Friday, March 21, 2014

Lingering in Awe...Moment by Moment

We are smack dab in the midst of the Lenten season, counting the days until Easter Sunday.

And as the tradition of sacrificing for 40 days goes, some of us have given up things like screen time, cursing, or sugary substances and others of us are doing things for the greater good like extra chores or writing letters of gratitude.

So it was yesterday that I gathered my precocious three-year old and headed to church for a monthly women's circle experience.  I love having a hot cup of coffee, seeing my fellow "mom friends" and finding ways to engage in our community.

But this time, different than usual, we had a guest.  A Jesuit.  Which shouldn't seem odd given that we're Catholic and that Jesuits come in and out of the parish and school all of the time. But what was odd...was just how amazing that he was. 

Most of us don't know the tradition of the nearly 500 years ago, a Spanish soldier, St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits and established the Society of Jesus after nearly dying on the battlefield.  His cry to those who followed was to find God in all things. His practice was to impart the Daily Examen...a meditation and reflection on where the divine exists in the ordinary. 

And so, the first thing that our Jesuit speaker did was to sit his cup of dark roast coffee on the table and praise God both for the gift of caffeine and the divine peanut buster parfait he indulged in the night before...Amen, brother, amen.  Clearly, he hadn't given up sweets for Lent. Thank the Lord.

Next, he shared a Jesuit site called "Moved to Greater Love" that provides a daily meditation to be used throughout the Lenten season.

And this is the part that got me. 

He didn't read a scriptural passage.  He shared a poem by Mary Oliver, one of my all-time favorite writers.

Here it is...

The Place I Want To Get Back To

is where
    in the pinewoods
      in the moments between
        the darkness

and first light
    two deer
      came walking down the hill
        and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
    this one is okay,
      let's see who she is
        and why she is sitting

on the ground like that,
    so quiet, as if
      asleep, or in a dream,
        but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
    on their slender legs
      and gazed upon me
        not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
    and look and look
      into the faces of the flowers;
        and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
    bring to me that could exceed
      that brief moment?
        For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
    not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
      Such gifts, bestowed,
        can't be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
    come to visit. I live in the house
      near the corner, which I have named
After meditating on Mary Oliver's words, he asked us to consider the power and importance of lingering in awe, in the moment....moment by moment.  The truth is that we never do it.  We feel guilty if we linger...lazy almost, as if we should be focused on our plans and all of our to-do's.  The idea that staring into the nothingness of our thoughts, of our heart's desires, of our wonderings is a waste of time.  And yet, we all know that when we focus exclusively on our goals, objectives, plans for the day, we're never really satisfied, never completely filled, we're always longing to be back in that place where we could just "be."

And what is wrong with just being....being caught up in the moment, being carried away by the feeling, being enraptured by the color, the sound, the joy, the mystery, the awe.

And this our speaker said is where God resides.  It seems as though the experiences of feeling God is such a mystery that it's really, only, remotely knowable when we empty ourselves to be available to the moment.  And most of the time, we're never really available...too many other things get in the way.

But as you take care to engage in your day, you might ask yourself, when was I truly in awe today?  When was I surprised?  When did I let my guard down and allow my heart to feel?  When was I filled?  When did I experience God?

It makes the idea of a Lenten journey far more engaging than,  "how did it go giving up chocolate or potato chips?"

And so, as I left the meeting, I couldn't get Mary Oliver's words out of my head:

Such gifts, bestowed,
        can't be repeated.

Because really, who knows when, if ever, the moment may come again.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lessons Learned on an 18-Mile Run

Let me begin with a very irreverent but completely necessary...Holy Fuck!  I did it..I God damn did body just ran 18 miles and I am still alive.

For the last several days, I've been dreading today's upcoming training run pretty much ever since I ran out of water last week on a 17-mile odyssey and nearly crawled home dehydrated and deflated.

So, in an attempt to stay among the living, I quickly ordered a new, sparkly purple 70 ounce Camelbak that absolutely did the trick.

Once I had enough agua, I needed to tweak my nutrition.  The last five or six long runs have wreaked horrible war on my intestinal track and rendered me doubled over in pain which is no bueno.  So, I experimented with different gus, eliminated sports beans, introduced real food like beef jerky and parted ways with caffeine.

After my nutrition was in check, I needed to get my play list in order.  I've always run with music, but I needed a shift...a better combo between heart pounding tunes and those that slow me down a bit and focus on great lyrics.

