Well, it’s April, and I’ve finally come up with my word/concept/idea for 2013: gratitude.
It seems like such a simple little thing, practically a cliché. Why exactly did it take me so long to come to it? I sat with a few other things: softness, stillness, here-ness. I’ll come back to those again in the coming months.
But something about the spring sun and some purple crocuses I saw blooming in an ordinary suburban strip-mall parking lot this morning made me think: I’m grateful.
I’m grateful for the health and happiness of my loved ones–especially my daughters, who are smart and funny and thriving and simply glorious creatures. I’m grateful that I get to have something to do with their lives and their upbringing.
I’m grateful that my husband likes his new job, enjoys being a part of community theater, and just seems more content lately than he has in quite a while.
I’m grateful for the amazing community I live in, full of some of the smartest, coolest, most interesting, talented, engaged and committed people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. I’m especially grateful for the network of fellow parents–if ever there was a village, SOMA is it.
I’m grateful for friends who let me be myself, who truly get me, and allow me to give the same gift back to them.
I’m grateful for my self-awareness, which I’ve cultivated with a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the past five years or so. I’m especially grateful for the realization that physical awareness and wellness makes a huge impact on psychological, emotional and spiritual awareness and wellness.
I’m grateful that I have a beautiful, natural place where I go to run and enjoy the weather (good or bad) and the quiet and the light and the stillness and the familiar faces I pass regularly each time I’m there.
I’m grateful for yoga and all the ways it’s helped me to fall into place.
I’m grateful for words to read and write and for music to hear and sing and dance to.
I’m grateful to be more clear than I’ve ever been about what’s important.
A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and that’s how far I was supposed to run on November 4, in the Princeton Half. Hurricane Sandy cancelled it — among lots of other things, including the New York City Marathon, Halloween, and, of course, school, work, NJ Transit, and thousands of families’ power. A week and a half later, some of my friends still have cold, dark homes.
I’ve been training since August, running three times a week and going to yoga at least twice (for me, at least, there is no running without yoga). Slowly I built up distance, and I got to a little bit over 11 miles a few weeks ago, the farthest I’ve ever gone. I did it in a little over two hours, which for me is pretty respectable.
I was feeling great mentally. I could go with the ebb and flow during the run, knowing that if I started to feel tired, in another mile or two I’d get in a zone where things opened up and I felt good and strong. I got to the point where it felt better to keep going than to stop, even at 9 or 10 miles. I didn’t ever get to the point where I thought I’d ever be able to run 26.2 — that still sounds torturous. But I do know that I can run 13.1.
Enter the storm, and the cancellation. And add to that a pinched nerve in my left leg. I’d been feeling a little bit of burning and tingling in my thigh, and honestly, I was ignoring it. But this past week it’s been bothering me a little more, so I finally looked into what it might be. My left hip, though it’s been really good throughout my training, is slightly off — I had dysplasia as a baby and only through yoga have I come to realize that the head of my left thigh bone doesn’t fit exactly into the hip socket. While this is usually not a big deal — it’s just annoying during certain poses — I suspect it’s what led to the nerve thing.
So. Life is still slowly getting back to normal after Sandy (and this weird snowstorm we had yesterday). I haven’t run since it hit. I’m not sure I should — I think I need to take care of this nerve. But I don’t want to stop running — even if long distances isn’t a good idea, I want to at least go back to my 4-, 5- or 6-mile runs.
I must admit to feeling a little apprehensive. I hope that if I just rest and take care of my leg I can go back to running again. It’s funny — I was never, ever a runner until about four years ago, and now I know I’d really miss it.
Strangely, I’m not too disappointed about the actual event being cancelled, or postponed, or whatever it turns out to be. I didn’t want to actually race — I just wanted to run and finish. The training was really gratifying — I got a lot of satisfaction out of the process, out of slowly working through it, out of feeling so good while doing it. My lungs are strong and sure. My muscles and joints can carry me through. I was patient through the tough parts (uphills!) and exhilarated during the coasts (downhills). I may even have lost some weight, or at least firmed up.
So even if I don’t get to run my 13.1 anytime soon — I know that I’m able, and that I can prepare again.
Most of all, I appreciated the practice in being present. That’s always valuable.
Be not afraid of growing slowly; be only afraid of standing still. — Chinese proverb
I’ve reached a new place with running. I’m back down to about a 10.5-minute mile, and when I’ve gone a few miles I just start to feel…good. I’m in the flow of the thing, my breath feels steady and consistent, and my posture feels upright and aligned. The energy feels like it’s streaming upward. I’m moving from my center, using my core to keep my legs going forward.
It’s always most difficult getting started, and now I know that. I know that after three quarters of a mile or so, I’ll start to settle into a rhythm. I usually run the same course, so I know where the downhills are, and the uphills don’t feel so horrible anymore, maybe because they’re expected, or maybe because I’m fitter, or I’ve simply hit a kind of stride.
I’m never going to be a fast runner. But I think I can run farther. I can tell that my body can handle it, and my lungs can, and my head seems to be on board too. Summer is challenging — I need to figure out the humidity and hydration part. But the idea of running a half marathon in November in Princeton does not seem quite as crazy anymore.
