Let Go

Being a parent creates incredible opportunities for spiritual growth sometimes. I discovered that my middle schooler did not turn in an important assignment yesterday. This meant that his grade plummeted along with his credibility. I can’t remember how many times I asked if he did his homework last week, only to hear, “yes, I didn’t have much.”

Sigh.

It makes me think what a fine line exists between controlling others in an unhealthy way and nurturing others with guidance. We get results by focusing our attention on the positive things around us, not on the negative ones. For example, if you have a plant that is ailing, if you focus on the one part of the plant that is well, and nurture that, sometimes the rest of the plant will thrive. If you spray chemicals on the sick part and ignore the healthy part, you will likely end up with a dead plant.

The same is true of running and yoga, for me. Whenever I focus on what I cannot do, I end up defeated. When I put my attention into minute gains and small achievements, I become healthier. This is how I finished my half marathon–just by checking in with myself at every few miles with the question, “do I have more?” It was an incremental process.

It is hard to overcome an all-or-nothing mentality when pursuing  personal goals. It is truly misguided to have an all-or-nothing mentality when nurturing the growth of a child. My son–not unlike a plant with some vigorous shoots–has a beautiful passion for learning, an infectious joy for life, and tons of creative energy. And he also has some unbalanced, asymmetrical growth in the area of organization.  I don’t want to spray poison on that weak spot, but rather nurture what is vigorous and be patient that the organization will come.

Can I focus my positive energy this way? Yes. Can I get away from all-or-nothing thinking in my personal, spiritual goals? Definitely. And maybe, just maybe, can I avoid overreacting to my son’s irresponsible behavior? Can I watch him achieve small, incremental goals that will slowly build up his organizational stamina?

That is my intent!

Yoga Mat 8:30 p.m.

It was too short. I grabbed it to get to an 8:30 pm Vinyasa Flow class.

I think it was my daughter’s. She is ten years old.

First a fellow student mentioned it–as in, “you might want to rent a mat; that’s too short.” I was thinking to myself, “yes, and things were imperfect tonight, and my mat is part of that.”

I had never been to this class. The room was pretty hot, and the flow was fast. I loved it.

The teacher came by and also said “your mat is too short.” I acknowledged it, careful not to judge myself. It had taken a lot of willpower to get to the class. To leave behind awake children and a crabby husband was not smooth going.

I thought the flow was fast and the room was hot. I started to wonder if I was at Bikram. The instructor kept telling us it was okay not to go all the way into the extension of a posture.

This was like a goading, or a lure, for me. It reminded me of being an undergraduate study abroad student at the University of Tuebingen, being told that only some Americans took “real University classes.”

At the same time, I was there with my short mat and tight hamstrings. It’s all okay. It’s okay to be competitive; okay to be nervous. Above all, none of it mattered.

I was there. In my teaching at a local community college, I stand in front of classrooms full of people who got there. I am aware of homeless students who make it to class.  You might say that is setting the bar low, but it is setting the bar high.

My at-risk students don’t always come prepared. They cannot  muster the (metaphorically speaking) correct  yoga mat. But they show up, and they learn.

This is how it is done.

Pushing Forward

“‘In a word, tell me, what is Zen to you?’ asked someone who had heard that I had been into Zen practice. …

A very provisional answer is that, for me, Zen, in a word, is simply ‘Emptying.'”  

–Ruben L.F. Habito from Living Zen, Loving God.

KitchenCounter

Ahhh. Stuff. Buying it, unpacking it, accumulating it. It sits on horizontal surfaces; it wedges between wall and furniture; it presses on my soul. I have gone through periods in my life when getting rid of stuff became my ambition and my focus. What always went alongside that ambition was a peculiar obsession with finding new things to buy. Sleeker things–better things.

One way I have counteracted that lust for more is to immediately toss out all catalogs that come by way. Fast track to recycling means less longing. Longing for stuff only masks a dissatisfaction with the space you are in. Dissatisfaction with the space you are in masks uneasiness int the soul. Focusing on clearing space is a mental and spiritual practice that goes so far beyond “decorating.”

In one of my euphoric cleansings after a cross-country move, I took all my old love letters and handwritten teen and 20-something journals and put them in the recycling. Wow. That was a true psychic cleanse. I have not missed them, nor do I seek them. They were taking up physical space as much as mental space. Leaving them behind helped me let go of a world of “what-ifs” and freed me to move forward more radically. To start being the woman I had become, not clinging to the child I had been.  It was, in some ways, hard to let go of the naive, startled girl reflected in those boxes, someone who always had so much going on. And to wake up internally to being a mother who washes dishes and does laundry and hugs her kids.

Sigh. That was a beautiful moment in my life–getting rid of those boxes. I remember it alongside other peak experiences, including childbirth.

But here I am thinking about my kitchen counters, to tell you the truth. I have a mere 7 feet of counter space, much of which was home to all sorts of squaters–coffee pot, toaster oven, bills, cutting boards. I have checked out blogs and library books about what you need on the countertop and I realized this: I want nothing at all on my countertop. This is my pure ambition and my goal. I like to see the vertical and the horizontal formica meet. I like to see my microscopic kitchen wear itself proudly and announce its dimensions when I walk into the room.

