rest · self care

Why the 5-Minute Rides Count on Peloton

I never thought I’d get a Peloton. But the pandemic and … well, we all know how that story goes. Now I have one in my guest room and I’m on it almost every day.  First, you should know that, unlike Sam and Cate, I don’t race or join challenges to climb Everest or the like. I have never joined a live class. And I always hide the leaderboard away (that’s where you can see your ranking against everyone who has ever done the same class and “race” against them while you ride, even if the ride isn’t live).

Peloton bike in my guest room in front of windows and next to soft orange chair

Call me a dilettante, if you want. There’s worse to come.

I count every ride. I do not delete any rides from my tally. Peloton makes a big deal about counting rides. I just passed my 50th ride. I’m way new at this. During live classes, instructors give shout outs to riders who have hit milestones. I hear a lot of 500s and 1000s and even numbers over 2000. How is that even possible?

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of short rides. Other Pelotonites create stacks, to customize their longer rides. I love the shorter options, because the most common way I use Peloton is as the backup singer for another workout. I’ll shorten my run and do a 10 to 15-minute ride when I get home. That has the double bonus of reenforcing my running strength, but also easing out my legs, which get stiff from the pounding. I’m surprised by how much looser and freer my legs feel as a result of this small habit change. Also, this training technique was effective enough for me to get back to running on March 2nd (after 7 weeks of only cross-country skiing) and run a half marathon with a friend on March 27th. Or I ride for 15-20 minutes before a Pilates class. It’s only really once (max twice) a week that I ride for 45 minutes or longer. And, when I do, I’ve started doing the cool down rides on offer when I finish. Taking that option was a psychological hurdle for me.

For a long time (okay the first six weeks of owning the bike) I no-thanks’d the cool down rides Peloton suggested. Five more minutes? What a waste of time. If I wasn’t going hard-hard-hard, why was I on the bike? Then one day, I was so utterly maxed out when I finished my ride that I decided I had to cool down, or I might just get off the bike, tighten up into a tiny ball of lactic acid and then blow apart in a geyser of sweat.

Revelation. The cool down ride was fantastic. Just what I needed. Brought down my heartrate. Brought myself back into focus. Prepared to meet my day with an even energy. I know, that’s putting a lot on a 5-minute ride. But taking that extra time gives my body a real, physically tangible benefit and has a symbolic value that resonates beyond the workout. Some people don’t think the cool down rides count in the ride count. I agreed, until I started doing them. Like rest days, so critical to our body’s ability to repair and rejuvenate, the cool down honours our body’s need for a runway landing after an intense effort. I was so used to crashing into the finish and bump-bump-bumping off the bike and into my day, that the smooth-as-silk-pajamas transition from intensity to cool down to hello-rest-of-the-day came as a surprise. 

Yes, I am talking about that how we do one thing is how we do anything business. For me, scaling back is its own kind of effort. As much as I love naps and am reasonably diligent around taking a rest day once a week and don’t work myself to the bone, I also do have a tendency to overschedule and not leave enough transition time to reset my nervous system between commitments. Long ago, I used to get a thrill out of arriving almost late for a plane and sprinting through the airport. I think it was a reaction against my father, who liked to arrive hours in advance, stressing about whether he was early enough (and I take here a moment to acknowledge that a few days ago was six years since my father died and I like to include him in some way in my April posts; I miss a lot about him, but not his pre-travel hand wringing).

Cool down rides count. Because they flush toxins and seal in the benefits of our workout.

Cool down rides count. Because they are role models of how to be gentle with ourselves.

Cool down rides count. Because everything we do counts.

Not to get all earnest and mushy on you, I do mean everything. Take five to regroup and check in. Be kind to yourself. Then it will be easier to be kind to the people around you. Oh, and the planet, too.

femalestrength

How A Promising (Young) Woman Gains Sovereignty Over Her Body

(note: this post contains descriptions of situations (including alcohol use) in which there is a risk of or actual sexual violence)

I met my first husband while I was lying on the bathroom floor of his fraternity house. He shook me into enough consciousness to stand me up and then carry me into a quiet bedroom, away from the jam-packed party. I was nineteen years old. I was drunk. I’d passed out for some brief amount of time.

I was in a relationship with him for eight years. After the first month or so, I didn’t even think about that evening. He didn’t live at the frat house. I never went back there for another party. The bathroom floor of that frat house passed (surprisingly quickly) into the nether reaches of my memory.

Until I watched A Promising Young Woman, the Carey Mulligan film about a woman (Cassie) on a mission of vengeance for the rape of a drunken friend. When the film initially ended, I got caught up in a conversational critique with my partner around the unease and discomfort the film created in us (as well as the movie’s flaws). My partner didn’t like that Cassie was portrayed as crazy, when it was the men’s behavior that was so horrible. One of the sticking points, for me, was that all of the men were portrayed as complicit, compulsively predatory and irredeemable in the face of a seemingly vulnerable, drunken woman. That long ago frat party wasn’t even in my mind. Then it was. As I slept, the film knocked on the door of that memory. I woke up. Remembering.

