Friday, September 25, 2015

Do I Have To?

I’ve had two amazing experiences lately for all the wrong reasons.

I went to a parent orientation for the school year at our church. Our amazing DRE led us in a meditative prayer, as she does every year. Those few minutes of quiet consciousness redirected my night, restored my energy, and calmed me.

And I went to an exercise class a friend started. It ended up being a blast! Fun friends, fun music, and dancing! I laughed so much and I left feeling energized, restored, loose. (Yes, this is the Cize class I mentioned in my last blog!)

Looking at my mindset before and after both these intensely positive experiences, I got a bit of a reality check. I went to both because of obligations I felt—taking care of my kids’ activities, helping out a friend. I left realizing I’d been missing something from life, something I didn’t know I missed until a little came back to me. I went as a duty and found a pleasure I’ve lost.

When did you stop dancing.... Gabrielle Rothou  [beautiful]: Of course, it reminded me of this quote that goes around the internet periodically. I have no earthly idea if it’s correctly attributed. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s just call it part of our collective wisdom. So I’ve danced a little lately (at exercise class) and I felt some sweet silence recently (at the meeting). I’ve even sung a bit (as I drive to pick up the kids).

So, out of duty, I’ve stumbled across a bit of the joy of life. I realize I miss it. Why did I have to find it by force? Why don’t meditation, singing, and dancing make it on my list of things to do?*

I blame the Puritans. Sort of. As much as I blame anybody, because I’m not really into that. In all honesty, though, I think we Americans have taken a good thing too far. The principles that made America great are fantastic. Hard work, perseverance, and thrift will get things done. Self-sacrifice can accomplish amazing feats. Those means have brought about some amazing ends over the course of history.

When we work hard and sacrifice everything as an end unto itself, however, we’ve gone off the rails.

I can remember my friends comparing how much time they spent on homework in high school and college. “I spent four hours on that!” or “I was up until three this morning!” It sounded like complaining, but also like an accomplishment. Now I hear adults doing the adult equivalent. “I didn’t leave work until eight!” or “I’ve barely seen my husband this week.”

And, yes, I do it, too. And if I ask myself why—and answer honestly—I’d say that I do it because it’s respected. If I say no to something because I’m swamped or overworked or exhausted, people give it credence. Even…status. Would I get as much respect if I say, “No, thanks. I need a lazy Saturday” or “Not today. I plan to have dinner with my family and dance around to eighties music afterward”? I’ve never had the guts to find out!

If others’ experiences track with mine, then we have to ask why we, as a society, give more status to working ourselves to death than to enjoying life. C. S. Lewis said that “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

Do we just want to prove that we have lots of what it takes to survive or do we want to live a life with value?

I’d like to add some enjoyment back into my life. Maybe I can start with a simple, concrete talisman. Maybe my “To Do” list should become a “To Enjoy” list. Maybe then those truly valuable experiences will find their way back into my days.

*Notice that I didn’t mention being enchanted by stories recently. That’s kind of tragic for me, since losing myself in the world of a story has always been my greatest pleasure. It restores and revives me like nothing else can. It’s also an entirely solitary pleasure and therefore even harder for me to “justify” compared to singing, dancing, and silence. It’s definitely on my list of things “To Enjoy.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Fresh Start

So, I ran today. Today begins the Florida running season—at least for me.

I know plenty of runners go year-round here in sunny Florida, but not me. If it’s before dawn and I am still hating life, the humidity, and the rising temperatures, then it’s not time for me to run. This morning was a balmy 73 at 6am, so off I went!

And it felt fantastic! I loved it! I wanted to run ALL THE MILES!!!

I ran one mile.

Why? Well, this is part of my new revolution in thinking. I’m truly over punishing my body. I grew up in the old school gym mentality that rewards natural athletes and judges clumsy kids as less than. I really internalized those categories. I’ve spent my whole life thinking some people rock at athletics and everyone else sucks, but if the sucky people try really hard to be like the people who rock, they can at least hold their heads up.

It’s been a long journey to get from there to here.

It started when, at seventeen, I finally got my coordination. My body synced up during my senior year in high school. So I had reflexes at that point, but still a twisted point of view. I thought of all exercise as something that hurts, humiliates, and bores me. Naturally, I did none of it in college!

At twenty-seven, I finally had the financial stability and opportunity to try martial arts, something I’d always wanted to do. I loved it! I learned to value doing better than I did yesterday and forget everyone else. I learned I could practice to meet goals of my own.