I also find the simplicity of that mission interesting. If I see something there, I can remove by putting it in its home. If I get busy and distracted, the surface can fill up. But I know what I want, and I know how to clear the space. All intention.

Bikram Yoga Post 1/2 Marathon, “It’s Only Life, After All”

 “The best thing you’ve ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it’s only life after all.”

–The Indigo Girls “Closer to Fine”

In truth, after running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in SF last Sunday, I felt great. (See my last entry–“How Not to Train for a 1/2 Marathon”).  Indeed, something like the post-runner’s high stuck with me all day Monday.  Admittedly, I popped about three Advils over the course of the day to quell the slight ache in my right hip, but my butt was fine, my quads were fine, my knees were fine, my feet were fine.  The whole experience helped me take things less seriously–to relax–it’s only life after all.

So, I walked around Monday feeling incredibly healthy, and wondering why I wasn’t limping. A good friend and Hot Yoga addict invited me to her 8:15 to 10:00 p.m. Bikram class, and I checked in with her enthusiastically, thinking to myself–this could help stretch that hip.

When we arrived at the studio, I was struck by the stench of sweat on the thick carpet in the already heated yoga room. My last Bikram experience was on a wooden floor, but I have to say, slipping around on the wet wood was a bit awkward, so I was willing to deal with the carpet odor. My friend situated me in a position somewhat near the door, which meant the heat was not as intense. As the session began, I noticed the smell less and less.

Honestly, I do enjoy seeing people attempt the poses in all different ways, and the sweating creates a certain intensity that is not unlike running. The workout does not have a massive cardiovascular impact on me, but it does feel exhilarating to stretch in the heat.

But the best part of all, is that it completely cured my hip pain, and eliminated any and all muscle soreness that I experienced earlier that day. I was completely refreshed and stretched. I believe in the power of the heat to really activate the transformative stretching of yoga.

I will say, I slept very well on Monday night. If you are a runner, try Bikram. You might find it the perfect complement to your running, even if you just plug into it every once in a while, as I do. I think it’s important NOT to take these things so seriously. Bikram gets a big reputation–as in “oh, no, I heard Bikram is INSANE”–when it’s really just a fun way to move your body. Among many.

How Not to Train for a 1/2 Marathon

I completed my first 1/2 marathon on Sunday, and I cannot imagine a better event as my first. When I lined up at 6:30 am on the foggy streets of downtown SF, the excitement and energy was in the air. One thing that I found inspiring were all of the incredibly fit women that are attracted to the Nike Women’s event. It just feels good to look out and see women of all ages in great physical shape gearing up to run 13.1 miles.

So, now we get to me. I went into the event expecting to walk a lot of the way, as my longest run was 3.5 miles. Admittedly, I work out a lot, I run often, but I just never wanted to train long distances. This may be in part due to my busy schedule and not having big blocks of time for long runs.

As I started out, I was taking it slowly, hoping to get to the 5 mile mark without needing to walk. The energy of the early morning air, the invigorating sights of onlookers and people running for cancer research, and my own sense of “runner’s high” kept me going. As I came to the 10K mark, I realized we were entering the hilly part of the race. I knew with certainty at that point I would finish running the whole way. The hills were motivating and challenging (knowing they were there increased my interest in finishing).

Mentally, I checked in with myself at the 10 K mark to ask, “do I have in me what I just did?” “Can I do what I just did again?” And my answer was an unequivocal “yes.” In fact, the second half of the run was the most enjoyable part for me. 

As I hit the straightaway along Ocean Beach, I was truly in bliss. My husband called me (thinking I was done) as I rounded mile 11 into Golden Gate Park. I jogged through the call, put my phone back, and reset my playlist on random, never dropping to a walk. That last half mile I felt a little tired, and I was not sprinting to the finish like I would love to do next time. The women who went through the finish in a fast sprint looked so incredibly beautiful! It was awesome to watch.  Truly inspirational finishing with a big group of women runners. 

I had a couple tears at one point, but they were tears of enjoyment and thrill in seeing leukemia and lymphoma survivors on the course with me, either walking or running. Knowing that my sister is a lymphoma survivor and current breast cancer patient, I was doubly inspired.

Running is an expression of life–of being alive, of feeling the earth and the air all around you. I never trained for the 1/2 marathon explicitly, but I have been enjoying my body and moving it every day–through cross training, classes, yoga, weight training–and I think I am proof that there are many ways to get ready for your 1/2 marathon.

Above all, I went into it with no expectations. No mileage goals or tactics. I was free within myself to walk, free within myself to fail. 

My pace in the end averaged to around 11-11:30 per mile, which is respectable for me, since my first few miles I was going at an almost cautious, slow jog. But this focus on time is truly irrelevant. I think all of this taught me how much I love running–I love the idea of it–the simplicity of it–the outside-in-the-airness of it.