Wait, what is this called?

I hate to admit it, but I am an anxious person. Even when things are smooth, I will have a moment where I open my eyes and look around me at what I am doing, who I am with, where I am, how I look etc. and get dizzy with worry.
I received a little insight into my experience with anxiety lately while trying to run during Portland’s “Snowmageddon.” David is always up for adventure and luckily decided to come with me. Foolishly, I looked at my weather app and thought that 40 degrees didn’t sound that cold. I layered my running garb irresponsibly. We wore crampons on our shoes and felt like things might be easier than our previous attempt* to run in winter weather. The run wasn’t long and shouldn’t have been too difficult except for the unprecedented foot of slushy snow still covering the trail. We ran when we could, but running through the deep snow in inadequate clothing proved to be impossible. So we started walking.

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The cold wind blew maybe once before I became panicky. I was so chilly and I was supposed to be running. I complained repeatedly to David about how I had wanted to get a certain amount of miles in and had not anticipated having to trudge along at such a slow pace. Any time negativity enters my vocabulary, I swiftly turn to self-judgement. The next time I complained about how slow we were going I also said, “I’m sorry for being to so insufferable.” Which then turned into me apologizing for pretty much everything I’ve ever done in my entire life.

After a few awful miles, the trail cleared off enough for us to jog a little. I think warmed enough to get in touch with my brain at that point and I began to dwell on why this run was bothering me so much. This run. Run? I had been approaching the snowy adventure all wrong. I got so obsessed with its name -a run- that I got really upset when I couldn’t run. Instead of adapting and treating it like a fast hike with my best friend, I fixated on what I thought it was supposed to be. Apparently, my anxiety only needs a slight misnomer to use as an entry point.

“What’s in a name?” Unwaverable power.

I think I have intense moments of worry because I am calling my experiences and identities by the wrong names. I get concerned about whatever my occupation is at the time because it is a “job.” A messy apartment can make me slightly lose my mind because it is my “living space.” Being a “wife” can be daunting and being a “daughter” is almost impossible. Stir these strictly labeled things together with their connotations, put into an oven of minimal outside pressure, bake for almost three seconds and you get a muffin tray with rows of steaming bouts of anxiety.

I remember reading a great book by Donald Miller in high school. It is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and totally worth checking out. In it, Miller asserts that all of our lives are stories. That thought comforts and motivates me tremendously. If I think of “life” as a “story,” it becomes way less intimidating. A story  is something I love and can relate to. Life is too big and adult for me to grasp. All of those smaller things that I have trouble naming are just commas, characters, transition sentences, disguises, ellipses, dragons to defeat, periods, and quests to complete. If my life is a story, there is an interesting writer and a good editor. There are page-turner moments, but also lots of ordinary dialogue.

I wish I could say that David and I finished our run with positive attitudes and a cup of hot chocolate. The truth is, we finished it incredibly freezing and in bad moods. Well…mostly I was in a bad mood, David can be almost too cheerful in hard situations. I will say that I learned to be much more careful about attaching my expectations to what things are called.

Since then, it’s exciting to embark on a new day and ask the question “Wait, what is this called?” What name I decide to answer that question with can dictate my whole attitude: A story. An adventure. A gift. A dance. A walk. A race. A task. A pleasure. A life. A friend.

Being

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness. -Thomas Merton

“So…what do you do?”

That is my least favorite question, but I find myself asking/being asked it so much these days. It may be because I’m a little awkward when it comes to small talk, but I think it goes deeper than that. I used to ask “What do you like to do?” but people would truly get so thrown off that I would almost feel bad for asking. As a creative, I envy those who can answer that question without clumsy further explanation. If someone my age is on a real career path, no one side glances with questions still in their eyes. Their inner dialogue is like “I get it, they save lives.” But when I am asked what I do, I perform a complex explanatory dance just to end up saying simply “I’m a nanny.”

What is that all about? I think I feel the inherent pressure to succeed because I’ve gambled my life on art. I have spent the last two years trying to validate what I studied in school. And trust me, being a nanny is certainly a strange place to show that my education was worth it.

