Why a burpee, not a box of chocolates, is the ultimate analogy for life
and how a daily dose of struggle is good for you
I'm currently scribing a treatise of my (mercifully short) time in the Royal Navy, which I am not writing lackadaisically. Therefore, in the meantime, I thought I'd send out some short articles dealing with surplus ideas. I hope you find something useful embedded in the tangential discourse. Please leave me a comment with your thoughts. If you disagree with me, on any of my newsletters, or wish to challenge me; all the better. Thank you to those who provided feedback on my last newsletter 'On Writing' via text message. I had a great response to this, particularly around the idea of letters to a future self. I implore you to write one!
A burpee is the most unadulterated exercise that you can do. To perform one, you require absolutely nothing except that which you have in your possession at all times. Running, a primal form of locomotion for humans for which very little is also required has metamorphosed, due to commercial interests, into "exercise" and "sport". I love running, it's elemental and beautiful - it's also commodified and denigrated by all manner of consumerism. Cheat shoes anyone...?
The burpee, on the other hand, remains in its organic, untamed state. Nobody owns or controls the burpee. I've yet to see brands subvert it - with shoes or clothing sold to burpee enthusiasts via commercial chicanery. No. If you want to burpee shoeless, you can (I do it on the beach every Monday morning with a good friend). If you want to burpee in the nude, again, go right ahead. The burpee, simple in its motility, sagacious in its requirements, asks nothing more of you than to fall to the ground and rise back up.
And there's the rub.
The burpee is so deceptively simple, so fiendishly unadorned, lacking superfluous nonsense. It will test you like nothing else: other than life itself of course.
If there is one guarantee that is invisibly stamped onto all of us as we enter the world kicking and screaming, like the warranty of a premium outdoor clothing brand, it is this; one day you'll be stood on the proverbial top, and the next you'll have fallen. What happens next, of course, is firmly at your discretion. You can quite easily choose to remain in your newfound foetal position, curled up on the cold ground, crying, "Why me?" Or you can dare to rise. It's not often easy. The struggle, over and over; when life throws its never-ending battery of challenges our way. We can feel trapped in a Sisyphean cycle.
That's exactly why I do burpees. I know of no other more appropriate exercise that imitates the demands of life than having to repeatedly hoist myself to my feet when I fall. When I do burpees - I am training for life itself.
Furthermore, undertaking hard activities of your own volition chisels you; it builds resilience. It prepares you for the days when challenges come your way that you didn't ask for. Which, for many of us, is daily.
In our modern, obesogenic, Western world of abundance and profligacy, it is easy to spend our days actively seeking comfort. It's ingrained into us and sold to us as the meaning of life; buy this to be more comfortable, eat this to be more comfortable, wear this to feel more comfortable in your skin.
A little comfort is wonderful, but as with most things in life, you can not have your cake and eat it too. Too much comfort will grant you a feeble mind and a blob of a body, incapable of surmounting the challenges inevitably coming your way. It might not rain on you for years, but one day it will. If you haven't, figuratively, been doing the burpees, you might just crumble.
I should be clear here. I am acutely aware of the luxury (or to use the lefty buzzword of our zeitgeist, privilege) of actively choosing to undertake difficult physical challenges - but the reality is that humans crave an element of hardship in their lives. We require a modicum of friction in the system of our existence. Having a life that is always smooth sailing is a recipe for depression and addiction - this is one reason why so many wealthy or famous individuals end up in this sorry state. There is no true, long-lasting fulfilment in ease, comfort, gluttony, and sloth (for a wonderful didactic on this, listen to Stephen Fry's Seven Deadly Sins.
I'm not advocating on behalf of the Protestant work ethic here, nor am I espousing a puritanical lifestyle of asceticism - it's up to us all to find the balance, and you know when your scales are off-kilter. But if you wish to feel a little more content, or just a little less twitchy; don't just eat a frog in the morning - do your burpees.