Thursday, September 20, 2018

Zen in the Face of Meh.


Meh.

Anger is easier than grief.
Action is easier than waiting.
Doing is easier than being.

The last few months have been a bit like emotional whack a mole around here—just when our heads come up above the earth after some loss or trial, WHACK! things happen and we are back underground, holding our heads and thinking well, THAT was ill-advised.

Over the last year I have worked hard to build habits of self-care. Not pedicures and bubble baths (um, no, don’t touch my feet), I mean taking time to set my foundation each morning…morning prayer, reading a chapter of a book that makes me think (right now that is New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton—blowing my mind), exercise &/or yoga, THEN starting the doing/action part of the day. My hope has been that these grounding, foundational moments to start the day will help me steer my mercurial self through the REST of the day.

Honestly, and to my surprise, they really have.

But in seasons of EWaM (Emotional Whack-a-Mole), these things are a work. A WORK.  In the parlance of Simon & Garfunkel, my mind’s distracted and confused/my thoughts are many miles away.  I have to keep re-focusing during my brief morning routine as I find myself staring off at the willows in my yard. I got on the yoga mat this morning and today’s practice in the 14 day challenge I am doing was a restorative breathing/meditation/stretch practice. About three minutes in, I had to spazz and BLAGH out loud for a minute and then refocus. I DID NOT WANT TO RESTORATIVE BREATHE. I WANT TO WARRIOR AND BALANCE AND FOCUS MY HURT AND ANGER AND EVERYTHING ON SOME UNFORTUNATE DRISHTI! (the thing you stare at so you don’t fall over in balance postures).  I NEED FRENETIC ACTION!!

Ultimately, I am glad I did the breathing thing, after my initial ugh.  I need to learn how to be, to wait, even when it is painful. I can’t hide from emotion by moving rocks…although I do love some landscape therapy.
Doing is easier than being.

I am trying to learn how to lean into the grief, the powerlessness, the ugh of hurting for friends. Granted, I am a slow, slow learner, and my learnings are mostly fueled by my Cadbury stash and the chocolate ice cream I bought for Dave.  The work of re-focusing and re-focusing over and over on just being, on sending love from afar, of gratitude for the friends rallying to pray for miracles…it is a wearying work. But I am grateful to have friends to hurt for, if that makes sense.

Here would be a great place for the “And So I Have Learned and Solved this By….” Moment.

Sigh. A great place.

But I have not yet solved the weariness of the work.

 I do understand now how gratitude is central to everything. Every. Thing. I am so grateful for the little annoyances in my day. I am so grateful that one of my children tends to follow me around. I am so grateful that this fall we are not starting each week with chemo. I am so grateful that I have a house to be a perpetual mess. Gratitude has become the rope that helps me find the anchor of hope.

So even on a day of abundant MEH, I am grateful and hoping, even if I’m frustrated and now a little queasy from eating too much chocolate.  I guess really, finding Zen is more about the process—it is not an endpoint or destination, just how we can navigate life in peace—even in the midst of storms.

I am determined to learn this. May need to stock up on more  Cadbury…

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Circle the Wagons

So I am going to lay some truth on you. 


Some days are way not zen.

Some days are the anti-zen.

Some days are all “then in despair I hung my head, ‘there is no peace on earth’, I said”.

Even on days where I use every single tool in my Toolbox o’ Zen, there are catastrophic moments that leave me gasping for air and wondering which end is up.

These are the days where I am reminded of the power of community, probably the greatest lesson I have learned over the last 14 years, just after “Dang, My Kid is Mightier than All Mightiness” and “If a Doctor Comes to Find You In a Playroom, You Are In Big Trouble”.  In the darkest moments of G’s illness, the prayers of others, the food brought by people, the information shared by those a few steps further along in the trenches—these things carried me, carried my family.

This week has been one of those weeks for a dear, dear friend, one of those weeks of gut-punching devastation. 

The one peril of the power of community is the reality that we share each other’s heartache—but in this connection comes wholehearted living, and I would not trade it for all the zen in the world. It is in loving others and caring and working to help each other that devastating moments become survivable, if not exactly bearable. Even with the grief and pain of this connection—the love is so much more powerful.