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I have been surprised by what I’m currently doing with my life.  Part of my job as a nanny is also taking care of a small, ragamuffin farm. I have pruned fruit trees, cleaned coops, weeded ceaselessly, and (my personal favorite) turned compost. All these things become automatic pretty quickly and provide me with perfect opportunities to consider my own existence. I know that sounds a little navel gazy, but I believe it’s a privilege and a practice we could all use a little more of. When I am struggling to shovel unmentionable waste and rotting veggies, I am also giving myself time to just be. I’m not sitting cross-legged on a pillow (although that is also something I wholeheartedly encourage), but I am meditating and diving deeper into what it means to exist.

I have been curious about the more mystical side of spirituality for as long as I can remember. I was raised in a traditional church, but loved yoga the minute my feet touched a mat. I read excerpts of things written by mystic monks and gurus with the same enthusiasm. One of my favorite things that I have gleaned from these teachers is the importance of giving yourself the permission to simply live. Thomas Merton (one of my absolute favorites) lived and died without seeing a super-computer phone or the internet, yet he still thought we all needed to let go of “usefulness” and look at existence.

I know I am not original in saying we need to relinquish what we are doing and focus on who we are. I also know that we need to be reminded that we are so much more than what we do. That is only a small fraction of the beautiful garden of self inside each of us. Merton’s quote is my thesis for living this year. I am planning on returning to school with the hopes of teaching. I will write. I will keep on running. I will create art. But I will also remember that I have time to breathe, to live, to just be.

So here’s to a new calling: Being. Focusing on that will better enable us to love others for not only their usefulness, but for who they are.

Imagination

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.”

-Thomas Merton

I originally had planned on writing one long post to shed light on the origins of the name of this blog this week. However, recent news and events have weighed so heavily that I can’t seem to get all my thoughts out in one coherent post. So please give me a little grace, and consider this the first part of a disjointed, two part post.

These are interesting times (I know when I say that I sounds trite, but in an effort to be kind and fair, that’s all I will say). When I read the above quote from New Seeds of Contemplation, it struck me as incredibly relevant. In my fairly conventional upbringing, my sense of imagination was nurtured. I just played a lot more than did anything else when I was young. When I grew older, it seemed like imagination was treated as a leisurely activity and something altogether necessary. As I sit here and shift through all of my almost-adult problems and questions, I know that my life demands imagination everyday.

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In this political climate, there are many choices being made that rub people the wrong way. There are people groups being targeted, women being harassed, and whole organizations being silenced. I am not trying to say that I feel personally under attack, but I am an empath so my neighbor’s pain is my pain. That said, one of the decisions that caught me closer to home is that the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for Humanities is under fire. I wrote a lengthy research paper on the NEA my freshman year of college, so I feel like they are my neighbor. I know that funding for the NEA and NEH has been low, so the money isn’t the issue for me. I think what offends me most is that arts of all kinds are seen as leisure. I am definitely not here to rant about politics, but what I am wanting to say is that nothing can stop imagination from being important. I think it gets difficult sometimes to not be “obsessed with doing.” We all live tense lives. Imagination-visual arts, literature, music- is the pulse of fresh blood running through all of us. Imagination is one of the beautiful things that makes us human.

So what do we do now? We hold on to our imagination and we keep creating. We look right in the face of this challenge to the worth of art, we smile and say “we will help each other live better lives through our leisurely activities.” Because it’s true.

One Thing

“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

-Ron Swanson

Why have I hesitated to call myself an artist or a poet, in spite of a decent amount of formal training? In fact, there is a long list of things I have been too uncomfortable with labeling myself as: dancer, yogi, musician, writer. This thought has come up more vehemently in my mind recently because someone asked me if I was a runner. I shuffled a little and awkwardly answered: “Yes?”

Honestly, I have never been one to label myself as something outright. This decision was never based on some esoteric notion of existing as a multi-dimensional being who is ever changing and transforming. No, I just never wanted to seem prideful enough to presume I was worthy of a title. That sentiment is laughable to me now, because false humility is ridiculous. In college, I was plagued with the “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO for the hip folks out there). So much so, that I double majored! I didn’t want to jump wholeheartedly into Art or English, so I split my focus between the two. The result was being continuously grateful for my two fields of study while being perpetually confused at my decision to have two fields of study. Looking back on it, all my work suffered because of this.

