The Race

I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

~ Christine Valters Paintner, Monk Manifesto

Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolf mystery series, was a genius. Once a word was down on paper he never changed it. For one who perhaps expects too much of herself the impossibility of such an ideal is laughable. And liberating. 

Recognizing something is impossible is just as freeing as recognizing something is possible. 

A year ago the idea of running a mile seemed impossible. But my stress level was so high last December I found myself eagerly doing intervals on a treadmill. I thought it would take me months to be able to run a mile. It only took a few weeks.

“Soon you’ll be getting a 5K team together,” said Michelette. 

I scoffed at the idea of a 5K. But then, sure enough I found myself thinking about it. Maybe . . . just maybe. 

Knowing I’d never put in the work without a tangible timetable, I signed up for the Carying Place Labor Day Race for Home. For two months I ran two to three times a week going as far as I could in a twenty-five minute time period. But I couldn’t do a full mile without stopping. What was possible on a treadmill where my pace was regulated and the air easy on the lungs just wasn’t happening outside. So I googled “couch to 5K”, found a 5 week program designed by an Olympic track coach, and began again.  

Three times a week I pushed myself through the intervals. By the end of July I felt discouraged. Most days I could sort of make it a mile without stopping. Sometimes I could do 1.5. With the race a mere month away, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to 3.1 continuous miles. 

I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

Conversion is one of the vows taken by Benedictine monks and oblates. I’ve read about it as a principle of daily improvement; of trying and failing and beginning again; and a willingness to be surprised by God. Conversion is a liberating principle. St. Benedict never asked for perfection. He demanded ardent commitment yet remained realistic about the frailties of being human. 

Quite without realizing it, in training for the 5K I embarked on a journey of conversion that tested my comfort zone and forced me to find the gifts in my limitation and my capabilities. Which is to say, I got to practice adjusting my expectations. My new goal was simply to complete the 5K even if I had to walk. 

Having never done this before, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I pictured a bunch of lean athletes in fancy gear running like gazelles, and little old me in my cheap cotton trying not to fall too far behind. Thank God I was wrong! 

Over five hundred and fifty diverse people ran and walked the course: some were solo, some in groups; there were moms and dads pushing strollers; old men, young men; old women, young women, and one in a Wonder Woman costume. Some had designer athletic wear, most didn’t. Only a fraction of the runners looked like the low body fat versions in my stereotyped imagination.

With all the positive energy and excitement of the crowd the first mile was easier than any mile I’d run before. The later half of the second mile was a challenge, but I kept pace with a woman from church and met my spontaneous goal of two continuous miles. On the third and final mile I kept up with two gentlemen in the their seventies who were doing run/walk intervals like me. This made me so happy. 

Recognizing something is impossible is just as freeing as recognizing something is possible. 

If I had held tight to my original goal of 3.1 continuous miles I would have failed, cried tears of disappointment, and been stuck in my bitter narrative that nothing ever happens the way I want it to.  Instead I lived my commitment to conversion. I celebrated the gift of being able to run at all, honored my current limitations, and crossed the finish line crying tears of joy.  

I’ll never write like Rex Stout and I’m good with that. After a modest rest I’ll get back to running and try again at a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. And if I’m not able to do it, or frankly no longer interested in doing it, that’s ok. What matters is not that I keep a commitment to 3.1 continuous miles, but to conversion; to transformation and to the recognition that this journey is always filled with gifts and limitations.  

 

Here We Go Again

The light just changed. Did you see it?

I noticed the shift at 5:10pm on Thursday, August 23rd.  The evening sun, no longer a red flush of summer, now sets in colors more akin to rose and gold. This oh-so-subtle alteration that comes in mid-August is accompanied by the potential for my mood to tank—which is why I pay such close attention. So when I stepped out of the office and looked up at the glint between the leaves, my first thought was, “Oh shit. Here we go again.” 

