Feeling lost is part of the journey

Sometimes when we try to meditate, or pray, or do other types of mindfulness practice, we just. can't. even.

Most people who have practiced meditation or prayer for a time encounter this. But even if we know that, when we experience it ourselves it can feel quite overwhelming. This spiritual "imposter syndrome", the sense that we are directionless and lost, can throw a person off their practice, sometimes lead them to abandon it altogether. There's a great temptation to give up when we're feeling unmoored, arid, unproductive. In fact, the feeling of being "abandoned" by our practice, as though it's all just not worth it and we have no idea what you are doing, can be one of the most intensely discouraging things to happen. 

Spiritual teachers note that this feeling itself, of being lost, unmoored, abandoned by our practice, is an essential part of the journey. Our task is to learn to sit with it, and even embrace it.

Juan de Yepes y Álvarez, a 16th century Spanish monk and mystic, wrote some of the most beautiful, sensual poetry we know about the experience of being in the dark, alone and abandoned by God. The man we know as John of the Cross called his poem the Dark Night of the Soul. But far from being a morose, sad poem, it’s one of the most exquisite love poems written.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Juan transforms the experience of being in the dark and lost into an experience of joy and relief, of being concealed from the rest of the world, so that he can pursue his Beloved God.
Juan takes the experience of spiritual darkness, of being abandoned and entirely alone, and interprets it as a gift from God, the God he seeks, his Beloved. The pursuit of the divine Lover becomes his spiritual quest, and the darkness and feeling of being lost becomes a necessary part of the quest.

Practicing detachment from the world is hard, and part of that practice is often coming to grips with that sense of being unmoored, of being lost and in the dark. Juan celebrates this experience as part of spiritual progress, a necessary step in the soul’s journey.

In our own practice, when we learn to sit with this darkness and even recognize it as a key part of the journey, we transform it into something we can use. This difficult "night that guides" becomes a uniquely valuable gift. 

towards a more civil user experience

I was visiting a knitting tutorial site, reading something, and I got one of those semi-annoying popover forms. It seems they are getting more and more aggressive and catty these days.

Option 1: Sign up now! All magical secrets will be revealed, plus free kittens! Option 2: No thanks, I hate kittens and am a stupid oaf.

Option 1: Sign up now! All magical secrets will be revealed, plus free kittens!

Option 2: No thanks, I hate kittens and am a stupid oaf.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but these are an instant turn off for me. Like, I will *never* sign up for your newsletter if you imply or ask me to agree that I am stupid, uninformed, lazy, etc. Whether or not they actually increase subscription rates, I think they are part of the problem, not the solution.

User experience matters. User interface designers, content strategists strive to create excellent experiences online, and that includes treating visitors (prospective customers) with civility. 

Compassion and civility are not the exclusive purview of tea parties and monastic retreats.

People who want to read or interact with us online shouldn't face insulting messages if they don't want to sign up for our newsletter. In some cases it might be funny, but it's too frequently overdone.

Show your visitors a little love.

Show your visitors a little love.

Feel free to be lovingly persistent. But permit your viewers to politely decline your online subscription forms. They will leave with a better impression of your site, and be more likely to return.

 We have no idea about the kind of day the person visiting our web form is having.  Let us strive to be gentle with one another, online and off. Life is hard enough.

 

An open letter to the next generation of angry young women


Dear Alexis,

I won’t stop being angry.

I know you through your family; I've enjoyed seeing your exuberant smile and boundless energy as you walk onto the stage of adult womanhood. Welcome. I read your post as I watch my own daughter and son navigating their teen years, and I think about what is ahead for them. All the joy, and all the pain.

I read your exhortation to stay angry, beyond the passing of news about the Stanford rape case and its injustice. And I have to tell you a secret. 

I won’t stop being angry, ever.

Even as I pray, yoga, run, and cultivate compassion, I won’t. You see, I was sexually assaulted too, when I was a young woman. Another time I was assaulted on a running trail, and a man tried to pull me into his car. Like you and so many other women, I had to recount my traumatizing experiences to strangers and have my motives and actions picked apart by people who were supposed to be on my side, protect and advocate for me. I didn’t even get to the part where my attackers stood before a judge. 

My sisters are angry too; both biological and non-biological sisters have been through this, along with the men and women who love them.

