Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands.
Sometimes things come together in a strange way.
A few days after Nelson Mandela passed away, I decided to post 10 Nelson Mandela quotes on my Basic Goodness Facebook page. Why 10? Of course everybody in the whole world was posting Nelson Mandela quotes those days and I felt the fear of being judged as unoriginal. I decided to confront that fear by posting ten quotes instead of one.
This is what I posted on my own wall:
“Good. I will start my day by posting 10 Nelson Mandela quotes on my Basic Goodness page. Because I can, because he has been my hero and role model for more than 10 years, because I feel he deserves it and because his wisdom inspires me and perhaps others.”
Interestingly enough, just browsing through Madiba’s quotes and selecting the ones that spoke to me shifted something inside of me. I received some pretty devastating news that morning: seems like I was soon to be evicted from the apartment that I just moved into, painted and furnished. In a baffling way, some cold bureaucrat somewhere interpreted my attempt to be helpful and polite as evidence for some procedural error, ticked a box and now I would have to start all over again, praying that I would find a decent and affordable place in time.
But then I read this quote: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” I can only imagine how much bureaucratic cruelty Mandela had overcome in his lifetime. Imagining Mandela’s strength and resilience truly gave me vigor. It even gave me a strange sense of pride that I too was the innocent victim of an unfair system.
Unfortunately, I never met Mandela but that day his spirit kept me company.
Some weeks ago, fellow blogger and fellow contributor at elephant journal and The Good Men Project Kate Bartolotta rocked the internet with a post called “How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps,” harvesting some 96k or so shares on Facebook.
And guess what?
Her post doesn’t even tell you how to get flat abs! And forget about amazing sex and ruling the world, that ain’t in it either. Bummer. Kate’s point is that the promises of flat abs and amazing sex have been featured on magazine covers for decades and we are still not bored with them enough to stop buying them.
Kate eloquently argues that there are more important things in life.
Well, that could be all true and all, but the fact of the matter is that I have been working on my abs for the last couple of weeks. Not without success I feel (but you can be the judge of that). After traveling the world for 18 months, challenging my concepts and ideas of comfort and searching for spiritual growth, I decided to devote myself to physical transformation for a while.
I joined the Hypertrophy Camp at Evolve Personal Health Institute, curious about what 12 weeks of working out and proper nutrition would do to my body.
If we pay attention, wisdom can be found everywhere. Obviously, Kate’s title “How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps” is meant to be ironic but I like to turn things around and look for the paradox, so I wondered what my newly restored flat abs taught me.
Then, I had the aforementioned experience with the Mandela quotes and I realized that there is a connection between flat abs and true leadership.
Let me share with you what Kate didn’t: the road to flat abs and inspiring the world with the help of Nelson Mandela’s teachings.
1. Simply put heart first.
Quite often it is pretty clear what is the right thing to do. It is simple—and then we just do it. That is simple too. Right? But the mind wants to negotiate a safe and comfortable way to reach the desired destination. It would like things to be ‘easy’. Now it becomes complicated! Don’t go there. When we learn to listen to our hear,t great things will be allowed to happen. Your heart cares. About you, your body, your people and your planet. When I look at Nelson Mandela I see a man that cared deeply. He cared for his country, for humanity, for justice and freedom. Our planet and our abs need somebody who cares.
2. “There is no passion to be found in playing small—don’t settle for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” ~ Nelson Mandela
We like the idea of flat abs because we somehow believe it is within our reach. And they are! All we need is intention and practice. Of course having visible abs is not the same as human greatness—if Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or Gandi had visible abs during their lives is not of utmost importance. They changed the world! What I found an impressive discovery was how relatively easy it is to change the body. Only four hours of exercise per week—that’s only 2.4% of our time—and proper nutrition will make us healthy, strong, energetic and radiant.
When we feel change in our bodies, we have first-hand experience of what it takes and what it feels like to change something. It will inspire. Don’t settle for abs only though—keep expanding and devote radiant strength to serving humanity, for example.
3. Embrace the power of repetition.
That was the insight that prompted me to write this post: I noticed that selecting 10 quotes of Mandela moved something inside me. It made me realize I needed more than one quote and then I realized that the same goes for push-ups.
