Fear · femalestrength · hiking

When a Long Hike Becomes an Ultra Hike: How Fear and Strength Make Friends

This past Saturday, my partner and I set out for an 18-mile (30 km) hike from the Castle Peak parking lot at Boreal (near Truckee, CA) to the Mt Lola parking area (near Sierraville). As the hike is a point-to-point, we prepped by parking a car at the finish on Friday. We set out at 7:45 a.m., looking very much forward to 6 or 7 hours of hiking and a dip in the lake just past the halfway point and another in Independence Lake after we finished.

We’d done the route once before, three years ago, and had happy memories of the effortful day. So, we had only the most rudimentary of paper maps with us. No apps or maps downloaded on our phones. After all, we weren’t novices to the trail and it wasn’t as if the mountains or lake could have changed locations. And the route was simple, follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to the Mt Lola junction. Take a right. Follow the only trail past White Rock Lake up and over the top of Lola, then down the other side. We’ve hiked the “other side” of Lola many times as up and down. Familiar turf.  

We found our groove quickly. My partner and I have hiked together a lot and we both enjoy a brisk pace, with a minimum of stops. We passed through familiar spots of the hike, noting with pleased surprise at how much sooner we seemed to be getting to them than we’d expected. As we passed through Paradise Valley, my partner commented that it should only be another mile or so to the Lola junction. He also said that if we got to a traveled road, then we’d gone too far. We hiked on. And on. And on. We crossed a few dirt roads, most of which were clearly logging roads (i.e. untraveled). One had a sign that said “Entering Zone X.9”. We didn’t remember the road, but dismissed it as untraveled. After all, we didn’t see any cars on it as we passed by. We climbed up and over an exposed ridge. We looked back at Mt Lola and kept hiking. We expressed doubt. My partner, who likes to quantify things, said he was 10% uneasy. I was I-don’t-know-what-percent uneasy. We rationalized. We downgraded our assumed pace. We immersed ourselves in denial.

Also, I was annoyed at myself for still not buying a full brim sun hat for hiking. We passed people wearing peaked caps and hoodies as protection against the sun (not just the sun, California Sierra Mountains sun). Every time I felt its hot glow beating against the side of my face, a surge of resentment about my inadequate sun protection coursed through me. Also, I was hiking with a camelback, which had a new 1L bladder, 500 ml less than my previous 1.5L bladder. I was mad at myself for not bringing enough water. Also, I was wearing trail runners that I’d only worn one other time and I wasn’t liking them as much as my standard faves. I had a little hot spot on one of my heels.

Finally, when it seemed incredible that the junction was still ahead of us, we asked the next person we saw. A young woman, a solo northbound PCT through-hiker we caught up to (impressive!). She had an app.

After some consultation, expanding and tweezing the map on her phone, she said, “The junction is 5 miles back.”

IMPOSSIBLE. My mind screamed. I didn’t even feel capable of talking to the young woman anymore. My partner said thank you and good bye to her with great cheer. I was fuming. Why hadn’t I brought the good map we have at home? Yes, it unfolds and is huge. But still. Why hadn’t I thought to download an app? Or even look for one? What kind of self-reliant feminist was I (especially compared to the daring, app-savvy woman we’d just met)? This, in addition to my sunhat and water self-criticism.

As we passed them, we asked two more groups of backpackers if they’d seen the Lola cut-off. No one had. Sidenote: We actually didn’t see any other day hikers. Everyone we asked had apps and assured us the junction was 4.2 miles, then 3.2 miles back. One woman even showed us a picture of the bridge 2/10ths of a mile from the turn off. We knew exactly where it was. Each time, my partner was cheery and friendly with the backpackers. And each time people said things like, “Oh that happened to us yesterday.” Or, “Think of it as more time outdoors.”

I was way too frustrated to be as friendly as I could-have-should-have been. I wanted to say things like, “I don’t f@#*&ing need more time outdoors. Don’t you dare presume to know what’s good for me. I’m not just a jock. I want to read my book, too.” And other such unhelpful thoughts. At one point I sat down on a rock and declared myself done and unable to go on and that my partner should just continue without me. My partner assured me that we would make it. I refused to be cheered. Even though another part of me knew he was right, that resilient voice was getting way outshouted by the catastrophizer. Let’s call her, Apocalyptica.

We filled up on water at a high mountain spring. My partner gave me the rest of his water, which restocked my supply. And then refilled his own from the stream. We had no tablets or filter. He reasoned that it was better if only one of us got sick from the water, if that was going to happen. Thankfully, I can report at this distance of days from our hike that he’s fine! I’m grateful for his taking the risk. And for his calm throughout.

