Art and Pain (a story of separation)

Art and Pain seem to be the accepted relationship we have with our work.

Our practice is supposed to hurt, seems to be the unspoken, unconscious mantra that we operate by. We believe that we need to come to our art begging and praying that our muse will show up. And if it doesn’t, we curse our work as if a hex or evil spell has been callously wished upon us.

But our art shouldn’t have to be a painful struggle. It shouldn’t be something where we only experience joy after we’ve created our final masterpiece, completely used up. The majority of our time logged shouldn’t be drudgery sprinkled with fleeting moments of joy and inspiration.

I’m not sure where this idea came from; that our work should be married to pain.

I just know one thing… I’d like a divorce.

Art + physical expression

One of the biggest underlying causes behind this stigma comes from the way we approach our work. If we think we must do something, we resist. But since we think we should we do it anyway, that causes resentment. Resentment = pain.

The only way around this is either choosing different work, or changing the way you approach the work you already do. Usually, it’s a combination of both.

I’ve recently experienced this quite powerfully with fitness. A little over a year ago I used to see exercise as something painful. It was a chore. Something that had to be done; something to get over with. Going to the gym was just another required fixture in my routine. Not something I intentionally, or joyfully placed there.

That has changed completely for me now. I stopped going to the gym, and stopped lifting weights. Gymnastics, hiking, and martial arts are now my primary means of exercise.

I changed the type of exercise I did. A typical workout for me now might be include a 2-3 hour hike (mostly barefoot, or wearing minimalistic shoes) and strength training on gymnastic rings (hung from a tree on the trail). The ring training might consist of planche, front lever, back lever, pull-up, and handstand work. On some days I’ll do more strength training and less hiking. And on other days I might do very little strength training and go for longer hikes, trailrunning, and flexibility.

In that way, I changed the content of my practice, but I also changed my approach. I now see exercise as not a chore, but a practice. I think about it as the art of expressing the human body. It’s become more then something I should or need to do, it’s a practice in the physical expression of self development.

In this way, I changed both the type of exercise I was doing and the way I approached it.

Needless to say, this has been very liberating for me.

No more discipline

To practice our arts, we often think that it requires a lot of discipline and self-control. I’ve found this to become less and less true. When I do what I love (the content of my practice) and love what I do (the way I approach my practice), I find that discipline usually becomes a non-issue.

Sure, effort is still involved. There will always be that. I always have to make the effort to show up. I always have to make the effort to do my best.

But I desire to show up, and I desire to do my best because I do what I love and love what I do. Love for my art, love for my practice, is my greatest motivation. The word workout has been removed from my vocabulary. I don’t see it that way anymore.

Any practice can be made into an art if we follow what we are attracted to. And any art can be made into something joyful if we show up with gratitude and come from a place of love.

I’ve started to apply this approach to all areas of my life; seeing each aspect of my life as an art that can be met with love, instead of a duty of sacrifice. We don’t need to suffer to be great.

Right now, I know I am exactly where I need to be, on exactly the right path.

When I meet my art as a celebration, things unfold naturally, with energy and aliveness. When I try to control and obsess over it, I suffer. My aim is to move more in the direction of celebration and to divorce art and pain.

I’ve found this path to be very rewarding. I’d love for you to join me.

Introducing… Bodyweight Renegade.

I’ve been working on a new website the past few weeks that’s all about exceptional fitness through bodyweight exercise. No gyms, no crazy equipment. Just simple bodyweight movements that create real-world, surprisingly impressive strength.

If you’ve ever thought that working out was a pain in the ass, or wished you could get fit at home without paying gym fees, this website is for you.

I think you’re going to like it.

