Fear · habits · meditation · mindfulness

Nine Nifty Things I Noticed in 150 Straight Days (and counting!) of Meditation

As I write this, I just hit 150 days of meditation in a row. That is a big accomplishment for me. My longest meditation streak ever. 

The day I started this streak, I participated in a meditation workshop and the teacher suggested that all we needed to do was noticeduring our sits, be mindful of our noticings. So that’s what I’m doing. 

The biggest thing I’m noticing is that I’m in a constant state of re-learning what I already knew, but somehow forgot or thought I had changed. Or I’m discovering that circumstances have changed and what I learned no longer applies. Or I am the circumstance that’s changed and therefore needs to learn anew.  I don’t got this, but I am getting it. Very few changes stick forever, no matter what, no backsliding. Good to know, so we don’t judge ourselves as falling short! This whole streak has been about impermanence and the wow-reallys?of staying curious. 

Small brass yogi sculpture in cross-legged seated position, reading a book, wearing a red string scarf (made of a string I was gifted by a fellow attendee at my first silent meditation retreat)

Here are 9 more noticingsthat jazz my curiosity and keep me coming back for more: 

  1. Practicing daily makes it easier to drop into a meditation. Every day is different, but most days there’s a moment (often in the last moments of the sit) when I feel like my mind drops away and my body simultaneously gains 100 pounds and sinks into the earth and slips the bonds of gravity. I find that this moment may happen right away now. Not that it lasts the whole meditation, but the opening fidgets hardly have time to squirm before I’m noticing my mind and body in that more concerted meditation-y way.
  2. A short meditation is better than no meditation.When I started this streak, I sat for 10 minutes a day. I knew that if I demanded more from myself that I would fail. Why set myself up for failure in advance? There have been days when I’ve only managed 8 minutes of riding on the personal rollercoaster of my mind. Great. I accomplished what I set out to do. Often, I am more open to a longer meditation when I’ve given myself the grace of a short one the day before. 
  3. Noticing feeds itself, so I notice more details when I’m not meditating. Over the last months, I’ve become more aware of the complexities and hidden corners of how I am in the world. What feels most sharpened is my sense of responsibility for who and how I am. I notice that blame is futile. Better to open my heart, to consider how I might change the circumstance, even if that’s just changing my own attitude. Pissed off by someone else’s thoughtlessness, how can I be more thoughtful somewhere else? Noticing slows the world down enough to create a pause for reflection.    
  4. There’s a lot of dogma around meditation, which we should not be dogmatic about. A lot of people prepared to say that there’s one right way to meditate and at the end of their suggested path lies … fill in the blank—peace, bliss, no pain, wealth, happiness, fulfillment, career success, spectacular sex, love, the source of infinite wisdom and so on. The dogmas conflict, no surprise. We have to self-test and find the combination that works for each of us. To do that requires tuning into where our mind and body is at, making an honest assessment of our condition and situation and choosing for ourselves what feels right, which, by the way, may change. I’ve been self-testing a lot of different modes on my meditation app (Insight Timer)—various guided, recorded music or chanting, timer with background of rolling OM chants; plus some other guided meditations I’ve downloaded, and meditating on specific subjects or objects (my spirit guides, space-time, elevated emotions like joy and gratitude, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fear). 
  5. Meditating on fear is squirrely and uncomfortable. I recently read Kristen Ulmer’s book, The Art of Fear. These past days, I’ve tried on a bit of her dogma, meditating on fear. The idea is that getting intimate with my fear will transform the feeling into a healthy catalyst, instead of a dreaded obstacle. My list of fears stretches the length of the alphabet and more, ranging from losing my ability to move easily, to not connecting with people, to my washing machine going on the fritz and flooding the downstairs neighbour’s apartment. Plus, the existential, running subtext fear that my life doesn’t have meaning. Simply allowing fear the space to express itself, instead of telling myself to get over it, is new. I feel a small catalytic effect. As in: okay you’re scared, that’s okay, let it be, and hey, maybe you can still do the scary thing.
  6. Owning my woo-woo is scary. Meditating on, for example, one’s spirit guides feels out there. I fear that I’ll lose credibility (whatever that means) if I admit to any kind of woo-woo experiences or encounters. I am allowing myself to be more woo-woo curious and owning up to it (like in this piece about a puppy in India, that I wrote around day 100). 
  7. Sneezing during meditation is like an orgasm. As a kid, I read Where Did I Come From?, which compares an orgasm to a sneeze. Over the years I wondered if I have orgasms wrong, because they never felt like sneezing. Then I sneezed while I was meditating the other day. Because I was alone in my office and in the midst of a meditation and quite sure I wasn’t about to sneeze out great gobs, I just let myself sneeze without holding my arm in front of my face or ducking my head or any of all the twisting we do to be polite and not sneeze on others. Holy crap. That sneeze went right through me like a wave of sparkles over my nerve endings. Our well-justified, necessary public fears around sneezing mask the thrill of the simple sneeze.  Like orgasms, something to look forward to in private.
  8. I think a lot of non-contemplative thoughts when I’m meditating. In addition to thinking about sex when I’m meditating, back on day 45, I narrated a succession of interior design thoughts I had while meditating. I still have such thoughts. Everyone does, even monks on high mountains. Oh, and I did get the new duvet from Boll and Branch I was thinking about, which makes bedtime even more delicious. (I’m with Tracy, who writes often about the radical pleasures of sleep.)  
  9. Meditating regularly enables me to be kinder with myself. Noticing generates the gentle pause, in which we see our suffering from the outside and thus cultivate compassion. A truism worth repeating—if we are more compassionate toward ourselves, we will be so with others.

