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  • Louis Venters

Claiming My Freedom to Move--and Improve

Freedom of movement on one’s own two feet is a fundamental human right.

It was so basic to English common law that the Founders didn’t even bother to mention it in the Bill of Rights. (Oh, that and the pesky part about 20% of the non-Indian population being enslaved at the time. Damn!)

And it's spelled out right here in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But in a country with a long-standing aversion to sidewalks, safe streets, and public transportation, an epidemic of ill health related to toxic food policy, and entrenched patterns of spatial segregation by race and class, movement under one's own power--with all the personal and social benefits that come with it--is often easier said than done.

I’m grateful to live in a town with a half-decent system of walking-running-biking trails which attract a cross-section of the community. And we’re taking small steps toward making the place friendlier for biking and walking and to promote local food production.

In my own life, I've consciously been trying to move--to take steps toward optimum health spiritually, mentally, socially, and physically--at least since my teens. But it's only recently, in my early 40s, that I've started to feel like it's starting to come together.

Even as recently as five years ago, just before our second son was born, I was eating five or six small meals a day, experimenting with the Insanity workout, lifting weights, and playing capoeira as often as I could. This is me visiting my capoeira teacher in Brazil in early 2013:

I know, what's there to complain about in a spot like that? Brazil was AMAZING, and the fact that I was able to visit for ten days of capoeira training was a miracle.

The fact is though, I still didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I wasn't as lean and strong and flexible as I wanted to be and knew I could be. I was still too weighed down from long years of low-grade depression and chronic illness to feel genuinely light and free. I didn't feel present enough in my marriage or connected enough with friends, and I was struggling to find fulfillment professionally and serve humanity to the best of my ability.

Five years later I'm still not where I want to be in any of those areas of life, but I've certainly been moving in the right direction. I'm leaner, stronger, and faster; happier in my most fundamental relationships and plumbing the depths learning to be a father to two beautiful boys; seeing some of the fruits of my scholarship and professional service; trying to help build unity and justice in my community and in the world with every breath and every action; and through it all attempting to cultivate the inner spiritual resources that I need to make this life work.

Here's me a week or two ago after a run. I should point out that this is the most I've ever seen of my abs in my whole life--a visible result of a lot of persistent experimentation trying to figure out how be healthy:

And I'm far from done!

With every step forward--in my personal life and in the life of our "strangely disordered" society--there’s so much still to do. Our progress, individually and collectively, is neither uniform nor constant. But I don't know what else there is to do but to DO it, and to encourage and work with others along the way.

So here's to another good day being able to move my body; give the finger to the Standard American Diet; raise my boys to become happy, healthy, and generous black kings; and contribute of my time, energy, and talents to the development of a new, just, global social order such as the world has never seen.

I'm planning to share more reflections of this kind, all in the context of this blog's title and overarching theme of "Strivings." Be advised, there may well be some more shirtless pictures along the way! But what I have in mind is way more than that.

Among the questions I'm thinking about:

  • What's the role of personal physical health and fitness in a life that's essentially focused on social consciousness and service to others?

  • How do our individual choices about food and health affect society and vice versa?

  • How do we develop visions of manhood that are suited to the new millennium and to our full human potential, and how do we put them into practice?

  • What am I learning about being a man in relation to my wife, my children, and my men friends?

  • How do I learn to truly embrace and celebrate my body, to move through the world with grace and confidence and strength and beauty?

  • As an intellectual and a professor who spends a lot of time in his head, what does it look like to be in my body, to be a whole person wherever I go? How might that change people's perceptions of me and my work?

  • How do I heal my body and my spirit from past traumas, particularly ones that relate to generational white supremacy, violence and abuse, and addiction?

  • In a culture that exalts the body and attempts to sexualize and commodify just about everything, are there ways to share publicly our efforts at health and wellness that are genuinely encouraging and empowering and not just exercises in ego?

These probably aren't all the questions, and Lord knows I don't have all the answers. I've begun to explore some of these ideas already, such as with my posts about Justin Baldoni and body image, Andy Grammer and professional generosity, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and male intimacy. But there's a lot more to explore, and some of it involves a level of vulnerability that's already giving me butterflies in my stomach. Oh well, here goes!

As always, I invite your comments, questions, suggestions, and connections.

How are you moving today? Who are you taking with you?

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