My mother was angry too. I don't know about her experiences with men besides my father, because her generation wasn't allowed to speak up at your age. But I know she was angry, and more than that she found her voice by the time I came. She took me to NOW and ERA rallies when I was a girl, to marches, meetings, consciousness-raising sessions, and most importantly she brought me with her while she got petitions signed, while she stuffed bags with political literature and hung them on doorknobs, translating her anger and frustration to real change one doorknob at a time. 

Victoria Claflin Woodhull ran for president in 1872, long before women had the right to vote

Victoria Claflin Woodhull ran for president in 1872, long before women had the right to vote

She did something about it. And she taught me to do something about it. Now you are teaching, too.
My mother's generation dared to speak out, and mine has picked up the torch and carried on that work. But there is obviously much more to do.

So you see: you are joining a long, long history of angry women. 

I’ve lived with the reality of sexual assault and the fear of assault for decades. It’s part of the background of life, like living in a war zone where you never really feel safe, not ever. You never know when the bomb is going to explode, safety is an illusion, but you have to keep going.

that feeling you get

that feeling you get

Unfortunately, I’m not alone in feeling that way. One in five of our sisters lives with that feeling too; wherever I am, I'm hanging out with survivors, with women who have not received justice. I know some of their stories; others can’t even tell theirs.

You have my love and respect for speaking out, for taking your case to the university. For every women who couldn’t come forward, you spoke for her, speak for her. It makes a difference.

There are so many of us, so many men and women who truly care about this issue because they and their partners and children have been through this pain. We move through the horror and don’t let it destroy the joy, the love, all the good things and good relationships in our lives. 

Keep going. You aren’t carrying this alone. 

There are more of us than you think. Way more. Every time you are in the grocery store, count five people. One of them (maybe more) is angry, maybe has been for decades. We won’t stop. We can’t. Our daughters and sons are counting on us. You are amazing and fierce. But most important, you are not alone. Don't ever think that. Knowing that you are not alone is *how* you stay angry without letting it destroy you. The way we treat women has to change. It is changing. 

Thank you, and thanks to your sisters and brothers who are out there adding your beautiful, unique voice.
 

Building Circles of Support: Resilience, Love and Community

What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love."
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Humans are born and genetically designed to be in relation to one another. No one is an island unto themselves.

Finding love and getting into relation, however, can be a problem. First, because Western culture discourages dependence on others. Second, because our own fears and weaknesses drive us to separate from those we need most.

Building circles of support are essential to human thriving. How can we build community in the face of these challenges?

Finding your tribe

American culture has atomized us, doing us a great disservice when it comes to how we handle difficulty. By focusing on consumption, the Western model assumes we make "rational choices" in our own interests, and that those interests compete with everyone else's. This hyper-individualistic boot-strappiness comes at a great price to our mental health, and it's something we need to un-learn in order to thrive.

This is perhaps most true for new parents, who feel both the strongest need for community and the greatest social pressure to go it alone. Writer and mother Tarja Parssinen echoed this in her recent Salon article about how American individualism is destroying families.  "I lived alone for almost a decade," she said, "but I never actually felt alone until I had children."

My friend and my daughter at the San Francisco La Leche League conference

My friend and my daughter at the San Francisco La Leche League conference

Knowing how isolated I felt after my first child was born, with my second I was determined to pay greater attention to my own need for community. So, just a couple of months after my daughter was born, I sought out an opportunity to attend a conference for La Leche League leaders in San Francisco. I was blessed that my best friend was also a leader and attended the conference too; she helped immensely with my daughter, and provided a much needed social outlet. But I had to push past the social stigma of traveling with a young child, and I had to ask for her help, and in order to be able to ask I had to recognize that my need for social interaction and community was as important to me as food. We aren't meant to do difficult things alone.

Building resilience to social anxiety

Adding to the cultural signals we get to bear our burdens alone is often social anxiety. For myself, I have found that one of the weaknesses left over from my childhood is a fear of being rejected. As a mostly extroverted person, social interaction is a daily need, so rejection and isolation can feel like holding my breath underwater.

How does one build the resilience needed to embrace and strengthen this vulnerable part of ourselves? Oddly enough, it’s been through my running that I’ve been confronted with this weakness and been given opportunities to understand how the fear moves through me, so that I can make peace with it.

Running friends can make all the difference!

