On Sunday morning, July 21, 2019, I willingly chose to strap a backpack to myself with a 55-pound sandbag in it and hike across the soft top sand at the beach. This was not a workout, it was a celebration of my 55th trip around the sun. Or so I thought.
I was at my place of birth. On the East coast at a beach house I rent every summer enjoying our vacation and our precious time with family and friends in the loving arms of mother ocean.
It was the day I was to be celebrated for being born into this world.
My somewhat educated guess is, this is not how most people choose to celebrate their 55th birthday or any birthday. Strapping 55 pounds to their back and walking in the hot sand at the beach is probably not on the birthday celebration bucket list. Nor do I encourage anyone to do it or care that I did it.
The truth is for most of my other birthdays, this idea would not only sound stupid to me, but I wouldn’t have been physically able to do it if I wanted to. I completely recognize the absurdity of it, but today I’m deeply grateful for the ability to do it at this age, or any age.
I slowly filled the sandbag by hand with beach. I put the sandbag in the backpack. I put the pack on my back. Put the headphones in my ears and started hiking. One foot in front of the other.
I had a simple plan. Hike 1.5 miles one way. Hike 1.5 miles back. Throw in 100 pushups with the pack on as the ice cream on top of the cake.
Weird ice cream I know.
My present to me. Happy birthday Scott Patrick O’leary. Congratulations on having the honor and privilege to be here on this and the other 20,075 days before it.
What I didn’t plan for was the real gift arriving during those 3 miles. A true birthday surprise party. What jumped out of the darkness and into the light was the truth.
Sometimes I go empty mind, pure zen, just breathing. No thoughts, No worries. No past. No future. Just one step after another in a meditative hum.
Sometimes I get a message. I’m not sure where it comes from, but my guess is in midst of these hard physical moments I somehow wake up my true subconscious self. That me tells me truths I don’t usually want to hear but am somehow openly receptive to within physical suffering.
I usually just listen. This is what I heard.
Over 5 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do what I was doing that morning, physically or mentally. Absolute truth from the voice, I heard and accepted that fact with humility, not pride.
I most likely would have been hungover on this day. I would have celebrated my birthday with the timeless, socially acceptable and self destructive ritual of getting drunk. Or the socially acceptable excuse too, not that I needed one. Truth, I didn’t need one but when given the opportunity I took full advantage of it. Historically I didn’t do much when I was hungover but waste my precious time suffering all day long from “having fun.”
Over 5 years ago, I was also 185 pounds. I was already lugging around 35 extra pounds of bad living, eating and thinking.
Truth. Over weight, unhealthy, out of shape, disrespectful and ungrateful in every way possible to the gift of my physical self. Completely sober I would have struggled just to carry myself that distance in the sand without a backpack. Another truth I fully accept with humility and zero pride.
The voice was just getting warmed up. Here comes the real truth, the shit I really needed to hear.
What had really been weighing me down and preventing me from doing what I am currently doing in my life today, or want to do, were things much heavier.
I was carrying depression.
I was carrying darkness.
I was carrying anger.
I was carrying my bloated ego.
I was carrying self-pity.
I was carrying excuses.
I was carrying selfishness.
I was carrying my mistakes.
I was carrying the effects of physically and mentally drinking 4-5 days a week.
I was carrying the weight of bad choices.
I was carrying negativity.
I was carrying the weight of conflict with myself and others.
I was carrying the weight of the toxic things I put in my mouth and into my mind.
I was carrying the past.
I was carrying shame, guilt, and a giant pile of denial and the only thing I was not carrying was one ounce of accountability for doing this all to myself.
I was a victim. Self-created, self-medicated, full of self-pity victim.
From my perspective on the beach a 55-pound pack was nothing compared to the weight I carried around everyday for 35 years. I did not understand their weight until I started the daily lifelong process of letting them go.
Discipline and accountability have been the doors to that freedom. Discipline sounds hard and not fun. I tried undisplined for a very long time. I suffered way more under its tyranny. I will take discipline any day, all day.
Accountability is hard. Owning your shit is the opposite of fun. It’s humbling and it doesn’t usually feel good. But at least it is truth. Denial isn’t fooling anyone but yourself. Everyone around you knows, its just you pretending everyone doesn’t.
Those burdens I willingly carried around on my back 24 /7. and I refused to drop them. I suffered much more in denial.
I can’t train hard enough to suffer the way I used to. Truth from the voice.
Some may think I’m crazy to celebrate my birthday this way. That’s perfectly okay, I recognize and accept that. It kinda is.
I celebrated a lot of birthdays the more traditional way.
I will take the weighted back pack every time.
If I’m going to carry heavy shit I would much rather it be sand.
A version of this post was previously published on over50badasses.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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