Meditations under a New Moon Sky

Posted on September 19, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The girl with the blonde ponytail started to cry and couldn’t seem to stop. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks, plopped silently onto her desk. She tilted her head, tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming nevertheless.

There is truth with a small t, the professor had been saying, and Truth with a capital T.

He drew a giant T in the center of the blackboard and surrounded it with small t’s, then connected them to the giant T with thin, white lines.

We go through life thinking our individual truth is Truth, he continued, but it is not. Truth is what we all seek, and it’s here, at the center of things—he jabbed his chalk at the capital T. We spend our whole lives searching, but it is elusive and we cannot see it clearly, maybe will never see it at all.

I had stared at the girl with the blonde ponytail, crying, and then at the wagon wheel of t’s, the capital T at the center tethered to so many small t spokes, and imagined it rolling away.

***

I ran up the road, my usual out-and-back, under the morning’s new moon sky. New moon—no moon—invisible for a time, awaiting rebirth behind a black made blacker by rain clouds unfurling across the sky. Last week’s super moon generated such light that even the predawn hours seemed torch-lit. Now, in the new moon black before dawn, the only light shone sideways from intermittent homes, the few passing cars, or down from the occasional streetlight, wreaking havoc with my shadow.

sneaker-shadows-via-dimitridze-j1

At one turn, I chased my shadow as it grew longer than me, stretched out on the path ahead. Then, just as it gathered into a pool of blackness so distinct it seemed it would peel off the road, run away on its own, a pair of headlights sliced it open. Where there was one of me there were now many, a community of Peter Pans running from their shadows.

I turned a corner, stepped into a crosshair of light and my shadow exploded around me, each silhouette tethered to my foot as it fell, a wagon wheel of tiny me’s stretching out toward the darkness, where they disappeared into the new moon/no moon black.

He was wrong, I thought as my shadow wheel rolled, Truth with a capital T is not at the center. It is outside the wheel of ourselves, where we alone are the center, our tiny, small t that thinks it is a T. We cannot see the Truth because it resides beyond the arc of our wheel, beyond the arc of blackness, waiting.

I startled a deer as my feet hit hard under the shadow line of trees, scared a Chihuahua and its owner ambling down their drive for an early morning walk, nearly tripped on the darting dog as it leaped over my approaching shadow.

I’m sorry, the owner said. We didn’t see you.

I was wearing neon green, a green so bright I had to shade my eyes from myself in the glow of my own home.

How strange, I thought, under this new moon sky, my shadow is more visible than me.

 

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Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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Accidentally Blonde

Posted on May 30, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

animal-adorable-expression-of-little-cat-on-mirror-hd-wallpapers-widescreen-wallpapers-kitten-mirror-cat-in-the-mirror-mary-stolz-cat-mirror-test-mirror-cat-manor-cat-mirror-justin-timberlake-cat-shap

I was a blonde once, by accident. For a year, maybe more.

It started with my sneaky hair stylist, who sported a spiky platinum ‘do herself. I wanted a change, nothing shocking. Just a spot of blonde, a wisp at my temple.

I was mid-divorce and needed something new. Something bold. Something me.

Or maybe something not me.

The wisp became a streak. The streak multiplied asymmetrically and soon became reminiscent of a zebra. Not so much later, the stripes became a layer and, shortly, the layer a helmet.

One morning as I brushed my teeth I caught my own eye in the mirror and gasped, stunned to find that I was blonde. I didn’t know, then, how it had happened, with me unawares.

Maybe I lost sight of who I was.

Or maybe I never knew.

I went out for a run to think on it, and it brought me to my senses.

The next day, I came back to me. Brunette. Mostly. Except for the wisps of gray sometimes peeking out at my temples.

Now in the mornings when I brush my teeth and catch sight of myself in the mirror, I know exactly who I am.

I smile through dribbled toothpaste, and then go out for a run.

 

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Happiness Is…

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Peace. Calm. happiness-jpg1

That’s the conclusion my friends and I came to this week. Peace and calm, we realized, is actually the precondition for happiness, at least for the three of us.

Each month, my friends and I meet to talk about the issues that pertain to running a business, leading as a woman. This month’s topic: happiness.

What makes you happy? The question that launched the discussion, based on an article we read in USA Today. Our answers weren’t what some may think—not money or material goods, not power or prestige, not hedonism. They are, in fact, the simple things.