Running friends can make all the difference!

When I started running again, I discovered the great joy of running socially with others. Long runs are less of a chore when one can chat through the miles, and my new running connections propelled me on, providing acceptance and encouragement. Runners are some of the best people I know; because running is an individual sport, whatever pace you run you will likely find someone to share it. However, it can also lead to anxiety when you’re doing it with someone who is a bit faster or stronger than you.

Once, while out for a group run I met some new friends who were part of an established group. They warmly welcomed me and as we ran, I found the pace challenging but manageable. Later in the run though I struggled to keep up with them. That's when my internal monologue started.

My inner voice said it’s much easier for them, look at them chatting while I lag behind and struggle! I began to be critical of myself and the more critical I was the more it sapped my energy and I began to drop back. I noticed then that as I lagged, they didn’t look back or slow down but kept going and even speeded up a bit, lost in conversation and enjoying the run. This fueled my anxiety, and I began to think they were happy to be rid of me, that I was an anchor slowing them down and it would be best if I just stopped and let them run on ahead while I had some water and felt sorry for myself. But another part of me wanted to press on and try to catch up, and so I continued, struggling with feeling rejected and alone and then finding other things to worry about, like the aggressive black birds on the path (which are less likely to attack a group) or the humidity.

I see and acknowledge that for me, this is a part of the mental challenge of running distances, and it’s a great opportunity to build my own social resilience. Fear of rejection, feeling isolated is exhausting and saps my energy. In the past, it’s led me to only want to run alone, so that there is one less thing for my head to deal with besides the trail, the conditions and my body’s fatigue. But that robs me of vital social opportunities and the support they bring. The best course is for me to be present for my anxiety, find ways to see and accept it and then release it. As I’ve run more, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of this opportunity to see this tender spot in my psyche, acknowledge it and push past it. It is through this repetitive encounter, acceptance and gently pushing on that I exercise this muscle and make friends with my own vulnerability.

Most often, people get wrapped up in their own stuff and simply don’t notice what is going on around them with others. Even more, we often don’t notice what is going on within ourselves. I believe it is the blindness of what’s going on within ourselves that is the greater obstacle to being able to love and connect. It is our own self-blindness that creates the hell of isolation.

When we can acknowledge and assert our need for social connection, we can have those needs met. When we can acknowledge, sit with and practice moving through our fears, we can build the resilience necessary to persist in building those connections. Both of these, recognizing the validity of our needs and the things that get in our own way, can help us find the love, support and connection that bring joy to life, and make it worth the struggle.

How to save your own life

Published in Elephant Journal

“The trick is not how much pain you feel–but how much joy you feel. Any idiot can feel pain. Life is full of excuses to feel pain, excuses not to live, excuses, excuses, excuses.

- Erica Jong

riverA friend once told me:

half the people in our running group were going through divorce, confronting change and loss. Another third were working through broken bodies and sickness, Confronting mortality.

The rest were just regular crazy. I think I'm a bit of each.

In running, I become a student of me and my limits. In running, I become a student of the universe and its limitlessness. In running, I learn the distinction between the two is everything and nothing.

Running doesn't give joy. It allows the space to give joy to yourself.

Running won't save you. It allows the space to save yourself.

So, to save your own life: Go for a long run.

Run beyond the thunderstorm. Run beyond your tears. Outlast your phone battery. Outlast fear of being alone in the woods.

Run along the river, run in the woods. Run with crickets and egrets and dark green. Run until you are so tired you can at last be still, and listen to what the river has to tell you about living a life.

Rush and bubble and gush, joy in full force, become a tributary and flow into the river. Flow around the obstacles. Let the wind move you, the sun warm you, make you glitter and shine.

Converge with other tributaries, flow and surge. When spread too thin in the shallows, slow down.

Pool and puddle and pause, become a source for deep-rooted trees and lush stories, and for people and places that don't know they need you. Then reflect back that beauty for others to enjoy.

Run along, and when you are tired from running then flow. Unseen forces are moving you, even when you seem to be still.

Bear witness to joy, to stillness, bear witness to yourself. Go for a long run, and save your own life.

What is The Thing For Which You Struggle?

Honoring the Struggle that Requires Everything

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who died in the fight for our good and lasting freedoms. It’s for those who literally gave it their all, whose struggle required everything of them. Some of these knew they were going to die, and did it anyway. Some endured great pain, and did it anyway.