As my dear friend received a devastating new diagnosis for her son, a young man diagnosed with brain cancer two days after my G, our community heard the call to rally—a community built of cancer mommas and good friends and chosen family. We are circling the wagons around Melina. Granted, that reference is derived from Wild Bill’s travelling Wild West shows (and then Hollywood), not so much history—but the idea of circling around those we love, those who are hurting, is a powerful one. We can’t fix things. We can’t make it better. We can only do those peripheral things like pray and feed and share info and maybe send ill-advised stuffed animals (I am trying not to, but…Must. Send. Something. Soft and Nice!). But we can do it in a circle of love and support and solidarity.

This is not what I planned to blog about today—especially since yesterday was supposed to be blog day—but wagons don’t circle themselves. I guess in Beauty and the Beast they might, but that would be creepy. But this is what needs to be said today.

Please join our circle of support. Please, in this month of childhood cancer awareness, help us love, support, and protect a mama who has been relentless in her love for her mighty boy. After 14 years, to have this moment—she needs our love more than ever.

We love you, Melina, and Kayleigh, and super Levi. Know that there is a circle surrounding you. 


Please join us on Operation Love for Levi on facebook; please pray/meditate/dance by the light of the moon for this family; if you would like to financially help the family directly (ie without the fees GoFundMe takes), use the Venmo app to send money straight to loveforlevi (with Melina McAlwee as the contact). 


And really. Let’s circle the wagons and find some cures for childhood cancer already. 
#loveforlevi

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Remembrance and Our Shared Humanity


The work continues.

This week is tough for all Americans, I think—the remembrance of 9/11 is seared into our collective consciousness, although with each passing year the horror of that day becomes a thing of the past to a new generation while remaining a blistering wound on those of us who remember every single detail of that awful, blue sky and sunshine September morning.

I know I have written about this before—but especially now, especially when truth and facts seem to be turning into Colbert-esque “truthiness” and fluid fictions to serve selfish ends, remembrance remains critically important. 
Remembrance as a practice should be cultivated—not only to honor those we’ve lost in any tragedy—but to learn from those experiences, to accurately assess the “why?” of things, or at least the “what now?”  Sometimes there is no why. Certainly in all the awareness posts and remembrances of childhood cancer awareness month, those posts that shine gold across my Facebook feed, there is no WHY? – everything is WHAT NOW?  What can we do to FIX THIS?? What resources can we muster to find cures, to support survivors, to ease the pain of families who have lost children? And then I remember all the generosity and love directed towards our family when G was so sick in 2004-2006 and again 2011-2013. I remember all the folks who were not put off by my crabby cactus persona, but who loved us nonetheless.
Ha, Thursday. Got it to load.


Remembrance feeds hope and the connection that we need to live fully.

Remembering 9/11 hurts. Everything about that remembrance is painful. Hearing the names of those lost, 17 years now after that horrible day, still leaves a hollowness in my heart.  And yet I have seen on social media the remembrance of 9/12, the unity that came after the attacks. I remember going to my local church—not even my parish at the time (it is now) – that evening of 9/11 in an impromptu prayer service, the church was packed, the energy of grief, of shared sorrow and solidarity rose and fell in waves throughout the service. That remembrance is important, too. In our fractured society today—we need to remember that we CAN stand together. We can be united.

Remembrance always exists in a particular context; my remembrance of an event may differ from someone else’s, which does not make either of us necessarily inaccurate (this is why primary sources have to be corroborated).  Still, at the heart of remembrance is a tacit acknowledgement of our shared humanity—whether that be in the pain we feel remembering those children stolen by cancer, or the pain at the horror, death, and fear of 9/11, or the pain of being bullied as a child, or the joy of eating Grandma’s cucumber salad or the joy of coming in 5th place in a race way back in 7th grade even though you are the world’s most un-athletic person, and getting a t-shirt which you saved forever…all remembrances connect to our humanity. That is why remembrance is so powerful, and so important. 
yes, I still have the t-shirt. I just don't have the energy to take it out of the cedar chest, take a picture, try to upload a picture. It' s light blue t-shirt from 1983, believe me, it is AWESOME. It is actually pretty much the color of this page...hmmm...
Let's just say that "All I do is win win win no matter what!" was NOT so much the theme song of my childhood athletic endeavors.

Sometimes remembering weighs me down. Sometimes my DO THE THINGS are fueled by remembrance—sometimes my Lie on Floor and Do Zero Things is likewise driven by remembrance that I need to sit with for a while. Connection with our shared humanity through remembrance is not always a rainbow and unicorns kind of fest; it is a work, a work that continues. I am all for moving right along—but sometimes, some days, I know the greatest work I can do is to stop and remember.


