Moving through the middle of things. (written aug 17th)

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is what we make of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”  Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom

My top two favorite consumer activities are eating delicious food and  acquiring new knowledge.  I have spent the last week celebrating my birthday and indulging my consumer. I have eaten well, and read four books.

Today, being the 17th, is officially the last day of my birthday week, time to blog, re-focus on contribution and compassion and basically re-enter the mundane world. I am easing myself back into my routines physically, psychologically and spiritually.

This past week, I have eaten without respect to calorie count but only in relation to joy and taste; I have not maintained any regular triathlon training schedule but was hardly a couch potato either; and I have spent a lot of time writing in a journal not just reading paper books

So, what have I actually consumed and what have I learned this week….

First what I consumed….

My week of food began Wednesday morning, my actual birthday, with coffee and a vegan fudge cupcake at The Coffee Shop, this was as close to an actual birthday cake as I would get, no candles or singing this birthday, but the moist cocoa flavor and the rich buttery feel of the frosting in my mouth (how they do this vegan I do not know) is a whole party in itself.  I then had fried pickles and rhubarb pie in Black Canyon on our way to Sedona which was also a tasty food highlight. The next and final great gastronomic highlight of Birthday week was brunch at Shugrue’s Hillside Grill just before heading down the mountains to the valley. The service, the vegetarian options and the view were the awesome sauce on an already awesome meal. In between all the eating out and refined sugar intake were some lovely salads and protein and nutrient rich grains prepared in the room by my friends.

My mouth and tummy were well taken care of this birthday week and what I learned from my fuel intake was that I do still love my frosting and I still truly love eating the rainbow,  that fresh fruits and vegetables provide me. I did however gain three pounds while studying.

However, I also dropped nine pounds of actual body fat, due to building all new muscle groups through hiking. It wasn’t just about reading. No couch potato here, I hiked the Brewer trail three mornings in a row.

Each time up and down the trail I learned and saw something new and different.  It was like rereading a book. The first time through it is all about getting to the end, but the second or third time I slow down and appreciate the poetry of the words, the intricacies of the character development, I savor nuances that tell me this story was written by say Mr. Vonnegut instead Ms. Atwood.  The first hike was all about getting to the top and the grand vistas, the second and third although they included the meditation and exultation at the top they were  also chances to notice the flowers and the trees and a hundred little details along the path.

The middles of the second and third hikes were about the beauty of the details but they were also about continuing to put one muscle tired foot in front of the next, over and over and over again. Like every single journey, each hike was also about stamina and persistence.

I have always had a problem with middles, from what I observe maybe we all do, but what I know for sure is that I do. I often want to quit in the middle.

Once in the middle of labor, during the actual delivery of my son Wil (who, for the record, was over 11 pounds), I officially quit. I lay back on the delivery table and told my husband I wasn’t pushing anymore, that I was tired, and since he seemed to know what I should be doing, HE could just get up there and have this baby. I was done pushing.

Luckily my husband didn’t argue with me, he just said, “Okay honey, you can quit. You are tired, but before you do you, just give it one more push like the doctor asked and then I will get up there on the table and do it.”

“OK,” I said in tearful exhaustion, “One more push.” On the next contraction I bent forward and pushed really hard one more time and finally after ten and a half months of pregnancy, 46 hours of labor followed by six hours of what seemed fruitless pushing the head of our son emerged. I will never forget that moment.

Bill and I both were crying as the rest of the baby emerged and he kept patting my hand and saying, “See, you just needed one more push.”

I have no talent for these physical things I love to eat and I love to read, I am talented with words and food and sedentary mind-based activities. I do mostly like running, hiking, swimming and soon I hope I will like biking, but I have no natural talent nor the build for these things. That is why I call myself a SOFT athlete. Slow Old Fat Try Athlete, because for me its not about talent it is about continuing to try.

I understand about middles, but these hikes helped remind me. So that is why today, even though I am exhausted and discouraged and still can’t ride a bike. I am not about to quit my triathlon just before the miracle happens.

P.S. I forgot this blog in drafts where I left it for edits one day and I am finally publishing two weeks later after the miracle happened and I finally rode my bike. Still have a bit of the case of the “middles”, you know, that place where motivation is slim and discipline needs to pick up the slack.  Beginnings have a thrill all their own, endings are triumph or relief, middles are and always will be about showing up and allowing for the miracle to finally happen.

 

But Mom, everybody is doing it….

          Three recent posts from internet friends have been playing themselves out over and over again in my psyche, or at least the questions they raised in my head have been swirling intriguingly. One post was about the Australian census and concerned identifying one’s faith practice, I am not Australian but I love putting myself in another’s shoes so I tried to pin down what I would do . The second was a George Carlin video that’s overwhelming message was hopelessness; life in America sucks and he doesn’t believe that we as American’s have choices and only the ignorant believe it is going to get better and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The third asked the question, "What is the most important lesson you have learned and now you know it, what do you wish you had done different?" These seemingly disparate issues are intricately woven together in my head under the heading, "One size does not fit all."

