TCW x Frank Yang: My Body is a Virtual Spacesuit

Hi, and welcome (back) to another TCW story. Today, a very special guest shares how his physical pursuit in fitness has evolved over time and how the act of looking inward (e.g., meditation) has helped him appreciate the journey far more than the goal. Frank Yang is an established and well-respected bodybuilder with a sizable following on YouTube (~150K subs and ~30M views), Facebook (~350K followers), Instagram (~45K followers), among other social platforms. What truly sets Frank apart from other fitness YouTubers — and believe me, there are many, too many — is his philosophically critical take on fitness, art, relationships, life, existence, and how they all relate to this brief thing we call the human experience.

Frank: Last year, in August, for the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed (the process of) lifting weights. Throughout most of my life, I lifted with a goal in mind — a number (e.g., bench, vertical jump), an image (who I want to look like, such as Brad Pitt in Fight Club). This goal-oriented approach took most of the pleasure off of lifting weights. During this bulking (caloric surplus) cycle, I’m putting on weight very slowly, at 0.2 lbs a week so far and I’m okay with this, because I’m already quite satisfied with the way my body is looking. I am no longer in a rush to build the body that I want 10 years down the road. I can just make small incremental adjustments to the current body.The fat I put on during my previous bulking phases is a direct symptom of impatience and the inability to stay in the here and now.

Jeff: Don’t be confused –Frank is not saying you shouldn’t set a goal in your fitness pursuit. There is a very subtle but important difference between setting a goal and then indulging in the moment, enjoying every movement of every exercise, feeling the muscles contract, appreciating the progress you’ve made and what you can do with your body right now, versus, setting a goal and then anxiously praying that tomorrow, next week, next month, next year would come sooner just so you could look a certain way right now. Society at large and media have portrayed results as something attainable via instant gratification. “Call 1–888–111–1111 NOW to lose 30 lbs in less than 3 weeks!!!” “Stubborn belly fat not going away? Here is a secret Chinese scientists discovered that the fitness industry doesn’t want you to know about.” And my favorite, which I saw recently online: “Find out how to lose weight by doing these 3 exercises at home rather than spend an hour at the gym!” Kind of defeats the purpose of the journey, right?

Frank: Now, I can focus on the present moment, and each rep and muscle contraction is more pure and concentrated, since they are not infused and filtered with desire or time. They are in-and-of themselves perfect and self-sufficient. Without mental-emotional garbage getting in the way, the mind-muscle connection is much more clean and efficient. Hopefully this will only result in more stimulation for growth. What’s more important to me now is the phenomenological aspect of bodybuilding. How the fluctuating sensations of lifting weights feel like from the inside moment by moment, instead of how it is visually and statically distributed in the space outside. Meditation has taught me that inner subjective experience is in some ways more “real” than the presupposed objective reality of appearances. I’m just not as attached to my body as I used to be. I look at my body as a virtual spacesuit that I can slide into, so I can lucid dream more smoothly in this thing we call reality. The main purpose for the suit is to establish connection with people who still believe in the separate “self” and the solidity of body parts or the contour around the body. You’ve never been inside your body. Your body has always been inside You.

Jeff: To conclude, I’d like to conduct a quick thought experiment with you to reinforce this final point. Imagine a gym without any mirrors. Just four grey walls and the space inside lined with racks of weights, a few benches, and some machines. What are you left with, as you lift the weights up? You are left with your physical sensations and inner thoughts. You cannot be visually distracted by how “small” or “fat” you look, by how “not good enough” you feel your body is in the present moment. Vipassana, daily meditation, mindfulness — these are exercises in a mental gym without any mirrors. Your consciousness has no form, and a mirror cannot reflect light off of that which has no form. You can’t look at someone else, admire their apparent sense of peace, wisdom, and serenity on the surface, and then make your mind more peaceful, wiser, and more serene. You wouldn’t know where to start for that replication process. When you close your eyes, you are left with your thoughts, senses, emotions, and nothing else. There’s nobody out there to narrate your reality for you. When you close your eyes, the inner turmoil — or peace — becomes your reality. It doesn’t matter if someone comes and whispers in your ear “you feel at peace”, because if you don’t, then that cannot and never will be your reality.

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