Monday, September 10, 2018

The Flip Side of Do the Thing … and a Narrative Flipped


(my apologies for how long this got--but part of it is a musical interlude. that flipped my narrative ;) )

So after that last glorious list of all my personal gold stars—my virtual, wordy sticker chart – I realized that this is totally only half the story. Listening to Brene Brown’s Rising Strong while I painted my youngest’s room,  I have been working through the idea of how we engage with our own stories—that is, what are the stories we have crafted about our experiences? How much of those are informed by things that we honestly believe, but are not true? (a confabulation, which is one of my favorite words, although in a different usage).  I get caught in my own inner narrative of ugh so very often, even when it is more fantastical than factual; that is just what my brain does.

For years I have tried to make sense of my daughter’s medical nightmare through story. But what about ALL THE OTHER THINGS?

I talk a good zen game, but on the actual field of play…I am more of a Zen Fumbler. I have to be honest about that—I can say I am doing all the things, but I have to acknowledge all the time NOT doing all the things. 
Everyone was so kind after that last blog post…and then I felt the creeping wave of anxious dismay, the OH MY GOSH I MISREPRESENTED MYSELF AS HAVING MY PROVERBIAL ...stuff... TOGETHER! THIS IS SELF INDULGENT DRIVEL...nooooooooooooooooooo….

Sigh.

Enter Saturday, a train wreck kind of day here. The kind of day where yoga almost made me more stressed, where I felt very let down in a particular situation, where parenting my teen pretty much took away every gold star I ever cheerfully gave myself.  Ever. In the history of gold stars. All of them.  I glommed through a funk the entire day, a funk of frustration, exasperation, and disappointment.  I felt so stressed I washed my kitchen floor (a task left incomplete for a horrifying length of time)…got halfway through and realized I used the wrong cleaner. So I gave up. Woo. THAT kind of day.

I found it very, very hard to do anything at all, and the things I did try to do got screwed up. Whomp Whomp galore.

This, really, is the flip side of my Do the Thing, the reason I feel compelled to be like HEY, I GET A GOLD STAR FOR BEING BY OTHER HUMANS!, even though by all  normal accounts, that is ridiculous to put that in the list of achievements.  So often, I struggle to do any of the things, even little things, even stupid “how is that even an issue?” kind of things.

This story of Yay, I did stuff!  is incomplete and really a lot less helpful to me or anyone without the flip side. In Brene Brown’s work, she describes this less festive part as Act II…you can’t skip it to get to the resolution in Act III…you have to work through it.

This was a summer of many, many painful losses and challenges. A dear friend’s father passed away very suddenly (a man I have known since first grade)--the week before my friend's husband was due to have a long awaited kidney transplant (something we've worried and prayed about for years), a former student who my son had gone to elementary school with died in an accident, a beloved and mighty friend finished her fight against metastatic breast cancer—my friend I went to see in April on my second flight-- in those days of loss, I did no things except wander my house and cry.  Then we got to my G’s 14th anniversary of her diagnosis, and I was a bit whomped by remembering the awfulness of those early days. Being in those moments of grief and worry takes all that I have and then some. I do no things.

I DO NO THINGS.

The lack of closure in my old job nags at me, and I waste a lot of mental energy ruminating over how to let that go, or how to address it.  Ruminating is never productive—but since I’m working so part time right now, my ruminating is on overdrive. I get wrapped up in that anxiety/hurt/anger and do no things.

Dave asked the other day what I was doing with the mayhem of contents I took out of our thirdborn’s room when I painted –I told him of my multiple unsuccessful attempts to get thirdborn to deal with the piles of little animal erasers and pretty rocks she has saved for a decade. He expressed understandable frustration (he is so tidy and organized, we are all his nemesises. Nemesi?)—“I know you get stuck,” he finally said…and I could not be mad. Ok, I was mad, a little, but I could not deny his accuracy. I do get stuck. Like in mud/molasses/cement/sap sticky stickfest.  I do some things, and then…get stuck. Then no things get done.

I aspire to do the things. Just…I often don’t.

My annoyance/frustration/stuckness the last few days is a recurring theme in my story, and it’s a part I gloss over sometimes because it rankles. Getting stuck, wallowing in frustration and exasperation, being incompetent at basic human skills, having a perpetual pile on my counter, being a mess, ruminating on every painful interaction, allowing self-loathing to resurface from its swamp inside my head—these are ALL the anti-zen!  Yet without acknowledging these things, these ugly, unpleasant things, the gold stars make no sense. But acknowledging them remains a pile of meh.

