Finding Home (Part Two)

gardenofthegods

By the middle of 2011, my job had become a barred cage. A narcissistic, child-like woman was promoted and had been my boss for about a year. She led people by fear and on the waves of her ever-changing emotions. It was similar to being supervised by a 3-year-old child who needed a nap. If she was having a bad day, then she made sure her employees were having a bad day. If she was in a great mood, then she invited her employees to laugh and joke with her. At one point, we lost close to 20 employees in a month because working for this boss was like being in an abusive relationship. Employees had to walk on tip toes hoping not to step the wrong way in fear of sending the boss into a spiral of anger and abuse. At least half of the employees spent their work days looking for other jobs in hopes of escaping.

It was during this time I planned a week-long birthday vacation. I decided to go to Oregon. I stayed in Portland, and I was going to run a 4th of July half-marathon at Sauvie Island. ( I am in the process of running a half-marathon in every state, and I randomly decided Oregon should be next). When July rolled around, I needed a break from my work, from Tennessee, and the everyday monotony of my life.

While in Oregon, I went to a Blues festival and watched fireworks over the river, I went to local bars and restaurants, I ran my race at Sauvie Island, I went to the coast and played on the beach, I went on hikes and runs, and I did anything else that caught my attention like visiting the vibrant Rose Garden. The summer weather was perfect. It lacked the suffocating heat and humidity of Tennessee. The sun shined every day and the sunlight didn’t fade from the sky until after 10 p.m.

I loved how open Portland and the people were and how beautiful and natural everything was. People were allowed to be exactly who they were. I breathed in the authenticity in the air. I began to shed my own deceitful layers. I rediscovered myself in this city. I had come home to myself. It was as if I had been planted among the rose bushes and stumbled upon myself blooming.

When I went to the coast, Oregon officially had me in her grasp. I love the water, and I especially love the ocean. The closest I had ever lived to the ocean was 8 hours, but I was always drawn to go back to the ocean every year; it was one place I had to go. So to be on the coast, frolicking in frigid waves with rocky shorelines made me realize I didn’t just need to visit the ocean every year, I needed to live close to it. The waves whispered to me, and other times they were screaming, rushing faster towards the shore yelling for me to no longer ignore them and stay. Stay in this magical place. I listened intently. The language they spoke was inviting, it made sense to my confused mind, and it felt right. While I was enjoying the beach, I found my first sand dollar. It was an offering from the ocean herself. An invitation to stay and enjoy all the gifts she had to offer.

On the last day of my trip, I sat high on a hill overlooking Portland. I felt an ache inside. I didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t a typical “oh my vacation is over, and it is time to go back to reality” feeling. It was a deep pain, and I cried. I felt like I was being torn away from the one thing that ever understood me.

While it was still another 5 years before I moved to Oregon, I now had focus. I knew where I was going. I just had no idea the path I was going to be led down to get there.

Over the next 3 years, I did leave my abusive job and embarked on a new career. I lost both of my parents to cancer, and I also fell in love. When my parents passed away, there was nothing tethering me to Tennessee anymore. I had no responsibilities, I was financially secure, and all I saw was the open road. I even told the man I was dating that I was leaving Tennessee as soon as my parents’ house and my house sold. Both of the houses sold within a month of being on the market. I told the man I was with that I was getting out of Tennessee; he was welcome to come with me or stay behind, but I thought he should know because that may affect our relationship. He decided he wanted to move as well.

When the time came to discuss where it was we were moving to, there wasn’t much agreement. I automatically vetoed living in the South. He vetoed the North and the New England area. So we were left with the West. He absolutely refused Oregon. I was disappointed, but I was in love with him and I was just so happy to be getting out of Tennessee. I told him I enjoyed Utah as well, but he seemed to have his mind set on Colorado. Colorado seemed like a pretty amazing place, but I didn’t realize at the time that another “home” was being chosen for me.

Once we settled on moving to Colorado, we had to choose a city. I really was wanting to move to Boulder because I thought the vibe of the city would fit me, but I let my significant other choose Colorado Springs, and so it had been decided.

I moved out to Colorado first, a month before my boyfriend, and got everything set up and settled. I started to feel relief, and I was able to take deeper breaths. I felt the shackles Tennessee had me bound in fall away. Our apartment had views of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods. The mountains rose up towards the sky; their peaks reaching their jagged fingertips towards the sun. Nature and the outdoors were all around and so easy to access. I had whole trails to myself to run and hike on. There was a great running community and many races to run throughout the state. The weather was my favorite because there were four clear and separate seasons, and I loved being back around snow again. I found a beautiful yoga community, and I started to discover the things I really loved.

But even after being grateful for leaving Tennessee and loving the beauty of Colorado, within 6 months I felt a pang. Oregon was still calling out to me. Her voice was quiet and low, but her whisper spoke to the ears of my heart. I was committed though. I was committed to my boyfriend and to the move I decided to make to Colorado.

