We landed in Reykjavik at 6:30 a.m., jet-lagged from a too-short overnight flight. After a no-nap day, I went to yoga with my friend, Hope, at 5 p.m. Because we didn’t have to pay in advance, we’d both been touch and go about the class all day, but at the last minute we decided to make the effort.
The day was chill and drizzly, which served the purpose of waking me up some on our 15-minute walk through an adorable neighbourhood of plain, flat-fronted houses painted in bright eye-catching colours. When we got to where the studio was supposed to be, there was a bakery. Puzzling. Until we looked up and noticed what seemed to be (and, indeed, turned out to be) a big spacious room on the second and top floor of the building.
We found the entrance tucked around the side in an alley of sorts, left our shoes on the stairs and climbed up into a big, cozy space—cement walls with what seemed to be graffiti relics from another time, half-painted over with more yogic designs; a high vaulted ceiling stuffed with insulation, covered by plastic sheeting taped to the fresh wood beams. One corner was piled with blankets, props and yoga mats, free for anyone to use. In fact, the whole payment system was quite loose. I didn’t have Icelandic currency, and I couldn’t get into my PayPal account on my phone. Then, when I tried to pay after class on my computer, I had another problem paying in Icelandic currency via PayPal. None of which phased the instructor in the least, even when we showed up the next morning for another class and once again forgot cash. I did ultimately pay via PayPal.
The class was in English. A relief. I was tired enough that following along without any verbal cues would have challenged my capacities. Yet all of the other yogis seemed local—I deduce this from the class cards they showed by way of payment. The instructor was a welcoming combination of wry, laissez-faire and yes-this-is-hard-but-give-it-a-try. Plus, she looked to be only a week or two away from giving birth, which added to the earthy, rooted, yet nourishing, ambience. Quick aside here: As a woman without children, I have a sometimes-complicated relationship with my feelings around pregnant women. So, I was surprised by the unequivocal radiance of the positive energy I felt.
The class started with a seated meditation, during which I nodded toward sleep and jerked into consciousness again a couple of times, with that slight feeling of nausea that coats me like Vaseline the day following a red-eye flight. But once we started moving, my body got happy. The class was strong and focused, a Goldilocks balance between challenge and ease (for me). By the end of the 75 minutes, I felt like I had been put back together.
We decided to go again at 9 a.m. the next morning. I barely woke up in time, but we made it to the class. Same great instructor. Shorter class, at 60 minutes. A stimulating morning flow. I was tired. Unsurprisingly. The class cleared cobwebs, reinvigorated and set me up for a day of exploring. Perfect again. Two for two at Reykjavik Yoga.
Plus, breakfast from the bakery below.
I love going to yoga in a new town; helps me align with the place. Other days, I ran and hiked. The Icelandic landscape cuts me to the quick. It’s an easy place for me to satiate my abiding craving for movement. We did have a slight hiking mishap involving sleet, high winds, an unmarked trail and frayed hiker nerves, but that’s a story for another post.
Traveling is by its nature an adventure. It’s a gift when I can find points of familiarity, which help me locate, while at the same time, immersing me in the newness. Yoga is one of those locators for me.
Some days I run in my body. Some days I run in my head. It’s not a hard and fast separation, of course (body and mind are one). But, depending on the day, body or head dominates my run. The last couple of runs I’ve done have been in my head. My mind is busy writing a script and delivering its lines and it’s not until mid-run, or even post-run, when my mind notices that my body actually had a much better run than my mind was narrating.
On Sunday, I went out feeling unmotivated and more like watching Season 3 of the Danish television show Seaside Hotel. I reluctantly put on my running gear, laced my shoes, plugged into the audio book I’m listening to (Marshall Rosenberg’s Speaking Peace) and took off. The inner voices had a feisty script to deliver. Run a loop. Or not. If you feel like cutting off the top or bottom of the park, that’s fine too (that’s a thing in New York City’s Central Park, where there are clear options to take a mile off the top or bottom of the standard loop). Okay, I know said anything is fine and I meant it, but why not? So, I ran the whole loop, feeling neither super perky nor as draggy as I’d expected. At the 11th hour in my run, I ran past the last possible entrance to The Reservoir loop. That’s a dirt track around the reservoir in the middle of the park. As I ran past, a loud argument started up in my head. Girlfriend, you haven’t run that loop in ages. What’s wrong with you?Why are you being critical? She can run it when she feels like it. When’s that ever going to happen?Stop being so hard on her. She’ll do it when it feels good. And today is not that day. Whereupon, my body suddenly chimed in. Hold on, I do feel like running the reservoir loop. Do you really, or are you just saying that because you feel pressured? No. I don’t think so. Give me a moment. I’m checking in with the legs and feet. Yup. All parts are a go. I turned around, ran back to the reservoir and did the loop. My body was tired yes, but also in high spirits when I got home. My head was slowly dragged from doubting to cautious pleasure.
