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? 

meditation · self care

Have you unplugged lately? Tracy’s at-home silent retreat

The last time we polled readers about what kind of content we could do more (or less) of, someone requested more on things like meditation and rest. We have posted a few things about meditation (there is this and this and this and this) and more than one of us has found it to be beneficial. I have had meditation as a part of my life since graduate school, when I bought myself a copy of a book called The Joy within in the hopes of finding some peace. It helped, even though it was really hard at that time even to sit quietly, in silence for five minutes.

And that was before the internet. Before cell phones. Before streaming. Before “devices.” So few people had email back then that it was exciting to get a message (can you even remember those days?).

This past weekend I decided that I needed some silence. I usually enjoy silent retreats with a focus on meditation, but I won’t be able to do anything remotely like that any time soon. So when I noticed a couple of weeks ago that this past Friday night and Saturday were clear in my calendar, I blocked them off for a silent home retreat: 24 hours.

The first challenge was to keep them clear. How easy it is to allow things to seep into that open space in a schedule? It’s like a vacuum that wants to suck commitments into its void. But I did it.

The second challenge was to define my boundaries. I often listen to music at home. But if I was going for silence, then there could be none of that. Ultimately I made a list of what I could and could not do.

Permitted: meditation, cooking, reading (but not for work-only books related to meditation and spiritual practice), adult colouring (I have an adult colouring book I love), knitting (never got around to it), journalling, walking or running outside (alone, no music), naps, baths, photography (but no editing)

Not permitted: devices, communication, work.

I came home from my workout on Friday after picking up a new artwork, a lovely painting called “One Can Always Tango” by my talented friend Kim Kaitell. The firs thing I did was hang that painting with some music playing in the background because it wasn’t quite 7 yet and I wanted to be able to admire it on my retreat.

Image description: A textured canvas painting, dark in the lower half and light in the upper half, with three large red circles (grapefruit moons) and the silhouette of three birds, two standing in front of two of the moons and one off to the left side. Title: One Can Always Tango by Kim Kaitell.

I finished that (which promised to be a bit more work than I’d planned because I put a hanging wire on the painting and needed plugs in the wall, so it required the drill and all manner of measurements and so forth…but by 6:58 the painting was up, the music was off, and the phone was in my bedroom night table drawer on airplane mode without wifi).

If you have a busy life with lots of activity in it, it’s tough just to stop–or at least that is my experience. So I started cooking. Chopping veggies is kind of meditative for me, so I grabbed a rutabaga and a squash, neither an easy subject to tackle on a cutting board, and my favourite heavy knife, and spent the first 30 minutes of my silent retreat prepping them to roast in the oven. I had some lentils and rice simmering on the stove at the same time. And when I opened the veggie drawer in my fridge, I found some portobello mushrooms that needed attention and got it in the form of sauteed portobellos with a soy-maple glaze. Okay, so dinner was on its way. While I waited for everything to cook, I snapped a few pictures of fresh flowers, one of my favourite photo subjects.

Next up: mindful eating.

By the time I finished dinner, it was already almost 9. Still not ready to sit quietly in meditation, I took out my adult colouring book. I’m not artistic but I absolutely adore colour. I started a page that said: “Today is going to be awesome” with full confidence that it contained an accurate prediction about tomorrow.

Image description: Coloured-in page from an adult colouring book. In the middle it says in handwritten block letters “TODAY IS GOING TO BE AWESOME” and that is framed by a swirling abstract floral pattern.

Without belabouring every moment, I can tell you that it was the best thing I’ve done for myself this month. By the end of the first evening, my mind had quieted. It felt good to go to bed (after a leisurely soak in the tub) without having to set an alarm. I almost always have a Saturday morning yoga commitment and Sunday run, so there is rarely a day when I don’t need to get up for something. I lay in bed that Saturday and just luxuriated for a little longer than normal.

Then I got up and sat in meditation for 30 minutes and followed that with some candid and much-needed journalling. I didn’t do a whole lot of anything that day — a bit more colouring, a bit more photography, some reading, several timed meditation sessions, a 30-minute run. I’d wanted a nap but I think by the afternoon my mind felt so quiet and I was at peace and feeling rested, so I didn’t feel the need. And that was after less than 24 hours.

Image description: Two orange flowers in the foreground and one blurred in the background, against a further blurry (bokeh) light background.

By the time the clock was approaching 7 p.m. (and I did have a 7 p.m. commitment), I was so into my retreat that I didn’t want it to end. But I did one more meditation, a bit of journalling on my experience, silently expressed gratitude for the opportunity, and left the house to celebrate an occasion with friends.