As months passed, I was my boyfriend’s insignificant other. He made decisions that suited his needs, we were more like roommates than loving, intimate partners, and I felt awkward and strange in my own home. I was in constant discomfort and neglect. There is nothing lonelier than being alone in a relationship. I could no longer stay where I never belonged in the first place.

Without a fulfilling relationship with my boyfriend or Colorado, I had a decision to make.

Finding Home (Part One)

illinois house  (The house on Clarence Avenue in Berwyn, Illinois)

I didn’t find it until I was 32 years old, but I was 37 years old before I could officially call it my own.

I used to underestimate the idea of home, and never understood its true power.  When I was younger, I didn’t have a choice in where I called home. It was chosen for me by my parents. After my four sets of great-grandparents left Europe, they all eventually settled right outside of Chicago, Illinois, except for one set, my dad’s mother’s parents, who decided on Southern Tennessee. Eventually my dad’s mom met my grandpa, and they moved to Illinois as well, and my grandma left her parents behind in Southern Tennessee. At that point, all my relatives were gathered around Chicago like a winter fire.

The first place I remember as home was an apartment in Berwyn, Illinois. When I was 5 years old, my parents bought our first house on Clarence Avenue in Berwyn. This was the house I grew up in until my parents decided to move when I was 14.

Illinois was the place where I learned about independence. When I was 9 years old, at the start of 4th grade, I no longer had to go to daycare after school or my Grandma Busha’s house for the summer. My parents decided I could start staying home by myself. My school was only two blocks from my house, so it was a quick 5 minute walk. After school I always had some sporting practice or game. I played softball, basketball, and was a cheerleader.

My parents were normally gone for 12 hours a day leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. and returning home again at 6 p.m. I had time to have adventures, play sports, read and write. One of my favorite pastimes was creating song lyrics about my cat Rocky and my dog Lady, singing them into a microphone and recording them on a cassette tape. It was these moments of getting myself to school and home from school, and having free reign to do whatever I wanted when my parents weren’t around that gave me the confidence as an adult to go out on my own. I was also an only child who had a lot of time to myself, so I always enjoyed my own company and doing things on my own.

In the summers, as soon as my parents left for work, I did my chores around the house and ate breakfast, which was normally something along the lines of Cocoa Pebbles, then I would ride my bike to the baseball field at St. Mary of Celle. The kids from the neighborhood and my Little League team would meet and play baseball. We would also meet at Lincoln Junior High School and play basketball on the outdoor courts and 16 inch softball in the open lot next to the school. Some days we mixed it up and went to the Maple Pool to go swimming. Other days we just rode our bikes all over the town.

At that point when I was younger, Illinois fit me perfectly. It was all I had ever known.

The summer before I was starting high school my parents informed me we were moving to Tennessee. Both of my parents wanted a change of pace from the hectic city life of living right outside Chicago. Two years earlier my dad’s parents permanently moved to Tennessee. They had a summer house there, but decided to move full-time once they both retired. My dad thought it sounded like a great idea as well. He would have access to fishing full-time, the drive home from work would be 20 minutes not hours, and nature would be more abundant and accessible.

I see the appeal of the slower-paced life now that I am not 14 years old. Even so, in the 22 years I lived there, Tennessee never felt like home. My parents moved to a small town in Southern Tennessee. The high school started in 10th grade, and there were two junior highs that housed the 7th, 8th and 9th graders. I was greeted at my new junior high school with white students who wanted to stage a walk-out because there were black students at the school. I was also greeted by “mean girls” who hung out in packs, and they seemed to hunt that way.

I will say I learned the most important lesson of my life in Tennessee. When I was 14 years old, I was jolted out of being self-absorbed. I guess I was like a typical wounded teenage girl. I sauntered around like I was special, I caused drama, and I didn’t necessarily care if I hurt people. When I moved to Tennessee and I was the new girl, there was no room for this attitude. I went from being a popular girl and a great athlete to being nothing. Mixed with the un-hospitality I received from the mean girl welcoming committee, I crumbled. But from this crumbling, it triggered empathy. I started to see people outside of myself and how they were affected by me and their surroundings. I realized that everyone wanted to be loved and accepted, and everyone wanted to feel special. It was the single most important lesson I have learned to date.

When I did get to high school, it was better, but I still couldn’t wait to get out of the small town. In Illinois, I had the option of being able to ride my bike, take the bus or walk to wherever I wanted to. I had easy access to friends and physical and mental stimulation. In Tennessee, everything and everyone was so far apart it made it impossible to do anything productive. The kids who had cars sat in parking lots and just drove around on rural roads listening to music.

Maybe my issue with high school had more to do with the fact that it was high school than the town it was in, but high school was my least favorite time of life. One positive was I knew there was more to life than what was in the walls of the school. I couldn’t wait to get to college. I knew I could find like-minded people, and break free from the oppressive town I was living in. Even dating wasn’t fun. I had nothing in common with the high school boys, especially high school boys who never saw a life past the boundaries of the county.

