Six months in, it is mid-July.
Six months to go, and I am already defeated.
Scroll back to 2008. Yearning for personal transformation and a healthier body, I embarked on a 40-day yoga challenge. I had been practicing yoga on and off for years, mostly at gyms and to DVDs in my living room, but I felt the need to change my practice, to find teachers, and to find myself. I was a little lost.
I hunted around on google for a yoga studio either near my house or my office. I was still fairly new to Los Angeles and didn't know anyone who practiced yoga, so it was just up to me and google to find a good place. I didn't know anything about style or teachers in the area. My requirements were location, class time, and price.
I found a sweet little independent studio called Rising Lotus Yoga in Sherman Oaks, and they had classes I could take right after work on my way home. Best of all, they had a "new student special" (still do) that allowed me to take unlimited classes for two weeks and not a lot of money. Since I didn't know if I would like it, that seemed perfect.
Once I had my studio, I settled in for 40 days and 40 nights. Well, 40 days. It was a number of change. It was a number of spiritual awakening. It was a number of transformation. It was the number for Noah, Moses, and Jesus. I figured if it worked for them, it could work for me. I also decided to take one day off a week. On the 7th day I rested.
I should state here that I am not particularly religious. I was raised steeped in an area of Judaism that my brother calls Conservadox. Technically it was Conservative, but on the very conservative side. Things have lightened up in my family since then, but by that time that happened I had pretty much left the religion entirely (except for Passover Seders with friends and Hanukkah candles with the kids). However, this yoga challenge was a body/mind/spirit thing. I needed it on more levels than I consciously knew.
Forty days. Rest on every seventh.
Every day I laid out my mat in the back of the Rising Lotus studio room. I sweated through the poses. I felt like a fool in my shorts and tank tops. I wasn't toned like the others. I didn't know what I was doing. My mind chatter was loud. Who am I? Why did I think I could do this? This is too hard. And then, towards the end of class the teacher would instruct us to lay down on our backs, arms at our sides, palms face up. Close your eyes. Release management of your breath. Release management of your thoughts.
After class, every single time, I floated out of the studio, peaceful, calm, beautiful, happy. I couldn't wait till the next day when I would lay out my mat again.
When the forty days ended, I continued. Six days a week. On the seventh day I rested. Each rest day I yearned to be back on my mat. And then on the day I came back, the mind chatter would start again. And then I would float home and return to the studio the next day.
This is what I was thinking when I decided to Run Everyday For A Month. I wanted to see what would happen. How I would change. How I would deal with the mind chatter. How my body would adjust to the daily demands.
Also, I wanted to prepare my body for #82 Hanson Marathon Training Method in which you train your body not to run 26 miles, but to run the last 16 miles of a marathon on tired legs. I enjoyed running my first full marathon in May so much that I have been looking forward to doing another - but this time with better training.
But I am already defeated.
I attempted my 30 days of running. I got to Day 8, when a difficult truth arose: Stop. I had been ignoring the pain in my ankle/foot, trying to "run through it", trying to discern if it was a real injury or just a mental block with physical manifestations. On Day 9 I realized it was a real injury that needs real time to heal.
Like many people, I find rejection and failure challenging to manage. The most difficult failure of all, though, is when I set my own personal goals and cannot meet them. I have doubts about my athletic prowess, and want to push myself past those doubts. I love disciplined practice -- I am a musician, a yogi, a writer, and now a runner. I love the meditation and focus that comes when I immerse myself in these activities. I find peace and self-worth in them. I love the challenge, and the accomplishment. Having to let go of my goal, give up, is one of the hardest things of all to do.
I suppose this is one of the lessons of The List. I can't do everything. Or, I can't do everything this year. Last year I had the same defeat. There were things I couldn't do last year. The item that was the hardest of all to let go was #100 Run From Our House To The Beach.
So perhaps this is where the silver lining comes in. I wasn't able to do #100 in 2012,but I did do it on April 27 this year. Perhaps because it took more time, more healing, more training, it was even more significant. There are other things, too, that I didn't get to last year that I have been able to do this year. Like #54 Take a Pottery Class. That one became this year's #45 Take a Pottery Class with Em, which we did on March 23.
So, letting go. Another lesson of the list. It feels like a bitter one right now, but perhaps it will be even sweeter later on?
We shall see.
