Loss - A sculpture by Jane Mortimer
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge / Unsplash

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

I limped across the gym floor yesterday morning just after they opened at seven. Not too many folks there. This time around at Planet Fitness everyone has a mask on. They're learning.

My left hand is still badly injured. However, my hand surgeon cleared me to return to the gym (YAAAY), even though my middle finger cannot curl around a dumbbell. And, if I pick up anything heavier than twelve pounds it hurts like a bastard.

But I can do pushups. I can lift smaller weights.

So I did. It's been since my birthday in January that I punched out 100 men's pushups. This has been one hell of a year.

Injuries, some of them very serious, delays, hospitalizations for kidney stones. Man oh man.

Yet, back at the gym.

Tip #1: Expect setbacks.

In the middle of July I was on an arc towards a pretty amazing year. I'd been training myself to run on slippery trail rocks. So fricking proud of that. Then I flipped my car. Now I have a deep divot on one side of my head, a healing fracture on my left hand.

Life goes on.

Then a few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and managed to fracture a right pinky toe on a piece of furniture. My house is under constant construction right now. Every day new stuff shows up where it wasn't before. It's an obstacle course. Injuries are bound to happen.

Along with being grounded from the one thing I love best, adventure travel, and moving away from my friends in Denver, being surrounded by terrifying fires right as I moved into a new place, I've hurt myself multiple times. Stress has cost me thirty pounds, fifteen of which I couldn't afford.

I could let that defeat me. It could. Had one bad morning, wrote about it. An hour later I had found my funny again.

Tip#2 Surround yourself with amazing, unsinkable, badass friends

Yesterday I reconnected with a Black woman friend of mine who lives up in Seattle. Amelia is in her early sixties, and like other Black friends of mine, she's got a PhD, is fucking brilliant. She's remaking her life, retiring from academia, and learning Sanskrit so that she can be a yoga instructor.

I have THE BEST friends. She has done amazing work in places like Namibia, she's a very talented fencer. See what I mean?

Later in life she too is remaking herself.

She's suffered setbacks. We all do. Yet those very setbacks are what train us for our eighties and beyond, to age vibrantly in the face of terrible odds, pain, loneliness, and what feels like defeat.

You and I will fall down. Guaranteed.

One of the things we learn over the course of a long life is how to get right back up.

Tip #3 Get up. Get up again. Get up again and again.  

The Japanese have a proverb for this:

Nana korobi ya oki

Fall down seven times. Get up eight.

To take this a step further,

Fall down seven times, get up eight: The power of Japanese resilience
They say that in times of crisis people ...

From the article:

A concept related to the saying "Nana korobi ya oki" is the spirit of gambaru (頑張る). The concept of gambaru is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture and approach to life. The literal meaning of gambaru expresses the idea of sticking with a task with tenacity until it is completed—of making a persistent effort until success is achieved. The imperative form, “gambette,” is used very often in daily language to encourage others to “do your best” in work, to “fight on!” and “never give up!” during a sporting event or studying for an exam. You do not always have to win, but you must never give up. While others may encourage you to "gambatte kudasai!" — the real spirit of gambaru comes from within. The best kind of motivation is intrinsic motivation. For the benefit of oneself — and for the benefit of others as well — one must bear down and do their best. Even in good times, behaving uncooperatively or in a rude manner is deeply frowned upon. In a crisis, the idea of complaining or acting selfishly to the detriment of those around you is the absolute worst thing a person can do. There is no sense in complaining about how things are or crying over what might have been. These feelings may be natural to some degree, but they are not productive for yourself or for others.

In a nation where struggle porn has become the new Olympic sport, this is refreshing. And, it speaks to why I choose the friends I do.

In an ant colony there are always some the watch and defend the others
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann / Unsplash

Earlier this year I was in Africa for about five weeks. At one point I was sitting on a beach on Mafia Island. Next to me, a single ant was struggling up what was, to the ant, a huge mountain of sand. The creature would get partway up, the sand would slide, and down it went. Not missing a beat, the ant would head right back up. This went on for some time. Eventually the ant reached the top of the small sand hill and started up another.

Tip#4 Help others get back up

I've actually done that. In Mongolia, there's a geographic oddity, a huge set of sand dunes, Khongor Els, which is a very popular spot for locals and tourists. You climb- or try to climb- up the sides. It's hard to express just how difficult that is. The sand is constantly shifting under your feet. You get brief purchase, then you slide back down. Over and over. Four, five times the effort to get to the wind-blown, knife-edged top than on solid ground.

By Zoharby - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5336358

Looks easy from the ground.

It's exhausting. But worth it. Because when you get to the top, you can hear the sands singing.

My guide was having a terrible time. I would slow down, shout encouragement when she slipped or faltered. On sliding sand there was no way I could pull her up physically. Only with my voice.

She made it. And was immensely proud of herself.

Tip #5 Give yourself credit. Be your own best cheerleader.

It's always worth getting back up.

It's always worth getting to the top of whatever mountain we're climbing.

Blessedly, an ant doesn't possess the capacity for depression. It doesn't sit down and cry about how unfair and hard Life is.

Life is just life.

People die and pets die and we die. We get injured. Things burn and break and get blown away in hurricanes or fires. Relationships implode and we take risks that don't always pay off.

We get back up. What's important is to give ourselves credit for that hard work. Sometimes, if you live alone like I do, that's your only source of encouragement in the moment. If you're not going to cheer yourself on, who will? For there are times when we really are alone. We need our own courage, our own encouragement.

I got injured this year, badly. Yesterday I was right back at the base of my own mountain. I start with light weights, do what I can do, am patient with my process and full of humor about the condition my body is in. I'm skinny as a scarecrow, my skin is only just now beginning to fill out again (rapid weight loss is no friend to the body), and I can't run or hike yet.

But I will. Mind you, by the time I hit the trails they will be knee deep in mud.

But I can start. I will slide back down. Guaranteed. The older I get the easier this gets, for I am well aware of my capacity for endurance as well as recovery. If there is grace to aging, this is one aspect of it. One for which I am deeply grateful. I trust in my innate ability to shrug off what happens, get back up  and start climbing the sand dune again.

The idea that some folks have it easy is little more than a pipe dream. We have this ridiculous conceit that money makes life better. Nope. We still get sick, get injured, pricey mansions are leveled by storms. The Authority of Life is absolute. We are all of us subject to the Goddess' vicissitudes.

But we don't have to be defeated. Just pick yourself up, put one foot in front of the other. For some that's metaphorically, if you're in a wheelchair. But move. Even if the only movement you can manage is mental.

Fall down seven times. Get up eight.

Pat yourself on the back, laugh it off. Be grateful.

Find people who encourage, not discourage, your efforts. People who don't mock or laugh at your failures, but reach a hand to lift you up. Make sure you do that for others.

And keep right on moving up the mountain.

Mongolian rock cliffs Julia Hubbel