If you think you’d like to try this, just google “planning a home silent retreat” or something like that and a few articles will come up. I used “How to Create An Amazing Silent Retreat at Home” as my rough guide. The whole thing felt like a loving thing to do for myself and I will be doing it again.

Have you ever retreated silently at home?

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?

advertising · aging · body image · Fear · health · meditation · mindfulness

Why Is The Wellness Industry Growing By Leaps and Bounds?

The wellness trend is surging, so we’re told. Women are taking care of themselves more these days. Prioritizing their needs (an idea whose time has surely come). Paying attention to nourishing foods. Getting more exercise. Starting to think about the health of their minds and spirits. These are good things, right? Yes!

I’m on board. I have a curious bent. As much as I like to try new physical activities, I also like to try new health and wellness protocols. Why wouldn’t I want to feel as good as possible physically and emotionally? I’ve had some kind of meditation practice for more than a decade. I incorporate acupuncture and massage into my schedule with some regularity. There’s a Korean spa just over the George Washington Bridge we like to go to with friends for a stiff scrub and some time in the saunas and under the far infrared light. Yes, my vagina has been steamed with mugwort vapors (enjoyable, not life changing). And I have succumbed to the promises of quite few skincare products; the best of which deliver on about 25% of their hype, which is more than I really expected, if I’m honest with myself.

Have we gone too far?

Lured by the wellness industry’s promises of eternal youth and beauty (also great sex), are we trying to buy our way out of reality? Goop is one of the industry’s most high profile villains-du-jour. High on the list of accusations lodged against Goop are that it is marketing products that are not scientifically proven.

photo-1512867957657-38dbae50a35b
amber tincture bottles on a desk with books and decorative straw ball

As an aside, researchers (at Harvard, no less) are hard at work studying the surprising efficacy of the placebo effect. Virtually all of us engage in some magical thinking that has worked. There is a good chance that we will discover that a lot of pseudoscience may be less pseudo and more science than is currently understood.

In the meantime though, Goop has been taken to task (and court) more than once for grandiose claims it makes about the products it hawks. The clientele, largely white women of privilege, is disdained as gullible over-spenders with too much money and not enough sense. It’s so easy to question the priorities and intelligence of someone who buys a jade egg for her vagina; even if the whole idea of the egg is pretty ancient.

Yet, the very success of enterprises like Goop demonstrates that for all the privilege (whether real or not—the infamous jade egg was only $66), money is not buying us peace of mind. I haven’t actually bought anything from Goop, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t feel better about myself. Rather, our unease with ourselves enables companies to offer more and more outrageous and outrageously priced “solutions” for unsolvable challenges, like aging (and fear of aging). As this article in Quartzy points out, #skincare is just a code word for anti-aging. The marketing language may be coloured with all sorts of body positive words, but the root emotion that’s targeted and monetized is the same as always with these kinds of products—shame. Shame about our bodies. Shame about getting older.

I struggle with this. I spend too much time studying the wrinkles on my face, trying to decide if they are worsening, or if whatever new miracle product I’m using is actually smoothing them away, even a little. I have strong feelings about cosmetic surgery. Denying my aging feels like a betrayal of women. Yet it is also a high horse that is precarious. As much as I want to accept the inevitable with dignity and grace, to stay strong and healthy by eating well, drinking water, exercising, sleeping and such, I know that at any moment I might fall off my hobbyhorse, landing on needles full of Botox and fillers, or UPS boxes full of promise-y Goop products.

We women are not alone in our susceptibility. Men are just drawn in by different language. For men it is the language of performance optimization that closes the deal. Deploying knowledge to biohack a more efficient personal ecosystem are their code words for lose weight, get strong and stay young.

We are not idiots for falling for these bright, shiny promises. We live in a society that delivers a torrent of messaging, which tells us that we aren’t young enough, fit enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, famous enough, or really enough of anything. Even when anti-aging is rebranded as the dewiness we all deserve, we know the truth of what we are buying. We are spending money to put a finger in the leaky dyke of our not-enoughness. Intellectually, I know I should always think that I am enough. But I don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a big part of why the health and wellness industry is growing.

We have the actual, literal possibility of more and more comfort, yet we live with less and less ease.