When we regularly expose ourselves to something for a certain amount of time, it will have an effect on sooner or later. If we keep exposing ourselves to resistance training, it will have an effect on the body; if we keep exposing ourselves to wisdom, it will have an effect on the mind and if we keep exposing ourselves to kindness, it will have an effect on the heart.
When we stay true to our own heartfelt message, we will become more believable—when we stay true to our personal exercise routine, we will become stronger.
4. Develop discipline.
I think I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography The Long Walk To Freedom for the first time approximately 12 years ago. I remember being immensely impressed by his discipline, even in prison. Every day was structured. He would do physical exercise in the morning (running in his cell, shadow boxing, some gymnastics), hard labor during the day and legal representation of fellow inmates and study at night. I don’t think the man had a single lazy day in his life! It goes without saying that pretty much all of us can learn from Mandela’s discipline. Very inspiring.
If he can show up every morning in his cold cell, I can show up in the gym and on my meditation cushion.
5. Strive towards perfect form.
My workouts are regularly supervised by personal trainers, who are now my buddies and colleagues. One of the confrontational things I found out was that I did have been exercising wrong, even though I have been lifting weights for decades. Not completely wrong, but less than perfect. I have the feeling that perfecting the form adds 15- 20% of extra quality to my workouts.
It is the difference between ok and excellent.
In Zen Buddhism form is important too: how we sit, how we bow, how we speak. Mandela embodied wisdom, charm, dignity and humility, both inside and outside the restrictions of the presidential realm.
Form so perfect that it looked informal; Mandela attained the Holy Grail of perfect form. Gentle striving towards perfect form shapes inspiring and warm leadership and hard abs.
6. “Appearances matter—and remember to smile.” ~ Nelson Mandela
When Mandela said this, he didn’t say that appearance is the most important thing in the Universe. But it matters. How we carry ourselves says something about how we live and how we relate to life and others. We have no say in choosing the vessel we get to live in. Some of us are challenged by physical limitations—but we can take proper care of the vessel that is given to us. That means in 95% of the cases that a person can be lean and muscular if only they eat and exercises appropriately.
Living in a fit and strong body feels completely different than in a fat, neglected and unloved body. Other people feel it too.
Then there is the smile. The smile makes the difference. A hard face on top of a hard body looks scary. A friendly face on top of a mindfully dressed and well-maintained body communicates care and invokes trust.
Look at Madiba’s carefully chosen appearances and you understand what I mean.
7. Surround yourself with wisdom (and keep learning).
Under #5 I mentioned Mandela’s impressive self-discipline. Another thing I learned from him (but also from working with personal trainers) is the importance of study. Mandela mentions in his autobiography how fortunate he felt that the political prisoners were incarcerated together. Authorities were afraid they would contaminate ‘normal’ prisoners with their revolutionary ideas, you see. Being exposed to his comrades, like-minded smart people, kept his intellect sharp and his will strong. Personally, I like the gym. But for those who feel a gym is a prison-like institution: I experienced a huge increase in both joy and results when I started training with guys who were all professional, very knowledgeable and up-to-date about their art.
If you can, make an effort to surround yourself with good people. Or, if you can’t afford a trainer, acquire relevant information. Devoting yourself to your development as a human being, and including your physical development, makes you wiser and your life richer.
Transformation. Change. “It always seems impossible until it’s done” is what Madiba said. And, “a winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”; “There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.”
Now I really hope that you have bigger dreams than washboard abs, but there is nothing wrong with including fitness and health in wishes for yourself and others. I believe that the happy and healthy version of who we are has more to offer to the world. I believe the world needs clear-minded, strong and persistent people. I believe we can all make a difference.
Now do you believe in yourself? Then start behaving accordingly.
So there we have it: a path towards flat abs and inspiration of the masses in eight simple steps. Take Mandela’s wisdom to the gym and we’ll all have sexy abs soon; take Mandela’s wisdom to heart and we will all change lives at least.
The choice is ours.
Now the attentive reader noticed I haven’t mentioned the amazing sex. Unfortunately I have no juicy details to share, as I’m having somewhat of a dry spell.
Ok, forget about the word ‘somewhat’—I have been living in a sexual desert lately, dammit.
And although Kate tells us that all the magazine covers that are suggesting a correlation between flat abs and amazing sex are big, fat liars, I am just hoping they can’t be all wrong. Right?
So I thought perhaps somebody could put me on a cover of some magazine and I’ll let you know what happened next.
Just an idea.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: courtesy of the author