"The Meaning of Life Question"
By Valeria Teles
When I met James for our first assessment session, he said to me, “Are you Valeria? You look so much taller in the pictures.”
“Yes, I confess, I am short,” I replied with a smile.
James was a tall businessman, suntanned and in his late forties, with rounded shoulders, and an ample belly. He used glasses and seemed distracted by the people training around the studio. He was clearly uncomfortable. James was very concerned about his health, but his main reason for hiring me was because he had just broken up with his girlfriend. His goal was to become physically fit to boost his self-esteem and confidence before joining a dating website.
He needed to lose approximately 20 pounds and reduce his belly fat, strengthen his muscles, increase his flexibility, improve his cardiovascular health, and enhance his mental and emotional well being. People’s misconception that exercise is not fun evaporates after they start training with me, I use music. The assessment went well, and we scheduled his first 20 sessions.
We had our first session in a private, artsy fitness studio in Soho. “How are you feeling today, James?”
“I am very well,” he replied.
“Great, let’s get started.” I continued enthusiastically. I gave him some warm-up exercises to do as we continued our conversation.
“What is the meaning of life for you?” – I asked him.
He looked at me and smiled. “What a big question coming from a small, young trainer on an ordinary Monday morning,” he said, as he tried to concentrate on his plank hold.
“I think the meaning of life is to be happy,” he replied.
“Are you happy now?” I asked.
“I would like to have my girlfriend back,” he said.
“Was it your girlfriend who gave your life meaning?” I asked.
He paused for a moment to consider my question. We moved on to the squat rack.
“Perhaps she only needed to change a few things about her personality, and she would be my main source of happiness, meaning, yes. She needed to understand me more and love me for who I am. This was the challenge in our relationship.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, this way she would complete me,” James said.
I had to ask, “Is it possible to feel complete being on your own, too?”
“Well, I like having someone to share my life with, the special moments, to travel with, to talk with, to sleep with, to go out for dinner and maybe to have a child with. You know, a partner. This is the only thing that’s missing in my life now, besides having a fit body like yours. My girlfriend and I were together for more than six years. I loved having someone around, even though our relationship wasn’t the best. I realize now that even having someone around to fight with is better than not having anyone. I hired you so I can get in shape to feel confident enough again to go out there on the dating scene or to try to convince my girlfriend to come back to me.”
“I see,” I said, thinking about everything he just said. I continued, “James, wouldn’t you agree that life is worth living the healthiest way possible? First, by understanding ourselves, knowing why we choose to do what we do, the habits we have, the friendships we cultivate, the food we eat, the anger we feel, the love we crave, and beliefs we hold.
I believe our sufferings come from a repetition of unhealthy behaviors and habits that go unquestioned out of fear of learning the truth. The secret to fulfillment is how we embrace the truths each moment presents us in a variety of ways every day. If happiness is what we are looking for, rather than chasing it, why not focus on how to make each moment complete and joyful, by being grateful in the here and now doing whatever we are doing––or learning a lesson about whatever we are going through. Don’t you think we should strive to give a healthy meaning to each moment we choose to live, granting ourselves a chance to learn from one another and from our experience?
By the time I finished sharing my thoughts, James had squatted for 10 minutes. He had burned quite a lot of calories, and I had his hand on his chin in the Thinker’s pose.