Of course I made friends in high school. But it is a strange to not feel like you ever belong. To feel alone even when you are surrounded by people. To feel even more alone because you are surrounded by people who just don’t understand you.

During senior year, I started requesting information from colleges in Louisiana, Maine, Florida, and North Carolina. When the pamphlets arrived, my dad guilted me into staying in Tennessee for school. He wasn’t ready for me to leave the state and he employed every tactic he could to keep me within the Tennessee borders. This may be the worst reason to ever attend a school, but I chose my university based on the fact that no one from my graduating class was going there, and it was 2 hours from where my parents lived. I figured it was far enough away to be able to breathe, but close enough to go home if I wanted to.

College was everything I had hoped and wanted it to be. The professors expanded my mind, the students were diverse, the freedom was palpable, and I was revived. To this day, some of my best memories happened while I was in college. But college still was just a distraction from the bigger issue: I didn’t belong in Tennessee. Yet, I still tried to force it to be my forever home. After I graduated college with my Master’s degree, I started living and working in Nashville, TN. I saved money, and I was able to start traveling more frequently.

One of my first joint trips with my mom was to Charleston, SC, and it was eye opening. I loved the vibe of Charleston. I loved that it was on the coast as well. One thing I discovered about myself was I loved the ocean. My mom actually talked to locals with me, and I was heavily leaning towards getting out of Tennessee. But, I got an interview for my first “adult” career as soon as we returned from our trip, and I ended up getting the job. Within the few first months of working, I decided to buy a house. In 2006, I moved to Springfield, TN in a corner lot house. Looking back, I think I felt Tennessee could feel like home if I had an actual home to call my own.

Over the next 5 years, I fell into a routine. I went to work, and I did my job to the best of my ability. I would go out with friends, and I had a few boyfriends and dated some. I played sports in an adult sports league, and I ran and traveled to other states to run races. I had my house: my supposed home.

But in 2011, I could no longer forget that I never belonged in Tennessee.

The Visitation

baby dragon

In September and October of this year, I went through a 4-week 200 hour yoga teacher training (YTT). Every week we focused on a different type of yoga. Week one was hatha, week two was vinyasa, week three was yin, and week four was restorative. I had no expectations for this training, but I was also ready for whatever might happen. I had heard stories of other yogi’s reactions and experiences while going through YTT, so I was prepared as much I could be.

Through the first two weeks of the training, I was coursing with energy. I felt like I was plugged into a socket, and I had an unlimited electrical current. When one practice yoga daily, I learned that it was not uncommon for the chakras to open, and the channels to clear to allow energy to flow freely. In the past, I had practiced yoga one to three times a week. During this training, we practiced six to seven times a week. Apparently, I had tapped into a continuous energy source.

It was during the third week I had a powerful and emotional experience. It was during this week, my energy changed. Yin yoga, or really any yoga for that matter, can bring about emotions. I think especially in Yin yoga because the purpose is to hold poses for an extended period of time. When we hold poses, it can help unlock trapped emotions. While I “emotionally” skated by in the first two weeks, feeling a positive emotional charge, it quickly changed in week three.

When week three began, I was looking forward to it because my body was tired of the more intense physical yoga, but I got more than I was expecting. From the very first pose in Yin yoga, I found myself getting angry especially in poses like reclined butterfly, baby dragon, twisted dragon, fire-breathing dragon, frog and sleeping swan. I noticed I was the angriest when I had sensations in my hip flexors and groin. Luckily I knew emotions might arise, but it was still alarming to feel anger taking over for no apparent reason.

When I do feel anger, I know it is not a primary emotion. There is always another emotion trailing behind it that wants attention. I just have to be willing to converse with the feelings, let them surface and uncover themselves from their hiding places, and speak.

On one particular day, I felt more frustrated than usual. As I was holding the yin postures, I felt as if I had no choice. In yin postures, we are supposed to sit with the sensations we feel, as long as it isn’t painful, and just notice what is going on. As I was in dangling pose, also known as uttanasana, I felt anger crawling up through my spine and belly and making its way towards my throat. I felt mad because I didn’t want to feel the sensations that day; I didn’t want to hold the poses for 5 minutes. But I eventually backed off of the pose. While I was hanging, I rested my hands on blocks instead. Suddenly, I felt less angry and more like I had a choice. Once my body realized that, it actually started to open more.

As we moved through the yin yoga practice, anger kept popping up, and I continued to make the choice to sit with it. In one particular pose, baby dragon, I started to struggle. As I felt all the tingly and uncomfortable sensations in my hips and groin, the anger ignited like a fueled fire. As my anger peaked, I started to cry. It can be quite maddening to experience emotions with no apparent cause why. I was also battling with the fact that I was crying in front of other people. I have no issue with crying, as I find it to be a good release, but normally I am in the safety of my house and not in front of strangers. In spite of my reservations, I didn’t want to deny this release, these emotions, so I allowed it to happen.