For the fearful, the pained, those knowingly going to die, the struggle was about more than themselves.

Remembering those who struggled and lost everything is important not just because freedom isn’t free. Remembering them and their struggle is essential because we all struggle and fight in life, some of us more than others, and the knowledge that this struggle might require everything of us is part of making it real and present for each of us.

But it’s also essential because the lesson of these victorious dead is to make that struggle count for something greater than simply removing pain or discomfort. Those who gave everything to make their time on this planet count for something greater can teach us valuable lessons about the best life, about struggling for something worth the struggle. That includes the struggle against war and violence.

That said, in my view Memorial Day isn’t about glorifying war or armed conflict. I believe that is too narrow a view.

Martin Luther King, Jr.Memorial Day is about courage in the face of violence and death (which requires being present), and about thinking beyond ourselves, to make our inevitable life struggles count for much more than ourselves and our immediate families. That struggle even unto death might be the struggle of a soldier. It is also the struggle and courage of the peaceful protester, the civil disobedient, the evangelist who continues to speak his truth. It is the struggle of the field nurse who brings broken soldiers back to health, time and again despite its apparent futility, to give back hope.

To me, Memorial Day is a day to decorate the graves of these people too. Because if all we valorize and decorate are the graves of those who died fighting in armed conflicts, I believe we are selling our humanity short. Courage is courage, both on and off the battlefield.

indignez vousHuman rights activist Stephane Hessel, who was a concentration camp survivor and a redactor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wrote in his tract Indignez Vous!

We must realize that violence turns its back on hope. We have to choose hope over violence—choose the hope of nonviolence. That is the path we must learn to follow. The oppressors no less than the oppressed have to negotiate to remove the oppression: that is what will eliminate terrorist violence. That is why we cannot let too much hate accumulate… To you who will create the twenty-first century, we say, from the bottom of our hearts, TO CREATE IS TO RESIST. TO RESIST IS TO CREATE.

Looking beyond war, behind the war machine to truly honor those who gave their lives courageously for the great gift of freedom we enjoy requires, in my view, understanding their struggle and courage in this context. And it demands that we also view Memorial Day as a day to honor those for whom the struggle and sacrifice was in the service of nonviolent protest, in the service of love and peace.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.

I believe that the more we honor and seek to emulate these struggles-in-the-face-of-death for something greater, the better our communities, cities, and country will be, and the better we ourselves will become.

The coupling of coincidence and choice

Frank Horvat There is no calculus.

The things that make our lives are so tenuous, so unlikely, that we barely come into being, barely meet the people we’re meant to love, barely find our way in the woods, barely survive catastrophe every day…Trace it far enough and this very moment in your life becomes a rare species, the result of a strange evolution, a butterfly that should already be extinct and survives by the inexplicabilities we call coincidence. The word is often used to mean the accidental but literally means to fall together. The pattern of our lives come from those things that do not drift apart but move together for a little while, like dancers. They come together in these moments that are the coupling of unseen forces, a generative warmth, a secret romance between the unknowns that are also our parents. — Rebecca Solnit

When I started my marathon journey blog, I wrote early on about an observation by Eric Meyer, whose young daughter had passed away. He remarked that after such catastrophes sometimes couples split up, but there is no formula or calculus to know which couples will make it and which won’t. “It isn’t strength that keeps a couple together in the face of crisis. It’s having the luck to remain compatible under the most extreme pressures,” he said. “Like any complex interaction between two complex systems, the outcome is fundamentally unpredictable.” It has to do with the series of moments of coincidence that make up the couple’s history and experience.

Not all the accidents in our lives that provide the things that fall together to make us are secret romances and warmth. Some of the accidents are catastrophes, misfortunes, and several are moments of decision, a moment to change everything and end a marriage, quit one’s job, or move across country. Those moments of decision are patterns and have a regularity, but they are also the results of all the things that barely happened to put us there, at that moment of decision. As Meyer and Solnit note, even these dramatic accidents are not alone sufficient to move a life in one way or another. There is always agency, always a series of moments of decision that give movement to those inexplicable coincidences.

