Switch to mobile version

January 2015


The other night I had my first boxing class in almost three weeks. Throwing hard punches at a heavy bag might be, minute-for-minute, the most exhausting thing a human being can do. This morning I’m incredibly sore and I can feel it getting worse in real time. My forearms burn when I bend my wrists, and my lats feel like two great, triangular bruises.

Gym rats know this feeling as “DOMS” — delayed onset muscle soreness. Like many people I kind of enjoy the feeling of it, debilitating as it is, because it’s the feeling of getting back in shape. But the severity of it, after such a short layoff from the gym, is a stark reminder of how vigilant you have to be about putting your body to use when you work at a desk at home.

I’ve built a precarious set of habits to defend against the ever-present danger of sedentation. My five workouts a week (two boxing and three bodyweight training) form the bones of it. On top of that I’m always looking for any excuse to go for a walk. When these habits get interrupted though, as they often are during my annual Christmas illness, my activity level comes close to zero.

In Summer, as I mentioned last week, none of this is a problem. I’m outside several times a day, biking or running. Between November and April, though, both of these things become significantly more miserable and dangerous where I live.

Canadians are supposed to embrace the cold, but I don’t, and according to a recent CBC documentary, I am not unusual in that regard. We mostly resent and avoid frigid temperatures. Russians, reportedly, have a completely different cultural relationship to the cold, partly because it helped save them from both Napoleon and Hitler. They see the cold more as a national ally than a perennial enemy, as we tend to up here. So until I learn to like polar bear dives and winter hiking, I need to create habits that keep me from rusting in place in my desk chair.

Sitting is essentially what we do when we want the opposite of exercise, and the modern world has us doing it for long stretches. Much of our work and most of our entertainment is wholly mental now — we just need to park our bodies in front of the place where we need to use our eyes. Technology has minimized the role of the body in both work and entertainment to an absurd degree; using a mouse and keyboard requires only the wiggling of our fingers. Human beings have become an animal that is nearly always sitting.  Read More

balloon shadow

When one of my favorite radio hosts, Shelagh Rodgers (pronounced ‘Sheila’), announced on air that she was leaving her morning show to take some time off, her way of explaining why left a lasting impression on me.

She said that for years, a colleague of hers (Peter Gzowski?) insisted on making frequent trips to a remote cabin up North, where he spent the time chopping wood, reading books and walking with his dogs. When she asked him why this ritual was so important to him, he said, “Well… I guess I really like who I am when I’m up there.”

Rodgers explained her departure by saying that the morning show had made the reverse true for her: the job required her to wake up at 3:30am, shuttle herself to the studio, and force herself into professional-mode hours before the sun came up, and she didn’t like who she was when she was doing that.

When I heard her say that, I was sitting in my office at work, and realized I that definitely didn’t like who I was when I was in there. I didn’t like who I was when I was on the phone with clients, or out talking to contractors, or sitting at pre-construction meetings. Without any better ideas at the time, I imagined that eventually I would need to build a cabin up north and escape regularly to chop wood and read books by a fire.

That thought — Do I like who I am while I’m doing this? — has visited me a few times a year ever since, and I’m finally seeing how crucial a question it is. We ought to ask it about everything we do regularly in our lives. If the answer is “No,” then it makes sense to ask how we ended up making it a regular part of our lifestyle, and whether it’s necessary or worthwhile.

You might think we’d naturally gravitate towards whatever activities do give us this self-affirming sense, but we seem to be driven more by expectations, gratification and momentum. Between watching a bad movie for the third time, and calling up a friend, we’re often inclined to go with the former, not because it promises a better day or a better life, but because we’re usually operating from more immediate incentives: predictability, ease, freedom from risk. The idea of doing something because we like the person it makes us probably doesn’t enter the picture at all.  Read More


When I returned from my first trip to New York City, the moment I dropped my bags and stopped moving, my suburban apartment struck me as unnervingly quiet. It made me realize that in every moment for almost four weeks, my ears had been filled with some kind of background noise.

There’s no true quiet to be found in New York. Even when you’re alone and you become perfectly still, there are always traffic noises and muffled voices in the room with you.

Sleep is no respite from this, because the sounds penetrate that too. My dreams always contained whatever sound I would eventually wake up to — construction noises, honking, shouting, appliances running.

We spend our whole lives at the end of a firehose of sensory experience. It seems like it would be healthy to step out of that stream once in a while, if it were possible.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I made my first attempt to do exactly that. It involved sealing myself, naked, in a darkened sensory deprivation tank. There’s a business a few blocks from me that offers 90-minute sessions.

Inside the car-sized tank, there’s about a foot of water thickened by a thousand pounds of dissolved Epsom salts, allowing you to float on your back safely while relaxing all of your muscles. The tank is soundproof and lightproof and warmed to skin temperature. Once you settle into position, you no longer feel the water, because it’s the same temperature as both the air and your skin. Without this temperature contrast, or light or sound, there’s virtually no sensory input happening at all.

Even though it was totally different than I expected, it turned out to be a fascinating and wonderful experience, and I will be doing it again.  Read More

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.