THE TREADMILL OF LIFE
Prahlad K Sethi, MD1 and Nitin K Sethi, MD2
1 Department Neurology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, India
2 Department of Neurology, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY (U.S.A.)
I go to the gym in Siri Fort Complex early morning as a part of my daily exercise routine. The goal is to remain fit and hopefully have a long innings in my life and continue to carry working in my profession as a physician neurologist.
One day when I was on the treadmill I realized that I was walking rather hurriedly with short quick steps. My goal was to reach my exercise target as fast as I could. Nothing else mattered to me at that moment. I happened to look towards my right and I found a friend of mine also walking on the treadmill. He looked at ease, calm and peaceful taking long steady strides apparently enjoying his workout. On the way back home from the gym, my colleague’s calm peaceful face and long steady strides on the treadmill were itched on my mind. I tried to justify my hurried rushed style on the treadmill…I am not as tall as him nor do I have his long legs. I felt satisfied that I had met my goal on the treadmill that day.
After a couple of days, I decided to try my friend’s “treadmill style of walking”. I punched in the same distance target on the treadmill, the same speed and incline but instead of taking rushed small steps, I began to walk with slow steady long strides. To my surprise after about 5 minutes, I began to feel calm and peaceful. A relaxed feeling enveloped me.
On my drive back home I kept thinking what had just transpired. How did this small change of walking style create such peace and calmness in my mind? I had walked on the same treadmill the same distance the same incline and the same length of time. I had reached the same target but the peace and satisfaction was so much more. Instantly I thought cannot we apply the same analogy to life?
LIFE IS A TREADMILL
Life is like a treadmill; call it the treadmill of life. We all have to learn to wait patiently for our turn to get on this usually fast moving treadmill. During the waiting period one has to be patient. We need to remember that opportunities will come our way sooner or later. One needs to set ones goals in life: what you want to achieve, how you plan to achieve it and at what speed you plan to go about accomplishing those goals. These goals, the speed may not be clear to us at the start but the desire to achieve those goals should certainly be there. One needs to be passionate about it. But passionate does not mean desperate. One should enjoy the ride.
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”—Lao Tzu
“The journey not the arrival matters.”—T. S. Eliot
A wise man once said “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there.” So as we travel on the adventure called life we should enjoy the journey and the experiences which we encounter along the road.
The lyrics of the song “Wear Sunscreen” by Baz Luhrmann sum it up perfectly and I shall quote:
“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.”
WAITING FOR YOUR TURN
Sometime when I go to my gym I find all the ten treadmills occupied. I have learnt to wait for my turn. There is a card posted on the fall which requests the members to be considerate of others and not to use the treadmill for more than 15 minutes at one stretch. Often I find people ignore that sign. I have learnt to be patient and wait for my turn.
“When I Consider How My Light is Spent” is one of the best known of the sonnets of John Milton. The last three lines are particularly well known, although rarely quoted in context.
“When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Once your time comes and you are on the treadmill, you can choose your style (run versus walk) and your speed. If you choose to run , run only as fast as you need to. Be kind to your knees, you shall need them when you get old!
GETTING ON A MOVING TREADMILL
Once when I entered my gym, I found only one treadmill unoccupied. I ran to occupy it before anyone else could. To my surprise it was still running. In my haste I had jumped on to a running treadmill and nearly fell. This is true for life too. Running to achieve your goals, taking short cuts does not always yield the desired results. Sometimes one falls and falls hard.
SUDDEN STOPPING OF A TREADMILL
In Delhi, power cuts are frequent and unexpected. My gym lacks a back-up generator. Sometimes I will be walking on the treadmill and it will come to a sudden unexpected stop when we suffer a power outage. I have learnt to be aware of this and have avoided a couple of nasty tumbles. Life too sometimes throws lemons at us, curveballs which strike us when we least expect them. A sudden unexpected loss in business or a sudden unexpected health emergency like a heart attack or stroke. Be aware of this, be humble for the higher we rise the harder we fall.
COOLING OFF PERIOD
The cooling off period is a very important part of my treadmill routine. The treadmill slowly decelerates, the incline gradually declines to baseline. After a vigorous work-out the cooling off period is intended to gradually lessen the impact on the muscles and the heart and to return them to their pre-exercise physiological state. One feels relaxed and has a feeling of “that was a great workout”. Similarly in life, one day retirement looms. One should anticipate this and be prepared for it. It is time to mentally and physically step off the treadmill of life but not leave it altogether! We each have to find hobbies and tasks to keep our brains occupied so that we do not slip into the throes of depression. Some among us shall choose to mount the treadmill again and find a new job, others shall dismount from the treadmill completely and choose to spend time with family and friends.
TREADMILL OF LIFE-THE CONCLUSION
The humble treadmill which we encounter in our gyms can teach us many valuable life lessons.
In the words of Frank Sinatra:
“And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way”
(Song: “My Way” by Frank Sinatra)