I wonder if that’s because we know that our society is askew and our subconscious senses this dis-ease. The gap between have-a-lot and have-not is widening exponentially. Some women are spending a small fortune and enormous amounts of time on wellness, while in the same country other women are working multiple jobs and still can’t put dinner on the table for their children. Coming home from a dermatologist appointment during which I had a little skin tag on my neck removed (a voluntary procedure), I walked past a homeless man, sleeping out in the pouring rain. A wave of guilt washed through me. Should I have given the money I’d just spent to him instead?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of our health and wellness. I’m not going to stop trying to stay physically and mentally healthy, or stop buying any beauty products. I’m not saying we shouldn’t indulge.

I am proposing that if we do so more mindfully, perhaps we can indulge just a little less and share just a little more.

We are optimized when we are comfortable in our bodies and with who we are. That’s the brass ring of health and wellness.

fitness · meditation · yoga

How yoga sneaks up on you

IMG_4269I lift my heel and flex my toes in high lunge, and feel every part of my foot flicker to life.

*

I roll down into forward fold and I flash through an inner dialogue of hips taut, hamstrings tight, feet turned in a little too much, fibrous muscle catching over my left knee, piriformis sore, toes further away than last week.

*

I sit in dandasana and feel hips, thighs, spin, neck race into position, work to constellate into an upright, strong posture.

*

I sit in hero pose at the beginning of a class, legs tucked under, looking like I am doing NOTHING, and my quads fire into agitated life, screaming to be released.  At the end of class, I sit as comfortably in this pose as in a chair.

*

I balance in warrior three, feel my leg root, glide forward in complete equilibrium.

**

I’ve been doing yoga at least once a week for more than 20 years now.  These poses are “easy” asanas — but I was reflecting in my class on Monday that I experience them fresh every time.  I discover my toes anew every time I step on the mat, am present to these little bits of my body that work for me all day, every day, but which I never really feel or pay attention to until I’m directly engaging them.  I feel like different parts of my body literally greet me when I fold, stretch, balance — hello calves!  hello arthritic big toe! hello side-twisty bit!

At the same time, I experience the poses as familiar, attached to a story — “oh, interesting, I’m so much stronger and deeper in chair pose than I was six months ago” — and as completely new — “how do I fold in suryanamaskar A in a way so it really feels like a flow?  how do I curl over my toes from upward dog to downward dog in a smooth motion?”  I’ve literally done 1000s of sun salutations in my yoga life — but every one has its own life to it, its own story, is a new question.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was contemplating going to her first yoga class ever, and she was reluctant because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to follow it, wouldn’t be able to “do” it.  I found myself quite passionately describing my experience of yoga as “never easy,” that there is no “right” way to do it, and that good yoga classes are always about never comparing, about going deep inside your own possibilities, being okay with the fact that you have been doing yoga for 20 years and still cannot do some of the things that other people can do easily.  For me this is getting my heels down in downward dog, doing Utthita Hasta Padangustasana without falling (grabbing my big toe with one hand and extending my leg out straight while balancing on other leg), comfortably doing eagle pose.  I have done these poses 100s of times, and they are a new, imperfect challenge every time.  As I said to my friend, “the joy of yoga is that there is simultaneously no failing and it’s all failing — it is never perfect.”

Other people doing variations on a pose my massage therapist tells me to do and which continues to elude me.

**

My meditation teacher Jeff Warren once said that yoga is a “spiritual trojan horse” — that many people start doing yoga for fitness or stress reduction, and then find themselves “deliciously, inexorably, sometimes alarmingly – moving along a course of spiritual development they never expected.”

That has been my experience with yoga.  Not in a namaste and sanskrit tattoo kind of way — I have strong feelings about the cultural appropriation side of yoga.  But I do know that a guided meditation during shivasana back in 1996 was the first time I really experienced the connection between my body and a deep felt sense of “mystery” — the first time I had a somatic experience of my self and all of its yearnings for meaning.  Over time, I’ve developed language for these yearnings, journeyed through meditation, reflection, solo pilgrimages, all the “work” to face my demons and look as unflinchingly as possible at what it means to be a present, emotionally honest, flawed, vulnerable human, capable both simultaneously of inflicting harm, of weaving golden connections, of great generosity.

Yes, yoga is a way to keep my aging body more supple, to build strength and agility in the muscles and connective tissues that get worn and frayed through daily life, through sitting, through running and cycling and walking in the wrong shoes.  Anyone who thinks it’s “not real exercise” is misguided — I rarely go to hot yoga, but I always need a shower after a class.  It’s physical WORK.

But there is also a meta-experience of that physical work that always brings me back to the mat.  Yoga is lesson after lesson.