All of these noticings are small. Yet abundant enough to keep me going on my streak. Have you noticed anything in your meditation? Or in another streak you’re having? 

aging · competition · fit at mid-life · running · training

The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

One month ago, I signed up for the Shape Half Marathon in New York on April 14. I haven’t run a regular road half-marathon in about a decade. I do still participate in the occasional trail running event, but some years ago I decided that I’d run enough road races. To compound my dread going in, I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to start training until March 14th(literally only 30 days before the race). Sure, I would be cross-country skiing for the weeks before then, so not out of shape, but certainly not in running form. I only signed up because a friend asked me to. The race is on her birthday, so … Before I could second guess myself, I registered.

Well, I’m remembering why I don’t do road races anymore. My head. My head. My head. I know I’ll be slower than my last half-marathon, yet I don’t want to know. I’m aging. I didn’t start running seriously until I was in my late 20s. It took me a while to find my strength. Which means that I had the good feeling of beating my younger self until I was well into my forties. Not so anymore.  A lot of days I don’t think anything of my generally slower pace. When I’m not training for a race, I’m able to think: How lucky am I to still be running? How good does it feel to travel on my own two legs? How strong am I? But these days, when I’m out for a training run, I think: Why am I so slow? Why am I so tired? Where’s my spring? Where’s my lightness? My zip? 

Pile of old wooden wall clocks, by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The looming race screws with my sense of self-worth. My mind turns on me and I can’t access my gratitude. Sigh. There’s no joy in the training. Thank you, Sam, for pointing out earlier this week thatwe are not always going to have fun in our workouts. Though I want, as Tracy pointed out, to have some kid-like funwith my body. I am not having fun with this training. I’m having frustration and self-recrimination instead. 

Also, I did not ease into my training. I decided that with only a month to train, I’d start with a 14-mile run. You don’t need to tell me how ridiculous that was. Plus, I wore not just new running shoes, but a new kind of running shoe I’d not tried before. So smart. Turns out the new shoe style did something nasty to my calf, which has taken a full two weeks to almost heal. Two weeks during which I continued to run haphazardly, because how could I not do at least four 2-hour runs before the race? More like 2-hour lopsided slogs through a haze of discomfort. Last week I was only able to run once after my long run, because my body was in pain and exhausted. And I’m not even sure that my “long” run was actually a long distance, because I was in Illinois, running somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t track distances. All I know is that I was running for more than 2 hours; who knows how far or not far. 

You get the picture. I’ve done a lot wrong to prepare for this race. I might have done better to rest for the full month and then run on the day in my old, familiar running shoes. Am I self-obstructing so I have an excuse (other than time and years) for a poor result? And by “poor” I just mean relative to my own past results.

I’m writing this with 10 days to go before the race. Here’s where I’m at: I know I can run 13.1 miles. That’s not the challenge. The real obstacle is my thinking. I’m competing with my younger self and that’s a losing battle. I need to make the mind shift. As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!). But that doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I know that how I think and what I think are choices. That’s step one. Step two is actually implementing that knowledge. 