Running.

Practicing yoga.

Sitting on the deck in the sun listening to the breeze stirring wind chimes.

Cleaning the garage.

Spending time with people we care about.

As we worked through the question of happiness, we realized that a sense of order, peace, calm was part of the equation. Creating order is a necessary component of happiness. The symmetry, cleanliness, beauty, peace come first. The result? Happiness.

Not the cleaning itself, but the having cleaned.

Not the writing itself, but the having written.

A goal met. A sense of achievement. And in the midst of it all, the flow of time suspended.

Which is what I get when I run.

 

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What Would You Give?

Posted on March 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

gift

For years I have not observed Lent. At first because I dropped out of the church, and then later, when I dribbled back in, because I got tired of seeing Lent trivialized. It’s not the latest diet, the Lenten 15, say, a plan to drop those last stubborn pounds in anticipation of swimsuit season. And it’s not an excuse to cut out meat on Fridays, only to show up at your local fish monger and indulge in lobster.

I, of course, have done these things in the name of Lent. Deprived myself of chocolate and Fritos or wine and beer in an effort to reach an objective that was personal and selfish, not communal and considerate of others.  I have established my goal, created my plan, and expected my God to follow along granting my desire. Like Aladdin’s genie, but maybe not so blue.

I have thought that if I could demonstrate to God my ability to deprive myself of certain things, then He would reward me. With what, I wasn’t sure. Nice things, a great job. Happiness, maybe. A medal.

I have even made running my idol, expecting God to affix wings to my heels.

But, as Woody Allen asserts, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

What I’m figuring out, I think, is to focus not on the goal or the plan but, rather, on the gift, the ability God has given me. Like writing. Compassion and empathy. Mercy. And even running. And to remember that these gifts are not mine to keep. Gifts are meant to be given.

So the question I face this Lenten season is not what do I deprive myself of. Not exactly. I know that I can be self-disciplined. But what do I give of myself. What can I offer to others so they can be happier, better, stronger? How can I bring someone joy or compassion or love? Consciously and deliberately. Not accidentally or incidentally.

It’s Ash Wednesday today, the day I write this, and I’m still not sure how to observe Lent. A funny word, “observe.” Implying that we will hang around and passively watch something happen rather than actively participate.  But action is required. It is the end of reflection.

And, I think, it’s never too late to pare ourselves down to the bone, to become less in order to give more.

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Like Mother…and liking it

Posted on February 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

hands of mother and daughter

No wonder I’m a runner.  Just look at my mom.  No, she’s not a runner. I have, in fact, no memory of seeing her run anytime, anywhere, in my entire life, ever.  No. She’s decidedly not a runner.

She’s a shooter, and a darn good one. This year, she will be inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame.  Quite an accomplishment, and one I am profoundly proud of her for.

You’d think with a mother possessing that kind of ability I’d become a shooter myself. Not a chance.  I was never patient enough to shoot well. Plus, the whole thing seemed so involved.  Too much equipment—and then you have to clean it. Too much effort to go somewhere other than out my front door to practice. No thanks. Not for me.

For a long time, I didn’t quite understand her obsession—for lack of a better word—with skeet.  It wasn’t until I took up running in my early 30s that I began to understand how a person could spend so much time and so much effort doing something that seemed so, well, frankly so insignificant.

But my mom’s obsession is not with obliterating little orange targets.  As mine is not with becoming perpetually faster.  Medals aren’t the goal for either of us.  Becoming a better person is.

In the past several years, I’ve come to see several parallels between running—a pursuit that requires no other equipment than a pair of shoes, can be practiced anywhere at any time, and can result in a conditioned body—and skeet shooting—an endeavor that requires expensive equipment and accessories, must be practiced at a specific venue, and rarely produces an increased heart rate.

Every time we step onto the playing field, we’re competing primarily against ourselves.  Sure, it might be nice to actually win something, but becoming good enough to win consistently takes time.  Hours and hours of time.  Dedication. Persistence.

The goal I want to achieve at almost every event is to do better than I did the last time.  Sometimes, my goal is simply to finish, uninjured. But I’m my own biggest rival. My most enthusiastic cheerleader and my worst enemy.  Yet with competition comes the confidence acquired when reaching a goal as well as the quiet grace and humility attained when giving it everything yet falling short.