At a certain point on our way back, the resilient voice started to get some airtime. Let’s call her, I-Got-This. Apocalyptica had had her fun and was willing to let someone else take the microphone. I-Got-This reasoned that my partner and I were both strong enough. We had enough water and food and there was no still no pressure to finish. Even with 10 miles extra, we would be home well before dark. Sure, the hiking might get uncomfortable. But hey, wasn’t that what being strong was for? Plus, just think of how rock star we would feel when we finished. Soon, I-Got-This was the only voice I heard. She reminded me of the ultra-marathons I’d run. Yes, they were in 2011. Even better, I-Got-This assured me, this was a golden opportunity to renew the feeling of accomplishment I’d had when I did those runs.

When we hit the crucial bridge, we slowed way down. Our eyes combing the ground. And there it was. A weather worn grey wood sign lying on the grey dusty ground at a bend in the trail. So easy to miss. We changed its location to make sure the next hikers wouldn’t be misled. The path we wanted was nothing more than a thin filament threading through the long grass. Not many people take the cut off. We didn’t see another hiker for the next 7 miles.

What a relief! Just finding the right trail was shot of adrenaline. I-Got-This was dancing. Even Apocalyptica was grooving. She gets her thrills from the possibility of a catastrophe, not from its actual occurrence. I would have busted a move, too, but I was conserving energy. We still had 8.5 miles to go. A mile later, we found the rock we’d eaten lunch on the last time and ate lunch. Took a dip in White Rock Lake. Heavenly. Putting our shoes and socks back on after a dose of cold water was the balm we needed to recoup our spirits for the climb up Lola; an extended effort, which saves the steepest part for the top.

White Rock Lake–from the shore, halfway up Lola and the top of Lola.

Oh, wondrous summit! We lay down on a flattish rock for 10 minutes to replenish. Ate a salty chocolate granola bar. Then set out for the last 5 miles. All downhill. Every twist and turn and change of terrain comforted us with its familiarity. At the sight of our little red pickup truck at trail’s end, we yelped with relief. We. Were. Exhausted.  

The day wasn’t over. We had an hour drive to pick up our car at the starting trailhead. Then we mustered a final drop of energy for ice cream by Donner Lake: Mountain Mint Chip for me; Truckee Trails flavour for my partner (that’s a vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate flakes). This is ice cream’s calling. To nourish body and soul.

Yes, we agreed that we felt pretty darn proud of ourselves for our 28-mile (46km) hike. And, we agreed that we would have been very happy (equally happy?) with the hike-as-planned; plus, we would have avoided a decent amount of agita.

Still, in these early days of reflecting on the hike, I’m glad for the experience. With each of these conversations between Apocalyptica and I-Got-This, IGT grows stronger and surer of herself; Apocalyptica more willing to step aside. Apocalyptica will never quiet completely. If she did, I’d miss her dramatic flourish in my life. But I sure do appreciate her growing accord with IGT. Together they prepare me for our ever-uncertain future.

habits · rest · running · self care · training

Navigating the Tricky Balance Between Effort and Ease

I’m feeling wobbly. I’m not quite managing the balance between effort and ease. Could be that I’m finally allowing myself to feel the full weariness of the pandemic, now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that emerges into an as-yet unknown future). Could be that I’ve been gorging myself on a lot of inputs, between the multiple Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems trainings I’m attending, the practice groups I belong to, plus writing coaching clients, and my own workshop development and writing, plus some deep dive personal development work.  That psychic tiredness may be spilling over into physical tiredness, too. But I keep trying to push my way through the depletion into a higher energy state. This tendency is most obvious in my physical activities.

Here’s an example from a few days ago. I woke up in a hole. The voice in my head who likes to tell me I’m not enough was on a tear. Vivienne (that’s the voice’s name and yes, I give the voices in my head names) hadn’t actually taken up much air time recently. I’d almost forgotten how ferocious she can get. I headed out on a run, with the idea of appeasing her. When she’s on a bender, she wants me to sweat first, then get to some tasks. From the first step of my run, I was dragging. About 45 minutes in, I arrived at a short, steep dirt hill, where I sometimes do repeats. I thought, “No, no, no.” Vivienne said, “Oh yes.” I tried to negotiate, “Okay, but just three.” Vivienne said, “Do the full five.” Five is my usual. I did them. Vivienne’s concession in our semi-détente was to allow me to skip the plyometric jumps I do at the end of runs. Mainly, because I’d almost whiffed a jump on my last run (from tiredness). The hill repeats inside of an 8.5-mile run were enough to satisfy Vivienne’s performance standards for me that day. Almost … there was still the Peloton ride.  

The post-run ride is a new routine I’ve developed since acquiring the Peloton in December; big help reducing how stiff and sore my legs are after a run. You know that feeling when you get up from your desk chair and your legs feel cramped up and six inches shorter? I don’t get that feeling nearly as much since I started the new routine.

