It was just an ordinary day. I like to exercise in the late afternoon. I think this probably goes back to my athletic days---maybe all the way back to high school. First one spent the day in classes. Then when school was out, we headed to practice. In the spring and summer it was baseball. In the winter we played basketball. I liked the rhythm of the day---work and then play. That still is a preferred rhythm for me today.
Certainly, my athletic days are over. I have good memories. Of course, my memories are probably evidence of my creative imagination! As I tell the stories today, I ran faster, threw harder and was much more unstoppable on the basketball floor than was actually the case. By now---as I remember it---I was nearly all-American in everything I did!
And so I headed to the treadmill. I don’t like doing the treadmill. I still prefer a run or walk outside. Or if I can’t do that, I still prefer running or walking on the track. But sometimes the treadmill is my only option. So I climb aboard. I set the controls---easy at first and then increasingly faster and harder. The recreational center where I do it has televisions in front of the machine. I am too old-fashioned; I hate the tvs! And I do not use headphones, iPod or anything else. I use my time exercising as a time for some reflection and mindless daydreaming.
The treadmill drones on. My mind was bouncing from idea to idea. There was no real focus. And then, I began to notice there was a theme emerging and I grasped that it had some spiritual intent. I am sure many people before me have used the image of a treadmill to talk about life. And I am also sure that the treadmill image is usually negative.
In this moment, however, the treadmill image has some positive overtones. Of course, central to the treadmill image as life is the incessant movement. Just as the treadmill keeps rolling, so do the days of our life---mile after mile, day after day. This is often portrayed negatively, but I like a positive spin. Negatively, the treadmill image suggests our stuckness. We are caught up in the movement, but going nowhere. We can’t get off---it can’t be stopped.
But positively, the treadmill is carrying us to health and well-being. Literally, movement is good for the heart. And certainly, exercise is beneficial to my emotional and spiritual health. When I exercise, I am much less grumpy. It is easier to see the bright side of life. I sense possibilities instead of pessimism. The treadmill is a conduit to good health---emotional, physical and spiritual.
My treadmill has features, just like most of our lives. My treadmill can be adjusted for speed and incline. It only goes one speed if you are willing to leave it set at one speed. But you can go faster or slower. You can leave the walk at one level or you can build in hills. In this it seems to mimic life. Only in life we do not always control the variables. The great thing about a treadmill is we control many things. In fact, when we have had it, we can push the “stop” button and the whole thing comes to a halt.
Spiritually speaking, I think there are again significant similarities. I think we are more in control of our lives than many of us think. Some folks, no doubt, feel like they are stuck on that proverbial negative treadmill of life. But it simply is not true. Let’s explore a few places where we do have some control.
We don’t have total control over the speed of our lives. But we do have quite a bit of control over how “fast” life goes. To exercise this control, we need to be aware. If we are aware of how we are living life, we have some choices about adjusting things. If it feels too fast, we can slow it down in many ways. For example, we might choose to take some time during our day simply to reflect on things. So many of us live our lives in front of television or with iPod, iPad or iPhone in place---in our ear or hand. These have a treadmill effect on life.
We can slow things down by spending some time in prayer or meditation. Maybe we can opt for some yoga. Perhaps it is a long walk in the woods. All of these alter the normal “treadmill pace” of our lives. We bring some balance and restorative effects into our life. These are healthy---emotionally, physically and spiritually.
We can also increase the incline of life. We can study or do a retreat or opt for some kind of course. We can add some intensity to our spiritual life workout that likely increases our spiritual health and well-being. We can do all this without worry. If we are aware, our lives usually have a “stop” button, too. We can take time off or, even, time out.
I like the image of a treadmill of life. It is not a place of stuckness, but a place of choice. It sees the treadmill of life as a place of spiritual exercise. All I have to do us use it wisely. It is the life-way to health, not sickness. It is a life-way of freedom, not bondage. It leads to a long, good life.