This week has been difficult. The only consistent block of time I can carve to write is at 5am, which is tricky. My body does best when it sleeps until 6. So even though I’m adding in work that fulfills a part of my soul’s deep longing, my physical and spiritual reserves feel depleted. I’m skimming the surface of life. 

Which has been true for awhile. 

In response to my acute awareness of depletion, I made small adjustments. I requested dream wisdom and spirit animals started showing up, bringing along messages of trust. I noticed the trees again and their ripe summer foliage. I cut Friday’s run short because I was tired and wanted to walk, and savor a crisp morning. And I gifted myself with a luxurious asana practice—something that has also suffered as a result of trying to write at 5am. 

I also noticed an insidious emotional habit that has nothing to do with depression and everything to do with grasping. Becoming aware of that, accepting that, and then miraculously having the trigger removed from my life has been terrifically freeing. 

But here’s what I know. The trigger will return. It will come in a different package but it will come back. Like the cycle of seasons. Like the change in the light. Like the busyness that causes me to live on the surface of life. 

And that’s ok because life is a labyrinth not a point to point race. The center remains and I move in and around it. One path tends to mirror another I’ve traveled before. If I’ve been paying attention I start to notice the helpful and not helpful tendencies I carry along the way. And if I’m really paying attention, I can let go of some of the less helpful tendencies not by forcing them out, but by loving them along the way. 

When I remember that I am loved—by God, by my family, by my friends—no matter how many bad habits I am living, no matter how mercurial and painful my moods, no matter how many cycles I am repeating, I can step into the waning August light and say, “Here we go again. Now, let’s dive in.”

Photo by Tiffany Combs on Unsplash

Reentry

After a relaxing week in the mountains with my family I am home and readjusting to the rhythms of ordinary life. I’ve been back for two weeks but the difficult process of reentry continues. I find myself doing the same thing I do every year—looking at google maps and dreaming of faraway destinations. The late summer L.L. Bean and Prana catalogues arrive and I reinvent myself within their pages. Tailored plaid flannel shirts, performance pants, and eco-friendly sweaters attest to my new life as a homesteading adventurer in a wild landscape where the mountains meet the sea. I grow anxious for autumn. 

Two things help with this: sunflowers and Anne of Green Gables.

Because sunflowers bloom from July – September (and sometimes early October) they remind me to treasure these summer days even as I anticipate the cool, clear weeks ahead. In Plant Spirit Totems: Connecting with the Wisdom of the Plant Kingdom, author and shaman Bloom Post writes that sunflowers are associated with key words like “devotion, light, guidance, strength, core, nurture.” They say, “Time to stand tall and be seen. Face the sun and receive what you need. Make time each day to be in devotion . . . Do not make yourself small in order to fit in with others.” 

As a girl, when I was sick enough to stay home from school I would watch the 1980’s CBC version of Anne of Green Gables. Between the alluring landscape of Prince Edward Island and Anne’s unmatched enthusiasm for life, her story meant everything to me. It still does. She is the epitome of “young, scrappy, and hungry.”* She has a beautiful romance that reminds me that no one less than Gilbert Blythe** will do. She even becomes a writer. I sink back into the movies and books and now the deviating Netflix remake*** and find solace. Even with all its struggles, Anne’s world feels safe. 

It feels like home.

In the opening chapter of book three, Anne of the Island, Lucy Maud Montgomery writes,

But everything in that landscape around them spoke of autumn . . . . the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue— blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear steadfast blue, as if the water were past all moods and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquility unbroken by fickle dreams.

“Past all moods and tenses of emotion . . . settled down to a tranquility unbroken by fickle dreams.” I am rarely past all moods and tenses of emotions. This is why I keep sunflowers on my table and Anne in my heart. Both embody the tranquility of a moment, and the hope in dreams that are unchanging.

