November 22, 2011 § 23 Comments
For weeks I have been trying to write just one single post. I have filled up WordPress windows, Word documents, and notebook pages and still have nothing to show for it. A few days ago I threw in the towel and focused on other things. Right now, in addition to working towards my 200 hour yoga teaching certification, I am taking Rolf Gates’ online “The Chakras as Life’s Roadmap,” which has opened my life up in ways I didn’t believe an online course could do.
Last week, we were talking about the heart chakra and since then, I have been aware of the ways I refuse to commit to both myself and my spiritual practice. I have integrity, but only until my breaking point. I love but only until it becomes too difficult. I give, but only to people I believe are deserving. I have committed to yoga, but only up to my edge and no further.
My response to this observation was to exercise more. Last week I ran more miles than I have in months. I went to the yoga studio four times, including to a hot power yoga class, which I swear would have turned Baron Baptiste himself into a whimpering puddle of sweat. On Saturday, when I was so sore I could barely walk, I realized that this body of mine, the one I have vilified for so long is truly my greatest teacher. Maybe that is why this chakra class is so powerful for me because the physical realm is the world in which I learn the most. Make me sprint for five kilometers and I will finally tell you what is bothering me. Tell me to hold Warrior II for two minutes and the bricks I am mortaring around my heart will start to crumble. Push me to my physical edge and I will start to understand my emotional edge as well.
On Sunday morning, my quads were still as shaky and unresponsive as they were the previous afternoon and I was seriously reconsidering the trail race I had signed up for that morning. A few months ago I signed up for the entire five-mile Backyard Burn Trail Running series because they are fun and I love running in the woods, but on Sunday, the prospect of dodging tree roots and sloshing through streams sounded about as pleasant as another power yoga class. “Just do it for fun,” Scott told me and I glared at him.
I ended up going, mostly because Scott told me to. I drove the thirty minutes out to Fountainhead Regional Park although I wasn’t sure why. I was too tired to push myself, to do my best, and I didn’t know any other way to approach a race. Why show up if I wasn’t going to show up fully? Why race if I didn’t want to win?
I started in the back of the pack this time, unlike the day in October when I sprained my ankle. When the air horn blew announcing the start of the race, I was surrounded by men in bandanas who looked like former football players and women who carried small bottles of Evian and asked if it was okay to walk part of the course. As we headed up the road towards the woods, we began to fall in line in preparation for the trail. As the road turned into a rocky, root-studded single track, we were running single file, in silence. I listened to the sound of our feet thudding against the ground, and a feeling came over me, so strongly that I wanted to lie down and rest my head against a bed of moss. Instead, I struggled for a word that would describe what this was, this endless line of bodies heading into the woods for no other reason than because they said they would.
No, I thought, pushing that word away. This snaking line of runners wearing breathable fabrics was nothing like the processions of my youth in St. Columba Church. This colorful parade moving toward the finish line was nothing like the solemn walk to the alter to receive a stale wafer. And yet, what were we doing if not moving toward something sacred? What was this if not an agreement to meet somewhere together and pray? I haven’t been to Mass in years, but a vague passage from the Gospel of Matthew popped into my head: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
The race was put on my Ex2, a fabulous group of people, who had even come out the day before the race to blow the leaves from the single-track trail so we wouldn’t kill ourselves on the roots or the precipitously steep downhills that seemed to be made solely of rock and moss. As I ran and listened to our breathing and our footfalls, I noticed another, occasional sound of someone swishing through the leaves on the side of the trail.
Swish, swish, swish.
“On your left.”
“Go for it.”
What I began to notice was that the swishings were never isolated. Someone would pass someone and almost immediately after, someone else would enter the leaves. Then another. A runner about five people ahead of me passed someone and I felt the need to pass the person ahead of me.
Swish, swish, swish.
“Passing on the right.”
Instead of being competitive, it was lovely. Here, we were saying to each other, I’ll take over for a while. It was so small this sound, this decision to leave the trail and enter into something new, but it was powerful. It inspired people. As I ran, Big Little Wolf’s recent post popped into my head. Her post from the day before inspired me with her adament support of Ashley Quiñones, who, at 31 needs a new kidney in order to live for another decade. Medicaid – Ashley’s only insurer – will not fund the necessary surgery, which is estimated at $250,000.
“I think most people have good hearts,” Big Little Wolf said in an email to me, which I read just an hour before the race. “The world is just so damned overwhelming, we don’t know what to do, how to help. So – one at a time, right?”
One at a time we jump into the leaves. One at a time we run through the woods. One at a time, we cross the finish line.
