movies

First, Believe in Yourself: a movie review of Run Woman Run

Beck, a woman of indeterminate age (possibly between 28-35), in a slouchy bathrobe with a pizza motif, drives to the mailbox at the end of her not-long driveway, a cigarette hanging from her mouth. The scene is set for this story of a single mother who has lost her way following the death of her own mother a few years earlier. She lives in her father’s basement. Shares a bed and late-night cookies with her son (also of indeterminate age between 10-14). And fights with her younger sister, who has just earned her certificate to teach their mother’s native tongue, Kanyen’kéha (the Mohawk language) and is moving out of the family home to fuel her independence. Meanwhile, Beck fuels herself on donuts and 5-sugar-5-cream coffees. Even after she suffers a diabetic coma, Beck has trouble finding reasons to take care of herself. Until she’s visited by the ghost of her distant ancestor, the legendary marathon runner Tom Longboat, the first Indigenous runner to win the Boston Marathon in 1907 (60 years later, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run Boston). Longboat becomes Beck’s running coach. And running, of course, is a metaphor for Beck’s belief in herself, and not just herself, but also her heritage.  

Movie poster for Run Woman Run, showing Beck eating donuts in her pizza bathrobe, with a wall calendar behind her featuring Tom Longboat.

Run Woman Run braids together the threads of Beck’s unwillingness to face the reality of her health; Longboat’s dry humour and encouragement, as he guides her toward her running heritage; and her rediscovery of the gift of her mother’s language. I was about to write, “slowly, Beck learns to believe in herself again.” But actually, things happen in movie time. The film flirts with cliché, as Beck determines to train for her first marathon in one month. There is the anticipated montage of training scenes, rain or shine. The loneliness. The despair. The hope. There’s a cute scene of Beck getting tangled up in her first running bra. That still happens to me sometimes, when the straps get too fancy. There’s the how-will-she-ever scene where Beck is driven to the finish line of her first 10k in a golf cart. And there’s the inevitable disbelief of her family.

Beck perseveres. A short month later she runs 26.2 miles alone (well, with the ghost of Longboat and the felt pen drawings and names of kin she’s covered her arms and chest with to remind her of who she is running for–more on that in a moment), on a course she’s mapped out herself, starting and ending at her father’s house. At the finish line, aka the mailbox she once drove to in her pizza bathrobe, she is greeted by her family with love and hugs. The romance hinted at halfway through the movie fizzles, as it should. Beck must believe in herself first.

While I didn’t love the film, I appreciated the quiet victory, the characters (each one of whom was just trying their best) and the gentle touch with the trauma at the core of the film.

And, there was one element that frustrated me. It is this: what finally motivates Beck to start running is when her son moves out to live with his father again  Her son can’t bear the fear of waking up again beside his mother in a diabetic coma. Before each training run, Beck writes Eric on her heart and shoulder and arm to remind her of why she’s running  As a woman without children, I wonder, what does a woman without children do? How does she find the will to live after tragedy?

As I mentioned, on “marathon day”, Beck draws felt tip pen tattoos all over her arms, to represent each person she is running for. It’s Longboat who has to remind her that she also needs to run for herself.

Indeed. Why do women always have to be pushing themselves for others and never for themselves? Are they, as individuals in their own right, not worth it? I don’t mean that we should not desire to serve others and the world. I believe that we are here to offer our contribution. And yet, I want, too, that women value themselves. I wanted Beck to run because she was worth saving, not just because she was someone’s mother and her son needed her. I have a dream that women have worth far beyond their parental status (just as men have always had). I’ve written about my own choice not to have children here.