Well before I read Bloom’s words about sunflower medicine, I sat in journey meditation — a kind of lucid dreaming done while one is awake. In this journey I came upon a vast field of sunflowers— the variety that tower overhead. I knelt down in the wet earth and asked a question about my writing path. Hundreds of books flew up out of the petals, flapping their blank pages like butterfly wings. 

“Do not make yourself small in order to fit in.” Anne never did. Why should we?

 


* To quote from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Side note, Cole can sing this line.)

**”Match to my intellect; proponent of my happiness; friend of my heart. To be my life mate. Let us dance together as equal partners through the years.” This from the Netflix series. See below.

***So. Many. Thoughts. Let’s have tea and discuss.

Photo by Andrew Kitchen on Unsplash

Summer Sabbath

“Sabbath is one of the profound gifts of a generous and abundant divine presence who says that work is good and rest is necessary.” ~ Christine Valters Paintner

Every summer, Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts (you know the woman, I work for her and quote her often) takes time off from newsletters and blogs during the summer and gives herself time to rest, play, and dream. This year, I am following her lead and taking a little blog Sabbath during the month of July. I’ll return with a new post on August 7th. 

I’d like to leave you with some yummy travel tips adapted from a post written during the height of my Ayurvedic studies. My relationship with Ayurveda has mellowed a little but I still find its wisdom deep and energizing. Here is my current travel perspective. 

Ease of travel is one of the great joys of the modern age but the changes of food, activity, sleep, altitude and sometimes company can wreak havoc on your system, leaving you feeling ungrounded, unsupported and irritable. This summer, bring along key bits of your daily routine to help you stay steady and nourished so you can enjoy the adventure.

Sleep Well
This is oh so tricky when in a new bed, or hotel. Bring along any comforts that might help such as an audiobook (my go to), a sleeping mask, calming essential oils, and low expectations. That’s right, if you know you don’t sleep well the first night or so away don’t expect to. Give yourself a little grace and plan accordingly. 

Hydrate
Traveling can be very drying. Pack a thermos and/or water bottle. (Be sure it’s empty before going through airport security or you’ll have to become the proud owner of something new you didn’t need.) Drink hot water in cooler weather and on airplanes;  room temperature water in warmer climates. Drink up to a quart of hot water first thing in the am… before any coffee or tea… This will wake up your body, stimulate digestion and help stave off constipation. You know I feel about hot water!

Start Your Day with Silent Inspiration
Take a few quiet minutes to yourself to breath in and out. Read a passage from scripture, your inspiring daily reader, or bit of poetry. You can do this anywhere, your hotel room, a bathroom, a back porch. Notice how this leaves you feeling more centered  supported and able to go with the flow.  

Get in a few hip openers (pigeon etc), thigh stretches, down dogs, and backbends to ease the tension of traveling. Or, if you have 20 – 30 minutes, enjoy the yoga routine on the right.

Oil to Avoid Getting Sick
Ever notice how your nose gets crusty and dry during travel, especially on the plane? Dryness makes you more susceptible to infection from germs and other nasties. Put a small dab of olive oil on your finger tip, rub it into your nostrils, maybe even your ears. While you’re at it, rub the oil all over your body. Let it soak in then rinse off.

Terrific Tummy
Travel can be hard on the tummy. Take ginger capsules for motion sickness. Try two prior to starting travel, then as often as needed. Digestive issues? Mix equal parts cumin/coriander/fennel in a small jar and pack in your travel bag.  Take up to a tsp full with water prior to meals. Or just try Trikatu.*

Save Your Skin
Commercial sunscreen is loaded with chemicals we don’t metabolize well. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen guide for an extensive list of alternatives (including Walmart Brand). I like Garden Goddess.

Enjoy
Relax, let go of rigid agendas and enjoy the flow of whatever comes along! (That’s right, Melinda, let go your vacation “to-do list!”) 

Happy Summer,
Melinda


*Not intended to diagnose or treat illness. Use at your own best discretion. I’m not responsible for the results. 🙂 

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