You’ve heard the phrase “knowledge is power.” I’ve been thinking about this. Information is a useful thing. Especially information about yourself and how you handle things, react to things. Knowing yourself makes life easier and nicer. It helps you engage more deeply with the world, to want to engage more deeply. It helps you avoid pitfalls and obstacles, or at least accept them and move through them more gracefully. Even things you don’t really want to know, the stuff you avoid knowing, is necessary to look at, finally.
Most of what you know, you find out through experience. When you do something again and again, when you have a routine, you start to notice patterns. You start to notice whether or not these patterns are working, whether they make you feel good or bad. Just being aware of the pattern and how it feels might help you start to change it.
Sometimes you realize something out of the blue, and it seems so obvious, you don’t know why you didn’t see it before. Or someone tells you, and you can’t believe you needed someone to tell you. Or you didn’t realize it until you heard it in just those words. Or you finally admit something to yourself and see that it feels better to know it than to pretend you didn’t know.
Sometimes you need to do the work of finding out. You need to go to the doctor, or to therapy, or to AA. It’s not always fun, but ultimately it’s a relief to understand. And to have some guidance about what to do next.
Because once you know things, you can’t just sit around and know them. You need to use them, to apply them. That, I believe, is living fully.
Here a few things I know about myself:
— I am not a morning person.
— I’m funny.
— I’m a little boy-crazy, even at 41 (see Simon Le Bon, Robert Downey Jr., et. al.).
— I get snappish when I’m frustrated or distracted.
— I get quiet when I’m tired.
— I get skinny when I’m sad.
— I love being with people, but I’m also a homebody.
— I like to feel on top of things, and to have things in order.
— I’m a recovering perfectionist.
— I couldn’t live without books and music.
— I’m stronger than I used to think I was.
— I subscribe to The Four Agreements.
— I think there’s some higher, divine order to the universe. I don’t really need to know more than that.
Here are a few things I know about myself and yoga:
— I am not afraid of backbends and never have been, even though opening your chest and heart brings all sorts of emotions to the surface.
— Lately, I actually love them, because I finally figured out how to really get my shoulder blades down my back.
— My left thigh bone doesn’t fit perfectly into the hip socket. The right one absolutely does. Things that feel great on my right sometimes hurt on the left. It’s frustrating, but I can work with it.
— I have a bit of scoliosis in my lumbar spine. It curves out to the left a bit. This makes me tip that way sometimes. I can work with that.
— My Achilles tendons get tight, and pressing down through my outer foot helps in poses like triangle.
— I tend to tuck my chin into my chest, and I have to remember (or be reminded) to lift it. This makes breathing easier and nicer.
— I can’t yet kick up into a handstand, but one day I will.
— I really don’t enjoy utkatasana (chair pose) or warrior 1 (seriously, what is with the placement of the back foot?). I adore ustrasana (camel), and I also really love and appreciate ardha chandrasana (half moon).
— The Universal Principles of Alignment are key, no matter what we’re calling them these days or who made them up. In yoga and in life.
Here are a few things I know about myself and running:
— I don’t do well in humidity. I prefer 35 degrees to 75 degrees.
— I like to run in the morning, but not too early in the morning (in the summer, this is going to have to change).
— I love running outside and detest the treadmill.
— I can run in a snowstorm or a rainstorm.
— I need to drink a lot of water before and after, because otherwise I get dehydrated, and I also get a horrible headache.
— If my knees or ankles start to hurt, it helps to pull in to the midline (yoga trick).
— I can go six miles, which means I can probably go 12 miles. Or maybe even 13.1.
Today on my run I decided that when I’m going downhill, I really feel like a runner. (And I’m from the Midwest, so every slight rise is a hill.) Uphill, not so much. Of course, I know the reason for this: gravity. Downhill, I can go faster, my form is better, and I just feel good, strong, capable. Uphill, I struggle, slow down, breathing is tougher. I feel like I’m puttering along, and I certainly don’t feel masterful.
However, I do know that the hill won’t last forever, and that I can do it. I will make it to the top.
And then I’ll get to coast down again.
Every day when I wake up and see that we’re having another beautiful 40-degree February day, I’m glad — but also slightly nervous. Obviously this isn’t typical winter weather. Have the poles completely melted yet?
As much as I don’t want to wish a winter storm on us, and as much as I adore hot weather, it’s also true that the contrast between the extremes is what makes both so desirable, and so beautiful. Think about being freezing cold in the middle of a dark January day, dreaming of a warm beach, or of fanning yourself desperately in the depths of August and craving the gorgeous sight of a row of icicles hanging off the eaves of your house.
This brought to mind a quote from one of my very favorite books, Moby Dick: “Truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.”
Herman Melville was a genius, truly. His book, which upon first glance might seem to be a long-winded tale about a crazy captain chasing a fish, is an epic study in contrast, from the patchwork quilt Ishmael shares with Queequeg seen against the tattoos that cover the savage’s body to the good and evil represented in the battle between Ahab and the White Whale.