     Does anyone else remember the inexpensive one-size-fits-all pantyhose of the days when wearing pantyhose daily was an academic and professional feminine requirement? I bought them because they were the cheapest and most readily available. There were others I could buy at the upscale department stores that didn’t cause chafing between my thighs when I stood to walk and the crotch suddenly dropped to just above my hemline. The silky department store ones also didn’t make painful seam marks on my toes, and had fewer unusual color gradations, but I chose the cheap, easy ones. Besides, everyone else wore the same kind as me and no one else was complaining so I just assumed it was me. It wasn’t.  In fact the most important lesson I have learned in life is that  anything "one size" fits no one. One size garments can accommodate a large number of figures and body compositions but that is not the same as "fitting".

 
     This is true, as well, about diets, lifestyles, religions, books, etc. I am comfortably a vegetarian. I do not need to convince anyone else to follow my eating patterns. I have lots of good reasons I decided to choose this lifestyle, some are personal health issues (my body does not process dairy or meat well), some are spiritual concepts (Ahimsa), some political (carbon footprint of meat, meat productions contribution to third world famine). I do not expect other people to even understand my choice and I do my best to not foist my beliefs on others while still taking care of myself. (A balance I am still learning how to maintain, as evidenced by previous posts, LOL.) 
 
     I am less comfortably public and yet more balanced in my spiritual journey. I once had a bumper sticker that said it all for me. "Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, and Jesus wasn’t a Christian". I strive to have integrity, be ego free, and practice compassion.  I am as comfortable in a grove of trees as I am in a Catholic Mass, Islamic gathering or Mormon chapel. I realize that there might be some in that Druidic circle, mass or chapel service who would be less comfortable with me, since I do not share their belief in competitive, ego-centric deity. My current practice would look on the surface to be a mixture of New Age Nature practice and Buddhism as I have a personal altar with the cardinal directions expressed with elements and a statue of Quan Yin on the water side and Buddha on the Fire side.  I embrace the teachings of both the Holy Bible and the Koran, however, in my reading of them I do not find that mankind is broken or hopeless, only that compassion is the greatest of spiritual laws. I embrace the Tao Te Ching and have it as a goal to memorize the stanzas. I also find reflected in the works of many New Age/Wiccan/Druid/Shamanic writers my own experience with the magic of the universe that is primarily addressed in the mystic and gnostic writers of the Judeo/Christian/Islam traditions. My many attempts at affiliation with religion have been like the one size fits all pantyhose, they provided support and ease of accessibility but they never really fit. Bottom line is I do not fit in any of the boxes, no matter how hard I squish my spirit and am only glad I don’t have to make the choice which one to check. That is the other part of this most important lesson I’ve learned is that since one size does not fit anybody, it really is about personal choice and personal responsibility.
 
     Which leads me back to the George Carlin video, I agree with the facts he highlights in his rant. Media, politics, education and economics are all being desperately manipulated by the few individuals (WEM’s) that are not content with having almost everything but need a little bit more. I don’t believe however that I am helpless or hopeless in the face of this. First of all believing I am hopeless to change anything does me no good and feeds into the broken system in place as I then try to fill the porous spiritual holes in my life with "more" power, success and things which once accumulated must be protected or lost which makes the holes bigger requiring more filler, etc. Hopelessness, anger and victim mentality are key factors in addictive and self-destructive behavior. Second, as Ghandi and Victor Frankl learned and taught in situations worse than any I have ever experienced(imprisoned in India and concentration camp in WWII respectively) and so clearly taught in their writings, I always have choice. I choose how I respond to what is placed before me. When I make good choices I feel better. The things that create happiness (not just fleeting pleasure) in me are expressing gratitude, showing compassion, and developing discipline.  
 
How do I know if something is a good choice for me. That part is easy. Do I find myself mentally creating reasons or defenses for the choice, especially if those defenses include placing the responsibility on someone else (If only she had, if only he had not, etc)? If my answer to this question is, yes, then I already know inside it is not a good choice that’s why I am defending it. A corollary to this question is am I trying to make everyone else do it with me? Again obvious evidence I don’t support my own choice and want to hide my guilt in the crowd. (This is my favorite self-sabotaging tactic for undisciplined eating, drinking or spending). Finally does this choice or behavior enhance or detract from the person I want to become. Which circles back to the part hope plays in my life; because I believe that I am created perfect, that all I need is available to me now, and that this moment is exactly what I need, I have a dream. And I have hope. 
 
 I also have as an allegory for my continued Pollyanna perspective a favorite "peeing in the ocean" story. Those close to me are probably real tired of this tory, so I will just paraphrase it. The bottom line is that as a child I tried to raise the level of the ocean by peeing in it. I even marked the pylons of the pier with a pencil and got other kids involved. I was always unsuccessful, and then someone pointed out my foolishness as the ocean was so very, very big. I felt stupid that I had tried. As an adult, and very pregnant, I accidentally peed in the ocean and had an epiphany, my goal all those years ago was off base. I never raised the level of the ocean but I had definitely warmed my little circle. This is my approach now to living including voting in elections, spending locally, eating vegetarian, speaking politely, not taking things personal, reading all sides of an issue (especially the opinions that differ from mine) letting other drivers into my lane, sharing my abundance and saying thank-you as often as possible. George Carlin is right, the problems facing society are ocean sized and my ability to contribute is puny, but today I don’t try to raise the level of the ocean, just warm my own circle.
 
