Something Spiritually Sexy
By Scott Simpson
January 6, 2010
I did not have a personal definition of the word 'spiritual' for the longest time. For me, the word was packed with religiosity and based on belief in angels and other ethereal beings. So not my cup of tea. I like mine green and evidence based. Then I went to a workshop on spirituality conducted for, and facilitated by, HIV+ people about 6 years ago. If memory serves there were about 20 people, mostly men, in the group.
After introductions and a feeling of safety, confidentiality and mutual respect and support had been established, the facilitator spoke briefly about the inherent subjectiveness when attempting to define spirituality. The facilitator then asked each participant to state their personal definition of spirituality. Some people did indeed refer to a god or some higher power, albeit socially constructed in the context of religion. Others spoke about a sense of being part of a whole of the materials of the universe. Others expressed connections to family, friends and/or community as being spiritual. But none of those seemed to quite speak to me; to what my mind was conjuring.
Soon it was going to be my turn to share and I struggled to understand my own definition of spirituality. I turned it over and over in my mind and kept returning to the same place, the same mental picture. But it didn't seem to be a profound or insightful or thought provoking place, so I hesitated to accept it as my own definition; surely there was something more sexy? I let my mind free associate, think divergently, yet I still came back to the same mental picture.
But when I mentally stepped back to take a more objective perspective, recognized and then set aside my ego's emotional reaction, I was able to accept where my personal definition of spirituality kept taking me: running. It is freeing. And meditative. And exhilarating. It is energizing and tiring. It is a contradiction. (Oh, here's some instant insight; so am I. Wonder if that's part of the attraction?)
For me, for HIV+ me, running is also therapeutic. For at least 2 reasons. Firstly, it often helps alleviate nausea. As I have mentioned before, I find mild aerobic exercise suppresses my nausea. Hallelujah. (He said facetiously.)
Secondly, studies have shown that 40% of people on ARVs -- the medications that suppress HIV -- have mild cognitive impairment as a side effect. I was shocked and disturbed when I learned this at a presentation at the International AIDS Conference last year. But -- and this is where I'm hanging my hat -- exercise is proven to create and strengthen brain neurons and I'm a big believer in brain plasticity. So I figure it's a zero sum game for me at worst, and there's a 60% chance I'm smarter. How's that for (self-delusional?) logic? (He asked rhetorically.)
Running is my escape, my sanctuary, my therapy. There is nothing better than running in the morning as the sun rises. Unfortunately, as a triathlete, run training is usually done after the other swim and bike training so that my body is used to running on tired legs, so running first thing in the morning is a real treat. It's the small things in life, eh?
A close second is running during snowstorms. Absolutely love it. Especially on deserted country roads. Peacefulness in swirling snow.
Maybe it is sexy, spiritually speaking?
I have often said that I could live, if I had to, without swimming, and biking, but have a hard time conceiving of a future that doesn't include running. It makes me sad to think of a time when I will not be able to run. Running, and its emotional and physical and cognitive effects, are integral to who I am, to my self identity.
It is when I am running that I most often hear myself say, "It is good to be alive".
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HIV+ Triathlete: Til I Drop
Scott Simpson is an HIV+ triathlete, student and inspirational speaker avoiding real work so he can find more time to train and learn. A former party boy, Scott has gone from the fictional national drinking team to the real Canadian national triathlon team and is current provincial long course champion in his age group. Scott is also founder of, and inspiration for, the Race for Dignity, which is both an annual spinathon in Toronto and annual school campus events coordinated by Dignitas Youth chapters. Cumulatively, they have raised almost a million dollars for the medical humanitarian NGO Dignitas International, contributing to over 11,000 people living with HIV/AIDS gaining access to ARVs in Malawi. Scott is currently training for Ironman Louisville 2010.
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