Second example. Yesterday, I woke up with a mild case of the post-Labour Day back-to-school blues, that feeling that everything should be starting fresh and yet it isn’t, those unaccountable blues that can’t just be ascribed to one particular thing. My body was not feeling springy. My spirit had even less loft. But I could see that it was a beautiful day and I couldn’t face a workout that involved a screen and being indoors. Again, I put on my running kit with unwilling resolve. Halfway up the first block from my apartment an argument broke out in my head.
I can’t do this. It’s boring. It’s too long. Oh for goodness’ sake, just get on with it. How about we compromise? Instead of the loop, let’s just run up to the north woods and do repeats on that short, sharp dirt hill. Okay, but I’m going to be slow. That’s fine. It doesn’t even matter. You can’t not get a good workout, no matter what speed you go. Plus, you get to be in the woods and on dirt. Fine. Just get on with it.
I ran. I repeated. I listened to my book. I got home feeling decent, if still bluesy. Then, I had breakfast with my partner and he asked how my run went. I told him what I’d done and he said, “And that didn’t feel good?” His question made me realize that my mind hadn’t caught up to my body yet. Because, yes, my body was happy with the run and my head hadn’t taken the time to note that fact.
Running in my head can be very noisy. Running in my body is quieter. The quiet doesn’t mean faster or stronger, as I used to think. It just means less blab-blab-blab. When I try to fight the blabs by telling them to be quiet, they just get louder. I am learning, ever so slowly, that taking my head and body where they are at and running with whichever one wants to take the lead on any particular day, is more easeful. Letting the voices roll, allowing them to caution, berate, encourage, argue and generally raise a ruckus is more fruitful than trying to quiet them. When I can resist the urge to pile on to their tirades, to spin myself into their vortices of whatever feels hot to them that day, when I can just be present to their narratives, give them a respectful listen as I run, I notice there’s a calming effect on their vociferous need to get as many words in edgewise as possible.
The most important practice when I’m running in my head is to be mindful of checking in with my body, because she may have a different story to tell. I want to listen to her, too. And I don’t want to miss an opportunity to express my gratitude to my body, for all her hard work and all the pleasure she has given me and continues to give me over our many miles together.
I sit down on my meditation cushion for day 999 of my current meditation streak. This particular cushion is a stack of two stained decorative pillows on a day bed in an Airbnb in Montreal, where I’m staying with my mother, the first time I’ve seen her since the beginning of the pandemic. The mind chatter starts right in:
Why do I never get any credit for my accomplishments? I’m so tired of these people who tell me that their daily activities are “meditations”—running, gardening, whatever. Last night it was counting stitches in knitting and something about watching sports and managing frustration. Meanwhile, here I am putting in the work of sitting down every single solitary day. Oh right, you call that work? Okay, yeah, it’s most often only for 10 minutes. Exactly, I don’t know what you are even pleased with yourself about? Can everyone just stop taking my meditation away from me with all their fake-itations?! Whoa. Hold on a minute. Who’s the fraud in this scenario? That’s a lot of me-me-me-notice-me about a meditation. Holy antithesis. Is that why you meditate, for the credit? Also, when did you become the Académie Française of meditation, the anointed-one-from-on-high who gets to define what counts as a meditation? Also, also, who the fuck cares what other people are doing? What does that have to do with your meditation? When did meditation become a competitive sport? Also, also, also, juvenile!
Time out. Can everyone take a breath? I hear all of you. But if we pause, can you feel how it doesn’t matter? Can you see how people might be talking about their meditative practices to connect with you, not to diminish you? And, news flash, you do a good enough job diminishing your own self. You don’t need anyone else’s help with that. Plus, a reminder, tuning into this chatter and letting it flow through and away is your practice. Good job. I mean it. Well done.
Just there, did you feel that moment of peace? The way it arrived like a comforting weighted blanket? Aah. That feels good. Let all people call whatever they want their meditation.
Wait. Wake up. Enough with the I’m-so-zen, have you forgotten what’s happening today? Oh man, what the hell am I doing with my life, starting a new 10-month training course in Non-Violent Communication? It’s too late. I’m too old. I’ll never finish. When will I be a grown up? I’m in way over my head. How about the monthly travel to Canada from the US? All the documentation. Every time. For what? No one is ever going to hire me. Why are you even doing this? And don’t even give me that over-earnest answer, to make a contribution. Cue the violins. It’s the same as with your meditation. Do you really want to contribute or do you want to be seen to be contributing? Grandiosity.
Okay, I’m calling a time out again. This is not advice, just a suggestion. Surrender. Seriously, I mean it. You know (know-know, in that cellular way) that this course is the right thing for you, for how you want to be in the world. That’s enough. You don’t have to waste time doubting yourself. I know you feel like you need to fight this with doubt. But you really don’t have to. You can just be with what is.
Did you hear that?
I felt it—silence resonating in my mind-body. It was only a few seconds. That’s enough, isn’t it? Yes.