I went to the party with a friend. I was wearing a black and white striped, thin, jersey knit mini dress. We drank a lot of everything. At some point I felt like I was going to throw up and my friend and I went upstairs to an out of the way bathroom. I didn’t throw up. I begged my friend to leave me there and let me “rest” on the cool, tiled floor. The next thing I remember is male voices, joking with each other about what they should do with me. Then I heard one man’s voice rise above the others. Did I notice the slightly nasal twang then, or is that something I came to be familiar with later, when his was one of the voices I’d recognize anywhere? He propped me up enough to get me into a bedroom. I lay down on the bed. He settled in on a chair. The guardian. His Finnish roommate was also there. They chatted, while I swirled around in nauseous, alcohol-soaked whirligigs. Sometime later, I heard my friend outside the door, asking around for me, worried and insistent.

This is the story of a near-miss, something too many women have experienced. Of course, another too many women have experienced the well-aimed, shot to the heart of sexual coercion, abuse and assault, including myself (Tracy wrote about #metoo here). I was so lucky that night. I didn’t even notice my luck at the time. I didn’t really recognize it until watching the movie, just a few weeks ago. I was filled with retroactive terror for the way that long ago evening could have gone wrong, but did not. I cried tears of relief in 2021, for something that happened in 1985. I felt a wave of fear, too, for my lack of respect for the lesson of that close shave and my lack of gratitude. How near did I come to being the absent girl in the movie? Stripped of my physical integrity and mental wellness?   

Despite my almost-immediate forgetting, the party’s impact clearly lingered in my subconscious. I cut back on my drinking, swinging way in the other direction to a level of constant vigilance that’s only ever been disrupted by precarious drunkenness a handful of times since then. I experienced a moderate uptick in my drinking in my 40s, which I considered a positive development. I was relaxing the reins of control. I felt safer, though I wouldn’t have named that then. Until menopause put her foot on the brakes again. Now my body will barely tolerate more than half a glass of wine.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now, for the first time, how I reclaimed agency over the safety of my body by controlling my intake of alcohol. I also see how, years later, discovering running helped me claim even greater sovereignty over my body. Running (and other sports) transformed my relationship with myself (I wrote about that in my very first post here on Fit Is A Feminist Issue, as well as in two books). When sports came into my life, I was no longer only concerned with my physical safety, but also my body’s strength and how I wanted to use it. Through that fresh lens, I looked around and saw other things I wanted to change. I left the practice of law. I left the relationship with that decent and kind man. We weren’t right for each other. There were many reasons. One big one was that he wanted us to have children. I already suspected that I wasn’t interested (I’ve written about being childfree here). Bearing children was not a dream I had for my body or for my life.

The Wife of Bath is one of the narrators in The Canterbury Tales, who tells a story to illustrate what women want most–their sovereignty respected!
image by ToscaSam on DeviantArt.com

If I was still in touch with my ex, I might have reached out to him after watching the movie, just to say thank you. I do know he has a daughter. I’m glad.

I did reach out to my younger self, that promising young woman in her second year of undergraduate studies at McGill University and gave her a hug across time. At first, I could feel her cowering in shame. I don’t deserve a hug. At the same time, I could feel defiance flaring in her. You’re blowing things out of proportion, nothing happened. Don’t be such a drama queen. If you write about me, people will laugh at you. I acknowledged her shame and defiance. She softened. What else was I going to do? Scold her for her sloppy carelessness? She sees it. Oh boy, does she ever. She feels the wind of that stray bullet whizzing past her ear, missing its mark. She sees a life that could have gone another way.  

All the younger versions of ourselves live on inside us, inextricably intertwined with our current self and the seeds of our future promise. And yes, there are seeds until the very end. Can we be gentle with all the outdated selves? Protect them, but also give them space to have made mistakes and still come home. After all, they are the water and sunshine for the promising women we continue to be (even if we are no longer young). Finding a peaceful accord with our past selves is the key to finding peace in the here and now. We claim ultimate agency by building our relationship with ourself (in all its different parts) and taking on the responsibility for who we are. Is it easy? Not a chance. It’s the work of a lifetime.

Welcome to sovereignty.     

fitness

A Workout Does Not Change the World (on its own)

I got an “exciting” email from Trail Runner magazine yesterday, announcing with “joy” that its family of companies, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) had added five “amazing” companies to its portfolio, including Outside magazine and TV.* 

In addition to all the expected superlatives, the email concluded like this:

In closing, let me thank you for being a fan and supporter of our brands. We believe that a hike, a run, a ride, or a yoga practice can change a life and change the world. Today, we are one giant step closer to achieving our mission, and we invite you to join us on the journey ahead. 

            Yours truly,

            Robin Thurston

            CEO of Outside

I enjoy David Roche’s writing in Trail Runner. This letter, on the other hand, from his new boss, not so much. I get animated when I read things like this and immediately send notes to Sam (who coordinates things here at Fit Is A Feminist Issue) and ask when the next open slot is on the blog.