As my tears fell, I started to feel my mom’s presence. My mom passed away in December 2014, and there have been moments where I felt like she was around especially right after she passed away. It was usually through dreams or symbols like songs on the radio, double rainbows, and birds and their behaviors. But over the last two years, there has been a drought. I have felt alone left wondering if I had disappointed my mom or if she had just simply moved on.

As suddenly as my anger appeared, so did my mom’s love. My tears turned to joy and sadness. As I held the pose, the feeling of my mom’s love intensified. I was in a cocoon of security and comfort like being in her womb. It energetically felt as if my mom had her arm wrapped around my shoulder. I hadn’t felt a reciprocated bond in years and certainly not like these feelings I was having.

My tears continued to fall taking my anger with it. I felt wrapped in love. We moved through our practice and more postures. My tears continued to fall because I missed my mom so much. My mom was there; her spirit was tangible, or at least her love was. As we settled into one of our final poses, reclined butterfly pose, I felt my mom again. I felt the actual weight of her love like an invisible blanket had been draped across me. I was able to feel, receive and accept her love.

There are so many times I just want to share my life with my mom. I miss talking with her daily. I want to hear how her day went and what she experienced. I miss having the one person who knew me in a way no one else could; the woman who gave me life. I will never share a similar bond with anyone else. What I am left with are saved voicemails from her, photographs that just keep getting older and a peace lily plant from her memorial.

To have this momentary connection of my mom being present again reminded me of our bond: the love of two souls who agreed to be a part of each other’s lives through birth, life, death and rebirth.

Solitary Confinement

wild thing

I am almost halfway through a 4-week yoga teacher training. Today my assignment is to disconnect from the world. I am supposed to try to not talk, I am not supposed to use my phone for any purpose, I should not use the internet or watch any television, and I am supposed to avoid any distractions that take me away from my “self.” I have decided throughout this day to blog about my experience because I am allowed to write, journal and read if it helps me to connect to my “self.”

I have no idea what to expect from this experience. I am not someone who shies away from alone time. I spend a lot of time in nature; I love to run, do yoga, write and journal, and I enjoy reading. But I already have this feeling of, “What do I do with myself?” I am one hour into my silence, and I have been home for 30 minutes. I already feel like I have so much time. Since I have been home, I have washed a load of laundry, I folded a load of laundry, I took my dog out to use the bathroom, I made breakfast, and I am working on this blog. My day feels like an expansive canyon that continues to spread out. I am able to imagine all sorts of possibilities and options.

I want to run on a new trail I discovered. I want to take my dog for a walk. I want to write. I want to play on a new disc golf course by my house. I want to continue working on a puzzle I am in the middle of. I want to meditate and practice my yoga postures. I want to take a nap…But I realize part of this assignment is just to be. To be an actual human “being”, not just doing. But the things I truly enjoy doing connect me to my authentic self. I am not just trying to fill my day with meaningless actions.

I think some of the problems we experience here in the States are filling our time with things that don’t matter. We just try to fill “dead” space. So we zone out on the television. We spend hours down a Youtube rabbit hole. We will be on social media for hours on end. Then we find ourselves more disconnected from ourselves, and we wonder where the time has went. Another problem we run in to is zoning out on the things we have to do. We take ourselves out of moments like when we shower, when we cook, when we walk our dog, when we do laundry and so on. We let our minds drift while we do these tasks, and we just give moments away; we just give our treasured life away by not being present. So my main focus is to do what ignites my inner flame. To do the things that take me home within myself.

I also want to allow even more time for self-reflection. I am two weeks into my training, and I am realizing and able to see how much I have grown and learned over the years. Since this training began, I feel bad ass. I feel secure; I feel powerful and beautiful. There have been some obstacles, but I feel deeply rooted in my “self.” I trust myself, I trust my feelings, and I trust the things I know. I have not wavered. This isn’t in a “I know better than everyone else” or “I am always right” sort of way. This is in a “I know who I am, what my boundaries are, and what I expect out of myself and other people” sort of way. It is a strong feeling of self. Of feeling cemented in who I am.

***

I have now been in silence for 6 hours. I took a 90 minute nap which was refreshing. I also walked my dog through our downtown area. I actually felt like a voyeur. I was peering into this world, the people moving about, and the cars driving by, yet I felt separate from it all. Besides walking through the streets and past other people, I had no tether to my surroundings. I just felt like an observer.

