The trainer showed me how to do the exercise:
Lie down on the bench, he said. Take one weight in each hand, raise them straight up above your head, then slowly lower them down to your ears, hold, then lift straight up again. That’s it, he said, slowly down, slowly back up again.
Oh, he said in valedictory, Remember, don’t bop yourself on the head! Well, of course I won’t bop myself on the head, thought I. What a ridiculous thing to say! Why on earth should I bop myself on the head?
Perhaps the trainer said it because he wasn’t in a gym, advising jocks and jock-ettes. He was a medical trainer, advising patients in cardiac rehab after heart attacks, and his assumption must have been that here are people unused to tossing around weights, not even five-pound weights. This kind of rankled with me. There was a time, not THAT long ago, when I would have called those baby weights. I could do one particular overhead exercise using a 20 pound weight! No more. But still, I knew what I was doing.
And then my six weeks was up. I was finished with cardiac rehab, and working out all alone in our community’s little basement fitness room, just me and my little five-pound weights. As I began, I could hear Pat’s voice echoing, Remember, don’t bop yourself on the head!
So while I was holding up the weights and looking at them, I thought: Well, now, could I bop myself on the head? Indeed I could. After a long hiatus I’m unused to weights and controlling them, especially slowly. They have size and shape, edges and dimensions. They might, as I lowered them, easily come closer than I thought they might, kind of like a fly-by asteroid. And five pounds of iron is five pounds of iron, not something that would do my head any good in a collision, however fly-by. Yes, amateurs (and I’m back in that category) could easily miscalculate.
So I concentrated extra-hard as I continued. Down and down, slowly, next to my ears, hold, begin to lift again, slowly. Concentrating. Paying attention.
Each and every time I do this exercise, every single time, as my arms are overhead I say to myself, Remember! Don’t bop yourself on the head! And I smile, remembering Pat, who was capable of thinking the unthinkable (“who would ever bop themselves on the head”) and went ahead and SAID IT OUT LOUD. And I smile at myself, while I’m taking these ridiculous poses, and taking them seriously, and even enjoying them.
I think there’s a real lesson lurking in this story beyond my smiles, which is, Don’t assume. As the old wordplay has it, When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me. Nothing is unthinkable: think ahead to the possibilities. And then, when you’ve thought the unthinkable, say it. It’s sometimes needful. One example: a doctor needs to think about the possibility of a patient tossing their remaining pills as soon as they start feeling better. That way he knows to say, Remember, take your pills all the way to the end, even when you feel better.
I’ll have more to say about the unthinkable, the unsayable, and communication gaps in future posts. Meanwhile, here’s some free advice from me: Whatever you do, remember, don’t bop yourself on the head! What else is mindfulness, after all?
(Action photos by Nancy First)