I can’t be a golden fake. And while I AM really glad about those things I did, I know that they are only gold stars because my natural proclivity seems to be towards crabby cactus. You can’t just “om” your way out of some things. The work to get up is slow and ugly and fraught with ugh.

Phoo.

Also, I have a self-portrait as a crabby cactus that I can’t upload. Yay, Monday.

So, a qualified yay for gold stars. Not because I am super awesome for making a phone call or getting on an airplane, but because they remind me when I am super stuck in my own messy self, I have done some things. I hope…nope, I PLAN to do them again. Acknowledging the flip side is critical though, and provides essential context, even if it is meh-tastic.  
**************

And here is where I planned to end, but I had to get milk and cheese sticks at Costco and put gas in the car…so I left this draft to conclude later.

On the way to the store, inexplicably through my Bluetooth audio  came two songs I have not heard in years (I can never figure out why random music comes out…usually really old iPod stuff, but only 2 or three songs, and they are always different from the last mysterious song playing—I was trying to listen to my Brene Brown book).  I stumbled into a legit improbable musical interlude to interrupt my fest of frustration. So …here is my mind blowing ride to Costco Playlist from Who Knows Where…these songs helped me with the not so awesome feelings that accompanied today’s blog.

The first—“You are More” by the band Tenth Avenue North…

There's a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she's wandered
And the shame she can't hide

She says, how did I get here?
I'm not who I once was. 
(this is super true)
And I'm crippled by the fear
That I've fallen too far to love.

But don't you know who you are,
What's been done for you?
Yeah don't you know who you are?



You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.
  (egads)



Well she tries to believe it
That she's been given new life
But she can't shake the feeling
That it's not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she's rehearsed all the lines
(we call this rumination, sports fans)
And so she'll try to do better
But then she's too weak to try   (
seriously?? Get out of my head!)

But don't you know who you are?



You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade….

(and onward)

Well then. I hit repeat so I could hear it again. And I sang along. Loudly.  The French horn part, if there had been one, I always sing the French horn part. Nurture v. nature?

Next song: Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” , at which point I think I yelled WHAT THE HECK? at my car Bluetooth thing and started to get mildly creeped out by musical messages from who knows where….



Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten



 WELL THEN.



Thanks, God, universe, songwriters who put into words things that help me know that even if I’m crabby and frustrated, my story is more than how much I suck sometimes (pardon my use of the vernacular). Shake it off, and start again.  Acknowledge the ugh—but don’t let it define me. I AM more than my frequent ugh moments. And with practice, I CAN let the sun illuminate the words that I cannot find...

Onward…even if it’s slow and ughly some days…onward. Together we can keep moving right along and figure out this life thing, gold stars, ughulous days and all.


Peace.




This took a turn I did not expect! Glad I did not hit publish this morning.  Probably good I did not just Do the Thing, right? ;) ha!




Thursday, September 6, 2018

Do the Thing!

Happy September, all.
So apparently I should never try to re-post my old blogs about our family’s brain tumor experiences, this year I shut down after the first day. Urp. And now I am back to September, a month turned Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness—also the month Genna began her brain tumor battle 14 years ago. The battle language works for our family, so I use it, because dang, it was a fight.  And 14 years is a long, long time.
Moving Right Along…This has been the year of Do the Thing for me, whatever “the thing” seems to be. In our ongoing medical respite—5 years off chemo, 2 years since any major medical yikes for my kids --knock on all the things in the universe—I have finally had the space to try and fix all the broken parts of me, our family, etc. This is kind of a full time job, really. Grateful for the space to tackle the work.
Back in the day I had a Toyota Corolla I affectionately named Clyde. I loved Clyde. He was 10 years old when I got him, one radio station worked, he had holes all over, and I loved him. I quickly learned the power of Rustoleum and duct tape to hold him together. Clyde got me where I needed to go all through college…but eventually the starter went, and no amount of Rustoleum could fix THAT. Alas. My next car was a hatchback a neighbor sold me for a dollar, the hatch had to be propped open with an umbrella or it would fall on your head. I did not name or love that car, as grateful as I was to have it.
Anyway, for the last 14 years (and probably beyond, if I am being honest), I have been Rustoleuming and duct taping things in life that really needed to be repaired, not just patched. But priorities are what they are (ie getting kid/family through devastating medical diagnosis), so I chugged painfully along.
I am done chugging painfully along.
That sounds much more defiant than it feels on this headachy kind of day, but that feeling has driven my year of Do the Thing. I have to make myself Do the Things…and often after Doing the Thing I go right to Lie on the Floor, but the Things Are Getting Done come hell or high water or both.
So here is my litany of the things I am doing. A lot of these things are completely no big deal for most people…for me, they take a lot of energy, and I have to list them so I can see my own progress. I love me a good list. Also, I can use this list as a “hey, see, I didn’t have TIME to write!” excuse (lies, I just didn’t have mental energy, but ok).  I list all the things all the time to help my brain (Zen And the Art of Lists!) , so…here is my Do the Thing list so far:
I flew on a plane – 2 separate trips.  Folks who know me were probably looking for the riders of the apocalypse after flight one…by flight two they KNEW the end was near, or an ice rink had just opened in Hell.
what one does during take off when one forgets one's phone with calming music at home.
I lobbied Congress. Like, actual Congresspeople. With lots of mighty mommas I never met. I am not sure which was more daunting, all the peopling I did without totally freaking out or talking quasi-coherently to political peoples about why the work of St. Baldricks and the STAR Act are so critical for kids like my G.  Peopling is still hard.

