I spent Tuesday swanning around Hong Kong, and then at about 530, Fitbit swooshed a new badge into my email: the “Hiking Boot,” for walking more than 35000 steps in a day.
Those steps were so many things.
They were “workout #339″ for 2019, representing a year where I shot past my goal of 300 workouts as I embraced a realization that moving my body pretty much every day is a necessity, like oxygen or water.
And the new badge meant fitbit was pointing out that this is the most steps I’ve taken in a day since I got the device two years ago. They added up, unintentionally, as I flitted, hummingbird-like, from one vague idea of what I might want to do in the city to the next. When I realized I was close to 30,000 and still 3km from my hotel, my Completist came to the fore, and I trudged home, weirdly proud of my little digital badge.
When I expand peel the onion one more layer, I also see those steps as a proxy for for my Explorer self, the Viking traveller Gudridor in me. I came to Hong Kong on my way to Cambodia for a couple of days, just because I’d never been here. On Tuesday, I set out from my hotel with no plan, found the cable car up Victoria Peak, tried to climb to the very top and followed the wrong google directions and ended up getting lost and accidentally traversing the entire peak, encountering unexpected wild boars, many blind alleys. I came down the peak and wandered around to find the dim sum my friend Grace recommended, the only solo diner in the crammed place. I navigated the unsettling pedestrian walkways to find the ferry across the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui, up the road that “looks like Hong Kong” of my imagination, through a conversation with a couple of women near the ferry dock collecting images of protest. I signed one, and they gave me a little yellow origami hat. I had a hankering for afternoon cream tea in post-colonial fancy hotel, and then the slog home.
There’s yet another layer beneath the traveler — the person who needs to go out into the world to go inside myself. Being in a place that is trying to shift itself, assert its voice, fits me. Hong Kong is the incongruities of laundry hanging out the windows of decrepit apartment buildings, dried fish and herbs cramming the streets, traditional red lanterns beside graffiti proclaiming Police are Cunts, old women bent in half over sticks trying to make their way through the streets, glittering shops with unfathomable excess like a $20,000 stationary bicycle, a pulsing revolution of a completely new kind.
This underneath self is what I need most from these steps. I need liminal space, to hear my own voice, react step by step, rhythm by rhythm. I had an overwhelmingly busy fall, mostly with work, but I’m in the middle of some shift and re-formation of myself. I know there is something Next, but I don’t know what it is. I’m doing an intensive coaching certification program, and like therapy school, that means I’m being coached as well as learning to be present in new ways to people. Things in my life are good — and yet, I’m more present to the jarring places where work doesn’t quite fit, my sense of purpose hasn’t fully evolved, the pace I’ve sustained for years is wearing on me. I’ve had a year of shifts, ending some work things that should have ended long ago, opening up new relational spaces, being more and more fully with glistening truths. I need this shivasana of the soul, where I just move according to what feels like the next impulse, settling into who I’m becoming.
Hong Kong is a two day liminal space between my real life and the real point of this trip to Asia, a 10 day bike trip in Cambodia. Adjusting to the time zone, adjusting to what it means to let go, temporarily, of the many many needs that beset the end of the decade for me.
My first day, I walked 35,000 steps. My second, I completely let go of my plan and, after some desperately needed morning yoga, I wandered into a mid-day Thai massage, an unexpectedly perfect lunch atop a fancy rooftop.
While I’m here, I’m reading Mary Pipher’s book about women getting older, called Women Rowing North. It’s really about the developmental phase of our 60s onward, what comes next next for me. But Pipher has always captured my emotional landscape better than anyone else — exemplified in a story she told years ago where she and her husband were lying in bed, and she asked him what he was thinking about, and he said pie, and how much he liked pie, and how he would like to eat some pie, and he asked her what she was thinking about, and she said “the holocaust.”
That’s me, idly pondering genocide when other people are thinking about mango ice cream or the beach. It’s not a bad thing — it’s just… present. And because this is my tendency, I’ve had to more deliberately shape my quest for happiness, for joy, for satisfaction — and, in this decade of my life, I feel that resilience more fully than I ever have.
Pipher writes about the part of mid-life when our bodies change, when the people around us are ill or experiencing losses, when doors close, as a developmental stage that brings huge opportunities for expansiveness: “if we don’t grow bigger, we can become bitter… when our problems become too big for us, our healthiest response is to expand our capacities. That growth is qualitative. We become deeper, kinder to ourselves and others, and more capable of bliss.”
Statistics bear this out, Pipher says — “most women are increasingly happy after age fifty-five, with their peak of happiness toward the very end of life.”
With every one of those 35,000 steps, I stepped closer into that resilience. Listening to my body’s impulses, feeling its strength, letting my curious explorer self just guide me. Gratefully rowing north.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and wanders the world. Here she is getting ready to head out for her wandering day.