Despite this sticky element, I still enjoyed the film. The Facebook page describes the film this way: Run Woman Run is the Indigenous comedy that hits your funny bone the way a donut hits your blood sugar. I didn’t experience the film as quite that much of a jolt. I’d describe it more as an apple—a sustained healthful energy. I learned that Kanyen’kéha has no word for “empty,” which continues to fascinate me. Contemplating a worldview without emptiness is mind expanding.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a list of how to stream. Support women in film! And if you watch or you’ve already watched. I’d love to know your thoughts.

fitness

Moving Through Big Emotions

I feel seasick a lot of the time at the moment. I’m working through a perfect storm of grief in my life. Between relationship woes, no longer living with my beloved cat, illness and death among family and friends and moving from my long (long) time home in New York City to Montreal (a city I love, but under these challenging circumstances …), it is an effort every day to remember who I am. Never mind why I am and if my life has any meaning or purpose. Fortunately, I have a good amount of challenging and enjoyable work to keep me busy. I have family and friends. And, there’s movement.

I almost wrote, “I’ve learned” or “I’ve discovered”, but that wouldn’t be right. I have known for some time that coming home to my body through movement is one of the ways I locate myself in space and time. Movement offers sign posts to help me map the territory of my being-ness. Movement reconnects to me to my aliveness, especially in times when even my enjoyment of food and sleep are interrupted. Yes, I might move less or exert less. And, I am deeply grateful to be able to continue moving, in the midst of the waves of upheaval.

In Montreal, I’m re-connecting with the wooded trails on Mont Royal and the slow climb up the paved road over on a 40lb BIXI (the social bike system in Montreal). I’m making myself a Thursday morning fixture in the pocket park across from my apartment, where I jump rope and do a sequence of “regular” lunges and other Bulgarian and Romanian versions (I don’t know why the movements are ascribed these nationalities). I’ve gone back to mat yoga, after many years of aerial yoga and am re-acquainting myself with that challenge.

There are brief moments when I can almost forget my troubles and just breathe into the pleasure of my heart beating and my lungs expanding. A respite from the seasickness. Becalmed and invigorated.

Also, there is a special side benefit that occasionally comes with my BIXI workouts. This morning, as I huffed up the road, I passed a Montreal public works truck in the vista parking lot. A woman jumped out of the truck and started calling out to everyone (in French)—“She’s on a BIXI. Amazing.” And then she pretended to bow down to me. I waved and laughed. That was a nice shot of encouragement. I’ve had similar events happen on my BIXI workouts before.

Of course, other times, I’m moving and crying at the same time. (Like when I started my ride this morning—before the nice bit of cheering—I was missing my cat.) Crying and moving is its own gift. I’ve accompanied others on their run-cries, too, when they were traversing difficult periods. I have a precious memory of a run during the last weeks of my father’s life—it was a misty, grey morning (probably in March). I was strung out with the sadness of impending loss. The wet air was unseasonably warm and my long sleeve shirt felt like it was tightening around my lungs. So, I took it off. I never run shirtless, in just a sports bra. I don’t have anything against it … for other people. In fact, I admire women who express that freedom. I am both self-conscious and sun-conscious (after all, my father died of melanoma). That day in 2015, there was no sun to burn my skin and I didn’t care who saw me. I just wanted to feel my body blend with the air, to cleanse my spirit, to let my sweat meet the morning mist on my skin. For me, there’s solace, even healing, in moving (literally moving) through the emotion.  

Now, if only there could be warmer weather, that would be a treat!

femalestrength · feminism · skiing

Give Girls the Opportunity to Fail

Out cross country skiing the other morning, I came upon this mother-daughter scene at the intersection leading to one of my favourite trails, a winding climb:

Frustrated daughter, who looked about nine-years-old, laying in the snow across the classic ski track (that’s the two parallel grooves), scuffing one ski into the track. Exasperated mother on skis, standing a couple feet away on the corduroy groomed trail.

As I made the right turn onto my favoured trail, the mother shot me a look of complicity, saying, “…” I don’t know what. I couldn’t hear her, because I wasn’t expecting her to speak to me and my ears were focused on the podcast in my ears. On another day, I might have just smiled, as if I’d heard and carried on with my ski. Instead, I felt myself in the girl’s insistent scuffing. The intensity with which she was destroying the track resonated with my own inner girl’s desire to be and do more. I stopped.

Me: “Pardon me? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

Mother: “I just don’t understand why she’s upset. She can’t ski up this trail. It’s too steep. I can barely ski it.”