Right before the finish line, as I came out of the woods, I saw Scott and the boys, sitting in the grass and I was so thrilled to see my tribe that I felt lit up inside. Oliver shyly clapped and Gus was smacking his hands together so hard I worried about his little palms. Scott took a photo of me (see above) and while I usually hate every picture taken of myself, I kept this one because I remember what that was like, to come out of the woods and see this overwhelming, overflowing, heartbreaking love.
Most times, right after the race I take off before the awards ceremony because I have better things to do than stand around and see if I won a pint glass. Scott has won so many in his mountain bike races that they keep falling out of our cabinets. On Sunday though, after Scott told me I won my age group, the boys wanted to stay and go up to the podium with me. Right after that, the race director announced that they were going to give away iPODs and two, hundred dollar bills. Scott, who knows I never win anything, got the boys ready for a mountain bike ride in the woods, and I think I surprised him my telling him I was staying for the giveaway. “I’m feeling lucky,” I told him. “And I never feel lucky.”
Ten minutes later, when my name was called out as the winner of a crisp, new, hundred-dollar bill, I was not surprised. “You’re so calm,” Jim, the race director told me. “You’re so quiet.”
Instead of telling Jim I knew I was going to win, I smiled and said thank you and took the money.
Big Little Wolf asked us to come up with a five-year plan in honor of Ashley but I don’t do five-year plans anymore. I used to live according to plans and training schedules and goals, but then I married someone in the Navy and started moving every eighteen months to two years. I learned to let go of plans. My five-year plan is for my family to still be alive and healthy and as happy as we are now. My five-year plan is to not to plan but to live in the moment.
So, instead of a plan, Ashley can have my $100 dollar bill. For why else did I win it, me, who has never even won a game of bingo?
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Swish, swish, swish. Passing on the right.
Please take a moment and visit Big Little Wolf to learn about the important work she is doing to help raise money for a life-saving kidney transplant for Ashley Quiñones, aka the Kidney Cutie, aka the sister of Kelly Miller of The Miller Mix.
November 3, 2011 § 20 Comments
For the past few days, some of my favorite bloggers have been writing about self-care at Life After Benjamin, Chicken and Cheese, A Design so Vast, and Her Suburban Life. Also, Carry it Forward and Food: A Love Story consistently write about taking care of ourselves in an authentic way.
Self-care is a strange word. It sounds vaguely institutional and somewhat primitive and yet it’s a concept that has been rather fascinating to me for the past few years. It would not be inaccurate to say that I started out my adult life having no idea how to take care of myself. I knew the basics of course. I knew what I should eat and how much exercise and sleep I should get. But in times of stress, all those good ideas went out the window. In times of stress – which in my twenties and early thirties was about five days per week- I subsisted on less than six hours of sleep, cheese, green olives, and coffee.
It’s funny the things that didn’t work for me. “Treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated,” people would tell me, or “Become your own best friend.” The truth was, I felt like a slacker who had been given tons of opportunity and fortune but who had squandered it all away. I was treating myself the way I believed I deserved. And I had no interest in befriending as someone as lame and myself.
It’s funny what did work too. When I was pregnant with Oliver, I was unmarried and living 3000 miles away from my boyfriend (who later became my husband, poor guy). I was working in investor relations and it was a job in which even if I did everything perfectly, it was guaranteed someone would still yell at me at the end of the quarter. But one day, as I got off the train in Palo Alto and was walking down Emerson Street to my apartment, I passed a yoga studio that offered prenatal yoga. For years I had been meaning to go to yoga, but I didn’t want to be the only one in the class who didn’t know what she was doing. I peered in the window at the women, lumbering like elephants with their big bellies. I was only three months pregnant at the time. I figured I could do at least as well as them.
That was how I started with yoga: as a competition. But after my first prenatal class, I lay in savasana and felt quiet for the first time in years. Once you find something like that, you begin to notice its opposite. You gradually become aware of when you are not quiet and then you try to figure out how to get yourself out of that mess. You may try meditation next or getting more sleep. Or, if you’re like me, you may try to eat half the can of frosting instead of the whole thing.
To be honest, I am the least qualified person to write about how to take care of yourself. I have only recently started to get more sleep. And when the going gets tough, I often stop my meditation practice and start drinking coffee. Last week, during which I had to make a Halloween costume, plan and host a birthday party for six six-year olds, make a graveyard cake, take care of sick children, and finish up homework for my teacher training, I may or may not have eaten seven fun-size Twix bars one night and called it dinner. I know, you don’t have to say it.