Because … really?? –A hike, a run, a ride or a yoga practice can change a life and change the world? Okay, I know that the sentence is softened by the use of the word “can” instead of “will”. But let’s be honest, they are selling the idea that “a”, which could mean only one, workout can change a life and the world. Aaargh.

Then, when someone discovers that not only is their whole life not changed by one single workout, but, in all likelihood, they will need to keep moving to continue enjoying the benefits, the person wonders: What’s wrong with me, I haven’t solved everything in my life in one shot?

Well … because … there’s no one-and-done. Life is above all about living. Living is about change, flux, dedication and perseverance. That’s what makes it interesting. And hopefully fun. The only way a single workout changes our life is if it sets us on a new path. But that path requires our ongoing attention, patience and, yes, love. The path is the change and that’s still the work of a lifetime.

Magnetic sign board that reads: A smile can change someone’s day (which is true!)
Neonbrand on Unsplash

Oh, and lest we forget, yesterday’s email promise was not just that we’d solve things in our own life, but also in the whole wide world. Gosh, it feels so good to know we’re only one hike (or bike or run or …) away from changing the world. No. I’m sorry. I have to stomp that hope out right here. It’s simply not true.

We need to change the world. No doubt about that. Our planet is pleading with us to be gentle. The wealth gap yawns ever wider. Racial and gender equity are goals, not current realities. So, yes please, let’s bear those calls to action in mind in everything we do, including our workouts.

But let’s not confuse the workout with the work. Our workout is not a free pass to feel like we’ve already done enough. Oh gosh, thanks so much for going for that run Mina, the homeless situation just solved itself as a result. Our choice to be physically active gives us the strength, endurance, resilience, and such like, so that we can show up in the world as resourced as possible and pitch in with the work that needs to be done.

There’s another insidious bit of nonsense in the sentence (which Nicole, another blogger here, pointed out). Implied in the idea that our hike, bike, run or yoga class can change us and the world is the notion that we are kind and compassionate people who want to make positive change. Is there a logical correlation between working out and being good? At a stretch there’s an argument to be made that being physically active contributes to our mental health (true!) and, therefore, we are better human beings.

That’s a generalization with gaping holes in the knees and thighs of its jeans. Yes, I do think that how we do anything is how we do everything-ish. That “ish” is an important caveat. It’s more that how we do anything demonstrates the potential for how we might do everything—the zeal and commitment with which we may approach other things, if we so choose. It’s not possible to do everything with the same level of enthusiasm and kindness. But, our choice to be active (however that looks for us), may resource us with a larger reserve of enthusiasm and kindness.

The marketing email I got was only repeating the hackneyed inspiration we are fed all over the place these days. We know better. We know how much work it takes to stay active. Then, how much more courage we need to share our gifts. Oh, and to be clear, we are more than allowed to just go for a hike, bike, run, yoga, whatever, just for the sheer pleasure, and not to change anything.  

But when we are in the sharing mood, let’s use our more bountiful resources wisely and joyfully to change our life and the world!

*In case you’re interested, the new media conglomerate (which will be called Outside) includes these magazines: Gaia GPS, athleteReg, Peloton, SKI, Yoga Journal, Backpacker, Trail Runner, Climbing, Clean Eating, Women’s Running, VeloNews; plus Warren Miller Entertainment, Roll Massif, FinisherPix, and more.

fitness

If You Stack A Cord of Wood, Do You Still Need to Workout? (#reblog #bloglove)

A couple of weeks ago, a cord of wood was delivered to my driveway. As daunting as it was, it reminded me of this post. As we are re-blogging posts that still resonate for each of us this week, I couldn’t resist looking back at this one. And–that new cord of wood–it was 2.5 hours of stacking! My partner turned out to be busy with phone calls all morning. Once I got started in on the task, I just couldn’t stop. Yes, I’m one of those people who can get obsessed with finishing. I’m not good at, “Oh, I’ll just do a little of this at a time.” So, this year, there wasn’t any question that my wood stacking was it’s own workout. Except … I’d already gone skiing before the cord arrived. Sigh. It’s been two weeks and I think I’m still recovering!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Functional fitness (akafunctional movement) is a thing now. That’s exercises that train our muscles for regular life activities, like squatting to pick up something we’ve dropped, or reaching for something on a high shelf (or even climbing onto the kitchen counter to reach something, as I did a few days ago). But, do our regular life activities support our workouts? Canmovement with a function substitute for a workout?

I asked myself this question a couple of weeks ago, whena cord of wood was dumped in our driveway at 8 a.m. Just looking at it was pretty daunting. Even though I knew from previous years the stacking wouldn’t take more than an hour (for two of us), all those logs in a giant, jumbled mound sitting in a bed of dust and bits of scattered bark said, “Cancel anything else you planned for the day. I’m the…

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mindfulness

The Marvelous Ms. Mina Show

There’s a voice in my head that encourages me to get out for my run, or ride or, in this season, a cross-country ski. You’ll have fun, she says. And even if it’s not fun today, she assures me that I’ll feel better for having done it. She’s pretty much always right. There’s another voice in my head, which tells me that I’m out of shape and slow and why bother. Sigh. I hear her, all too well, even though she’s mostly wrong.

