whether you're alive, died 5000, 2000, 100 years ago or if the great Cessation raptured you yesterday - there is a Silent Space beyond all habituated movement that shines a calm simple gratitude. That's for all of us :-)


There is a new form of spiritual praxis that is emerging. By new, I mean an explicit supra-developmentally-organized-practice picked up with an explicit developmental aim. Implicitly we have been participating with this since our origins, but it is only very recently that we have begun to pick up these novel forms of spirituality to explicitly participate with our evolving developmental complexity.

This new praxis is not the investigation, stabilization and realization of greater states of consciousness, rather it stems from the investigation of structure stages of consciousness. This has largely been born through modern Western psychological research methodologies, but more specifically it stems from an even more rarified specialization into studying the highest known levels of developmental maturity. So while childhood developmental psychology might not be disclosing these novel spiritual practices, the study of the highest levels of complexity of adult development is disclosing something profoundly new for spiritual practice.

Why?

These maps of our most privileged stages of maturity (development is a privilege, one of the central ones) can be used as a type of pointing out instruction. They point to novel ways of relating to everything. These maps disclose new subjective world spaces of self-organization with greater functional capacities for engaging life. They can tell most of us about our own developmental future and our larger ability to respond to the complexities of life. It takes what is called the "emergent unconscious" and points the spot light of wakeful attention into this area of the unconscious. What happens is stunning.

What I have been doing is inviting people to participate with their larger complexity by providing developmental injunctions that yokes them out of their embedded structure stages and invites them into their larger aliveness, elegance and authenticity.

Something powerful often happens when this occurs and it is very different than the more known and practiced explorations of states of consciousness. I brought some of this teaching to my instruction at the Integral Spiritual Experience a couple of years ago and I had a number of people telling me that my sessions were the most significant of their experience of the entire event. I've been leveraging this technology with coaching and psychotherapy clients, in my classrooms with my students and in my own practice life and my sense is there is something deeply vital, cutting edge and pragmatic about this approach.

Translating our highest known levels of maturity into practice injunctions appears to facilitate development dramatically and from my vantage point is a different form of spirituality.

So what does this mean? I've got a few thoughts for us here.

1. Spiritual teachers are wise to pick up developmental injunctions to shape and refine their own teaching methodologies and to refine the complexity with which they interpret the states of consciousness their traditions explore.

2. Spiritual practitioners (who has more or less stabilized conventional adult stages of development) are served by picking up injunctions in both state training and structure-stage training.

3. Integral spiritual teachers should be required to rigorously study these developmental maps with an expert who has access to at least some of the highest known forms of meaning-making. Reading about these maps on your own is a great start, but it is not sufficient just as reading about states is no substitute for actual state-refining practices. Teachers need developmental structure stage transmission and the continual re-organizing of experience into their larger complexity. Without this spiritual teachers are extremely susceptible to consolidating their meaning making, teaching and practice injections around levels of complexity that lack the larger elegance that evolution is demanding.

4. Spiritual teaching, instruction and practice is most effective and efficient when the rigorous state-training methodologies are being translated through some of the most privileged stages of maturity. We need novel systems, new traditions, and a larger methodology for holding the most privileged developmental stages as a new requisite for spiritual instruction.

Finally, we need ongoing open inquiries and a full, unmediated participation with the mystery of developmental complexity amongst our genuine leading edge. What does this practice community look like? How do we support one another? How do we challenge one another? There is no terminus to development, and one of our most important responsibilities that is co-creating us moment to moment is our unknowable evolutionary possibility. We must Submit to this participatory-immediacy.

The practice injunctions I speak of are to follow. I'm developing a course to teach at The Integral Center here in Boulder CO. I just met on this last week so I'll be sharing some of this with you in the coming weeks. If you're hungry for some of it now, tear into my book Strength to Awaken as it's littered with developmental injunctions to yoke you into your greater embodiment.

Enjoy,
~Rob

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Aliveness and the Survival Habit


Ask yourself this simple question: Do you want aliveness?

Chances are you answered yes to this inquiry. There is some facet of the human being that desires, yearns and searches for the sensate quality of aliveness. While there may be times where you cannot find this part of yourself, the vast majority of us can access this desire most of the time when asked.

But, What precisely is aliveness?

This is a rich inquiry yet defining it is less rewarding than actually feeling it, which is what interests me and I hope sparks something precious in you. The facet of you that desires aliveness is less concerned with looking at aliveness objectively and more invested in subjectively inhabiting the feeling of being alive.

Aliveness, at least from my present vantage point, has at least one central obstacle: survival. I know at first that sounds absurd, but let me explain.


If you are like most adults, you have two basic ways of engaging each moment. The first constellates around engrained survival strategies and the second organizes around the quality of your life. Survival strategies are perhaps the most habituated ways of functioning available while the inquiry into what births your greatest quality of life is something that requires liberated space to even ponder.

Let's be clear out of the gate here, your survival strategies are rarely organized in such a way that they actually support the ongoing enrichment of the quality of your life. Read that again… It's important. At each moment you have a choice, do I want to "survive" (which often implies feeling less) or do I want to qualitatively improve my life (which often requires feeling more)?

Survival habituations are root organizations in your way of being that protect you from threats. This is great, except something has gone off course when you habitually stop feeling because the sensate experience feels threatening. Perhaps the most basic habituation I am aware of that does this is the shift from feeling consciousness to thinking consciousness.

To be clear here, I am not talking about the full conscious participation with dynamic thought which is inextricably woven to feeling consciousness. I am talking about the habituated movement of consciousness out of feeling and into conditioned scripts that unplug you from your larger complexity.

This larger complexity is what fascinates me because it is only here that any of us can find our emergent elegance that can co-create our greater quality of life. Birthing this is qualitatively distinct from merely surviving.

This brings us to the topic of embodiment. Dis-embodiment is most often our preferred survival strategy. This is a good thing. I can tell you first hand as I faced death face to face some facet of my being pulled the eject handle and with it I was spared the panic, open terror, anxiety and raw pain of suffocating to death from an asthma attack. Yes I mean dead, passed out, not breathing, can't find a pulse, body turned grey dead. My consciousness followed this ride only so far until I found myself "somewhere else."

But if you happen to be like me, your survival strategies also unplug you from the immediacy of your life when experience gets uncomfortable. Chances are you've got some missing discernment in your core survival strategies which do not distinguish from being in actual danger and experience being uncomfortable and no longer fitting habituated preferences.

Survival strategies working for habituated preferences, needless to say this is not a recipe for human elegance that embraces your larger complexity. Find out just what is your actual window of tolerance to experience your full unmediated embodied experience. Where is the actual limit and where is the habituated limitation? These are very different!

I think you will find that your larger complexity is freed up from many of the habituated closures from feeling. If you are like me, you are likely to find that the larger complexity that you are able to participate with is rooted in feeling through the full open immediateness that is right here regardless of preferences.

In this rich texture and tapestry of the open embrace of pain and pleasure I think you will find a wellspring of aliveness that simply does not reveal itself to human beings bound to habituated survival strategies.

Enjoy!

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Life Hack at The Integral Center

Join Rob McNamara as he guides readers through a 10 week tour of his book Strength To Awaken. Rob’s personalized tour reshapes your basic understanding of the purpose of training, provides never before seen instruction on the inner dimensions of training and performance while inviting you into what McNamara calls Whole Hearted Engagement. Enjoy rare clarity as you are taken beyond the conventions and limitations presently holding you back in your training.



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