And so it was, I woke up this morning with a cold which is always the name of the game with me, swallowed a ridiculous amount of ibuprofen, drank gallons of Emergency, ate a piping hot bowl of oatmeal and a fried egg....body glided the shit out of parts of me that shall not be named, dowsed myself in sunscreen, charged my Garmin, laced up my Brooks, grabbed my grandmother's medal for protection and headed out.

Along the way, this is what I learned...

At this point in the game, the first 13 miles are quick...relatively painless, redemptive, serotonin filled joy which is why I'm pretty sure that the Half Marathon is the sweet spot.  And unless you're a masochistic fuck who has designs on delirium and disillusionment, you should never run a marathon when the Half is such a beautiful accomplishment.

That said, if you are training for a marathon...this deal is 150% mental.  Do not get me wrong, by 16 miles, my left leg cramped so hard that I actually sang, "Eye of the Tiger," out loud in front of kids playing baseball at the park and didn't give a rats ass.  I envisioned myself eating raw eggs, running up stairs in a grey hoodie shadow boxing to try to remove the fact that I was basically limping down the bike path until my leg got the memo and showed up for the end of the run.

Knowing that it's mental, you've got to know what you're going to tell yourself when it hurts...because it hurts.  Your eyes sting from the salt, sweat, wind combo. Your knees and hips start to throb.  Most of the time, you end up chaffing somewhere and it's not a pretty place.  Your feet swell and hopefully, you don't get a blister or lose a toe nail, but you probably will.  Your form gets contorted when you fatigue and you get really bitchy when the college, 20-something runs by you and you just want to have a label on your forehead that says, "Fuck you...I'm on mile 17."  Or at least, I do.

And so, in the beginning, I thought I would tell myself things like, "You're stronger than you think you know.  You're powerful.  You're beautiful.  You've got this.  You're amazing."  And from time to time, I do...but what really works for me is tough love.  So, often I find myself saying, "Stop being such a pussy.  You've done harder.  You've come this far.  You're not going back now.  This day...this run...this experience is yours and this train is going 18 miles.  Get your ass on board.  Now."

And that's worked so far.

Mostly, what I've learned is that it's hard.  It's really hard.  But aside from giving birth, it's the best feeling at the end.  It's a showed up today, you kept going even when you literally knew you would die, and now you know what it really means to be alive.  Heart pumping, legs crying out, soul earned your footprint today.

We'll see what 19 brings...and I guess more importantly, what 26.2 feels like.  Here's to sunshine, tail winds, great support, and enough tough love to see me through to the end.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Palpable Fear

I'm half way through marathon training.

This weekend, I'm staring down my longest run to date...17 miles...and it feels well, unbelievable, as in, I can't believe that I'm going to do it.

Throughout this process I never would have guessed that the greatest demon I'd be wrestling with is my own fear.  I was certain that it would be an assorted injury...plantar fasciitis, shin splits, IT band troubles, aching calves, exhaustion, fatigue.  And, I suppose I should knock on wood because on any day, any of those issues could turn into my new plight.

But for now, my greatest enemy is me. 

At the start of the year, I decided that my New Year's resolution would be the mantra, "Fuck fear." I would stare fear in the eyes and not quake or be consumed, but rather I would consume it and move forward living my life.

But that's the funny thing about an enemy as powerful as fear...once it knows that you intend to own it, it puts up one hell of a fight.

And by fight, I mean that it crops up at the most unpredictable and surprising times.  It won't just be the usual, getting the shoes laced up and heading out to pound the, it will happen in the shower or when I'm talking to a friend and someone says, "That's so inspiring what you're doing.  I can't even imagine running a marathon."  And I think, shit...neither can I...And then it does happen on the training runs when two or three miles from completion, a side stitch comes on, the north wind howls, and I'm certain that this is bull shit and why would anyone in their right mind, do this.  Or my favorite is when I'm running past a commercial building with reflective glass windows and catch a glimpse of myself and it's not pretty at all.  Huffing, puffing, red in the face, moving at a snail's pace...nothing at all like the hot Lululemon girls or the bad ass Nike ads...just me.

And then the fear becomes tangible, palpable, real, hard core and unforgiving.

And suddenly, I'm alone.  Really, really alone.

So what in the fuck am I going to do?

Well, I've decided that instead of beating it, I'm going to try to respect it.  Because for better or for worse, fear has done a lot for me in my life.  At the 11th hour, it's pushed me toward accomplishing things that I didn't know I could and am still unsure of how they got done.

Instead of strangling it, I think I'll run alongside it and call out when the going gets rough.

I think I'll take it one run at a time trusting that like every other force in the world, fear has its place as do I.  I'm praying that we can coexist together, one step at a time.