I also ran the trail I found by my house. I have driven past this trail for almost two years, and I just started to notice it a year ago. This seemed like a great time to actually run it, and I love trying new running routes. I love the surprise of not knowing what is coming around each turn, what I will see, and what the terrain will be like. This run turned out to be quite fitting for my current circumstance. I didn’t see any other people on the trail. The trail followed the river, and it followed the outskirts of town. While I was on this run, I was once again a voyeur. I watched the cars driving over the bridge unaware that I was spying on them. I saw my town from a distance seeing it from a whole new angle. I was really able to see each individual house that was built into the hills of the city. I was also on the side of the river I had never been on. There were herons wading. Several times they flew ahead of me leading me along the path. A hummingbird zipped by stopping at a flower. The grass has been freshly cut and it awoke my sense of smell.

The trail ended up being 2 miles long, so I ran an out and back which made it 4 miles. I ended up in a moving meditation as well. I really connected to myself and my surroundings. I took turns focusing on my different senses as I ran. I listened to the sounds around me: car engines, plane engines, and bird calls. I felt the sensations in my body: my leg muscles tightening as I pushed off the ground, my arms pumping to the rhythm of my feet, the last of the summer breeze blowing through, and the air flowing in and out of my lungs. I focused on my sense of smell as well, but the freshly cut grass was so powerful it just dominated. I looked around me and devoured the sights: the shallow river with wading birds, the uneven trail with banana slugs and their slime sticking to the blades of grass, the green trees comprised of individual, unique leaves, and the mountains sitting in the skyline.

***

My evening is starting to wind down. I have some studying to do, and a meditation and breath work to do. But it has been helpful to write about my feelings and experiences as they happen. It is helping me deeply connect with the moment I am in. Writing this blog is bringing up a new perspective as well. This feels like my one link to the outside world. I have no contact with my loved ones. I have no real contact with the outside world. It is just my dog and I in this clear bubble, and I am not even conversing with my dog. But writing out my experiences knowing I plan on sharing them with others gives me a strange feeling of connection. It is like a spider web; I am the circular center and the filament branches outward connecting me to others.

I think we are also used to sharing  ourselves, our lives and our experiences with others. We either physically share moments with people, we talk, write or text our experiences to others, and then there is even social media where we can share our daily lives. Today has been interesting because at this moment, no one actually knows what I am going through or what I have done. But in this solitude, I have felt that invisible thread that ties every last one of us together.

Fear. Sea. Surf. (Part II continued from 8/2/17).

girlssurf2It was July 8th, 2017. We walked down the long, gently sloping path. The trees were decorated with moss ornaments that hung like flowing hair. As the trail dipped through the shade of the trees, the path eventually spat us out into an open area on a short cliff that overlooked the beach. The blue of the sky met the blue of the ocean in an embrace. I watched the waves curl over like a baby’s hand griping his mom’s finger.

The ocean always soothed my senses like the briny air, the tumbling waves, the water reflecting the sun’s light but that day was a little different. I was taking my first surfing lesson and fear played through me like a needle stuck on a record.

I was with a group of all women and three women instructors. The day began with getting our surfboards for the weekend. These surfboards were like foam icebergs; they were huge, thick and unsinkable. My board was 9’2”, and it was 4 inches thick and 2 feet wide. It was just as much of a workout to carry the board to the beach as it was to surf. We also learned about the intricacies of the beach like rip currents, and the best conditions to surf in like wind direction, tide times, swell intervals, and wave heights.

The lesson then continued on the sand. The next challenge was getting into our 5mm wetsuit. The ocean on the Oregon Coast hangs out at about 58 degrees and wearing a full wetsuit is pretty much a requirement. Everyone always wore boots, but the gloves and hood were optional, which I did opt out of. The suits were skin tight, and it was like trying to put on and wear one big suction cup. Once we were suited up, we practiced sand surfing.

We worked on our form for paddling out to the waves; we balanced in the center of our boards scooping the sand back with cupped hands. We pushed into plank pose when imaginary waves were coming while we were paddling out. We churned our legs like a hand mixer practicing turning the board around in the water while sitting on it and waiting for the right wave. When we saw the imaginary wave we wanted, we slipped onto our stomachs and slid back on the board until our toes touched the edge of the board, and we started paddling hard to catch the wave. The final step was pushing up into an almost upward facing dog or a push-up with the knees down, then “popping up” to standing to surf the wave. I was considered a regular which means my left foot was out in front and my right foot was in back. It is called goofy if a surfer puts her right foot out in front and the left foot is behind. My body pointed towards the right side of the board. My shoulder was supposed to point in the direction I wanted to go and both feet were parallel on the board just a little more than hip distance apart. On the sand, this seemed logical and simple enough. Until it was time to apply the lessons in the water.

I remember walking towards the water as the panic began to ring louder, yet I just kept walking. The waves began to move higher up my legs slowly reaching towards my chest. The power of the ocean shoved me back as I continued to push forward.

I practiced sliding up on my board and paddling and pushing up on my board through the waves. Prior to this moment, I normally hung out in waist deep water. Now I was in a full 5 mm wetsuit, on a surfboard, paddling farther and farther from shore as the waves continually crashed into me and my board.