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AdrianaRobert MocklerJosh MooreuberVU - social commentsConstantin Recent comment authors
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B @ logos coaching

”When I meet my art as a celebration, things unfold naturally, with energy and aliveness. When I try to control and obsess over it, I suffer” I like the way you put that alot. Sums up how I am living at the moment ie going with the flow of energy and allowing the universe to fully assist me in all I do. Makes each day a great one :)


“The majority of our time logged shouldn’t be drudgery sprinkled with fleeting moments of joy and inspiration.” I love this statement. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in this attitude – that work sucks and you look forward to enjoying yourself on the weekends – that it becomes the norm. It needs to change, at least for me. As far as fitness, I can relate to you through running. I have always been an athlete (rugby, triathlon) and have always worked out. But I’ve never been a huge fan of running. It was always so boring to… Read more »

Brett -

As they say, Jonathan – the best results happen when work becomes play. In Dan Pink’s Drive, he calls this the “Sawyer Effect”.

I think that even looking at everything you do as an art form can effectively turn things into play and a source of enjoyment.

Craig Thomas

Nice post! I agree, more discipline often isn’t the answer.I’ve started a fitness program up recently and I’ve found that small changes that take little to no discipline are the biggest payers.


While I’m not ready to throw out discipline altogether yet, I agree with the spirit of this. To often we use discipline as an excuse for being lame. We think that since we’re suffering, we must be doing something important. It’s a classic productivity trap.

-Marshall Jones Jr.


Well done my friend. So true. “No pain no gain” is the BIGGEST myth out there (next to “the more you sacrifice the more you’ll succeed”).

Love the new site. It’s funny… I’ve been loathing going to the gym lately too.

Vania Tashjian Frank

So true! When we ground ourselves in who we truly are and what works for us, effort begins to feel less and less painful. Lately I’ve begun playing to my strengths and it feels so much more motivating to do things since I’m leveraging my natural way. I’m learning how to embrace rather than fight who I am and my natural tendencies.

Richard |

I love the sound of the Sawyer Effect. I see everything I put into the world as art. It feels amazing.

Nathan Hangen

Interesting take. Part of the message I’m getting here lies in being present with what you’re doing instead of being stuck in your head.

The rest is in trying to find ways to reach a goal without being miserable.

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

Habits, both good and bad, form slowly. Good habits form as a result of mindfulness and bad habits form as result of mindlessness.

I like to think of discipline as deliberate but digestible actions that continue over time. Lasting growth comes from these short deliberate steps — there are no prudent shortcuts.

“Nature never hurries, yet all is accomplished.” ~ Lau Tzu

Sarah Joy Albrecht

Yes, but practice IS discipline :)

Jon | Adventures of the Fearless

Thanks for sharing that Jonathan and cool tattoo

Klaus Tol |

Hi Jonathan,

Another great post! You’re right, It is really the key to have fun and feel inspired with everything you do. It’s a shift in your thinking and it changes your life.

Klaus Tol


Hi Johnathon,

I think the source is the split from the western Enlightenment between linear rationality and emotion (‘modernism’ and ‘romanticism’). In romanticism art lost the connection to craft – creativity was some magic process that we had no control over.

I think discipline can (ONLY!) be useful as an emergency measure.

It is possible to live from our core and when we do we have joy.

I am very glad to see someone from the martial arts and fitness side of things taking this approach. Many, many thanks.


It’s definitely important to reframe working out as something you GET to do not something you HAVE to do. You completely succeeded in this by not only changing the methods but the venue as well. If more people did this we’d see the end of treadmills…weights can be fun in their own right but never as fun as trail running or rock climbing or something awesome like that.

Great post–I’m looking forward to seeing more on bodyweight renegade as well!


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Josh Moore

Great post Jonathon.

I’ve been following your progress online for some time now, and have to say I’m impressed with your results.

I’ve recently taken on swimming lessons (finally overcoming one of my oldest fears) and am looking at moving into a martial art or similar once i have completed them.

One of the keys I’m finding is linking physical activity to learning new skills as well as things that I enjoy.

May 2010 continue to be a prosperous year for you.


Robert Mockler

Thank you for this !


So much inspiring content on this blog, and you’re starting another one on what happens to be my newest passion?

Kudos for following the only true path to your art.

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