But I am working on it. At least I am passed the point I used to be, when I thought self-care was for wimps, for people with too much time on their hands. In the last couple of years, I have read a gazillion books on the subject. More importantly, I met with my yoga teacher, Jessica Anderson, from YogaWorks in LA and with Laura Plumb, Ayurvedic devotee, yoga teacher, and educator. They both offered invaluable advice and instruction. I still don’t do everything I wish I did, but below are some notes from the trenches, which sometimes get me out of my own way:
1. Start Where You Are: This first rule could also be called “Don’t Make Things Worse.” If you eat a pound of chocolate, do your best to avoid eating another pound to make yourself feel better. If you haven’t washed your hair in a week, then put on a hat rather than beat yourself up. If you are feeling badly about yourself, be gentle with your heart. As Geneen Roth writes, if you find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator eating leftover Chinese food with your fingers, pull up a chair. Be kind to yourself. Sit down. Just stop making things worse, and things will get a whole lot better.
2. Start Slowly: After I consulted with Laura last week and she told me about the Veda-reducing diet that would reduce my anxiety, I immediately wanted to roast vegetables, cook up a pot of kitchari, and buy lavender-scented oil. This was during the Halloween/Birthday Extravaganza Week, and I knew that if I went gangbusters, I would probably have a meltdown. So, for a change, I slowed down. Instead of cooking up a storm, I made one pot of tomato soup. I started meditating for ten minutes a day. I went to bed fifteen minutes earlier at night. I bought a single bottle of organic sesame oil to practice Abhyanga. Baby steps.
3. Plan: When I met with Jessica eighteen months ago, she told me that in order to keep herself sane and healthy she planned out her week. She decided how much yoga and mountain biking she needed and what food she needed to buy to make healthy meals. My first thought after she told me that was shock. I couldn’t imagine doing that. If I had enough time to sit and make a grocery list and a schedule, then clearly I was not getting enough done in my life. Clearly, that was a waste of time. I still don’t always plan out my meals or my week. Most weeks, I don’t get to yoga as much as I want to and I often forget to soak the beans the night before. But when I do take time to plan out my week … man, life is good.
4. Pretend: aka “Fake it Till You Make It.” Here’s the deal. Often, when we need self-care the most is the time we believe we don’t deserve it. Right after we yell at our kids for fooling around when they are supposed to be getting on their shoes or the house is a mess or we totally botch something up at work, it’s easy to beat ourselves up. However, we are probably yelling at our kids and making silly mistakes because we ourselves are depleted. I am getting to where I can see this is true even if I don’t always believe it. Then, I usually pretend I am someone else, like Oprah, or Laura Plumb or Jessica Anderson and I try to imagine what they would do if they were me. Chances are, they would take a deep breath, give themselves a pep talk, make a cup of tea. What happens then is that once you start treating yourself as the person you want to be, you start to become the person you want to be. It’s kind of revolutionary.
5. Create a Ritual: In our yoga teacher training, Rolf told us that anything can become sacred once we bring our attention to it. Laura last week told me about tratak, a candle meditation that is deeply calming and centering. She also told me about Viparita Karani Mudra, or lying down for fifteen minutes with your legs up the wall. It could be a yoga class or a run or meditation. It could be a walk with your kids or spending time with your spouse. It could even be eating breakfast in silence or listening to the birds. There is something about a ritual that is soothing to our souls, that reminds us that while we live in these limited physical forms, an aspect of us is truly unlimited and connected to something bigger than we can imagine.
I once thought that devoting some time to taking care of myself would make me into a different person, into someone who was more patient, who subsisted on kale and ginger tea, who wore yoga pants every day. Obviously that hasn’t happened. Most days I wear jeans with a hole in the right leg, because that is the knee I bend down on when I am tying shoes, wiping noses, and putting the chain back on Oliver’s bike.
Taking care of ourselves isn’t about a vegan diet or taking baths, although that may be part of it. Taking care of ourselves is about treating ourselves with a level of dignity so that we remember who we truly are. If you treat yourself like a queen, it becomes more difficult to get upset about the snide remark your friend made. If you give yourself enough time to get to yoga and play something uplifting on the car stereo, it is harder to honk at the third person who cut you off in Logan Circle. On the other hand, if you eat leftover Halloween candy for dinner, it’s a lot easier to get upset at your husband for taking a business trip and leaving you alone with the kids for four days, how could he do that to you, doesn’t he know that you won’t get a minute to yourself?
Last week, Laura said something that I have been thinking about every day. She said that even if our main job is to care for other people, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a little time for our own evolution and go inward every now and then. We deserve at least that, don’t we?
And that is why I am offering my first ever giveaway. I am offering Laura’s Maha Shakti Detox Protein Powder and a copy of the Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner on Monday.