So hard. Working on it! 

Anyone else slowing down? I’d love your thoughts and insights on how you’ve come to peace with the new normal.  

clothing · gear · running

I Bought Running Gear First After A Year of No Shopping

In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags and jewelry for the whole year (I wrote about it here: Making Room In My Mind: A Year of No Shopping). Throughout the year people kept asking, “But what about sports clothes? What about running shoes!?” 

My answer was that I would make an exception, if I had to. After all, running shoes are a matter of physical health. I wasn’t going to risk an injury running in worn out shoes. As for sports clothes, well, it’s amazing how long one can keep on going in tights so stretched out the crotch is bagging down around mid-thigh. Never mind desiccated running bras that make a snap-crackle-pop sound when you put them on, because the elastic has stiffened. 

January came. At first, I still couldn’t bring myself to replace items that had clearly expired. I’d grown too used to not shopping. Plus, I was worried that once I opened the door to let shopping back in, I’d slide right down the slippery slope with wild abandon and self-justificatory rationalizations.  I worried that “I want” would quickly become “I need”.

So, I waited. Then one chilly day I just couldn’t take the aggravation of running in droopy drawers. My only pair of extra-cold weather tights had already been darned multiple times and sagged like elephant skin. I got home and threw them out. The dam burst. I started throwing out all my defunct or beyond-grungy sports clothes—2 pairs of running shoes, 5 pairs of socks, a couple of bras, 3 pairs of running tights, a pair of yoga pants and 2 long sleeve base layers. 

I cornered myself with my purge, because now I really did need some new gear. So, I went shopping. What an adrenalin rush! Replacement running shoes, 2 new pairs of running tights in different weather weights, 3 pairs of socks and one long sleeve base layer in my favourite minty green. 

New blue running shoes, green and grey socks (with silver in them, apparently!) and a mint green base layer

If the shopping was a thrill, running in my new gear was even better! The ecstasy of brand spanking tights that hug the legs. The cozy comfort of fresh socks. The boing-boing spring of new shoes. Pleasures I had forgotten. 

I just spent two chilly, grey weeks in Champaign-Urbana, IL. But I didn’t care that the weather was discouraging for a run. I was so happy in my new duds that I looked forward to getting out in the icy, slushy, wet. Running is one of the important ways I tune in to myself and the world. Breaking my shopping fast with a stock up on running necessities was right for me. Fresh gear. Renewed attitude.  

Did my new running swag push me off the top of the slippery shopping slope? No. So far my no-slide crampons are holding. I haven’t gone crazy with all sorts of other clothing purchases. The joy of the new running clothes is more than satisfying for now. 

What’s your latest sports clothing pleasure?

running

Where did all my running buddies go?

Finishing up some last business on my next Run Like A Girlbook for the publisher, I got to the task of writing acknowledgements. Figuring they would be somewhat similar to those I wrote for the first RLAG book, I had a look back. Surprise. There was a lovely list of friends I ran and cycled and cross-country skied and went to yoga with. Not one of them is a regular workout partner anymore. In fact, in the 8 years since that book came out, my life has apparently changed so radically, that my only frequent workout partner anymore is my life partner (and when he’s not with me, I bring podcasts for company). 

Absorbing the full scope of the changes in my life, didn’t feel good. I wasn’t feeling lonely when I started the task, but that outdated list landed on my heart with a thud. Did I do something wrong? Did everyone stop liking me? 

Yes, I could go through the list and find reasonable explanations for each of the losses—children, moving, long-term injuries, marriage break ups and new travel schedules. Also, after a rough patch in my own relationship, I re-evaluated my own tendency to jump out of bed super-early and have been reveling these last years in the pleasures of sleeping a bit more and waking up together. Sometimes we really geek out and I read poetry aloud before we get out of bed. 

I haven’t “broken up” with any of the friends on that old list; most remain close. I even get to run with them here and there, which is always a ginormous treat. But mostly, when I see them now it’s purely social and sweat-free.

It’s not the same. There’s something different and, yes, extra-special about a friend on the road. Especially now, when so much of life is interrupted and mediated by our devices, the time together during a workout feels intimate and unguarded. Running and jubilating. Running and crying. Running and raging. Running and analyzing. Running and solving. Running and chatting. I have had the great good fortune to run in all these ways. These are the treasures of running (or cycling or cross-country skiing or any workout that allows time to talk on the go) with a friend. 