During the process of my separation and divorce a supportive friend once told me her marriage was in shambles and she had been thinking of leaving for a long time, but either she didn’t have the courage or hadn’t yet arrived at the moment of decision to leave. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t arrived there yet, because she was truly miserable. But the inexplicabilities of her life’s coincidences had taken her to a place that was not her moment of decision. For couples who do split up, the series of accidents and whether and when they lead to a split or not are ultimately unpredictable; frequently friends remark with surprise because the couple in question was one they thought would always hold together.

There is often nothing grand or dramatic or even particularly clear about the arrival of that moment in a marriage; it most often doesn’t arrive with fanfare or drama. Sometimes it arrives because of the accidents of catastrophes and misfortunes and other dramatic moments, but whether or not such catastrophes lead to a moment of decision and what direction that decision takes are fundamentally unpredictable. Rather, they contribute to the coupling of unseen forces of things that did not drift apart, but moved together for a while until that moment of decision was taken up.

Like other incredible events, the exquisite candid and fashion photographs of Frank Horvat often came about because of a coupling of unseen forces, patterns of moments that suddenly coalesced and made manifest a particular moment in time. Horvat’s trick was to carry a camera at all times, so he could increase his chances of capturing such inexplicable coincidences. Building a writing practice or a new career or a new love are all a coupling of coincidence and choice, combined with a decision to carry that camera.

We Americans in particular have a love-hate relationship with the deus ex machina of the story. Like the ancient Greek critics, we prefer for events to unfold neatly based on the statistical evidence available and the finite list of players on the stage, but we also love the flair of the dramatic outlier, the hero of the story taking the momentus choice that pulls everything together because of his grand act of courage, pulling the baby from the burning building at the last moment. We love to point to the singular moment, the momentus decision. The combination of predictability and momentus choice lets us swing between predictability and heroism; I think we crave both the tragic and heroic story. Unfortunately, I think building a writing practice, career, or love is neither. Ultimately, building love or a writing practice or a new career are more like a series of inexplicabilities combined with a series of small moments of decision. That means heroic acts of determination increase the odds of success, and events provide the necessary but not sufficient coincidence, but the outcome is fundamentally out of our control. What remains for us is whether or not we carry the camera.

The next marathon

Marathons are like potato chips, someone said: you can't just do one. It's been true for me; since completing my first marathon last September my mind has been full of planning for my next, and my next after that. To that end, I've managed to successfully maintain a running base through the winter and am heading to Nashville this weekend for a half marathon, which is a stepping stone to my next full marathon (hopefully in June). But that's not the only marathon in my life.

My 500 WordsThe next big, scary marathon is building my writing practice. Writing is hard, exquisite, terrifying, thrilling for me. I love writing, it's an expansive space I can share and a straitjacket demanding precision and clarity. Most of all, it's a practice that requires building just as a marathon is building miles and having good runs and bad. So, just like I did when I began my marathon journey last year, I've decided to join a group to help develop that practice for myself, Jeff Goins' 500 Words 31 day practice challenge. This blog will be a place where I share my best ideas and writing, a chronicle of my next marathon and a challenge to myself to start where I am in my work and fall down and get up and work again. If you are working to build a practice as a writer, I invite you to check out Jeff's page and consider taking up the challenge yourself. If you do, let me know; I'd love to hear from you.

This is your path

This is your path. A coupla Sundays ago I joined the Fox Valley Marathon group on an 18 mile training run. It was an out-and-back run along the river trail, with a turn-around point in Aurora. Unfortunately, the turn-around point wasn’t marked, so several of us didn’t quite know when to turn around and head back. Through my own mis-calculation, I ended up going 1.5 miles(!) past the turn-around (oopsies), which added three miles to an already long training run. Ack.

pathAlong the way I saw:

  • A lot of really fit runners of all ages, shapes and sizes enjoying themselves and making an 18 mile run look like a stroll through the park.
  • My friend hobbling to a park bench with a broken foot after he stepped on a walnut at mile 8.
  • Several runners pass me with looks of dogged determination and laser-like focus.

Can you tell I was comparing myself? As much as we try not to do it, it’s easy to do, particularly in situations that are new, or when we lack confidence.

The lesson: it helps to remind myself of two things. First, that we are all one walnut shell away from being out for the season. Stuff happens. And second, preparing and focusing on my own situation (starting where I am) will serve me better than trying to figure out how the others make it look so easy.