Yet another voice tells me that I’d feel better if I just had that cute long sleeve base layer in black and mint green that I saw in the ski shop.

These voices are cast members in the long running television series going on inside my head.

Vintage television against checkered wallpaper
Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

I’ve made a cast list:

(note: each distinct character—such as BFC- and BFC+—has a dual, yet integrated and whole, nature and should be played by a single performer, with distinguishing costume elements. Triple asterisks separate each double-faceted character)

Bad Fairy Critic (BFC-)—a generalist, who will criticize anything and everything from my body to my intelligence, to my fundamental worth … AND

Bountiful Fairy Creator (BFC+)—who supports me with empathy and gentle guidance.

***

Fat Face—my inner judge, who is named after the judge in Toad of Toad Hall, a character I played in a grade school production, and who judges me and others, and then judges me for judging others … AND

Agnes—a source of wisdom and discernment, a woman we might have called a witch in times past. She is also organized and practical. She gets shit done. Her name comes from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, an epic, feminist art installation with names of 1038 women of herstory and myth.  The name Agnes showed up multiple times and grabbed my attention.

***

Doña Q—she specializes in delusions of grandeur, followed by vicious re-education sessions to set me straight about my puny capabilities and potential … AND 

Geneviève—my inner voice of compassion and the divine, my superheroine. 

***

Kaitie—she wonders, why bother with anything? You’re just going to end up with wormy chocolate and unwilling visitors who think you are a batty cat lady … AND

Gigi—the Good Girl who does her homework (and workouts) and even the supplementary readings and post workout stretches. She keeps on keeping on.

***

You-Are-Not-Enough—she is the messenger with a trumpet. Hear ye, hear ye, all ye who enter abandon hope of ever being whole, you will never be up to it, no matter what it is… AND

I Am Enough—she isn’t complacent, just assured and at ease, humble, yet also respects her own gifts.

***

Tiffany—she is constantly yearning for that one more perfect piece of clothing that will make her feel whole and cure all the past hurts caused by not fitting in … AND

Audrey—she feels satiated and plentiful, not to mention kickass, when she’s wearing a favourite pair of boots (green velvet!) or piece of clothing (midnight blue silk shirt!).

***

As you’ve no doubt noticed, every character had two sides to her personality—a destructive, bull-in-a-china shop aspect and a creative, you-go-girl aspect. Depending on the day, one or the other will have all the lines and the other one won’t be in the episode at all.

I wondered if I was getting carried away with this naming business and anthropomorphizing the voices in my head. Then I signed up for a workshop in Internal Family Systems. Turns out I was onto something. IFS calls this cast of characters our parts. And it’s not just me, we all have our own personal television series. But it takes time and intention to tune into the right channel. And not just get to know them, but befriend them. Because all of them have our best interests at heart, even if they seem to be toxic.

I’m still in the very early stages of tuning in. But even the bit of bandwidth I’ve gotten access to with this cast list has been enormously helpful. When one of the destroyers starts up with a vicious monologue, I’m learning that being gentle can be an effective Jedi mind trick. If I listen to her, instead of trying to mute her, this softens her edge and can even coax her twin creator personality out of hiding. Well, that’s helpful! When Kaitie is on a trash talking spree about how lousy my cross-country skiing is in the current series episode, I thank her for caring about my skills. Saying thanks presses the pause button on Kaitie’s diatribe. Gigi then takes the moment of silence as an invitation to chime in about how great it is that I’m out on the snow.

Sometimes, I can’t immediately identify who is flaming me. But the very act of trying to discern which cast member is speaking, slows down the action enough to flip the script to the creator. Does it work every time? Nope. Still, having the cast of characters perspective, creates a lot more distance between me and the voices in my head. I get less overwhelmed and sometimes one of them even makes me laugh with a particularly preposterous, over-the-top harangue. The script writer has quite an imagination.

In today’s episode, Gigi got me out for my regular ski workout and BFC+ offered empathy when I was resisting sitting down to write this.

Who are your favourite characters in the series of your life?

habits · mindfulness · motivation · new year's resolutions

I’m Struggling, Can You Help Me Figure Out My Challenge for 2021?

Welcome 2021. We begin the year of how-the-fuck-do-I-make-a-plan? And I’m not even talking about grand plans; regular old-style plans and small wishes and intentions feel hard. For me, it’s six days into the year and I’m still trying to figure out both my Word of the Year and my challenge. I usually have both well in hand by now. This year I struggled mightily to find a word. As for the challenge, I’d love your help.

A bit of background. My cousin introduced me to this Word of the Year practice more than a decade ago. As I wrote last year in my January post, “The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.”  

Past WOTY’s have included presence, grace, renewal and attention. Last year’s WOTY was becoming. I was feeling open, excited and daunted by the challenges ahead. I almost cried when I read how optimistic I was feeling at the beginning of the year. Even though, I also mentioned that I didn’t know what my big project was for the year. I was sure the project would emerge and be so energizing.

Oof.