I did a high ropes course with my 16 year old who preferred adventure to party for her birthday. I got through the scary bridges with slats 3 feet apart/30 feet off the ground by singing I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar out loud and doing them as fast as I could. Grateful for yoga practice that helped me stretch through that both mentally and physically. 
Probably singing in terror. 

In that vein, I have committed to (and maintained) a regular yoga practice, usually 5-7 days a week, sometimes for only 10 minutes, but I know I have to make myself stop, breathe, refocus, Do the Thing.
I quit my job.  This was a hard thing, one I struggled over for the last 2 years, really—I care so much about my students and what is best for them, I just could no longer effectively do what was best for them. It was absolutely 10 billion percent the right thing—for reasons I cannot really go into here, reasons I am still debating if I need to speak in truth to “power” or just let the reasons go into the sky and move freely into the future full of hope God has for me.  Not sure which Thing to Do, but I am confident the path will become clear—and I will Do the Thing.
I signed up to be a substitute at another school, sent out resumes (ok, to that school—I know where I would love to teach!), and I took a class with other teachers so I can, if ever the path opens, teach an Advanced Placement US History course. Doing this scary thing reminded me how much I do love teaching. Teaching history, especially in this time, is such a heavy responsibility and a privilege, and I hope that path opens to me again someday. 

I climbed the rock wall at Camp Sunshine.  There is a theme here, isn’t there?  I am no longer being bound by all the things I have always thought I could not do—especially those involving altitude. Do the Thing.

I visited people! This was a goal for the year! (I know this sounds crazy, but peopling is hard. Making myself go people is hard, even when I am super glad every single time that I did. So yay!).
I spoke up about something (in person, not online)  that I have long found inappropriate and offensive. I was not heard—at all.  In fact, I was later attacked for what I expressed.  I entered the arena and got whomped. I am way not confrontational. I hate any kind of confrontation, it gives me massive anxiety and I ruminate over every word. But I spoke my truth and experience, and taught my daughter (who was with me) something about navigating the world in a way that is brave, even when it does not feel good and you don’t achieve understanding.
In a much more fun thing, I signed up for a circus class. Ok, so again, folks who know me in real life are like really? YOU need a class for that? You are like a walking circus. Settle down, folks. I want to learn to stand on my hands. I want to be able to go upside down and NOT fall on my head. Why? Why not??! I want to be strong and mighty and Do the Thing. I am not sure if the scarier part is the physical challenge or that I’ll be sharing the class with folks like my R, who is almost as comfortable upside down as right side up…but I am excited to Do the Thing and stretch beyond myself.
Things I will NOT be doing at circus (upside down kid in front is my third born). 