Me (interior monologue): “The trail’s not that steep. Oh Mina, stop being so judgy. Also, the trail is actually pretty steep right at the top.”

Me: “Couldn’t she do the herringbone?”

Mother: “No. She can’t do it. It’s only her third day skiing.”

Hearing this, the daughter’s ski scuffing gets more vigorous and defiant.

Me (interior monologue): “What’s the harm in letting her try?”

Me (to the daughter): “Great skis. Look, they’re the same design as mine.”

I extended one leg and put one ski next to the daughter’s much shorter one, highlighting our matching black and red Atomics. The daughter glanced at me briefly with curiosity and then continued scuffing. With that, I smiled in what I hope was a consoling way at the mother and carried on with my ski.

For the rest of my time on the snow, the feminist brigade inside my head talked over each other in increasingly louder voices.

Why can’t the daughter at least try? What the worst that will happen if she tries and fails? That she will be discouraged? That she will never want to ski again? Never want to go outside again? Well, that seems unlikely. And why do I feel certain that this scene would not be playing out this way if the daughter was a son? Or if the mother were a father? A father would tell his son that he could climb the hill. Yes, true, sometimes that goes too far in the other direction. I don’t think the whole boot camp desensitization approach is the right way either. But isn’t there a supportive, middle ground? Somewhere between get-the-fuck-up-the-hill-on-the-double and oh-no-this-is-too-hard-to-even-try.  Are we so fragile as girls that we can’t even be allowed to attempt something seemingly insurmountable? Why can’t she be allowed to try and be frustrated and defeated and supported in that struggle? How will she grow her resilience?    

I so wanted to encourage that little girl to take on the hill. I wanted to contradict her mother, take the girl’s hand and let her know that she had all the courage she needed to take on this hill and that I’d be right behind her. And if she didn’t make it, so what, she’d have tried and that’s what counted and next time she’d probably make it. 

Mina at the top of Drifter, her favourite high trail at Tahoe Donner Cross Country (and where she was inspired to ski after the encounter with the mother-daughter)

There were other voices in my head, who told me that I had no right to even weigh in on the topic, because I’m not a mother, so what do I know about daughters; plus the just plain civil voice who pointed out it was not my place to say anything.

Yes. And.

I still know a little something about girls. I was once a girl who encountered frustrations. And I am a woman who has learned a lot of new things, some of which I’ve failed at and some of which seemed insurmountable when I took them on, and at which I did okay. I don’t have specific memories of my parents preventing me from or encouraging me to take on difficult tasks. There was a general ethos of try-and-try-again throughout my childhood. My parents also sent to me to an all-girls summer camp, run by a fierce woman who both cared about our safety and encouraged us to try hard things. I balk at lots of things, but I want to make my own decision about when I choose not to try or to stop trying. When I look around, I see how, even now, boys have bigger self-confidence than girls. Boys are quicker to claim that they are good at something (even when they aren’t really). I really (really) want this for girls, too.

I dream of a world where all genders are offered equal opportunity to fall down (literally and metaphorically) and be supported as they get back on their feet. So, I dare to write this piece, as a non-mother, to ask mothers: “Please give your daughters a shot at the hill, even if it feels too steep, even for you.”   

femalestrength · sex · skiing

Sex and Breath Can Fuel Our Sports

Some mornings I wake up with a buzz of desire fluttering around my nerve endings. When our enthusiasm matches up and time allows, my partner and I indulge our pleasure. Inevitably though, there are mornings when that is just not possible. Until very recently, my response would be to shelve the buzz in corner, so that I could focus on the practical to-do list for the day.

Or, less productively, I’d be grumpy.

Until three weeks ago. That’s when I started taking an online course on the history and practices of tantric sexuality from the Centre Summum. I’ve been intrigued by tantra practices for more than a decade, but could never work up the courage to actually sign up for anything.

A brief and necessarily incomplete description is that tantra is a spiritual practice (across many traditions) of gathering and harmonizing our feminine and masculine energy. So, yes, tantra is about so much more than sex. And, it’s about sex.