So we practice, because practice breeds perseverance.  It makes us better, faster, stronger. More accurate, more consistent. This is, of course, true of any sport, but I’ve seen both shooters and runners practice in the absolute worst conditions. I long ago stopped chiding my mom for spending hours outside in the brutal Michigan winters or the searing Texas summers.  How can I chide her when I have practiced my own sport in typhoon stage 3 readiness or cold so piercing that icicles formed on my hat, scarf, and mittens?

I realized, during one particularly cold run when I initially could not feel my legs, that we both live a sort of Senecan philosophy:  If one prepares for the worst, she will be more likely to do her best when it counts. It is what self-discipline is made of.

Running and skeet shooting both are solitary endeavors.  You might be surrounded by people, but most of the competition is meted out in your head.  Your success depends largely on what you believe you can do.

But both are team sports too.  Your friends are also your competitors.  Mostly, they genuinely want to see you succeed.  But they also want to succeed themselves.  On the field, you are simultaneously together and alone, so deep in your own head that you could very easily lose the connection with the person standing right next to you.

But you don’t. Because you recognize the critical role support plays and how sometimes the difference of just one word of encouragement (or spite) can make or break you.

Ultimately, both sports are a test of character. Ultimately, neither running nor shooting is a game. How you show up in each is how you show up in life. I’ve seen people I thought were kind and compassionate off the playing field turn into mean, puerile creatures on.  And I’ve been pleasantly surprised witnessing an act of kindness from a stranger.

At heart, what we are when we compete is who we are as people.

In all these years, my mom’s character has been refined by shooting.  She possesses a quiet confidence in her ability yet a humility I sometimes find bewildering. She continually and sincerely roots for the success of strangers as well as friends.  And I have never seen a more graceful loser.  I am lucky to have her as a role model, a mother, a friend.

No wonder I lead an organization that inspires joy, health, and confidence in young girls.  Just look at my mom. That’s what she inspired in me.  In fact, she still does.

She took up shooting at a time when women were not allowed to be members at some clubs. At a time when girls didn’t do such things as shoot guns, get dirty, spend time outside in the cold and rain, in spaces dominated by men. Her family, some friends, much of society gasped in disapproval and said, No, you can’t.

With the determination and dignity she’s always possessed, my mother said, Really? Just watch me, and went on to become one of the best.

How many times in my life has that pernicious voice at my ear told me, No, you can’t.  Sometimes that voice is my own. Yet there my mother is, standing beside me, in quiet faith insisting, Yes, you can.

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Newton’s Laws of Motion

Posted on November 15, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

n3laws

Liar liar pants on fire.

That’s what I said to myself the moment I hit Send on an email a couple of days ago. I was explaining to someone that I wasn’t too concerned about this Sunday’s half marathon.  Since my training was interrupted, my intention was simply to go and have fun, run comfortably, not worry about time.

The truth is, however, that once I get there—heck, once I pick up my race packet on Saturday—I go into competition mode. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. The mental focus that blocks out nearly everything else.  The tightening in my stomach, not nerves (yet), but a physical focus that starts at the core and radiates energy to my arms and legs. (It’s better than coffee by far.) The sudden urge for only healthy food, fuel. No slip-ups with ice-cream or the stash of bite-size Milky Ways in my freezer.

I can’t seem to help it—it happens automatically.  And I’m not sure I want to.

I like competing. I love pushing my body so far that even I am amazed at what it can do. Racing is one of the few times when I am so attuned to my body that I can step outside of it, get out of its way and let it do what it knows how to do. It’s one of the few times I can be one and apart, alone and with others simultaneously.  It’s a joy I cannot describe.

But I don’t have to. Talking’s not a part of it. I just need to run.

Where did I put those matches?

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Dem Bones, or the Anatomy of a Writer/Runner

Posted on November 8, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Courtesy of the Jersey Shore Running Club

Courtesy of the Jersey Shore Running Club

Mrs. Morgan, my eighth grade music teacher, loved to sing songs that required us to move.  Tap a foot, sway, snap our fingers, something, anything to keep us from standing still.  I love music, but not necessarily that music. The sad part is, I remember most of the songs, particularly the anatomy song, “Dem Bones.”  Everyone knows it, even if they don’t know they do:

The foot bone connected to the leg bone.

