My Life As a CrossFit Intern: An Exercise In Mindfulness
Photos provided by Gary Thomson and Meredith Rendeall Photography.
Twice a week, I steal away from the sinking ship that is my main job and intern for a few hours at CrossFit Los Angeles. I clean and file; straighten and run errands. Sometimes I do special projects.
I was told the job would not be glamorous, and it’s not. But the simplicity of the work has become a meditation for me in a way. When I do my tasks, I don’t see them as menial. I see them as a meaningful exercise in being present, being calm, and clearing my mind. There is a Buddhist quotation that reads: "Develop the mind of equilibrium. You will always get praise and blame, but do not let either affect the poise of the mind. Follow the calmness, the absence of pride." Who knew cleaning toilets would become one of my more important philosophical endeavors, but because I’m at a crossroads in my life, a study in simple mindfulness is exactly what I need right now.
I’ve been in the thick hustle of the work force for a long time. I scrounged dog walking and babysitting gigs at eleven and I got my first check-paying job at sixteen at the Carl’s Jr. located exactly two blocks from where CrossFit LA stands now. I worked two jobs in high school, and after that I worked ten-hour days working my way up to become the purchasing manager of an international buying department for a multimillion dollar semiconductor broker. We were considered one of the top ten brokers in the country. I was Employee of the Year during our most lucrative year. With both of my pregnancies, I worked right until labor began. I owned my own company for a while. I received death threats when a particular international deal went badly. And now the company for which I’ve worked for years is hanging by a string because a former CFO embezzled an obscene and company-crippling amount of money.
And all of this makes me laugh when I’m wiping down bathroom mirrors or restocking paper towels. My friends at the gym really have no idea about my past resume. Just as well. That part of my life will be behind me soon enough, and as this chapter closes, I look back at all the chaos and bullshit and meaninglessness of semiconductors and computer widgets and money chasing. I feel I’m shedding it like a heavy, toxic skin.
When I walk through the gym doors as an intern – not as a kids coach or a coach in training or an athlete – I come in humble, ready to do my chores and whatever else is asked of me. As I climb the stairs to the offices, my stress level plummets. I often hear laughing. I feel no pressure to make big decisions or problem solve. I’m only there to work through my list and make the gym look like how I want it to look when I walk back through the doors as a student.
Sometimes when I vacuum I think about the next reinvention of myself - a new horizon looms - but most times I quiet my mind and vacuum in patterns. That how my Marine sergeant grandfather did it. When I was six years old, when I lived with him for a bit, he’d stop me from vacuuming the house until I learned how to make perfect and symmetrical fanned-out patterns in the carpet. Most times, though, when I vacuum the big room at the gym where I usually sweat and thrash around heavy weights, I listen to the whirl of the machine, thankful for the mental break.
I enjoy the warmth of the office, the vibe especially. Sometimes the core staff is clowning around, but most times I get a glimpse of how seriously and earnestly they take bettering the gym. Conversations carry through the office about creating enough value for members. New hare-brained warm up drills are debated and put to the test, on the spot. There is a constant room-for-improvement attitude that has deepened my appreciation as a member. As an intern I get a little peek behind the wizard’s curtain of a well-run CrossFit box. I find satisfaction in supporting that in the small ways I can.
After my couple hours of intern work, I ride my bike back to the my home office, and once again I get sucked into the anxious and frantic turmoil of my main job and balancing the other hundred things I do daily. I once told my husband on a particularly stressful afternoon, “I’d rather be scrubbing the toilets in the men’s locker room at CFLA then doing this shit.” He thought I was joking.
I don’t undermine the work I do at the gym; not in the least. I am happy to work in an environment that supports health and that has built such a strong and loving community. Sometimes I wonder what my peers at the gym think when they see me doing the intern tasks. I often think that the young ones, those in their 20s, might feel it’s a step back. It’s of no matter to me though. I’ve been through so much in my life that I see it quite the opposite. I see it as a recharging and resetting, certainly a redefining of what’s important not just for what’s soon to come in my life, but how to live a better life in general. The calm and simplicity of my internship serves as a meditative portal to a more meaningful phase. And I am very grateful for that.