for the joy of it.

It has been a hectic two months. So hectic, that I didn’t realize it had been two months until I checked when the last time I blogged was. Sheesh.

Last weekend was a big first for me. You know that race I mentioned in my first post? Well, I missed it. I mean, I didn’t sleep in or get sick or anything. In fact, I was incredibly prepared and pumped. I just went to the race a day late! David and I pulled into McIver Park’s parking lot last Sunday expecting a plethora of runners and weird, too-loud music. Instead, there were two people taking a leisurely Sunday morning stroll in the rain. I was so crushed.

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We both spent the next hour upset and trying to process how this happened and what to do next. “You want to race next weekend?” David asked. I looked up prospective races, but it didn’t feel right. I kept thinking “Today was supposed to be it. The milestone.” To be honest, I was being a little drama queen in my head. But the race felt like it was supposed to be special. In fact, the race was supposed to be something special, but I was looking at it all wrong. After the disappointing morning, my friend Jen (who visited from Chattanooga!), David, and I went on a cold adventure to salvage the rest of the day. I guess Oregon rain and large waterfalls tend to get my mind back where it needs to be, because everything in my head and heart was at rest by the end of the hike.

Somewhere between the raindrops, I:

  1. Realized something supremely important that (of course) I had learned before but never seen illustrated so clearly.
  2. Asked myself a supremely important question.

IMG_41491. There is a cliché about the journey being more important than the destination that honestly causes me to involuntarily roll my eyes. But when multiple people consoled me through sweet text messages and comments (I forgot to mention: social media was definitely involved in this humiliating experience) saying that I had “done the work” and already had something to be proud of,  that cliché rang true. As I have mentioned before, I love to run and that is a new experience for me. Something about this race was going to solidify that in my mind. For instance, if I raced well and had a good time to show for it, this new way of living would really begin. That is equal parts ridiculous and understandable. Racing is so satisfying and needed to keep fueling that competitive nature that resides inside of me. However, racing doesn’t mean a thing. Missing my race made me look back on the time I’ve spent training and be proud of that instead of a personal record. And man, I am so proud.

2. The “supremely important” question I asked myself was “Why do you run?” I am not an extremely competitive creature. I don’t run to win races. I do run to beat the clock, feel alive, reduce stress, etc. However, I learned near the end of my training that running is only a purely positive force in my life if I am first and foremost running for the joy of it. That outlook has crept into my other hobbies and passions and jobs and all of a sudden, my whole world is transforming. The only way I could make it through the last few miles of long runs was to remember that. The only way I could go for a run this week (I am not going to lie, I was tired and still disappointed) was to remember that.

What’s the moral of the story? First, don’t let yourself go two months without blogging. Because your skills get rusty. But also, the journey is more importan-just kidding! I think I would definitely say, be proud of hard work even if the “end result” is less than satisfactory. Hard work is well, hard and I respect the cuss out of people who are disciplined enough to try something new. Finally, find something to do just for the joy of it. Better yet, rework joy into the heart of something you’re already doing. I promise you it will only do you good.

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.

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.