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When I timidly called myself a runner a few weeks ago, I was allowing myself to be all in for something and that made me tremendously nervous. The days that followed, I acted like I was a runner. Not someone who likes to run, but a real runner. My FOMO kicked in the first day and I had thoughts like “What if training hard makes me unable to work on my poetry collection? Should I just give that up?” and “I’m never going to have time to re-learn how to work with gouache if I’m having to stretch and foam roll on my evenings off.” I shook the anxiety off and kept running. The next day, I doubted myself and thought: I haven’t won races or gone impossible distances, it’s silly to even dream that I am a runner. I exhaled that sentiment and kept running. I kept running through beautiful tears on the beach New Year’s Day and I kept running through the snow last week. The result of my labeling experiment has delightfully surprised me.

By completely diving into my identity as a runner, all my other identities have not faded away. Instead, they have been brought into sharper focus than before. I have not had to deny my creative pursuits! I have been more motivated than ever to write and paint. Not only have I thought about these things, but I have done them. I didn’t look long enough to find scientific back up on this theory. But in the words of Ron Swanson, “whole-ass one thing.” Run towards it with your whole being. You will wonder at the clarity of your peripheral vision. By choosing one thing to become, all the other you’s will fall into line.

Running towards Contemplation

“Contemplation” according to Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation, “is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active fully aware that it is alive. It is the spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source.” 

I moved to Portland, Oregon almost a year ago and it shook all of the pieces of my life up until lovely remnants swirled around me like glitter in a snowglobe. The expected trajectory of this story would be that now that I am here, married, independent and hungry for big things; I am a completely different person. One could also assume that I have started fresh and am never looking back. Instead, I am gathering up those glittering things and diving into who I am now, who I will become tomorrow, and who I have always been through an important shift.

Trail running entered my life officially when I ran a (slow) half-marathon at Fall Creek Falls in early 2015.  A lot of unknowns showed up during that year and the trails became a familiar comfort. In the fall of 2015, I ran the same trails almost everyday. The routine of driving up to the forest and pounding out a few miles became the only thing I could count on. When I decided to move, I got increasingly more and more stressed and I stopped running. Within the first eight months of living here, I went running less than ten times. My body began to feel less capable and the guilt grew into an ugly pile that kept me from even trying. Last fall, I kept talking about how I missed the trails, being active and a more even mindset. My husband David listened patiently and then said, “Let’s go on a run.” So we ran. Beginning is always a struggle, but the difficulty was embellished by my negative feelings towards myself. I felt heavy on my feet, self conscious when I passed other runners, and continually grateful that David was there to distract me. After a couple months, I picked a race to run and set a goal time. This meant I had to run by myself.

 

 

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As someone who has always had a guilty conscience, the notion of positive self talk naturally feels indulgent. I can always rationalize why I shouldn’t tell myself I am beautiful or powerful. But when I set out alone for my long run a few weeks ago, I knew the only way I could get through it would be by giving myself grace and love. I purposely ran without music so that I could speak directly to my negative thoughts. When my breathing became labored,  I audibly told myself that I was completely capable of the task at hand. When I caught sight of my shadow, I told myself I was loved. I even let out an excited “yes!” when I reached the top of one of the tougher hills on the trail. The final thirty minutes of the run, I felt incredibly alive and aware. The whole thing sounds a little silly, but the experience flipped a switch inside of me: I really fell in love with running. My spirit was rarely involved in the action before. I saw moving through nature at a reasonable pace as means to an elevated heart rate, a mood booster, and a weight loss mechanism. But while running alone in Forest Park, I felt like I was breathing in wonder and exhaling life. Truth be told, I was in a state of contemplation.

Let me set the record straight, I am still very young, I have lived a fairly conventional life, and am not an incredible athlete. However, I felt compelled to start this blog to explore spirituality and a new way of living. I only have stories of my limited experiences to offer you and I offer them with my whole heart.