The gong sounds, bringing my meditation to a close. I open my eyes and look out at the green hill of Mont Royal, visible from my aerie. I was running up there not more than an hour ago, enlivened with the joy of movement. Spaciousness fills me again. I am light, yet grounded, centered, fluid and strong. I am ready for breakfast with my mother and then back-to-school. How fitting.
The voice in my head, who I’ve named IO (pronounced ee-yo), doesn’t like the T-word. She says, “Don’t use that word to describe certain events in your life (such as being sexually assaulted by a tennis instructor). You’re going to get all fragile and breakable. All boohoo about shit. You’re a strong woman. I don’t want you to be defined by trauma. Also, nothing that’s happened to you begins to compare to what other people have experienced. What’s happened to you are only flesh wounds. Comparatively. Worse—they’re psychic wounds, which are literally not flesh wounds. Calling them wounds begins with the same letter of the alphabet as wallow.”
IO’s rough assessment is what led to a recent text-versation with a friend, in which she told me that she felt disconnected from me, “in the realm of trauma, because you have let me know that you don’t believe you are traumatized and find the word pathologizing.” She went on to say that she didn’t feel safe or free of my judgment in this context. Her words stung. I felt like a heartless ogre. The next morning, I woke tired, feeling fragile, questioning my relation to trauma—other people’s and my own, which is how I found myself thinking about my tennis instructor while riding my mountain bike.
I was riding up a trail I call True Grit 4. The trail has some steep bits and three short sections on which it’s always questionable whether I’ll make it or not (here making it equals staying on the bike). Questionable section one (QS1) went off without a hitch—smooth and still surprising each time I make it through the steep, sandy S-turn. QS2 was wonky. On a sharp left uphill littered with rocks, I rode up the wrong line, riding over rocks, instead of finessing between them, and almost abandoned hope. But I told myself I could still do it. And I did. A second surprise.
After two successes, I was feeling confident about QS3, so I let my mind wander to the tense text exchange from the night before with my friend. I started thinking about a pickle ball clinic I’d taken the week before. It was the first time I’d been on a tennis court since my long-ago lessons with that coercive instructor. Playing something similar to tennis. The first 15-minutes had brought back a rush of unease that swirled my stomach. IO was in top volume denial, telling me to get over it. As I pedaled, I thought about why I do not want to name that event as a trauma, even as my body was re-experiencing the self-disgust and shame.
And … I whiffed QS3. Normally, I’d just continue with my ride. But this day I was not going to accept the situation. I got off my bike. Hoisted it around on the narrow trail, walked it back 10 meters. Pointed it back up the trail. Gave myself a talking to. Gently. The voice of my centered, compassionate Self said, “You can ride this. Yes, you have every right to feel uneasy on a tennis court and we’ll talk about that. But this is not the moment to think about tennis.” This voice’s name is JG (yes, I name a lot of the voices in my head, because it helps create the distance that I need to get perspective on what they are saying).
I had barely enough time to clip back into my pedals before I was navigating between the rocks on the short steep turn that is QS3. I reassured myself it was okay if I didn’t clip back in. Lots of people ride mountain bikes now with flat pedals, not clipless. I was so focused on relaxing and not worrying about my pedals that I rode up with ease. I wasn’t thinking about tennis.
Later, I checked back in with IO. She told me that since the word trauma was on my mind she had been hitching on my shoulder for the ride. But when I got off my bike to try QS3 again and JG showed up, she went up the trail to watch my second try. IO said, “You looked great, by the way, relaxed and determined.” I was so surprised by her change in tone, I almost didn’t hear her.
On the mountain bike, in that moment on QS3, my psyche and body felt the difference between pushing away the name of trauma and accepting what is with empathy. Psychic or physical, our pain is real, not only a flesh wounds. Oh, and by the way, flesh wounds can be fatal. Why would I discount trauma? Life hurts. Life is not only a flesh wound. It’s a near fatal blow some of the time. Yes, I’ve been lucky, in the grand scheme. I won the lottery in my birth situation. But … my life hasn’t been a cakewalk either. When I insist on thinking of it as a cakewalk, I beat myself up about not being enough. Look at all those people who have overcome bigger obstacles than me to become great fill-in-the-blanks (artists, leaders, entrepreneurs). Why haven’t I done more with my life?!?!
JG says, “Compare and despair. Just stop. You are enough. Keep going, just as you are.”
JG says, “Yes, the tennis incident was hurtful and horrible AND you can keep going, not in denial or minimization, nor in wallowsomeness or exaggeration, but in acceptance and empathy, with confidence, with a spring in your step, with lightness and the grace of heated steel. You are under construction, not broken, and the scars not only make you stronger, they make you more beautiful. Wabi Sabi.”
That my traumas are not as big T as other people’s, does not relegate them to an offsite storage unit. The name of trauma is not in and of itself pathological. My wounds are part of me. Undeniable. Impactful. The key to flow in my life is finding the suppleness of empathic resilience. That’s what got me up QS3. And what got me home with joy and the zeal to write this. That’s what will open my heart to myself and other people. That’s what will get me up the mountain of life. Today and for the tomorrows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.