So I might not check the same box as most of my friends in the religion section of a census because I would want to check them all; and although our conclusions are different, I definitely do agree with George Carlin’s data. The problems American society faces, and more importantly to me the world as a whole faces, are rooted in an unhealthy lust for "More" that I cannot change in anyone else but me. This is the most important lesson I have learned in life, one size does not fit all, in fact in trying to accommodate all, it fits nobody. So for my life to fit comfortably, I need to take responsibility for my own choices. 
 
Some days I may be indistinguishable from the crowd, and some days I may stand alone in the best choices for myself; but this choice in how I respond, this choice to be grateful, hopeful and happy can never be taken from me regardless the swirl of circumstances that surround me. 
 
I have made a plethora of mistakes in my life, mine and someone else’s share at least, and so spent a great deal of time thinking about the second part of that question, knowing this, what would I have done different? I am small and insignificant, even taking into account ripple effect. Also, my vision can only encompass a few pixels of the entire landscape of life and so I decided to rephrase the second portion of that question. I would not go back even if I could and huge mistakes not withstanding, I am not wishing I could change anything. Instead I ask myself today, is their any action from my past I need to make restitution for today? I choose to use my past, gaffs especially,  to make better choices in the future and to identify where through my choices I have bridges to mend, and consequences from which to grow. It may be trite but if I do what I did, I will get what I got, so if something in my now causes dissonance I need to try something new.
 
And that’s my blog today, and now I am going to go snuggle with my old canine lady a bit and work on defining my dreams, tomorrow is back to triathlon training, but today I am swimming in different waters.  Processing this transition with Noien makes me both sad and grateful, as I am sure all pet owners understand, grateful for the years together and sad to watch her health deteriorate, knowing it is my choice and responsibility to let her go.
 
 
 
     

What I did for love, and more importantly what I am about to do for love…

     Love is a BIG UMBRELLA. of a word; it’s a noun, a verb, sometimes an entire story.  

 
     My current trip into triathlon land is motivated by love. I love a challenge, I love my friends and family and I really do love my life. Participating in an event that is comprised of swimming, biking and running in precisely another 110 days is a challenge to say the least especially since I still can’t ride a bike.  Getting healthier through exercise and its concurrent weight loss extends the time I can be around to hug the people I love and improves the quality of the life I live. So the first thing I am doing for love is swimming, swimming swimming. This morning I did four lengths of the pool in my poor form breast stroke, not consecutively mind you, spread out throughout Phil’s (our trainer from Inspire Fitness) homework assignment, which incidentally my daughter-in-law and I both finished.

 
     Tomorrow evening I will be attending a party whose main food feature is gourmet steak and I am making and bringing red jello with pineapple in it as a side dish. Why am I doing this? Love, of course. It is my sons 28th birthday and that is what he wanted me to bring.

     Those who know me personally, should get the humor of this without explanation, but for the rest of you I will add a few salient facts.  My cupboards are well stocked with twelve different kinds of organic flours. I make aspics from scratch. My baking, including gluten-free, is renown for its moistness and flavor. I spend hours researching and perfecting old recipes, tweaking new recipes and sometimes just making things up on the spot because I love to bake and cook. I am also vegetarian. But when I asked Rick what he wanted to eat on his birthday, he wants red jello with pineapple. I bought some. I will make it in the morning and place it in a glass bowl with a plastic lid and pick up a big tub of Cool Whip, because tomorrow is about my son and what he likes and not about me.

 
The third and hardest is that my little Noiene is in congestive heart failure. She is 11.5 years old and has been quite perky up until this past year. She is coughing and tired and yesterday I came home from work to find her lying in her own mess whimpering. I gave her a bath and her symptoms are under control for the moment but I know that it is time for me to do the loving thing and help her cross the rainbow bridge. I wish I could get the medicine and just give it to her here, at home with me and then bury her at my friend Regina’s property so she can chase (and not catch) the spirit bunnies to her hearts content. She always loved visiting Regina’s. Just don’t know if that’s even legal. Better than that, I wish the Goddess would take the decision out of my hands and take her home tonight while we are both sleeping. If not I will do the loving thing.
 
I will bathe and groom her again tomorrow (she likes it as long as I leave the paws, butt and tail alone) and my sons will come visit her and take some pictures Wednesday. I hope its a good day for her. I am still a bit in denial because I keep expecting to wake up and have her bouncing around me again, I believe in miracles. But I also believe her being in my life for 11.5 years was really more miracle than anyone can ask for and so what I will do for love is very soon, I will let her go.