In the end, there was no big project last year. There were lots of medium and small projects—1) figuring out how to fluidly adjust to the virtual world, when my collaborator, Julia, and I had to cancel the very first weekend retreat we had planned for our new venture, ImagiNation Playshops (embodied emotional intelligence workshops, facilitations and coaching); 2) almost moving to Montreal from New York City and then having that whole plan dissolve at the 11th hour (with significant financial loss); and 3) just plain figuring out how to navigate pandemic normal and the constant low level (sometimes high level) fear that I (or worse, someone I loved) would get sick and …

Plus, there was my sprained ankle in September, followed by agonizing shoulder pain that came out of nowhere, and which I now think may have been generated by all the internal stress and angst of the decision to move to Montreal. A move I’d longed for in my dreams, but which turned out to be way less straightforward logistically and emotionally than I’d expected. As if the pandemic and the US election weren’t enough turbulence and stress, I’d added tearing my life up by the roots. My shoulder is healing. Slowly. I can put on my coat now without feeling like my whole shoulder has dislocated and needing to sit down and recover. And, I am still wondering what my big project will be this year; except now it’s next year and that was supposed to be last year’s wondering.

Aargh.

Wise old elephant. This image came up on Unsplash when I searched “tears” and it just struck me as appropriate, even though I don’t think the elephant is crying. Captured my feeling of pleading with the universe for an answer. Probably the elephant is feeling joyful and I (and the photographer) are totally projecting. Photo by Amy Elting on Unsplash

So, what’s the WOTY that captures this state of ongoing not-quite-sureness? Here’s last year’s list of possible words: “[I]lluminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.”

Oh man. Again, I read those bright, shiny words and I want to cry (okay, I did). I had such plenitude in my spirit. Except this … I do feel like I tapped into new personal resources last year. We all discovered reserves of strength and resilience we didn’t know we had. There is one word that jumps out at me off that old list: recharge. But that’s not my word for this year. The word feels premature. After reading Nicole’s post on January 4, a word started to percolate that felt right: enough.  The “I am” before that word is implicit. I want to practice feeling enough-ness, practice being grateful for the enough-itude in my life and practice relaxing into the gentle comfort of enough. At the same time, I want to use enough as an engine to get motivated around a writing project that’s been percolating in my brain for the last many years, to stay energized around the workshops we are creating at ImagiNation Playshops and to be curious and open to what other projects arise.

Yesterday I was playing with all the permutations that capture the fullness and nuance of my WOTY:

  • Enough-ness
  • Enough-itude
  • Enough-ing
  • Enough-ed
  • Enough-ment
  • Enough-y
  • Enough-es
  • Enough-ly
  • Enough-ful
  • Enough-ist

Yay. I have my word.

How about the challenge mentioned in this post’s title? Challenges are my version of resolutions (but not): “There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over.”

A friend calls these challenges my annual devotional tasks. Last year’s challenge was not buying anything from amazon (except books/tv/film). That proved to be more pointed this year, but I stuck to it. Though, full disclosure, there were a few household items that my partner bought on amazon, that I used. Like the hot plate, because the gas is shut off in our New York apartment, so our stove top is out of commission. I may keep up that new habit, my ongoing protest against the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer companies (and therefore individuals’ pockets). My other challenge was not to shop for clothes/shoes in the alternate (even) months. The no-shopping task was a bust—not because I didn’t stick to it. I did. But because it brought me no peace of mind. In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes/shoes for a whole year. I felt clean and clear by the end of the year (actually by about 3 months in.). While I never intended to extend the challenge beyond the year, I hoped it would make me more mindful. It did, but then that mindfulness started to fade. I thought I’d re-up my attention with the alternate month idea. Nope. Instead, I spent the last week of every even month obsessing about what I might buy during the upcoming odd month. I can’t tell how much of that was also COVID driven. In the midst of a general sense of deprivation, the added denial of not allowing myself to buy something fresh to wear (at home) felt like an extra layer of no-you-can’t. Yes, I recognize that I’m privileged to even be able to contemplate buying something new. So, there’s that, too.

This year … what? I’m struggling to come up with something. After the 2020 we all had, I’m not inclined toward a you-can’t-do-this-thing challenge. And I’d like my challenge to have a generative or contributive element. I’ve thought about creative/artistic writing projects. Write a new poem a month and offer it up to friends in written and audio form? But then, as much as I think other people’s artistic efforts are generative and contribute to our collective fullness, the idea that my own work might do the same appalls me. Egotistical. Delusional.  I know. I only just chose my WOTY and already there’s not a whole lot of enough-ful-ness in my feelings around my work. Sigh.

I wanted to write something cheery and intentional, to inspire myself and you. Instead, I wrote this, a mess of confusion and unknowns.  

Where are you at? I’m in need of your wisdom and insight.

aging · feminism · inclusiveness · stereotypes

I Chose Not to Have Children and I Belong Here, Too

Today, I hit 2 years straight in my daily meditation streak. When I started, I set myself the goal of 30 days. As time passed, I kept moving the goalposts. I feel good about my accomplishment (and I’ve written elsewhere about what I’ve learned). And yet, as soon as I sense those first inklings of pride, I hear the voice: “Well, you don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to meditate every day.” That’s the collective voice of women I’ve known, friends even. It’s also the voice of our society, which has insinuated itself into my psyche, passing itself off as my own judgments of myself. Every accomplishment I might celebrate is diminished by this subtext, “You don’t have children, so it’s easy for you to …” Write a book. Run an ultra-marathon. Start a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and one-on-one facilitations.