The leg bone connected to the knee bone.

Etc., etc.

Yeah, that song.

Turns out, they missed a link, the one that connects the runner to…well, to everything else:  thought, creativity, productivity, organizational skills, and, for me, the ability to write.  No running, no writing.  It’s that simple.

Now I know this to be true—I do my best writing in my head during a run, starting around mile 3—but I sometimes forget the connection.  Until it’s lost. Like during my recent 5 weeks of not running.  No running, no writing.  Lord knows I tried.  I sat in front of my computer staring at a blank screen, and simply cried. I can’t do it, I thought. It’s just too hard. Maybe I’m fooling myself and am not really a writer after all.

But then the miraculous happened—again—the week I started running.  Day 2, mile 3, and I’m rounding the little hill in the middle of a cul-de-sac where I usually slow down to count deer, and it occurs to me that I’m not running slower, I’m running faster.  And I’m not looking for deer, I’m not looking for anything. My eyes are turned inward, and I’ve been writing, in my head, for the last mile. Not just half-baked thoughts but complete sentences, full paragraphs, developed ideas unfurling with the dawn.  And I smile, relieved, and think thank God, thank you God, the connection is reestablished. Apparently laces are the missing link.

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May I Have a Word?

Posted on November 1, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Thoreau

It’s noon on a Monday and I’m standing in my kitchen wearing the same t-shirt I slept in (one of the perks of working from home).  I’ve just hung up the phone with Carrie and my head hangs in shame. I’ve been listening to myself explain to her that I can’t seem to find the motivation to run.  I can’t do it. It’s just too hard.

It’s been 5 weeks since I’ve run.  Carrie and I are only weeks out from the San Antonio Rock n Roll half marathon, her first. I promised I would run it with her, train for it with her, because your first half is a big deal.  Every half is a big deal.  But smack dab in the middle of a 10-mile run, I landed wrong on my foot.  I tried to go on a little farther, but couldn’t. Carrie walked the 5 miles back to the car with me while I hobbled along feeling terrible about ruining her run.  She’s done awesome with her training since then. I’ve done none.

I think about my mom. Her words ring in my head:  “Because I said I would.”  This was her reply to me in junior high when I asked why she was going to do something she was clearly too overwhelmed to do.  Because she said she would.  Because your word is that significant. It’s what you are.

Although it’s noon on Monday and I’ve never run at noon, I lace up my shoes and go.  I run 4 miles.  Just like that.  On Wednesday, I run 6.  Friday, 8. This week, a repeat, with a 10-miler on Friday. I am astonished I can pick up almost where I left off.  Bodies are amazing.  Minds more so.  I am especially astonished at what I’ve talked myself out of. I wonder how many of those weeks spent telling myself that I can’t do it, it’s just too hard, were to protect something other than my foot.

So now I give my word to myself:  It’s not too hard. I can do it after all.

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I Need a Sign

Posted on October 18, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

steep-hill-sign

Life would be much nicer if we all carried signs.  Not road signs, but the kind spectators do in races:  “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  Or “I’m proud of you, Perfect Stranger.”

My friend Jill manages the blog Best Race Signs.  People send her pics of race signs from all around the country.  Some are inspirational; most are simply funny. I read all of them because no matter what else is going on in my day, these signs make me smile.  They also make me wish life really were more like a race.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the metaphor they choose for life.  Is life really a race?  What if it’s a test or simply one big party?  My metaphor changes from time to time. Lately, I see life as an endurance race. However, there’s one thing missing:  The signs.

Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk, driving in your car, or sitting on the subway and glancing up from your reverie to see a complete stranger holding up a sign:  “You’re the sh*t,” for instance.  Who wouldn’t be motivated by that and think, Well, heck, maybe I am. Maybe I can <fill in the blank> after all?

And wouldn’t it be nice if during our darkest hour we could lift our eyes from the road ahead, just for a moment, to find a sign of encouragement: “..let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” let’s say, or “The voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a liar.”

I can see how carrying signs might be inconvenient. Nevertheless, I think it would make for a much happier world.  It might make people achieve more or go for their dreams.  At the very least, it would make people smile. And on those days when someone feels like they’re running up a steep hill in the dark, what would be wrong with that?

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