You can join the circus, too! Come on! :) 


This September is a season of new beginnings—the first time I have no classroom or lessons to prepare—the first time I will be grading grown-ups (in an online graduate course I am facilitating)—the first time my schedule will have this freeform kind of shape. What does Do the Thing look like now? I am still figuring that out. But the momentum of these little things done over the last year or so will help me find that path. I plan to read every day (right now working through Brene Brown on audiobook and Thomas Merton on paper and a couple of other books in random places including Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States). I plan to write again (no more months long shutdown!). I plan to take time to be creative. I am not just hoping to Do the Thing—I am planning to Do the Thing.
Now that I finally got a blog written (this has been on my list for months) I may go lie on the floor before I go pick up my 16 year old from her first day of school. Zen and the art of Lying on the Floor might be my next topic…
Peace out, all—and may you have the oomph to Do whatever your Thing is today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Zen on the Run


Back in 2004, when we were making weekly trips to Philadelphia, leaving our house in the cold and dark of early morning, I remember looking out the window of the car as we drove past the Delaware near Lambertville, and seeing the people running along the canal towpath.  Running and running. I so wanted to run, just run away from the nightmare we were living in—something about the act of physically running seemed so cathartic.

But I hate running, and back then I had a 6 year old fighting brain tumors and a 2 year old who wanted Mommy extra since things were so disrupted in our home and a 9 year old who was imploding.

Running wasn’t going to happen.

(I marvel at moms of young kids who get out there and run. If I got out for a walk when my kids were young I counted the day a major win and started imagining Olympic Glory as a walker).

Still, some part of my brain understood that there was freedom in movement, in running along near a river.

In 2006, one of the lowest points of my daughter’s illness, my husband realized that he seriously had to lose weight and get in shape, so as soon as we got home from my daughter’s Make a Wish trip he started running. 

Twelve years and countless half marathons, 5ks, and one full marathon later, Dave has not stopped running. He runs in rain and snow and gloom of night, he really should work for the postal service, nobody would ever miss their mail delivery if he took over.

While I use words galore to try and dig through the challenges of our life, Dave runs. And runs. And runs. For Dave, running equals zen. Always.

After cheering him on at a few races, and walking a few charity 5ks with the kids, I decided it was time. My G was off treatment. My 2 year old was in kindergarten.  My 9 year old was now an adolescent (so I NEEDED TO RUN).  My excuses were weak, but my desperate need to physically process the new moment of Life Off Treatment  remained strong.

 (Yes, off treatment should be awesome, but like Maria Von Trapp says in Sound of Music, “It could be so exciting, To be out in the world, To be free! My heart should be wildly rejoicing. Oh, what's the matter with me?”).  Not seeing medical professionals all the time was super unsettling, especially since the tumors were no smaller than when we started treatment.

Anyway, I dug out a pair of sweatpants and some old sneakers, and snuck up to the high school ball fields behind my house—and I tentatively galumphed around the soggy field. I didn’t even tell Dave for weeks that I was trying to start running, I was SO SELF CONSCIOUS. After all, I was always in the slow group for gym class, and once wore a paper bag over my head in protest…after college I would eat chips while one of my roommates vigorously did Jane Fonda videos. Ms. Fitness I am not.

But—it felt good. Not the running, that felt horrible, but moving, breathing fresh air, hearing the birds…it was good.

And thus it began.

Eventually I got actual exercise clothes, and real running shoes, and I ventured onto a road. I got a Road ID (hello, so many landscape trucks on such skinny roads!) and a headband that would stay in and a little handheld water bottle thingie.  After a few years I stopped always putting running in air quotes when I told people about my upcoming races.

Most of my running has been to fundraise for research for a cure, or to support friends who are sponsoring races to fundraise for research for a cure for NF or brain tumors or other smites.  I still don’t love it. I need MAJOR motivation to get up and go.  I only run slightly faster than global warming occurs. Officially, I run/walk--aka the Galloway Method (I love me a method). 
I only signed up for my first half marathon, having never run more than 4 miles, because my G had an MRI that looked like we’d be starting chemo again.  I was so angry I signed up for a race in defiance, like @#*&@^# you, NF! That actually was my training mantra (not kidding).  A week before the race a follow up MRI showed the tumors had stabilized and we had a reprieve.  That was awesome, but I still had to go run 13.1 miles!!

That 13.1 hurt. A lot. But crossing that finish line and NOT throwing up or collapsing was the most empowering thing I ever did. I beat my own doubts, insecurities, and memories of high school gym class. I DID THE THING. Not fast—but I did it. I got a medal and a t-shirt and EVERYTHING. I . Did. It.

And that kind of personal win IS a shimmering ZenFest.

So I did it four more times.  And honestly, by the last time it didn’t hurt more than it should have.