We got a new sensai when I was about halfway to earning my black belt. And I’ll never forget our first workout with him. At the end of class, he said something like, “I don’t see any natural athletes in here. That’s okay. Natural athletes aren’t always the best martial artists because they pick things up easily. You all already know how to keep going when things don’t come easily. That’s what makes a martial artist.”

For the first time, I saw a positive in my physical nature. In at least one way, I was not a “less than” striving to be equal. I might actually have a “more than” quality.

I’ve written a lot about how training for and completing the Tough Mudder affected me—just go back to Fall 2012 on the menu!—but one moment of the event stands out more than anything. In the middle of climbing a thirty-foot wall with nothing but a rope and a tiny toehold every five feet or so, I had a clear, distinctly worded thought, “I can do this. My body’s not broken!”

For the first time ever, I felt I had a whole body, not a lemon. I felt equal, not less than. If I put in the effort, I will get the result. My body works! That moment should have changed my life.

It didn’t, though, because I chose the wrong path leading away from that moment. I chose to prove that my body works—to others. And THAT didn’t work at all. I tried to train for a half marathon. I tried to plan for another event—a bigger, harder, showier event. And I couldn’t do it. My motivation decreased week by week…because I was doing it to prove I belonged in the club. To prove to the elusive “them” that I am equal, not less than.

Then about a year ago, I discovered the body love movement. I had an outrageously hard time with that. And when I say I had a hard time with that, I mean I could write several months of blogs on what a hard time I had getting my mind around the concept.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the basic premise of body love is exactly that—loving your body as it is, no apologies or modifications required. Many, many philosophies, groups, and schools of thought fall under that umbrella. I don’t know them all and certainly am not issuing a blanket endorsement, but…

And really, that’s the key word here: but. I read all these beautiful essays about moving because it feels good and eating because you enjoy it and loving the shape that gives you and I said, “But!”

I read these beautiful, loving thoughts over and over, saying, “But…” over and over until the science hit me. The Epiphany of SCI-ENCE!!! (Read that with reverb, in a Bill Nye voice. ‘Kay? Thanks!)

What kills modern Americans? Stress, for crying out loud!

How can it be healthy if I’m losing sleep to participate in a grueling physical activity that leaves me feeling exhausted and beat up so I can change my body into something it can never be (because there’s always another goal to meet if you’re proving you’re as good as Insert Name Here) and still hating myself? That’s pretty much the opposite of health, if you ask me.

So, I quit exercising this summer. Oh, I walked the dog a mile or two every day, but my only goal this summer was to sleep more. And I made that a loose, Hmm, let’s pay attention to this kind of goal, not a demand. I ate whatever I wanted. I ignored everything else.

Strangely enough, my food cravings backed off. My two-year weight climb paused. Huh. How ‘bout that?

When school started a month ago, I nervously resumed my three days a week of exercise class. To my total delight, they ended up being a perfect mix—live PiYo, cardio kickboxing, and live Cize. I’m not trying to pitch PiYo and Cize here (they are Beachbody products), but holy cow they’re good and fun! And that’s the point—they’re fun! I felt good moving—moving seems more like a treat than a punishment. My new goals are to stretch, work off my tension, and move. That’s all. That’s everything.

And that brings us to today. I ran for fun. I set a boundary—one mile—so I’d stop before I got to the body-punishing, soul-crushing “Let’s see how good I really am” state of mind. I didn’t want to test myself. I just felt like running. For fun.

I had so much fun that I can’t wait to run again!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fish Out of Water

I am the happiest fish out of water that you’ll ever meet.

Last night, I felt like a stranger in my own home. Left out of two separate conversations, I beamed as I went about my work. I knew I was living my dream.

This year, my daughter voluntarily and even with intense excitement, “gets” to take pre-Algebra. She took the test to join the class because she wanted to, she waited eagerly for the results, and she celebrated when she got in.

Last night, she needed help with her homework—help I had no real chance of offering. Lucky for her, her dad, the math major, was right there for her. As I listened to them talk, I had the same sensation I felt when she started her current school.

There she goes. She’s taking paths I’ll never walk.

This year, my son decided to start piano lessons. We’ve been working up to it for a while, but he decided when. Last night, at about his seventh lesson, he started sight-reading his new piece, a simplified version of “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” As his teacher corrected him gently, using terms I recognize, but don’t fully understand, I felt it again.

There he goes. He’s taking paths I’ll never walk.

Those words, though the easiest part of the experience to convey, form only a fraction of what I felt. I love to witness mastery, to witness true flow, to witness joy in action, in any form. When that beauty occurs within our children, born of our love and my body, my own joy soars.

Nearly a day later, I bask in gratitude. I give thanks for the opportunity to live my dream—and to know it. I am one lucky fish out of water.