While struggling to write my new acknowledgments, I’ve begun the uncomfortable task of pulling together marketing, which involves positioning not just my book, but me. Hello, irony. The marketing people I’m working with (who are great) have come up with the idea of pitching me (as manifest in the book) as “your running buddy.” Once I get past the strange sensation of viewing myself from the outside, I know it’s a fine idea, even as it also strikes a melancholy chord.     

I miss my buddies. I feel so lucky to have had many precious companions over the years. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this moment of fresh understanding, it’s that life is going to change. Again.  And again. I’m enjoying the current pattern of my workout life and the time with my partner. I look forward to new configurations, too. 

With this post, I send out my love to all my workout buddies over the years! I invite all of you reading this to send out some of your own love to past and present mates in the comments section. 

meditation

The Interior Design Benefits of Meditating

Yesterday I hit Day 45 in my meditation streak. The streak was inspired in part by Sam’s post about streaks, another part by the utter randomness my meditation practice had become and a third part by a meditation workshop I participated in on December 2. The last time I meditated for as many days in a row was in 2015. 

For this streak, I’ve asked myself to sit for at least 10 minutes every day, which means that for about 40 of the days I’ve sat for … 10 minutes.  

Small sculpture of cross-legged yogi reading a book and wearing a nightcap, with a red string around it’s neck, scarf-like (Mina got the red string on her first meditation retreat)

I’m tempted to judge myself for the shortness, but hey, I’ve been meditating regularly and so I’m less prone to! 

Have I achieved a higher level of consciousness? Am I having deeper thoughts now? If I am, then I should have noticed. After all, I am supposed to notice the thoughts I’m having (and, of course, then allow them to float past without attachment). Our workshop leader instructed us not only to notice our thoughts, but also to notice our noticings

Here’s the highlight reel of this morning’s thoughts-while-meditating: I should replace the woven wool blanket that’s wrapped around this pillow I’m sitting on. The blanket got so many loops of pulled yarn and holes from my cat, who died almost 7 years ago. I still miss him. I can let the blanket go. But my mother made it. Well, I could replace the blanket with one of the quilts she’s made me, which would be aesthetically more pleasing, even though I can’t see it while I’m meditating. I’m noticing that I’m thinking about my meditation set up. Let the thought go. Oh, I could use the quilt that used to be on my bed, because now I have a duvet. I really love the Boll and Branch sheets on my bed. Nice sheets feel so yummy. Those sheets at that Airbnb in Paris were crap. Scratchy. Or is sticky a better word? I should get a Boll and Branch duvet cover. Oh right, I can’t. I tried that and it doesn’t fit the CocoMat brand duvet. Why do I keep forgetting that? Well I could replace the duvet, too and put it on the guest bed. That bedspread is pretty old and not even bleach is getting out all the stains now. I’m noticing that I’m thinking about bedding. Really? What? Is that the gong to signal the end of the meditation? I didn’t hear the interval bells … Oh, I guess I can stop meditating now. 

Mina’s meditation cushion (really two stacked firm bed pillows) newly covered by a quilt her mother (a quilter, knitter and weaver!) made

The thing is, even in the midst of all these unZen thoughts, I feel pretty good. Like maybe I do have a bit more space in my mind. Less like I’m pushing against life. 

This morning I was out cross-country skiing after a big snow storm here in the Sierra Mountains. The only sounds were the shush of my skis and the phoomff of big clumps of snow falling off the Jeffrey pines and Red firs. Halfway through I realized I was in a bit of a trance, feeling the quiet inside my moving sweat-warm body and enjoying the little thrill of cold air under my arms through the open pit-zips of my jacket. The ski had become a moving meditation.

I’d like to keep my sitting meditation streak up for a while longer. Maybe I will find more of that meditative energy and strength in my workouts.  Maybe I’ll figure out some other small interior design issues.  

Anyone else streaking on something at the moment?

aging · fashion · self care · yoga

Mina’s Naked Yoga Toes

I’m in yoga looking at my naked toes. It’s not a pretty sight and distracts me from my breath, flow and alignment. Running has thickened several of the toenails, so wearing nail polish feels like a favour to anyone who has to look at my toes. The long-term, non-stop polish practice has yellowed the nails and left white deposits of I-don’t-know-what and, yes, aging is having its way. 