Vivienne and I both agreed that I should not skip the ride, my protection against the creaky feeling. But … I couldn’t muster the minimum 10-minutes I usually ride post-run. I opted for a 5-minute cool-down ride. More, I did not even start at the minimum (yet elevated) resistance level recommended. Vivienne was unimpressed by my output (output is an actualnumber on the Peloton bike). Our truce was cracking. I was trying to convince her that hey-you-got-on-the-bike-and-that’s-what-counts.   

After all, a couple months ago I wrote here about the importance of counting the 5-minute Peloton rides, because they are essential to our recovery. This day, my breezy confidence about their worthiness was put to the test. When my ride ended, all the statistics shot up on the right side of the screen, as they always do. This was not a day I wanted to see them. But, before I could swipe them away without looking, I saw it. The badge. Congratulations on 100 rides, Mina. As if to say, “Put your money where your mouth is (or more precisely where your pen was two months ago on this blog)! Not only do the 5-minute rides count. You hit your first big milestone on one.”

Other riders on Peloton organize themselves in advance to make sure they do a milestone ride live, on the hopes of a shout-out from the instructor. Still others plan around hitting a milestone live and on their birthday. But me, I don’t even know the milestone is coming, because I’m not keeping track. And when it does, it lands on the least significant ride I’ve done to date (in terms of effort). It sure felt like the universe was having a laugh, as if to say, “Hi Mina, this is The Karmic Coincidence Squad, remember when you said the 5-minute rides count? Indeed, let the ride be counted!”

Back in April, I wrote that our 5-minute rides are as important as the longer, grittier rides. Perhaps more so. Because they are a gift to ourselves. So, my gift to myself with this 5-minutes was ease. Offering grace to my legs and spirit, on a day I needed some. That is milestone worthy.

But maybe the universe was also telling me to take a closer look at how I’d gotten so far out of balance that a 5-minute ride was maximally taxing. Why am I so physically tired? I haven’t been doing significantly more than usual. In theory, I’ve been running shorter distances and making up the miles with between 10-20 minutes on the Peloton, after my runs. But am I actually running less than I would? And is the effort on the bike equivalent to the effort of running an extra mile or two? Plus, I should note the pre-Pilates spins that I’ve added in, too (which are meant to replace the casual bike ride to and from the studio in pre-pandemic times). Also, often those spinning minutes are intervals, even high intensity intervals. Maybe all those 10-20-minute tag-alongs are wearing me down?

I wrote that last sentence the next day after the milestone. As I watched the words unfurl on the page, the reality settled into my body. I’ve had 5 days now to process the message. A short spin may reduce soreness, but it does not, unfortunately, reduce tiredness. My tag-along spins may be contributing to my depletion. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. But sometimes we just need rest. It’s time to re-evaluate my routine, it might have lost its balance.

A small bird balanced between two flower stalks, holding on with its toes. I love that one of the flowers is blown out and missing its petals and the other still has its petals–that felt right for illustrating the balance between effort and ease. KT on Unsplash

The fulcrum between effort and ease is constantly changing. Navigating a course through those uncertain waters is a dynamic, evolving practice. Hitting that milestone as I slid off the bike in a state of wet-noodledom after 5-minutes woke me up to that fact. Again.

In the past 5 days, in addition to taking it extra easy on my rest day, I scaled back on the intervals and opted for a couple of slower, steadier rides over the rainy long weekend. After my run two days ago, I spent the time I would have been spinning, stretching instead. And this morning, I hit a personal best on my ride. That felt like the universe offering me a quick reward to reinforce the message.

Recalibrate often. More ease can enable more effort.

Now the trick is to apply that to my whole life.

habits · mindfulness · self care

The Art of Flouranguishing: How Time and Space Help Me Feel Better

Flouranguishing: the state of simultaneously flourishing and languishing (see also: being human)

Recently a number of my friends circulated an article about the blah many of us currently feel as COVID drags on. The author named the sensation as languishing. Even as we get vaccinated, so much still seems risky or is outright closed off to us. We aren’t quite depressed, but we aren’t quite happy. We are in the doldrums. Sigh. Some days I languish more than others. Yesterday, for example, halfway through breakfast, out of the blue, I was afflicted with a deep sense of oh-what’s-the-point. As the day progressed, I started to perk up, but I could still feel the layer of languish in the background.

Because, generally, despite all during this pandemic, I feel like I’m flourishing (about which I feel some guilt and self-consciousness and even shame—because, how dare I flourish during these dark times, doesn’t that just indicate I’m an entitled, selfish so-and-so?).

The pandemic’s Zoomification of our world made it possible for me to start training toward a certification in Non-Violent Communication (maybe … I’m not 100% committed to the certification process yet, as I write this the sign-up page for the next phase is open in my browser).. NVC then led me to some Internal Family Systems training. I have discovered new ways of working and being. I’m exhilarated every time I uncover yet more ways in which NVC and IFS connect into and inform the work I was already doing (workshops on emotional intelligence, among other things). Athena Casey recently interviewed me for The Intolerance Podcast, which gave me a great chance to synthesize this understanding for myself. Talking with her got me excited all over again about this path I’m on.