Thanks to the pandemic, the class about sex is online. Thank you zoom for the ability to enroll in classes that would be logistically complicated or psychologically daunting, if they were in person. How much easier is it to show up from home? No one can really see when I blush, nor are there those awkward moments before and after class where we talk about … our sex lives?      

We get homework. The first and second week (the third class is tonight, after this piece posts) one of our assignments was to notice those buzzy moments that I mentioned earlier (the class is in French and I love the French word for the buzz—frissons). Instead of setting the frissons aside, as I used to do, we learned to pause and simply savor the sensation of our life force energy. That’s what tantrism calls our sexual energy—our life force, the root flame of our vitality. Well, that was fun homework. Enlivening.

neon sign reading “and breathe” against leafy background, .by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

Another delightful assignment is practicing Kumbhaka breathing to cultivate our vital energy. Breath practices are key in tantra. As explained in the class, Kumbhaka breath is to cultivate our life force energy. It goes like this:

Ideally (but not necessarily!) done in seated meditation position. Take a deep breath in, moving the breath down from your heart into your pelvic floor. Hold the in-breath for a moment and then breathe out, moving the breath through your root chakra at the base of your spine. Allow the out-breath to continue up your spine, flow over the crown of your head and back down to rejoin the in-breath at your heart. Hold your breath at empty until you feel the urge to breathe. Repeat the breath pattern. Repeat again. You may set yourself a breath count or an amount of time, or you may just do it until your vitality is buzzing.

An online search yields a variety of slightly different descriptions, with prescriptive advice on when and how long to do the breathing. Our teacher, Stéphane, has a permissive spirit, much more about flow than structure. My personal approach is to try out different ways of doing the breath and feel into what works for me. In that spirit, I have a visualization that manifested with the practice. The in-breath is to anchor my life force (my power). The out-breath straightens my spine and as the breath flows over my head and past my face, I imagine putting on a warrior’s helmet. That’s my courage. Finally, as the breath reaches my heart, I tap into love. I’ve been doing Kumbhaka during my meditation, where it feels energizing and helps me focus (not on sex, but on what I need to focus on for the day).

Where I’ve really noticed a difference is when I do the breathing in bed, as I’m waking up on those buzzy mornings when I have to get up and start the day, no time for dalliance. When I go for my workout, which is cross-country skiing these days, I feel extra strong. The first time I felt this abundant energy during my ski, I just chalked it up to feeling happy.  After all, spending a few extra moments to breathe into the frissons is happiness-inducing. The second and third times I felt the kick of vitality on my skis, I thought—hey, there’s a pattern. First, I searched around online to see if there was anything specific about my experience. While there is lots about tantric yoga and about other breathing practices and sports performance, there wasn’t anything specific about the particular connection I am experiencing. So, I asked Stéphane, if I was imagining the connection or if the Special K-effect (as I think of it, a reference to the breakfast cereal, not the drug) was a known result? He wrote me back (oh, right; because I did not have the courage to ask the question in class, live on zoom, I waited to ask in writing!): “Yes, whenever we channel our sexual energy there will be a tendency to increase all of our internal energies. It (*our sexual energy) is the source of all our strength.”

Yes! I’ll have what she’s having. Oh wait, I’m the she who is already having. That sentence may have been nonsense, but you get the picture. I’m grooving to this class, even on my skis.

Interestingly, at the risk of over-sharing, but hey, I’m already in pretty deep here: when I actually have sex in the morning, that does not make me feel stronger for my workout. The more likely result is that I am more at ease with however the workout goes. That’s an equally great outcome, since I can get caught up in performance-busting narratives in my head.

And, in case it isn’t super obvious, these practices are intended for all people with sexual energy, whether or not you are in a relationship or solo and whatever gender creates the sparks.

There’s more personal, anecdotal research to be done on this front. I plan to be very diligent about my homework. And if you’ve been wanting a new kick of energy to supplement your morning coffee, check out the Special K-effect for yourself. You can’t fake the deliciousness.

meditation · mindfulness

Does Meditation Even Work?

I considered different titles for this piece: If I Didn’t Meditate, Would I Be a Monster? Why Even Meditate If I Still Stress Out? I Give Up on Meditation.