“Run YOUR race. Focus on YOUR work. Don’t be tempted out of envy to attempt to morph into something you’re not.” – Todd Henry

This is your path, and that is his. Run your path.

Notice to Tramps: Labor Day and the homeless

Lazarus House, my charity running partner, was founded partly in response to proposed local ordinances that would make it illegal to feed a homeless person. Recently, we have seen a dramatic increase in number of such local laws, and it's troubling. It's important to speak against these wherever they occur; they don't address the issue of homelessness, they do nothing but force the homeless into hiding.

Lizzie HolmesIt's not the first time such a "solution" has been entertained in our suburban communities. Lizzie Swank Holmes, a labor organizer and writer who lived in Geneva, was writing about it back in 1886, right before she was arrested for agitating for workers' rights.

Lizzie Holmes and her colleague Lucy Parsons were witnesses at the Haymarket Riot trial in 1886; shortly after, Lucy's husband Albert Parsons was hanged for his involvement in the Haymarket Riot.

Lizzie co-produced and both Lizzie and Lucy wrote for The Alarm, a Chicago labor and anarchist newspaper, one of the papers at the forefront of the movement to adopt an eight hour work day. On April 24, 1886, Lizzie wrote a short piece, Notice to Tramps:

In a beautiful town, not far from Chicago, lives a large class of cultivated, well-informed people. They have Shakespeare, Lowell, Longfellow and Whittier at their tongues’ ends, and are posted in history and grow enthusiastic over the wickedness of the safely abolished institutions of the past. They say eloquent things about old fugitive slave laws, etc., which make it criminal to feed and shelter a starving human being if he were black. Posted at the roadside, in the hotels and stores, is a ‘Notice to Tramps,’ an abominable document which compares well with the old notices to runaway negroes which used to deface similar buildings. It is against the law to feed a tramp. You are liable to a fine if you give a cup of coffee and a piece of bread to a fellow-man who needs it and asks you for it. This is a Christian community, under the flag of the free. Look out, you wretched slaves. If, after toiling through your best years, you are suddenly thrown out of a job along with thousands of others, do not start out to hunt for work, for you will strike plenty of such towns as this. You must not walk from town to town. You must not stay where you are in idleness - you must move on. You must not ride - you have no money, and those tracks and cars you helped to build are not for such as you. You must not ask for anything to eat, or a place to sleep. You must not lie down and die, for then you would shock peoples’ morals. What are you to do? Great heavens! Jump into the lake? Fly up into the air? Or stay - have you a match about you?

We must not let history repeat itself. People who work for a living should be able to make enough to eat and house themselves. Feeding the homeless must not be criminalized. Our hard fought social safety nets must be preserved.

Our community's proud history includes stops on the Underground Railroad as well as abolitionist and labor organizers. Lizzie and Lucy saw that fair labor laws were the foundation to a just society, one that supports the basic rights and dignity of every person in our community.

As we enjoy our Labor Day rest, we must remember that this rest was hard fought and hard won, and only came because locals like Lizzie Swank Holmes spoke up.

A certain darkness

If I've learned anything in nearly 12 years of dragging heavy things around cold places it's that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge, from stepping away from what's comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. - Ben Saunders, Arctic explorer

a certain darknessFailing, and failing, and failing. And getting up.

When things are terrible, messy, painful, it's not much comfort to know that growth comes from adversity.

Even knowing this truth intellectually, even when you really know it's true, it still stinks. Last Saturday I ran 16 miles, and it was not a good run. It was hard. I was very tired, hadn't been sleeping well and had been under a lot of stress the prior week. Couldn't prepare as well as I usually do for a long run. I knew it was going to be tough.

I also knew that marathon training is about "learning how to run when you're tired", a marathon coach once said. How many other things in life can be about that? Probably quite a few.

"Our failures make us vulnerable to transformation in a way the good we do cannot," says Sr. Maryann Mueller, Justice and Peace Coordinator for the Felician Sisters of North America.

So the purpose of long, long training runs, the ones I'm doing on these last weekends before the race, is to build capacity. But it's also to fail. To get to the difficult place. To be tired, and keep going. Walk for a while, stop if you need to. Then start again. Run some more.

But there are stars there, in that darkness. Sometimes when things are difficult, you see them better.