I have to admit my first day surfing I was not really brave. I had never participated in any water sports before. In fact, I had never participated in any snow sports either like snowboarding or skiing. This really was a brand new experience, and I had nothing to reference. To begin, we rode on the white water. After a green wave breaks it turns into white rolling water that pushes towards the shore. That is what we began learning on. There were three other women in my group and one instructor. Our instructor stood in the water and gave tips and advice. She took turns helping each of us pick waves and telling us when we should paddle.

I will admit as I sat on my board my fears tried to creep in like a wild cat stalking its prey. I was concerned about my lack of experience in the water.  I was nervous about being in the wide-open ocean; there were rip currents, not to mention the waves. I also kept waiting for a fin to break the surface at any moment. But I didn’t budge. I didn’t let my fears chase me from this experience.

The first wave I caught I didn’t even try to stand up. The wave felt like it was moving so fast; it took me by surprise. It was like being on a roller coaster that was rushing down the tracks, and all I had to cling to was my board. Even though I didn’t even attempt to stand up, the thrill was just as strong. I felt my lips turning into a smile. A laugh escaped from my mouth. My heart was fluttering. I may even have squealed as the board started to reach the shore. When my surfboard stopped, I couldn’t wait to get back out to the instructor and try again.

As I was waited for my second turn, I was sitting on my board facing the shore. The waves moved under me as I stared at the tree-covered, rocky cliffs, the chunks of driftwood, and the seagulls floating and riding on the wind. The beauty of the landscape was powerful, and it began to ease my fears. A calm settled over me; I had inhaled the peace of nature.

I am not sure what I thought about surfing prior to this day. I knew surfers were toned, skilled and seemingly fearless, but I had no idea how tough and tiring surfing really was. On my first day of surfing, and I don’t even know if I can call what I did surfing, I rode the surfboard in on my stomach and sometimes on all fours, and I never stood up. I made it one hour, and I rode in about 8 waves before my body felt drained.

My initial feeling was disappointment, but I was overwhelmingly proud as well. I never thought I would push my limits like that. I realized how much fear and anxiety tried to live my life for me at times. The more I caved in to the fear, the louder it got. I realized I didn’t want to hear the voice of fear anymore. I didn’t want to hold myself back.

As I was driving home, I began to cry. It was like a pop-up rain shower that took me by surprise. I cried because I felt free. I cried because I didn’t let fear win. I cried because I unlocked a hidden treasure within myself. I honestly felt like I could face anything. My tears were symbolic of an awakening.

The next morning was the second and final day of our lesson. I wasn’t sure what I would be capable of because I was sore; my hands were like 50 pound kettlebells weighing my arms down. However, today I was determined. As I drove to the beach, I vowed to turn my disappointment from the previous day into satisfaction. I told myself I was going to stand up or at least attempt to stand up on the surfboard.

That morning we changed instructors as well, so we could learn from someone different. My new instructor, Dani, and I had a great connection. The first question she asked me was, “What would you like to accomplish today?” Instantly I replied, “To stand up.” She smiled and nodded.

As we were waiting for a wave, Dani was pumping me up. She told me to repeat this mantra in my head, “I will stand up. I will stand up.” I had that in my mind as I caught my first wave, but I made it to my knees and rode the wave like I was a dog. When I paddled back out, Dani assured me it was okay. She encouraged me and told me to repeat my mantra again and just commit to standing up.

Dani and I picked out another wave together. She said, “That wave is yours!” as she pointed to a wave forming in the near distance. I quickly went from sitting on my board feet dangling in the water to slipping onto my stomach. I scooted back until my feet were at the edge of my board. Dani shouted, “Paddle!” I started digging my hands into the ocean pushing the cold water back as I repeated in my head, “I will stand up. I will stand up. I will stand up.” I felt the wave lift the back of my board up which was the sign it was time to stand up. I began to push up on the board with my arms, and I slowly popped up and brought my left foot forward on the board. I couldn’t believe it. My body finally followed suit on what my mind had been telling it to do. I only made it a few seconds standing up on the board before I “starfished” off. But for that fleeting moment, I was in sync and in perfect harmony with Mother Nature. It opened my eyes to a new level of being alive.

Natural Selection

picTrue intimacy requires vulnerability. It requires standing in your truth. It requires you to accept and reveal yourself as you truly are. This can’t be one-sided either; both sides must be willing to be open. Sometimes I have failed at this; other times I have been the one who was let down. I often feel misunderstood as I grasp at vulnerability with slippery fingers. But one relationship that has grown deep like roots has been my intimate relationship with nature.