But I don’t give up, even as I wonder, why not?  

As many of you know, I’ve been on a meditation streak for some time now. And, an exciting moment happened recently. I did NOT notice the day I passed three years straight in my streak. I meditated. Like it was any other day. Then, ten days later, I suddenly thought, “Wait a minute, did I pass my three-year anniversary of this streak??”

The reason I missed it is this: The first time I saw my mother after the start of the pandemic was in late August. I hadn’t seen her for 19 months. The last day of our visit was my 1000th day of meditation. Since then, I am reminded each day of how long it has been since I last saw my mother. I send out a wish that that day count will not get anywhere near the 500+ of our last interval.

Is it okay if I take a moment here of celebration for three years straight of meditating every-every day?

And, I had one of the worst finish-starts to a year in memory. I got news on December 21st that a yearlong training program I’m in was going to continue with an in-person weekend the first week of January. The email explained all the reasons for pushing back against strict pandemic regulations in Quebec, which only got stricter as the next couple of weeks evolved. And the email said that the majority of the email recipients had been consulted. Not me. I was not in that majority. Plus, I was special needs, given that I was crossing an international border to attend, and all the added risks that entails. I was not worthy of consultation. My opinion did not matter. I slipped into the vortex, a downward spiral of increasing stress.

Stormy sea, by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

Yes, indeed, I fueled that spiral all by myself as I contemplated all the pandemic risks. I deployed all my tools to self-arrest, including meditation. While I could alleviate some of the stress, there was a core nugget that kept moving into darker and darker corners of my psyche. My always-borderline-fragile sense of belonging had been threatened and nothing grounded me or lifted me or offered me ease.

I sat on my meditation cushion and observed my erratic heartbeat fail to settle. I sat on my meditation cushion and watched my staccato breath struggle for smooth passage. I sat on my meditation cushion and felt enraged and heavy and sad.

I kept sitting. Day after day.

No remission of stress. In fact, I managed to work myself up enough that it spilled out all over my partner and set fire to the closing-opening of the years. Then came the news on Monday morning, January 3, that the in-person weekend would be delayed a month. I should-have-could-have been relieved. Instead, I was angry at myself all over again. How could I have allowed myself to stress out about something that simply resolved itself (more or less and with zero elegance)?

More sitting.

Which brings me back to the other possible titles for this piece. If I hadn’t been meditating during these past weeks, would I have been out-of-control monstrous? Would I have lit my angry fire earlier and kept it burning on a higher setting? Is the goal of meditation to never stress out? Or is it to notice that I am stressing out, instead of spending my energy in denial and/or blaming someone else for my stress? Why don’t I give up?

Because. I value the information I glean from the particular discipline of daily observation. I can’t make all my stress go away. I can’t make myself into an angel of patience, which I’m not. I can notice more. That noticing, in and of itself, offers me relief. The sliver of ease may be barely visible to the naked eye, but my nervous system is grateful for the scintilla of extra space. This is not good marketing language for a meditation-is-the-answer-to-everything sales pitch. Meditation is not the answer to everything. It is one tool in what is ideally an ever evolving and updating kit.  

Last year Kim (of this blog) and I challenged each other to write a poem every two weeks (there’s a post coming later today about that). As I was looking through them, I came across this haiku that captures why I continue to meditate:

And if I lived true/ open curiosity / no judgment or fear?

The promise of meditation is that you will notice more. That’s it. That’s enough.     

challenge · motivation · new year's resolutions · WOTY

It’s WOTY-Challenge Time!

In this last month of the year, two thoughts bubble up: What’s my word of the year (WOTY) and what’s my challenge? Many of my fellow bloggers here are thinking about their words. Nicole, for example, says she is looking for a word that expresses the opposite of existential dread. I look forward to what she comes up with. We will have more WOTY posts, to be sure.

Last year my word was enough. For the early part of the year, I reminded myself with some regularity what my word was. I needed the specific boost. Just now, when I sat down to write this, I realized I’d forgotten what my word was. Yet, when I looked back and found my word, it was like a carillon. Oh yes, now I remember my word and I didn’t need the reminder after a certain point in the year, because I had installed an enough-ness fuel gauge in my bodymind dashboard and was taking conscious note of the fuel level on a more regular basis. That realization, in and of itself, topped up the fuel in my enough-ness tank. My word did its job. Pause for mini-celebratory dance.  