Except … for the days when I wonder why I thought it was a good idea to add in a whole different discipline at well into my fifties; and further wonder whether all this curiosity can actually lead where I want it to lead, or whether I’m just an eternal dilettante, destined to pedal as hard as I can, but never go anywhere, a stationary bike I can’t get off. Uh oh. Languishing again.

Then, I perk up. Again. A friend recently mentioned that when we are low about the future, it is helpful to simply change the time horizon. That is certainly true for me. When I look forward a year or further, I can see where I’d like to be, but not how to get there. That’s a languisher, for sure. But when I shorten the time horizon to, say, the next two days, I’m looking at a 2.5-day NVC workshop on gratitude and I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m going to love it. That’s a flourisher.

Back and forth. Again.

Oh, and that’s not all. There has been other flourishing, too. In response to the languishing article, another friend sent a piece about flourishing during the pandemic, which pointed out a bunch of ways we might discover new richness in our lives these past months. One was connecting with friends and family in a different rhythm. Well, that’s happened for me, too. Pre-pandemic, I was in regular communication with my mother via text, but we virtually never talked on the phone. I’m a phone-o-phobic, so I’ve never been good about calling. Now? –we are having long Zoom confabs twice a month. Sometimes my two brothers join, one of my sisters-in-law and some nieces and nephews. We’ll have New York, Calgary, London (Ontario) and the other London (UK) all together. I’m also zooming with friends in other cities and countries, with whom I was only sketchily in touch before. An IRL friend recently asked me why I was still doing friend-zooms. Why would I stop? I’ve made space for them in my life. Why would I want to diminish the joys of being more in touch with geographically distant friends?

Because, it turns out we can use space, just as we used time, to alchemize some flourish out of languish. Here’s a Zen story:

A student of Zen came to their teacher and asked her how they could learn to feel less frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed. They wanted to know how to calm their pervasive anxiety and sometime depression. The Zen teacher asked the student to bring her a teaspoon of salt. When the student came back, the teacher presented the student with a beautiful, clear glass of water and asked them to mix the salt into the water and drink.

“Pthaugh. Yuck,” the student said, spitting out the salty water. “How is that going to help me?”

The teacher then invited the student to get another teaspoon of salt and meet her down at the lake. At the lakeshore, the teacher asked the student to mix the spoonful of salt into the lake, then fill their glass with the lake water and drink it (this is the land of Zen myth, the lakes are unpolluted, pure and potable).

“Aah. Delicious,” the student said. “But … ??”

“Your mind is a glass of water. Now, make it a lake.” 

I already mentioned how we can change time to our advantage. Well, it turns out we can fiddle with space, too. Gratitude, for example, is a huge space maker. For me, if I can make my mind a lake, I make room to access the flourish-nutrients available just from noticing what is going well and being grateful. I’ve stayed healthy, so far. I have continued to run and mountain bike and ski and spin and Pilates and, and … The spring cherry blossoms were fat and fabulous this year. My partner and I celebrated 27 years together.    

Flouranguishing is the art of being present to our humanness. We are rarely all one thing. And we are certainly not a duality either. We do not languish OR flourish. We are rarely (if ever) experiencing one single emotion, one unique condition of being. We live in a soup of simultaneous states. How we use time and space determines which ingredients dominate.

Here’s the constant that I’m trying to work with right now. I have the power to choose what flavours I focus on in the soup. Languishing may feel like it is imposed on me from the outside, due to circumstances beyond my control (the pandemic, the inherent uncertainty of the future). Yet, I can still make the choice to focus my attention on what’s flourishing. As hard as it may seem at times, I want to be present with what is good, right now. To be grateful, even and especially for the smallest things. To engage with life. None of this is to say that I’m pushing the languish away, or compartmentalizing. No. I recognize and even honour the languish. At the same time, I set the intention to notice the flourish.

Running this morning, my body was so tired. I heard out the part of me who was exasperated with my exhaustion. In fact, there was a pretty extended discussion between the various voices in my head about whether I should cut my run short. But then I picked my eyes up off the pavement and noticed what a beautiful morning it was, how good the air felt on my skin and remembered that the only measure of success that mattered today on my run was pleasure. So, when the option to abridge my route came up, I ran right past. I wanted to stay with the trees in all their fresh green. And, when I made that choice, my body suddenly felt more ease, the run more fluid.

Another day, the choice to shorten my run will be the one that resonates for my body and grants ease. My work is to listen for when a decision is about languishing and when about flourishing. With time and space at my disposal, I have powerful tools to support my intention to savor the flavour of flourish.

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…

View original post 790 more words

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.