The quote made its impression on me when I was 17 — and it stays with me to this day. You don’t truly appreciate the good, desirable, blissful things if you aren’t able to compare them to the bad, undesirable, and painful ones. The idea expresses itself in every area of human life — relationships with parents, siblings, lovers, spouses, friends, children; your work and the amount of play you can find in it, or the balance of drudgery and satisfaction; the way you choose to take care of your body and your health (you need to do the work before you get to feel that runner’s or yoga high).
We all want to be in the blissful, happy place, but you never truly make it there if you haven’t first found your way through the painful, dark places. It sometimes seems easier to just avoid those places, but if we do we don’t get to experience the really great stuff.
It’s all one big experience, this life. If you really want to feel it all, the only choice is between engaging or not.
And though it’s frightening to open oneself up that way, the idea that everything is connected, intertwined, and can’t authentically exist without its contrasts is comforting. Kind of like a warm patchwork quilt.
So the year is ending. It hasn’t been the best for the Guth family. My father died in March — it still feels a little surreal to me. Maybe I haven’t fully processed it. Though I know that I handled it as best I could, kept my wits about me and my center within me, and hopefully I was there for the rest of my family. Then my widowed mom had surgery this fall to remove a tumor on her intestine. Thankfully it was benign, but it’s been a tough road for her, and it was difficult for my sister and me to be so far away. She’s recovering nicely now. But I think we’re all glad that a new year is about to begin.
Still, I can’t say I had a horrible year. Even with these huge, life-changing events. Even with some issues in my personal life that were quite difficult at times, and that I hope we can make progress on in 2012. I think it’s because the way I handle things now is so hugely different from the way I handled them four or five years ago. Or even in 2010.
There’s nothing more important than keeping yourself centered, knowing you have that strength there, and then trusting that you are going to be able to weather what comes. That and knowing that your loved ones — family and friends, your kula — have your back, that they will be there to catch you if you happen to fall. It’s a very safe place to be, and one that allows me to be with my feelings instead of just reacting to them, or recoiling from things that might cause pain.
And I have a lot to be grateful for. My incredible daughters, my husband, all the other people in my life whom I love, and the things that sustain me: yoga, books, writing, music, running, playing tennis. These days, even on a day when I don’t have a lot going on, I take pleasure in knowing that something is going to come up that will make me feel happy, or fascinated, or interested, or just emotional (and that’s a good thing). On a hectic day, I kind of enjoy the running to and fro, feeling productive, crossing things off of my list. Stopping for a chai latte.
Life is good. And I’m hoping 2012 will offer lots of evidence of that fact.
I’m going to make my word for this next year love. Simple as that.
It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve written here, which I can’t believe. June was busy, with event after event happening at my kids’ schools as the year wound down, and then some time off between school and camp for my younger daughter, which meant our schedule (read: my schedule!) was in flux. Camp started this past Monday for both my girls, so more of my time is my own again. I’ve been working on a freelance project (and applying for a few others), and finally this week the yoga, tennis, running trifecta has started up again. I’ll be on the treadmill for the summer, but at least it’s running — I went today after not having gone for almost a month. My muscles feel sore again — good sore — and my mind is beginning to clear a bit, too.
For the past few weeks things have felt a bit like a pinball game: We’ve just been ricocheting from event to event. It was all fun, but there was a long list of tasks to do and places to be and parties to hit in the course of a few weeks. We’ve just had to sail along. Go with the flow, you could say.
I made a note to myself weeks ago in yoga class about flow. The word Anusara means “flowing with grace,” which is different from just going where the wind takes you. It suggests intent, or, as we discussed in class, being in the flow, instead of simply going with it. It’s a choice, an active decision, not just a passive motion.
I’ve not generally been a person who has easily gone with the flow. Motherhood has made me a lot more flexible, more relaxed about schedules changing, expectations not being met, problems coming up at the last minute. I’m better at flowing. But I really like the concept of being in the flow instead of just going with it. We can’t control every single thing that happens each day, and it’s probably best that we don’t try, for the most part. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be active participants in the flow of life around us. We don’t have to just bob around in the sea and hope for the best. You don’t want to be too rigid, but you don’t want to be slack, either.
So, that’s the balance to achieve.
I wrote here last about my frustration with not being able to kick up into handstand. This past week I got annoyed with myself for the same reasons when I was unable to kick into a forearm stand. The letting go is tough for me, perhaps because I’m coming from so far in the other direction. Maybe I’m still working on the structure part, on that part of being in the flow, and it’s simply a matter of time. I do know that’s true, even if sometimes I fall into my old self-defeating attitude.
When I got down on myself in class this week, my friend Rachel said to me, “Don’t get so frustrated — it’s only yoga!” That made me laugh. I put a lot of stock in my poses because I feel like they reflect the state of the rest of my life so much. But her advice is something to apply across the board. Even if I don’t feel I’m to the letting go part yet, I can definitely let myself be in the flow. That actually feels better to me than just going with it.