As I write this, parts of the USA are coming out of various states of lockdown, and a 17-year cicada swarm is about to hatch in the summer warmth. Two very different species are emerging from conditions of rest, isolation, and protection, into the less-safe, less-confining world around us. Practical note: if you’ve never experienced a cicada swarm, try to get out and do it this time. It’s thrilling to hear so many insects calling together that the collective noise sounds like an alien spacecraft – the last time I heard it, I was working in Princeton, and the traffic on Rt.206 at rush hour was no match for the eerie, whirling song that filled every outdoor area. It was far less thrilling to drive or step on cicadas, I’ll admit that.
I was able to experience my own emergence the other day, at the local gym. It was my first gym workout and the majority of the exercises were ones I hadn’t done since lockdown. It was very hard to hold myself back – I wanted to do EVERYTHING. But I saw the rare value of being able to feel how a year away from strength-machines would show up and it was really exciting and fun, and interesting to observe myself as a different person than the one who went home on March 14th and didn’t return until May of the following year. There’s a different energy in the gym, and honestly, I value it so much now that I was deprived of it for so long, and it surprised me how quickly the adjustments and positions came back.
Is the gym perfect for everyone? No. If I was still the kind of person I once was years ago, who used music and tv and twitter and Instagram as a way to endure workouts, I doubt coming back would mean that much to me. But what has changed this last year is my relationship to myself – it’s become much more nurturing and positive, and when I walk into a gym, I see a wonderland of movement options, and myriad ways to get stronger. I remember the days long ago, when I would walk around the weight room or machine room, and eventually skulk over to a treadmill or elliptical and just…do that. Because I didn’t value being there, and I didn’t want to invest in learning how to use what was available to me.
But what’s truly different in 2021 is the way I feel about gym culture in general – the whole appearance-based, judgmental, potentially sexist/racist/ableist atmosphere which can pervade places where people gather to exercise. I now have zero patience or willingness to tolerate people who make others feel lesser. This last year has opened my eyes to how much others struggle for room, for acceptance, for the right to exist – I’m not cool with anyone thinking that they have the right to deny a person that. I’m old enough to remember when women simply didn’t go into the weight room – if you did, you were made to feel like you shouldn’t be in there. It’s a delight to watch how younger gym goers are so much more accepting of others in general. I love learning from younger generations – in truth, I think that is key to some aspects of staying young ourselves, as we get older.
I think of the cicada swarm today as a focal point for meditation – how a newly-emerged creature embraces all experiences, and acts as a gatekeeper to nothing, and I think of how energizing that must feel. And I try to embody some of that energy of emergence, of gratitude simply at seeing the sky, and in my weird little personal trainer way, take that feeling into the gym. It’s going to be interesting to see how long that state of wonder and awe lasts – I hope if you have similar experiences, you may think back to this silly post about gyms and cicadas, and maybe a little tiny light blinks on for you, too.