Not only do I not have children, I am one of the extreme few women who are childfree by choice. 6-10% by some estimates, but that number sounds high to me; especially given that the total percent of women without children is 15.4%, which includes women who tried without medical success or would have had children, if partnered. In other words, I neither tried, nor was I circumscribed by circumstance. Oh, and my decision is irreversible at this biological point in my life. That’s right, I’m also over fifty. What a disgrace! I’ve allowed myself to age and I did not contribute to society’s diktat of the highest and best use of my female body—having children. Not that our overburdened, beleaguered planet is in need of more carbon footprints. But it turns out that I’m the carbon footprint the world can do without. I am surplus. Not even worthy of pity, because I chose my condition.

How many times have I heard variations on the phrase, “you can do that because you don’t have children”? How many times have I watched a mother’s face cloud over when she asked me if I had children and I answered? How many times have I been told that children keep you young? How many times have I endured pronouncements and opinions prefaced with “as a mother”? How many times have I been told that one has to be unselfish to have children? How many times have I heard that a woman can only truly know love once she has children? How many times have I heard during COVID that it’s the grandparents who can’t see their grandchildren who are suffering most?

The subtexts of each of these statements are demeaning and hurtful.

How about this? –A friend once said that I could (and should) make the effort to buy a fuel-efficient car, but that she could not, because she had children. Not only is it my responsibility to pay school taxes (which I absolutely 100% want to do!), but apparently it would also be helpful if I reduced my consumption, to allow for more by people with children. 

This is the moment when I make the disclaimer: No, I don’t hate children. In fact, there are children I love a whole lot. Same as most people, regardless of their procreative status. More, I enjoy cooking for people and engaging in other standard nurturing activities. And, it distresses me to have to have to clarify these points; in case people think I’m the Wicked Witch for not having children.

Playful sign on homey porch that reads: “Beware the Wicked Witch Lives Here”.
Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

This is a caveat to my disclaimer: Children’s parents can be self-important and insensitive.

I was moved to write this after reading this interview with Jody Day, psychotherapist, author and founder of Gateway Women—I’m losing my shame. Day talks about the pernicious pronatalism of our society, which tells a woman without children, “You’ve failed, you’ve got nothing to offer, you don’t fit in.” This message crashes up against what Day points out is our all too “human desire to be generative.” After all, aren’t children the ultimate generativity? Of course, that standard only applies to women.

I have been struggling lately with feeling generative. Because Day is right. I want to contribute to our society. I want to have a positive impact during my time here on earth. My last book came out in July 2019. I don’t have another one underway … yet. Early this year I founded a new venture offering emotional intelligence workshops and individual facilitations. We launched right as COVID hit, so we’ve been pushing uphill against all those obstacles. I don’t have a regular pay cheque, so I suffer the psychic degradations of an uncertain income. On occasion, in desperate fallow-feeling moments, like now, I think, “If I’d had children, this would be okay; because I could point to them as my raison d’être.” My children would be my accomplishment, my meaning. Instead, I have to stand in my own shoes. Live my own purpose. Find my own meaning. Offer my own grace.     

To do so, I need to overcome the explicit and implicit negative messaging that assaults me from all sides. Women should not be shamed or feel shame for choosing not to have children. One last quote from Day’s interview: “… [J]ust being a childless woman living shamelessly as you age is already radical enough.” Radical? I feel more generative already. I embrace that label. I don the cloak of radicality with insouciant pleasure. I slip it on over the cloak of invisibility assigned to me by society when I reached a certain age without children. My shoulders could feel crushed beneath the weight of the double cloaks. Instead, they feel lighter, looser and easier. The lens through which I’m looking at my life shifts. Free of society’s shoulds and musts, I feel the vitality of energies that want to flow. I remember that I made a conscious choice to be who I am. That choice was a generative act. A decision to share my energies beyond the borders of home and family.

Women without children are abundant; a radiant, radical power source. Let’s plug into our own energy shamelessly, so we can fulfill our highest and best purpose.  

nature · running

Inching My Way Back to Canada On A Spin Bike

I finally made the big decision. Put the Bowflex C6 in my shopping cart. Cate’s given raves how this spin bike is her new best friend. And even though it won’t arrive for 3 months, I’m ready to commit. Montreal winter won’t be over three months from now, nor will pandemic restrictions (or in any event, I don’t see myself going to an indoor spin class for quite some time. 2022?). I put in my new Montreal shipping address and ticked the box confirming that it was not the same as my billing address.  Which, it turned out a moment later, I could not even enter. Only Canadian billing addresses allowed. I only have US credit cards. It turns out the much-vaunted global economy does not include the Bowflex.