On the mat, I do the same kind of observation and noting of what is happening in that very moment that I seek in meditation — the unexpected stubbing of my toe as I hop back to the front of my mat, the ease and depth of triangle, the three breath limit for full bridge pose.  Presence reveals an endless flow of news, slows me down.

Every time I do handstand, I have a moment of hesitation, a prick of fear about turning myself upside down.  That flicker of hesitation is a continual re-engagement with my own courage, with the intertwining of self-aware strength and vulnerability to strive for in my entire life.

On the mat, I am often simultaneously deeply engaged and deeply bored, fully immersed in what I am doing and impatient at the same time, resisting checking my watch.  This is my monkey mind life, unable to stay still.  Yoga shows me this tendency, cautions me about it, reminds me that it just gets worse.

On the mat, I sometimes feel the deep vulnerability — the sadness, the hope, the loss, the fear — that is squelched in real life.  I am reminded to listen.

Every time I fall out of a pose, or can’t reach for something I’m aiming for, I’m reminded about letting go of attachment, of not taking what’s in front of me for granted.  This has helped me through losses and irritations, reinforced my gratitude for my body’s changing strength and agility as I age.

More than anything, yoga reinforces “beginner’s mind” for me.  Every time I’m on the mat, I discover what is true for me that day — can I hold a pose longer, or bend further, or is there restriction?  Can I hold that multi-stage balancing posture, or am I going to tip?  I am never the same yogi from one session to the next. It’s grounding and it’s freeing.  It’s a reminder that I can fail in one moment and there will always be another posture, I can succeed one moment and not have the same experience next time, I can be triumphant — see my handstand! — and I can be humbled — see me suddenly unable to reach my toes in a simple forward fold on a stiff day!  I am human and I am present to that human-ness.

When I learn these things on the mat, I learn them in my body.  When I manage to hold onto the wisdom off the mat, I am a better human.

IMG_1912 (2)

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here the second Friday and third Saturday of every month, and other times she needs to say something out loud.

body image · fitness · meditation

A Little Meditation on a Meditation

It’s nearly 10pm on the night before this blog is due. There’s a few reasons I’m “Last Minute Leslie” today but the most significant one to this project is the fact I was spending my afternoon time (normally a blogging opportunity) writing a “Body Awareness Meditation” for my therapist in training community.

It’s part of the routine of our twice yearly weekend intensive retreats to start Saturday and Sunday morning with “Body Awareness”. It’s up to whomever volunteers for this duty to decide how to do that. Sometimes it’s more like yoga. Sometimes it’s more like silly walks and sometimes it’s more like mindfulness  It’s always something about the body.

I had never led this aspect, I’m only in my second year of the teacher role and I sat down to think about what I wish I had known 20 years ago when I was on my first weekend intensive retreat with this same school. I hated the body awareness thing. I’d listen to my instructors who were crunchy granola baby boomer hippies in socks and Birkenstocks with dangly earrings and roll my eyes. All that breathing in and out. All that stretching and clenching and releasing. All that feeling the parts. It was stupid, uncomfortable, uncouth, undignified, weird, creepy. . .I squirmed in my head until it was over and then moved on.

20 years is a nice round number later to reflect on where I was back then and where I have travelled to since. Essentially, back then, I was a head floating on a support mechanism that I was utterly unfamiliar with. It was awkward, rebellious and foreign. It was beautiful but I didn’t know what to do with that, so I mostly hid it and cursed it’s unruly ways. I only saw the flaws in the mirror and I didn’t want to feel them or breathe into them or inhabit them any more than I perceived was necessary.

So Much Has Changed. One of the things that happened that really shifted me is something not everyone experiences or can experience and that’s childbirth. Growing and pushing out some babies had a very intense and unanticipated embodying impact. The most powerful things I took from that experience were a sense of autonomy and control. I know that some people have the exact opposite experience of childbirth and I have compassion for that also. I am so grateful that it introduced me to the inherent power of my body.

I had both my kids while I was in therapy school and it may not have been a co-incidence that also at that time, I was starting to recognize I wanted more out of my physical self-experience in a multitude of realms. My intuition was firing on all cylinders in the parenting department and the therapist department. They were feeding each other and informing each other.

I found Pilates, a thing I was good at. It’s also a thing that promotes micro awareness of all the parts. I was strong, not awkward, I found grace. I started running and eventually biking. All along this path, other things were also changing. I was becoming experienced in my craft, I was less fearful about my physicality. My felt sense of myself became a landscape the same as my thoughts and theories, put to use to help connect with a client, or help me dance, it was all the same.

