So familiar and overwhelmingly warm, this one, this form I hold now….
We barely remember what came before this precious moment,
Choosing to be here right now. Hold on, stay inside…
This body holding me, reminding me that I am not alone in
This body makes me feel eternal. All this pain is an illusion.
As a teen, I had a custom-made T-shirt that said across the front, “Take My Pain”, and then, across the back, “You Couldn’t”.
The shirt had multiple meanings. It was a challenge to those around me, a challenge to those in my vicinity—try as you might to endure what I choose to put myself through, try as you might to sit close to the flame, you will be burned, and you will not be able to handle the intensity, so try as you might, you could not take my pain.
It was a statement of fact to those around me, a simple truism, a fact of reality with which one could not negotiate—try as you might to help me through hard times, try as you might to be my friend and confidant and assistant, I had to figure out this world on my own, and face my ordeals solo, so try as you might, you could not take my pain.
It was a plea to those around me, a cry for assistance—do what you can to see me through my hard times, to breathe with me, to remind me that they will pass, come what may. But even then, at the end of it all, you couldn’t take my pain from me.
After training as hard as possible for the better part of this year, I decided to let my body rest and take off the month of November from my normal strength training regimen. For three and a half weeks, I slept in, laid around the house, played with my daughter, and decompressed. For three and a half weeks, I let my body heal, and turned the flame off.
And then I started back up. My first workout back, on Monday, November 29th, back and calves. Twelve hours after, I could already feel my muscles tightening up and starting to cramp. By the next morning, I was in severe physical pain. Yet I went in and trained chest and biceps on Tuesday the 30th. By Tuesday night, the pain in my muscles was intense enough that it was starting to steal my air, and I found myself breathing shallowly, trying to minimize the sensation. On Wednesday, December 1st, I headed in for legs. Luckily, I couldn’t even feel my legs, because my entire upper body was in such severe pain that all other sensation momentarily ceased to exist.
By the end of the first week, I was a physical wreck, having a difficult time placing one foot in front of the other, tying my shoes, getting dressed, walking up and down stairs. I thought of the countless clients I have nearly crippled with extreme leg workouts, pushing their bodies to the brink before bringing them back. I felt momentary empathy.
But then I remembered a quote from Fakir Musafar, considered by many to be the Father of the Modern Primitive Movement, and an avid fan of all types of body modification: “There is no such thing as pain; there is only intense physical sensation”.
Physical sensation. Interesting. Warmth is physical sensation. And taken to an intense degree, warmth hurts. Cold is a physical sensation. And taken to an intense degree, cold hurts. And so with muscle soreness. Thus pleasure and pain ride the same path, they just lie on opposite ends of the spectrum.
And I realized: this pain I was feeling, was there to let me know I was alive, to let me know that my body moved and worked and felt things, which was surely better than the alternative. I realized that pain is the expression of effort put forth, and effort is the foundation of success, and the greater the effort, the greater the temporary pain—but for a greater success in the long run.
And I remembered what Henry Rollins had said in his article Iron, “It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain…. I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness.”
My call to greatness.
And I realized, no longer in my teens with my rebellious shirt, how incredibly happy I am that nobody else can take my pain. It is mine, and mine alone. And woe be to those who do everything in their power to escape that pain. And a worse hell than that, woe to those who cannot feel it in the first place—who lack that call to greatness—who don’t even know that they are alive due to systemic numbness.
Twirling round with this familiar parabol.
Spinning, weaving round each new experience.
Recognize this as a holy gift and
Celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing.
This body holding me reminds me of my own mortality.
Embrace this moment. Remember, we are eternal.
All this pain is an illusion.
I will take my pain, and I will keep it close to my side.
-David A. Johnston
David Johnston is the founder and lead trainer of TEAM Warrior Within. You can also listen to him weekely on the GEARD Up podcast. ( GEARDUp.com ) David works with clients ranging from the everyday person just trying to lose weight and get healthy, local and national bodybuilding and physique competitors, to IFBB professional athletes.
David lives and breathes all things related to physique transformation, and has devoted nearly half of his life to passionately studying and educating himself to be the absolute best at what he does. His intensity in the gym is matched only by the passion he gives to his clients.