In a recent Peloton class one of my favourite instructors, Christine D’Ercole, said that we should give ourselves user names that, when we say them out loud, have the same effect as an encouraging hand on our back. That’s the effect I’m looking for in my WOTY. A word that encourages me. A carrot word. Not a stick word. 

Colourful assortment of letter tiles
Surendran MP on Unsplash

This year’s word builds on enough. I’m not going to give it to you straight out. There’s some stage décor to put in place first. It turns out that enough is a pretty damn bold word. Enough gives me the courage to plunge into learning new modalities (including two separate yearlong trainings, one in Non-Violent Communication and one in Internal Family Systems). Enough inoculates me against being overwhelmed by the voices in my head and in society, who say that I’m past due on expanding into new disciplines. Enough grants me the audacity to incorporate these new techniques into my work now with the simultaneous confidence of a seasoned practitioner and the caution of a novitiate. I am integrating my existing skills base with the fresh skills I am learning and honing to offer more holistic coaching and workshops.

At first, my word for next year wanted to be something like mastery. But two reasons held me back from that choice. First, the word is outmoded and even ugly, in a world that is waking up to all the hidden and subtle ways we perpetuate inequities. Mastery comes with a heavy burden of colonialism and racism.

This first reason would have been more than enough to keep the word out of contention. But there’s more. The word feels static. As if we can master something and then that’s it. One and done. Thank you very much. You may now come to me with questions. I’ve moved on to answers. No. That’s not how I feel about the skills I already have facility with, nor how I feel about the new tools I’m adding. There’s dynamism in the process. Learning is cyclical, not linear, building and looping back on itself to collect new gleanings.

I wanted a word to express my desire to keep learning, integrating, experimenting and refining. In that spirit, my word itself is freshly coined, by me.

Skillflow.

That’s my word. Say it out loud. Feel it on your tongue. Listen to it come out of your mouth. Do you feel how open the word is? Versus, for example, the word skillful, which closes in on itself with that final letter L.

Skillflow: (noun) the continuous, regenerative cycle of learning and applying our skills; the flow of fresh skills mixing with honed skills in a reciprocal renewal of energy.

I am already enough AND I’m going to learn so much this year. I’ve got my word.

So … I wrote all those words above yesterday and I felt plugged in and buzzing with possibility. Excited for the year to come. Up to the task. Empowered. Then I woke up this morning with a possibility hangover. That’s when the part of me who is fearful of failure gets very loud. I was down in the dumps. Questioning everything from my right to even propose a WOTY to my very existence. Apparently, my word is threatening to some part of me that fears that a hand on my back will push me right over a cliff into a humiliating failure; that I’ll choke on my carrot word. Sigh. Thank you, fearful voice. Breathe. Notice that I am learning new skills around befriending that scared voice. Allow her words to flow through me, instead of getting stuck inside like a brick in an impenetrable wall of the-truth-of-who-I-am.      

My word for 2022 is skillflow.

How about that challenge I mentioned? Challenges are my version of resolutions (but not). A friend calls them my annual devotional tasks. They are ways of being I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over.

Last year my challenge was twofold—to continue not to shop for anything from Amazon.com except books and movies (an extension of my 2020 challenge) and to commit to a poetry exchange with my friend (and fellow blogger here), Kim. We agreed to send each other new poems we’d written every second Sunday. We have two poem cycles left and the whole process has been fresh and bracing, plus liberating and connecting. Excellent. Last year, I wanted a challenge that wasn’t all about self-discipline and denial, which has characterized quite a number of my challenges (like not shopping for clothes for a year). This year I want a challenge … well … I have no clue what to do this year.