So, my partner and I dipped our toes another inch into the Montreal waters and applied for a credit card. We’ve been baby stepping our way toward making this city our new home. We started with the Bixi membership (Montreal’s shared bike system). Moved onto membership in the loyalty program at the pet store. There was an Opus card for the metro system on a rainy day I couldn’t Bixi. Some serious winter running gear, for the more northerly clime. Then a new Canadian bank account, so we could use Interac. I was tired of having to sign credit card receipts for my two-dollar, half-baguette purchase at the boulangerie. The first time I tapped my Canadian debit card was a moment of outsized excitement. I belong!    

New York City has been my much-loved home for the last 27 years. I’ve lived in the same apartment for 25 of those years. Yet, I’ve been feeling itchy for Canada and specifically Montreal. I’m a London, Ontario girl by upbringing. But Montreal stole my heart while I was here doing my undergraduate degree at McGill. Ever since, the city has occupied a corner of my spirit, waving at me from time to time. In September, my partner and I decided to come for a few months, which is looking like it will turn out to be a lot more than that.

Suddenly, the Bowflex C6 isn’t just a spin bike. It will be another little root we are putting down in Montreal. My next rootlet will be a plug-in kettle, because my kettle in NYC is for a gas cooktop and our new stove will be induction. Did I mention that we are also in the process of buying a place to live?

Massive tree roots
NIharika Bandaru on Unsplash

Nothing feels final. Yet. My head and heart are a perfect storm of seemingly contradictory emotions. Grief at leaving friends, my home, my city. Excitement, even exuberance at the prospect of moving to Montreal. Also, there’s a feeling of coming home that has taken me by surprise. One day I was trying to describe it to someone and started crying. I keep thinking of the robot in one of Douglas Adams’ books (not The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, maybe the Dirk Gently, can someone tell me??). The poor robot’s circuits melt down, trying to hold contradictory thoughts in its head—a characteristic that Adams’ points out is so very human.

At first, I wanted to rationalize the grief away. Diminish NYC’s allure and charms, as a way to justify my decision and ease the pain. As if loving the city, my longtime home and my absolutely wonderful friends (!) could not coexist with my desire for a new horizon. I am learning to hold the seemingly contradictory emotions of grief and joy separate and together. There is no contradiction, just coexistence.

What keeps me from spiraling out of control in the midst of the emotional swirl (never mind all the logistics) is moving my body. No matter how turbulent I feel when I set out for a run (or one of my Bixi Queen workouts that I wrote about last month), by the time I’m home, I feel the glow of adventure; a grounded lightness, a shimmer of yes-ness. Sweat is so clarifying. While I never experience quite the same effect from indoor workouts, I’m quite sure that I’ll be super glad for the Bowflex when it finally arrives. And if it turns out that the pandemic is totally eradicated by March or next winter, well I’ll still be happy for the workout flexibility and for the Canadian credit card I needed to buy the spin bike. Each little rootlet supports my new life.

I’m not tearing up roots. I’m extending my roots. With every run on Mont Royal, I feel the tendrils of my nervous system absorbing the new nutrients, feeding my spirit and smoothing my circuits.  

cycling · injury · running

BIXI Queen of Mont Royal

A month ago, my partner and I decamped from New York City to Montreal for the rest of the year (and maybe longer). I’m a McGill alum (and Canadian). Ever since I left Montreal, I’ve had a hankering to come back. Pre-pandemic, we’d started talking about coming for a month to see how we liked being here. Then the turbulent spring paused our plans. When we poked our heads above the parapet again to think about the future, Montreal sent up smoke signals.

Despite the fact that we were quarantined for the first two weeks, and now we’re subject to red zone restrictions, I love being here.

I didn’t arrive in my best-self mental state. Four days before we came, I sprained my ankle. I’d been so looking forward to running on Mont Royal. Keeping up my spirits was hard. I felt like I was holding myself together with string and duct tape. Yes, I’m too dependent on running. Especially when I’m going somewhere new (or old-and-new, as Montreal is). Running is such a great way to explore and get grounded.

So, the first thing I did was sign up for BIXI—Montreal’s shared bike system. The day after we arrived, I headed out on a BIXI to ride up Mont Royal. I quickly found where the real cyclists were (as if I was a fake, because I wasn’t in lycra or on a proper bike and I was wearing an air cast). I joined them up the nice long hill on Camillien-Houde, continued up the wide gravel path for the loop around the cross, returning the way I came. A sweet, challenging, mood-altering ride that took me just under an hour on the BIXI. While it wasn’t the run I’d been hoping for, the ride was grand. What a profound relief, to find a way I could be outside, on Mont Royal, get my heart rate up and protect my ankle.

And here’s the bonus—cyclists cheer for you when they see you toiling up the hill on a 40lb BIXI. I’m sure I’m far from the only person who has ridden Camillien-Houde on a BIXI. When my partner tried to make that claim on my behalf, one of my brothers immediately recounted tales of guys he knew in Europe who took Velibs—Paris BIXIs—up Mont Ventoux, one of the legendary climbs in the Tour de France. Still, I haven’t seen anyone else doing the workout on a BIXI, so I feel like the BIXI Queen of Mont Royal when I get to the top. This past Sunday, I pushed myself by staying in second gear (of seven). When I crested, I was high-fiving the low hanging tree branches on the side of the road. A couple of guys swooshed up behind me, offering bravos as they passed, too. I allowed myself to feel special for a couple of minutes.