My earliest recollection of connecting with nature, in a conscious way, was when I was 12 years old. I lived in Berwyn, Illinois and it was summertime. After my parents left for work, I rode my silver and orange Dyno bike to the local baseball field where I played Little League. I stopped my bike at the edge of the chain linked fence and walked onto the field. I slipped my shoes off and walked through the slightly overgrown grass as the blades tickled my ankles. It was warm, and my sweat beaded on my forehead below my baseball cap. The sky was as blue as the petals of a gentian. Butterflies dipped up and down like they were on an invisible roller coaster and crows cawed from the top of the metal fence. I decided to lay down right in the middle of center field, and I tucked my hands behind my head to make a pillow. I just stared up at the sky and the white cotton clouds; I let the sun take my face in her hands. I am unsure of how long I stared at the clouds, but I watched them gently move across the sky changing shapes.

When I was younger, I didn’t really seek out nature. I knew it was all around me, but we were more like acquaintances. Then my dad and I started to fish together when I was in high school, until he passed away in June 2014. My dad had a bass boat and had been a fisherman most of his life. We would wake up when the morning skies were dark. As we got to the boat ramp, the sun started to peer above the water line. My dad always found solace at the lake. He wasn’t a church going man, but he said his church was the lake. Those were the times he felt closest to God.

It was on the lake when nature started to come alive for me. I would watch herons stand stiff like stones waiting for unsuspecting fish to swim by. I saw ducks paddling by with their newly hatched ducklings trailing behind in a line. I saw the array of personalities the lake had as well. Some days the lake was smooth and green like a glass bottle. Other days the lake swelled creating whitecaps that violently rocked the boat. I also was able to watch the day unfold before me. In the springtime, my dad and I could easily fish for 12 hours. I watched the sun make its full rotation through the sky. Every second the sunlight changed the landscape around me. I began to long for the early morning fishing expeditions. I needed the wind to rip by as we sped across the lake to each of our secret fishing spots. I needed the sunshine on my skin as much as I needed the rainstorms. I needed that feeling of peace as my dad and I silently sat on opposite ends of the boat continuously casting waiting for a bite.

It was after my fishing experiences that I started to become an outdoors woman. It was then I started my relationship with nature. My time off of work was filled with hiking. I discovered my love of kayaking, running, and the ocean. I took my first big trip out of the country in 2008, and I spent 2 weeks in the south island of New Zealand. I did daily hikes, I snorkeled, I kayaked across the Marlborough Sound, and as I stood upon a mountain top I heard a thunderous avalanche on a neighboring mountain. I remember when I told people about my trip they said, “That isn’t a vacation!” No, I didn’t relax in the normal sense of the word; however, I was energized and reignited by nature. She lit my internal fire like I was a wood burning stove.

I remember one particularly harder hike I did. My leg muscles were tired, and I was clawing at rocks to pull myself up to the summit. When I made it to the top, I found myself alone up there gazing out over Mueller Glacier. I felt overwhelmed with joy, awe and gratefulness. My eyes teared up, and it was as if nature was standing in front of me naked, raw, and powerful. It was that trip that forever secured my love for nature and traveling.

Later that year I became a runner. That is when my relationship with nature grew even deeper. Running in nature makes me feel wild; I am one of the dandelions that grows freely. I feel like with each stride I step more into myself. Nature sees me for who I am, and there is no judgment. When I am on a run, there are no pretenses. I am in my purest, most honest form. Nature reciprocates that. Nature never pretends to be something she isn’t; she is unapologetically herself. Within nature’s vulnerability, I am able to be vulnerable. Nature is a safe place to be exactly who I am.

Committed

73

(October 4th, 2008 before my first 5K race)

I was reminded on New Year’s Eve what it was like to be a new runner again. I was huddled around the Running Room store in Victoria, B.C. with fellow runners, and one dog, waiting for the fun run to begin. I was gently stretching my legs when a woman appeared next to me. She smiled and said, “You look like a runner who has been doing this awhile.” I took this as a compliment, and I smiled back. I told her I had been running for years. She said, “So can I ask you a question?” I nodded. She said, “This is my first run ever, and I don’t know how to put this bib on.” She had a nice Arc’teryx jacket, and she didn’t want to put safety pins through it. I gave her the rundown of other places to pin her bib. Also, since this was a fun run, and no timing chips were involved, the bib wasn’t really of importance. After talking about bib placement for a few minutes, she elaborated on one of her previous statements. “This is my first 5K. It is actually my first time running ever.” She paused. “I have a friend who has been a runner her whole life, and she is the one who talked me into running. She says she loves it.”

It was this statement that made me want to write this blog. I am not sure what it is about us runners where we try to share the joy of running with others. It is like we discovered this treasure buried in the backyard and we are holding it between our cupped hands, wide-eyed showing anyone who will look. But I think sometimes we don’t give enough disclaimers.

I told this woman who was about to embark on her first running journey that when I started running 9 years ago, I actually did not enjoy it; I didn’t love it. The only reason I stuck with it in the first several months was because I was stubborn and goal-oriented. I wanted her to know that she may not enjoy this run and that was okay.