As of the last time—2016, when our family ran with my dad for his 70th birthday-- I officially retired from half marathons.  The training exacerbates my anxiety—thus undoing the zen of movement. But this past weekend I ran a 5k with my now almost 16 year old—the 2 year old who needed mom all those years ago. Neither of us had trained, she relied on youth and I relied on all the other exercise I do, and both of us relied on the promise of chocolate at the end of the 3.1 miles…and it was good.  The threatened snow/rain held off, and I gave her my marshmallows while we waited for Dave to finish the 15k.

It was good.

For me, running isn’t a quick fix for zen like it is for my husband, but getting outside and moving, even to walk, to notice nature—that’s really the benefit of running for me. Running forces me into present moment awareness in a way few other things do.  Races ARE zen for me because of the Camaraderie of the Slow – My People! Everyone chugs along. Everyone supports everyone else. THAT is zen.

Movement helped me.  I know not everyone can run. When it’s cold out, I don’t run—but I have found that even being outside to meander with my snoofly dog helps with zen.  And honestly, in the cold months I use different kinds of movement to help with zen (another post).

I hear that spring may FINALLY be coming to Jersey—and maybe I can head out to my favorite nature preserve on a Saturday morning and run/walk slowly through the flowering trees and around the many ponds.  And after a run, I found the perfect zen chaser…

But that one I am saving for next post. ;)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Zen and the Search for Purpose


This morning, even before I put on my coke-bottle glasses, I could tell by the whiteness of my window that snow was falling.

April is the cruelest month, indeed.

I refused to get out of bed in protest – since it’s officially my first day of spring break, that seemed reasonable—and until the hospital unexpectedly called with a scheduling question, I tried almost successfully to stay in the realm of not awake. 
If I did not get out of bed, the snow would not matter. 
That made sense before coffee.

Eventually, my plans for the day thrown off by 7” of snow, I had to make peace with chaos and get a grip.

This is pretty much the story of my life all the time, really.

Throughout Lent, the reflections I did each morning centered on becoming more authentically ourselves, living the purpose filled life we are supposed to each live. In the last week or so the focus shifted to leaning into the dissonance of life, living with the questions even when we can’t immediately find answers.

I like answers.

Answers are my favorite.

My entire job consists of planning and answers, on some level.

But life rarely presents a clear picture of which way to go, or what the best path is. History rarely does, either, so why I’m surprised by my own inner “which way do I go?” isms I am not sure. 

Finding purpose and authenticity scares me a bit, even as I try to reach out to new things—advocacy, getting on a plane AGAIN, discerning exactly where I am supposed to leap TO, in response to the compelling feeling that a leap is not only right but necessary.  In a lot of ways, the practice of being in the present moment sets up the ability to find purpose and authenticity.

I need a lot more practice.

But again last week we got a medical reprieve, one I did not expect (I never really do expect it. Expectations are my nemesis in medical land, I am conditioned to only expect the worst and be surprised and relieved when the worst does not pan out in a particular moment—I never think that one respite provides some kind of disaster immunity for the future).   And in this reprieve, in NOT having to get back in the life or death game of medical interventions, I have time and space and a strong feeling that I need to DO SOMETHING.

The chaos of schedule, medical anxiety, snow upon snow when it is supposed to be spring—I am trying to learn how to lean into these moments, to see what I can learn from them, to breathe through them and keep going. I have to practice the things I know while I have the space to remember what I know, when those knowings are not crowded out by terror or stress or helplessness.

Like I said, I need about 9,998 hours more of practice before I can reach the elusive 10,000 hours to excellence level. Last week I spent an awful lot of hours literally wandering in circles as anxiety clawed at my insides, despite exercise and prayer and decent eating and all my tools for settling the inner demons down.

Already the snow is melting (New Jersey has the weirdest weather EVER), and soon my spring bulbs will be revealed again. The days are longer and brighter. Despite my deep need for maps and plans and answers, sometimes those come only after the hike begins.

That is a terrible metaphor, DON’T EVER HIKE WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. Find a well-marked trail and stay on it so you don’t get mauled by a bear or fall down a gorge or something.

Yikes.

How about… despite my deep need for maps and answers, sometimes the most wonderful things only happen, the most authentic moments of joy and purpose occur in the unplanned moments, the leap of faith, the step into the darkness? I know this is true, I just have to be brave enough to practice it without wincing every time.

I need to practice how to be present to challenges without being devoured by them.  My dad always used to say  “some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you” – figuring out how to live with the uncertainties is like hanging out with the bear without getting eaten.

THAT is going to take some practice.