So now I’m sitting at my table thinking about what to write and say to 35 students to bring them in and invite them to be aware of the awesome resource that is their body. Whether it is well, or unwell, loose or tense, a haven or a hell, it’s theirs and the information it holds, processes and conveys is absolutely essential to what I’m trying to prepare them for. I’m making magic workers for wounded souls and I know they can’t be at their best unless they learn to be with and listen to their own bodies.

I wrote a thing I really like. I don’t know if 20 years ago me would have liked it as much as today me does. It has some explaining, and some breathing and some tensing and relaxing. It has some directing to and directing away. It has some exhortations and some settling in. Mostly, it flows like a story from today me, strong, graceful, embodied and accepting of the Things, to 20 years ago me, who was a head on a complex apparatus she was afraid to inquire about. I’ll report back in the comments on how it goes.

tree
This is a really wild image of the World Tree and it represents both embodiment and aspiration beyond the body to me. It’s exactly the kind of woo woo baloney 20 years ago me would hate and now me is All Over. Find the original here,

 

 

aging · athletes · meditation · running · soccer

I Had A Midlife Crisis and Didn’t Realize It At The Time

Extreme Athleticism is The New Mid-Life Crisis provoked me to wonder if a series of ultra-running events I did when was 44-45 were motivated by fear of aging.

At the time they felt organic. Not like I was trying to outrun my aging or shore myself up for the years to come, as the article suggests. More like I had been trail running for some years, enjoying increasingly longer distances and then thought, “Could I run one of those ultra distances?”

To be clear—I’ve never run more than a 50k, though the trails add challenge to that distance. The longest event, time-wise, was in Cape Town, South Africa. Three Peaks Challenge runs up and down the three smallish mountains that push that city toward the sea: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. That 50k run took me 9 hours.

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Mina running down rocky steps on Table Mountain in Cape Town

I went into the longer distances as someone who had run marathons, done half-ironman triathlons and even the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times (a two-day, 100-mile cross-country ski). I wasn’t a stranger to the borderline extreme.

Yet, before I did any ultra-runs, I thought that anyone who undertook such an endeavor was trying to avoid something they didn’t want to think about (not just aging). Even when I did the ultras, I felt like the extremes I participated in were just the right length. Anything longer had a whiff of desperation. Yes, that was highly subjective, probably wildly inaccurate and judgmental. I was thinking like that old joke about the driver who thinks everyone driving slower is an old grandpa and everyone driving faster is a danger-on-wheels. (A side note: Who decides what’s extreme? One person’s extreme may be another’s daily dose in these times of ever more punishing activities.)

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m avoiding the question I opened with. You’re right. Until I wrote this, I didn’t want to think that I had a mid-life crisis (more judgment). Looking back now (at a distance of seven years), I see that maybe I was. I had published two books and still felt like a struggling writer. My marriage was not in the best period. I was looking for some way to feel special and strong. When I finished ultras, I felt invincible.

My foray into ultra-running was sidelined by Morton’s neuroma, a nerve inflammation that feels how I imagine an electric cattle prod applied to the ball of my foot would feel. I finally had surgery to remove the neuroma about 18 months ago.

Summer 2017 was my first back running in the mountains. I was cautious (and elated just to be running at all without extraordinary pain). This past summer, I did quite a few 3 to 4 hour runs, including the Sierra Crest 30k I wrote about in this post: Compare and Despair. As I was training, I kept asking myself, “Do I want to be doing more of these longer runs? Do I want to aim for another 50k or even something longer?” Right now, the answer is no.

Unless I live quite a long time, I’m probably past mid-life. Is that why I don’t feel a zeal for the extreme? According to the Medium article I mentioned at the top prime time for the uptick in extreme athletics is 40-49. I hate the thought that I’m not doing the extreme runs anymore because I’m too old or I can’t. Anyhow, I know that’s not true.

Have I accepted my mortality? I’d like to think that I have after much meditation (plus silent retreats, plus a vision quest), but I’m also sure that I have not achieved such equanimity.

What I do have are other challenges on my plate—finishing my book, my first ensemble play being produced at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2019. I don’t feel like I need the extra scare of an ultra run on the horizon, too. I’m enjoying my sleep and time to read novels on the couch on the weekend with my partner.

I’m happy. I don’t feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m strong. I am.

But … I also love running for long stretches of time in the mountains or forest. Another ultra-run is not out of the question. So, if I’m not in midlife anymore, then maybe I wasn’t running far because of a crisis in the first place.

What about you? Have you had or are you in the midst of a mid-life crisis? What does that look like for you?