It’s the new year and for the second year in a row I’ve decided to give my toenails a breather, literally. I’ll leave the polish off my toes until it’s sandals season again. The first days of my naked toes depress me unreasonably. Last year was more traumatic than this year. I hadn’t bared my toenails for well over five years. Their gnarly nudity makes me feel like I’m accelerating down the cliché slope of letting myself go

Fortunately, after a few days of toe blues, I remember several important things. First, the whole concept of a woman letting herself go is sexist and obnoxious ageism, as this article in Flaunt points out (As I Am Now, So You Will Be: Your Ageism is Hypocrisy). Why would I turn that flawed idea against myself (or anyone else!)? Second, the reason I have so long to study my naked toes is because I’m in aerial yoga class. Instead of having a toe-vanity crisis, I should be high-fiving myself for getting to class. 

Closeup of legs and beautifully polished toes of woman on hammock doing aerial yoga

By the third yoga class of the year, my head clears and I’m able to notice that in fact my toes are happy and enjoying their toe-pranayama (that’s the cleansing yogic breathing). How do I know? Because they start to look better. And this year, being the second year, they are perking up faster. They will never be ready for their close-up and I don’t have a future as a foot model; still, their evident improvement makes me feel kind to my body and is a comforting reminder of my body’s capacity to repair itself.  

I’m not giving up polish on my toes. The sight of my toes’ shiny candy-tips jazzes me. They add zing to all my sandals and inspired me to breakdown and buy open toe ankle boots, which seemed like a ridiculous and impractical fashion, until I bought a pair and realized I could wear them long past sandals season and continue to enjoy the polished insouciance of my toes.  My favourite colour is a dark night sky blue with a tiny bit of twinkle. But that’s just my default, I enjoy the ritual of choosing a hue that suits my vision of the weeks I’ll be wearing the colour. I have a bit of a colour obsession—I choose yoga mats, blankets and aerial hammocks depending on my mood. The woman’s dark red yoga pants and polished toes in the picture above, paired with the dark grey yoga hammock, satisfy my appetite for colour harmony.

I also love a pedicure. My hardworking feet earn the pleasures of a pedicure with all the miles they run and hike and walk and bike and cross-country ski and get wrapped up in yoga hammocks. 

After all, if we are going to ask our bodies to work hard for us, they deserve a reward, don’t they?

aging · fitness · injury · running · traveling

Not Running in Paris

I was in Paris for the month of December. Two weeks in my back started hurting for no discernible reason and I couldn’t run for the second half of my stay. In addition to the intense frustration at missing the pleasures of a run along the Seine (the light, the architecture, the people watching, the little exercise yard on the Left Bank), I felt old and creaky as I limped to the boulangeriein the morning for our breakfast baguette. (Side note—divine Paris breakfast—fresh baguette slathered with raspberry jam and sheep’s milk yogurt from an adorable little glass jar and crunchy salad of little gems, endive, snow peas, cherry tomatoes and carrots.) 

Top of Eiffel Tower through tree branches

Getting out of bed as slowly as my back demanded meant that age was much on my mind. So when I lost my scan card for the shared bike system (called Velib) and had to memorize an eight-digit access code, this mnemonic popped into my head as soon as I saw the numbers. I’ve rearranged into ascending order: 25—the age at which the media sets a woman’s prime; 32—the age at which I started to reclaim my power from societal norms of feminine delicacy; 49—the age I wouldn’t have minded sticking with for the rest of my life (the way my grandmother always said she was 29); 96—an age I hope to see, but only if I’m still enjoying life!

The access code is engraved in my memory. 

And fortunately cycling and yoga were still possible, so I rode the Velib bikes to the aerial yoga studio (Fly Yoga) and the spin studio (dynamo) I love in Paris. 

My back healed and this past Thursday (January 3) I went for one of the best runs I’ve had in I-don’t-know-how-long, a grand gift for the beginning of 2019. I felt light and strong. I don’t wear a watch, so I have no idea if I was actually faster than usual in my loop of Central Park. Does the time matter if I felt great? 

This aging business has made it clear to me that every time I heal from an injury and am granted the grace of strength and ease in my body again, a hallelujah and thank you is in order.

I’m starting 2019 with gratitude!

What are you grateful for as the year begins?