I’d love to hear your WOTYs and any ideas for a challenge.

motivation · training

Self-Discipline As Ease and a Path to Joy

On a recent morning, I experienced my self-discipline in a whole new way. I’ve always thought of self-discipline as being about … well … discipline. Getting shit done. Staying on top of things. Progress. Maintenance. Control. The universe introduced me to the possibility that self-discipline may contain all those things, and their seeming opposites.    

I woke to torrential rain. I’d been looking forward to my run and the audio book I’m listening to. Instead, I was going to have to do a Peloton ride or stream one of their Pilates classes. Have to, because I had a day full of Zoom and wanted to move; and because moving (and sweating) makes for a happier, more settled day, for me. The have to was weighing on me more than usual. Most of the time, I’m glad to have the external encouragement of the instructor. But not this particular morning. I wanted to move, but not that way, not with that kind of intensity or focus.

When I got to the bike, I thought, hang on a minute, I can do this differently. I don’t have to take a particular class. I can do my own thing, can’t I?  And I did. And it was profoundly satisfying.

To start, I opened the window next to the bike. My music for the morning was the sound of the pouring rain. Next, I hunted down the bike feature that would allow me to do what I wanted. I found the feature under the tab labeled More; and really, it’s more of an un-feature called Just Ride. Finally, I hooked my iPad over the bike screen and pressed play on my audio book and then shut off the screen’s light. Soon I was immersed in the words of David Abram’s, The Spell of the Sensuous, about the origins of language, as it arises from impulsive, gestural responses to our sensorial experience as beings in the world. I was a being on a bike, listening to the rain and the occasional city sound of traffic or a siren, experiencing my body in motion, the sweat running off my face, the rhythm of my legs and the light of a grey day leaking slowly into a dark room, though I mostly rode with my eyes closed.

Such. Pleasure.  

Red leaves through rainy window,
by Anne Nygard on Unsplash

A couple of hours later I was engaged in a deep dive conversation with two study partners about the difference between self-discipline and obedience (as part of my Non-Violent Communication program). My ride was the distinction we were talking about. I woke up with a desire to move and I made a choice to nourish my need. That was my inner voice of self-discipline, or at least how I usually think of her. Then a bunch of shoulds arrived to try to divert me from the freedom underlying my choice. You should do an instructor-led ride. You should try to ride harder than you will on your own. You should be more serious. You get the picture. On this particular morning, the idea of listening to those voices felt like obedience to some random external measure of success. A killjoy. Then, I discovered that getting to the bike was only Part One of the self-discipline voice. Part Two kicked in when I illuminated the screen. In lieu of obeying felt societal pressure, even if that pressure was and is largely imaginary or self-imposed, Part Two suggested that I search inside myself for the answer to what I wanted. The answer was clear. To just ride. To feel connected to nature, even if it was only through an open window. To listen to my book. 

I got off the bike drenched, my brain tingling with the sparks of ideas connecting and my body ready for some hours inside a box on a screen. 

Part One of my self-discipline on her own might not think I did an appropriate workout. She’s a lot about obedience. That’s where Part Two (a fresh aspect of self-discipline) came in to remind me that obedience does not have to be blind choice, but can include flexibility and creativity.  Part Two trusted me to decide, to double check inside and verify that my decision came from a place of internal discernment and not from an externally-fueled judgment of sufficiency. Part Two expanded on Part One’s mission to keep me healthy, reminding me that I alone have the power to decide what is the right workout self-discipline on any given day. With all due respect to Part One, Part Two encouraged me to free myself from obedience to arbitrary, impersonal measures of that incredibly elusive concept—success.

Instead, I my self-discipline is making this choice: what will give me the most joy today? 

hiking · traveling · yoga

Perfect Yoga in Reykjavik

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.

How perfect.

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.

Landscape on an hike in the Hengill region of Iceland

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.

Do you have locator activities when you’re away?   

mindfulness · running

Running in My Head

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.

Two examples.

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. 

habits · meditation · mindfulness

Day 999 of My Meditation Streak: When the Mind Chatter Surrenders to What Is

Tiny seated Buddha on a green leaf
Samuel Austin on Unsplash

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.

Fine.

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. 

Also, I did make it to Day 1000 of my meditation streak the next day–this is the log on my Insight Timer app