It also started to make me think about other comments people have said to me. Countless numbers of people have told me, “I just can’t do what you do. I am not a runner.” I am not sure what non-running people think. Do they think I just woke up one day and had the ability to go for a 13-mile jaunt?  The way I become a runner was to just start and go for a run. It wasn’t a secret society I was initiated into. The only requirements were to step out the front door and go.

My whole life I was not a runner either. I had always been athletic. I grew up playing softball, baseball, and basketball. I even used to race my dad in the 100 meter dash in the street in front of our house, but I never ran over a ½ mile just for the sake of running. I even remember the first time I ran a mile, which was in college for my softball team, and I walked more than half of it. Needless to say, I was acquainted with the “I am not a runner” mindset.

In July 2008, I decided I was going to be a runner. Several things played into this decision. First, I had quit smoking on September 11th, 2007, and once I knew I had that addiction under control, I wanted to continue to make better choices. Second, I was nearing my 30th birthday. While I was in good shape, I never really worked out. I realized I wanted my body conditioned and healthy for years to come, so I needed to decide how I was going to do this. I love being outdoors, so I knew I didn’t want to work out in a gym. I thought running was the right way for me to exercise my body. Once that decision was made, I picked out my first race, which was a 5K for the Susan G. Komen Foundation in Nashville, TN. I knew if I had a race set and a goal in mind that would push me to train and stick with running.

I trained for 3 months for my 5K. There was no other way to describe it except horribly satisfying. Once again, I found myself not being able to run a ½ mile. It hurt. My legs, my lungs, and my body revolted against my grand idea of being a runner. They made their objections known through pain. But as I mentioned, I am stubborn and goal-oriented. I made a commitment to complete a 5K and that was it.

So every time I ran, I continued to push myself. Even if I could only go one step farther than the previous run, that was one step farther. It took almost a month before I could run my first mile without stopping to walk. I already mentioned I was stubborn and goal-oriented, but I also didn’t like taking the easy route. On my runs, I found the hardest routes possible.

By my house was a massive hill, and I incorporated it into my running route. I hated that fucking hill, and I hated myself for choosing to make it part of my running route. But one day, as my muscles burned and sweat sat at my hairline and fell like rain droplets, I crested the hill. I actually cried. It took me weeks to conquer this hill; it took me weeks to conquer running a mile. It took pain and uncomfortableness. It took perseverance and appreciating a small accomplishment. And I kept building on it.

After that first month, I improved quickly. It was like I broke through a self-imposed barrier. As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.” I was nervous as my race day approached. I didn’t know what I would be capable of in the race. In my training, I made it to 3 miles of running, and I continued to run hills. So I knew I prepared myself as much as I could, but still there was the unknown.

On the day of the race, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what my pace would be, if I would be able to run the whole 5K (which is 3.11 miles), and I didn’t know if I would be able to handle the hills and the bridge crossing. But I was all in. I was committed to this endeavor like a nun to God. I put my faith in my training and prayed for the best.

I was so worried about not being able to complete the race that I ran conservatively. At this point, I didn’t own a GPS watch, I never bothered to check the race map, and I never saw any mile markers on the course. While I felt strong through the whole race, I just kept waiting for the moment where my body wouldn’t want to continue. So I put one foot in front of the other just cautiously waiting.

I also found out how energizing a race could be. Up until this point, I always ran alone. This was the first time my running intersected with other people. There was camaraderie among the runners, and cheering and cowbell ringing from the onlookers. The hills I was concerned about were welcomed reprieves from the straightaway streets. I was also able to see downtown Nashville from a new perspective.

I still remember this so clearly, but I turned right onto Broadway Street, which was one of the main streets of downtown that was lined with Honky Tonks and restaurants, and I saw the finish line a few blocks ahead. I was in shock. When I could see how close I was to being finished, I realized I had energy reserves. I broke out in a quick sprint for the finish. (That first race was the first and only time I had any energy left to spare at the end).

I am not sure what made me stick with running in those first few months because I ran off sheer will. I suppose I secretly loved the screaming of aching muscles. I loved every new accomplishment. I loved being outside in nature. Then, I had my first runner’s high. It took 4 months and I was in the middle of training for a 10K (6.22 miles) race. I was struggling along on my longest run yet, 5 miles, and then I felt it. It was just this sense of joy that pulsated from every cell through my skin. Every strike of my foot on the greenway made me smile. My senses intensified. The birds chirped in a deep conversation. The sun seemed to grow brighter. I could hear the small river loudly coursing over rocks and pebbles. I shut my eyes for a few seconds just to absorb all the sensations. Then moments later, it dropped away like the sun setting behind the horizon. But, the feeling could not be forgotten.

In that brief moment, I went from just running because I made a commitment to do so to running because I enjoyed it.