Mina on Mont Royal with a BIXI. Unlike so many others on this blog, lifting heavy things is not my forte. I couldn’t quite manage the awkward 40lbs above my head., as I’d planned for this photo.

Even better, my ankle is healing faster than expected. I’m also able to run again—cautiously and not for too long. I started with a stair climbing workout and a super short run, but twice now I’ve done full on runs. I have to remind myself to pay attention to my footing, because the fall colours are eye-popping, starbursts of energy and solace.

When I run, I’m ready to buy real estate and move. On days I BIXI, I’m happy and satisfied by my workout, but I don’t feel quite so impulsive about leaving my home of the last 27 years. Considering the possibility of a move challenges my self-image. I like to think of myself as adventurous and adaptable. Yet, I’m discovering that my roots run deep in New York and to contemplate moving keeps me awake at night. I love my friends and community. I love the apartment we live in. A couple of weeks ago we celebrated 25 years since we moved into our apartment. When we bought the place, our relationship was only 18 months old. The decision seemed precipitous and premature, a leap of faith. Now it’s been our home for the last quarter century. We got married in the apartment. What a comfort. On the other hand, on our move-in anniversary, I suddenly started to worry that I was getting staid; that metaphorical yellowing newspapers are piling up in the corners of my life.

I don’t know what we will end up doing. I’m trying to take life 24 hours at a time. My partner and I check in with each other multiple times a day to see how we are feeling about the possibility of making a change. We know for sure what we will do if Trump wins. But even if he doesn’t, it just might be time for a new leap of faith. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my BIXI crown and the runs my ankle allows.    

fitness

Meditation Hands

Reading Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness for our book club, has gotten me thinking more about the specifics of my meditation practice. Posture, for example, is one of those things I hadn’t been paying close attention to anymore. I don’t mean that I was meditating in slumped over disarray. More that, after some years of practice, I have established my posture. Cross-legged. Seated on a cushion. Back straight. Neck long. Pelvic energy rooting down and my upper body’s energy rising, as if a string were pulling me gently up by the crown of my head. As for my hands, most often, they rest on my thighs, palms down, close enough to my body so that my shoulders and heart can open. Somewhere back in the mists of time I learned that palms down was grounding and palms up was for lightness and a more ethereal experience. But my reason for palms down is prosaic—I find it the most comfortable hand position.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try meditating with my hands in a mudra—palms up, thumb and forefinger lightly touching, the other fingers extended. Even though I mostly meditate alone and no one is watching, I’ve felt uncomfortable with the idea of using a mudra. Too many magazine-y images of yoginis in pristine white outfits, their faces a study in serenity, their perfectly manicured hands holding thumb to finger lightly. Mudras seemed twee, fake, over-earnest, precious, pretentious and just plain why?-ish.

Gyan mudra (I was going to try to find one of those pristine, white-clad images, but why perpetuate that glossy surreality? Also, many of the available images were women meditating in string bikinis. Sigh.)
Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

At first, I felt nothing different, except the slight hitch as my body-mind adjusted to the different hand position. Then, about 30 seconds later, it was as if I’d been plugged in to a gentle, calming yet zesty energy feed. I felt … collected. Gathered.

Not that my mind didn’t wander. It did. Not that I didn’t lose my way. I did. But overall, I felt more invigorated, deeper inside the meditation. The union within and outside myself was more robust. At first, I thought, “Oh, it was just that day.” I was already in a union-y mood, a tuned in to the universe frame of mind. So, I tried the mudra again the next day. And the day after next. Each time, after 15-30 seconds, a similar sensation of plugged-in-ness. It’s been more than two weeks now. I’m continuing the experiment. There has been the inevitable feeling of growing accustomed to the plug-in. The energy doesn’t feel quite as special. At the same time, it is discernible, distinct and interesting. I’m not going to stop.

I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s something to this whole mudra business; those yoga practitioners with their thousands of years of wisdom. In preparation for writing this, I searched out the mudra I’ve been using. It’s called the Gyan mudra and is to improve concentration and sharpen memory. It’s the mudra for seeking knowledge. I like that. I also learned about other mudras, which I think I’d better try now. Who knows what new sensations I’ll encounter with my new meditation hands?

Oh, and one other tidbit I recently learned about my meditation posture. I had noticed over the last year or more that during my sits my head was often turning to the left. As if I were trying to listen to or look at someone or something over my left shoulder. Often, I wasn’t even conscious of the drift until I finished my meditation. A wise guide I encountered recently helped me piece the impulse together—I am listening for my female ancestors, my feminine (feminist!) lineage. I love that idea. But I also want to keep my head pointing forward and use my meditation to listen for all the wisdom. That might be something the Shuni mudra can help me with. I’ll keep you posted.