Someone gave me part of their pb&j sandwich. Someone else gave me some of their water. Several someones high-fived me near the end and encouraged me. I didn't know any of these people, they were just other runners, stopping and starting over and over again themselves. I appreciated those simple kindnesses so much. They reminded people can be pretty awesome.

That's why the corollary to "a certain darkness is needed to see the stars" is compassion. When things are difficult for you, if you can gather the strength to give someone some of your water, or can appreciate and receive that gift, it becomes easier to start again. We find hope in each other's small acts.

 

 

 

Living generously

Dr. Kelly Flanagan wrote a beautiful piece recently about what the experience of acceptance, grace, generosity does for us:

This is the brilliance of grace: it welcomes our darkness into the light and does nothing to it, knowing that it doesn’t have to, because darkness thrives on hiddenness, and it’s at the mercy of the light. Light drives out darkness, not the other way around.

When we no longer have to push our darkness back down beneath layers of shame our darkness doesn’t stand a chance.

What about the other side of that equation? What does it mean to be the person providing that acceptance and generosity?

Individually, we have to nurture generosity in ourselves.

loveI believe the drive to live generously lives in most people. We want to be the gracious host, the good friend, the pocket of grace in a condemning world.

It takes work; even people we love, know, and trust can be brutal, crabby, just plain difficult, never mind extending generosity to the stranger, the person outside our tribe, the one from somewhere else who has nothing to offer us and no relations with us to oblige our indulgence.

Taking care of ourselves, rest, exercise, connecting with people who treat us well and care for us, and taking time daily to be with and experience what moves and inspires us creates a space in ourselves that allows us to live with generosity.

Collectively, we can create pockets of grace too.

There are so many examples of communities and organizations countering the trend towards criminalizing homelessness. It's important to recognize them too. I was struck recently by a story about RainCity Housing, a Vancouver nonprofit, worked with an ad agency to create benches that double as emergency shelter for "rough sleepers", with advertising that provides information on the shelter.

Another law attempting to criminalize homelessness, this one a Los Angeles ban on people sleeping in cars, has been struck down by a federal appeals court on the grounds it would open the door to discriminatory treatment against the poor.

Dr. Flanagan said

I can tell you now, grace isn’t just acceptance of the status quo. Grace contains the status quo—all of our struggle and pain and mess—and embraces us and values us anyway. Grace demands that nothing be changed for love and connection to happen, and that kind of love has power.

The power to accept people where they are, especially when it's outside our cultural comfort zone, is a power we can wield to help them begin again. Amazing stuff.

The importance of test runs. Plus, the shirt.

10 mile marathon course "test run" yesterday. Which went really well! Except for one thing, which reminded me why test runs are important.

Ah, the new shoes. Love them! Purple, sparkly, and unfortunately left a blood blister on my right foot. Which is why new shoes should be broken in gradually (I knew that), and why test runs are important.

This applies to everything we do, whether you're doing a job interview, managing a big project, swatching with your knitting before doing that big project, or running a long race. Give yourself some test runs! Here are some other reasons:

  • They build confidence. Every performer knows that the only way to get a handle on nervousness (or sheer terror) associated with doing something new, important, or in front of a whole lotta people is to do it. This applies to everything we do: the more you practice (especially if you can do it in a lower-stakes setting, like a practice run), the more confident you will feel on the big day.
  • They orient you. Getting a lay of the land before-hand, how the course will run, gives you one less distraction.
  • Gives you time to fail. And fail. And begin again. Shorter runs, practice sessions, smaller-stakes projects are lower-cost opportunities to fail, be stupid (whether from poor planning or, um, new shoes). “If you can remove all fears and go one step at a time, you will find things that will guide you along the way,” said Tobias van Schneider, product designer for Spotify. “You will learn new things, absorb new information, meet people, get feedback, see demand in different areas — new doors will open up for you.”

Test runs are a gift you give yourself.

Run with me!

Also, officially unveiling the race shirt! You know, the one I'll put your name (or your company's logo) on if you donate to Lazarus House on my fundraising page:

Lonely race shirt needs your signature!

I'll be adding the name of my blog and the LH logo to my shirt shortly, but there's plenty of room for your name! What are you waiting for?

Shout-out  to my first two donors, Blaine Richards and Kristi Loar! Thank you for your generous support of Lazarus House, and for running with me in September!