Scull: Yeah, I agree about the sports. For me it's also a matter of motivation. I won't go to gyms because I really do not enjoy lifting weights. I love cycling; I love a scenic road ride more than just about anything. In San Francisco I'd ride up to Fairfax and then up Mt. Tamalpais, up 10 miles of mountain switchbacks, and then emerge on what is, apparently, the most photographed stretch of road in the United States, the ridge. Every time I came out of the woods and up on the ridge I would begin to weep -- half, I think, out of the near-delirium of how hard that ride was for me, but half because it was the most beautiful landscape I'd ever seen. A friend of mine photographed it a bunch:Looking north over the woodsLooking south over the bayLooking east, over Tiburon
Why anyone would rather be doing leg presses on a machine in a gym somewhere than witnessing that glory was beyond me, every time I crested the ridge.
Of course, I also usually felt on the verge of vomiting from the effort. Tradeoffs!
I imagine rowing, gives you some of the same scenery, or just that exposure to nature.
When I'm not being lazy and just hanging out in the climbing gym, I'll sometimes get the gear out and climb outside, and in Texas, it's more about scrabbling down into a valley and climbing out of it, so you don't get long vistas, but the rock itself and the river valleys around here are beautiful.
And in every case, anytime I interact with anyone else doing the same sport, it's clear there's a passion and a love. Getting high-fives from strangers when I'd huff and puff my way over the top of Mt. Tamalpais (as they huffed and puffed, too) is inspiring. Or hearing cheers when I send that tough bouldering problem I've been working on for the last month at the climbing gym. I love the camaraderie.
I'm not worried about the vanity (although I have to admit I have many mirrors :) ) because I think it'll just work its way out over time, and it's not worth really being anxious about. I try not to identify with it, which I think is key.
As for sensory withdrawal, it's getting a little tangential here, but the benefit I've found from it is that it helps to soften the reliance on the sensation. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy it, still. In fact, usually I find it enhances the enjoyment.
Like an alcoholic who says he can quit any time, I find that with most sensory pleasures I indulge in are really miniature addictions. It's easy for me to say, I don't need that ice cream. Or, I don't need to watch action movies. But when I put my money where my mouth is and abstain, it turns up all these anxieties and cravings that I can then work through. Since a lot of that stuff is about distraction and avoiding being present, once I start to make headway with it, I can then return to a good meal (say, make a quick trip up to the French Laundry... mmmmm...) and suddenly it's all more vivid and enjoyable because I'm able to enjoy it in a more sincere way; I'm really eating just for the food's sake.
So I wouldn't want to be doing that, abstaining, dieting all the time, but I find abstinence is useful, for stretches.