On April 27, 2013, after running three half-marathon races in six months and countless training runs, before my first full marathon, I ran the run of my heart. The one that had been in my mind's eye for almost a year. The one that I had been working for.
From my front door to the Pacific Ocean.
I called it "The Door To The Shore". My sweetheart was endlessly supportive of my vision. It seemed impossible when I first thought of it. Even though at that point the most I had ever run was eight miles (once), I didn't care how long of a run it was, I just wanted to get to the ocean. As it turns out, the route was 18 miles. I ran it solo in three hours. My friend Susan caught some photos of me along the way, and then my sweetheart caught some more. When I got to the pier, I ran the last bit with my boyfriend and his youngest daughter. Together we ran straight down the pier, their flipflops falling off as my running shoes padded along the weathered boardwalk. We ran down the steps (stairs!! after18 miles!!), and onto the hot sand. At the edge of the water were smiling friends holding out their hands to take my fuel belt and shoes as I ran right in, laughing with immense, authentic childlike joy.
There's a mountain range between the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles proper, and Angelenos always ask my route. It was:
My front door > through NoHo to Universal City > Cahuenga > over the pass into Hollywood > past the Grauman Chinese Theater > Sunset Blvd > Doheny > Carmelita > Santa Monica Blvd > a little zigzag > Idaho > Colorado > right onto the Santa Monica Pier > past Bubba Gump's > down the steps > into the water
On my secret list, a list I have never written down but is a sort of personal blogging Code of Honor, is the rule "never make excuses". So therefore, never mind the gap in posts and let us just continue where we left off, shall we?
A few months ago, a friend texted my sweetheart to say that he was overseeing an estate sale for a woman who had decided that she was done with Southern Cali and was headed to upstate New York with all her horses, material goods, and life. Having grown up in the northeast, I can understand the draw to upstate NY. In many places and at many times, it is picture-postcard beautiful. There's a built-in roughness, too, to that region, one that forces you to dress appropriately regardless of fashion, chop wood out of necessity, worry about your tires from November to May, grow anxious about the coming winter in September and October, and rejoice in deep-seated celebration at March's first sight of crocuses and daffodils. There is nothing happier than true springtime when you have suffered through a long winter. After the last April surprise snows have melted and the rain in May has moved on, June is glorious, glorious, glorious. Of course, then comes September's gorgeous autumn amid growing anxiety about the coming winter.
Although I've never lived in upstate New York, I know these feelings well. Massachusetts is upstate New York's next door neighbor, and I spent more than ten years trading cups of sugar and nor'easters with The Empire State.
I have wondered, since moving to the endless sunshine of SoCal, if the bitter northeast winters are not worth it. After all, here we never have deep lows that come from dark, cold months, but that means we are never sent soaring into the giddiness of Spring Fever. Here in Los Angeles we have the steady state of "pretty happy" most of the time. Even keel. Steady Freddy. I love SoCal, and it's a relief to wake up in February to blue skies rather than darkness, but now in my sixth year here, I appreciate more than ever that amazing je-ne-sais-quoi that occurs with the fierce arc of a swinging seasonal pendulum.
Well, in any case, this woman was leaving, and her estate sale was over. She'd sold all she could, and the next day she was heading eastbound. Our friend texted my sweetheart to invite us over and take what we wanted of whatever was left. I found the book of haikus in her boxes of tossed books, and I also stumbled upon a book called The Happiness Project.
Months and months have passed since that estate sale. The Happiness Project took a while to rise to the top of the pile of reading I always have on my nightstand, wedged between the nightstand and the wall, and squeezed into the living room bookcase. Between it and me was Grammar Lessons (highly recommend!), Tenth of December (ditto!), another reading of Wild (this time for a writing class, with an eye to craft and construction), tons of classmates essays (for said class, and the one prior), and issues of The Sun and Poets and Writers . There is so much to read in this lifetime and I'm trying to get it all in.
This week I finally cracked open The Happiness Project and am finding over and over that it reminds me of this List. The author, Gretchen Rubin, started a blog when she began her project, which reminded me of this blog that I created about halfway through my first year's List. Gretchen committed to posting regularly about her project. The best bloggers do - and by regularly, I mean at least once a week, but better every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or something like that. Reading of her commitment to her blog and her follow through, I thought, I am a blogging failure. I am not cut out for blogging. Or maybe I rebelliously thought, I am too busy to get boxed in to another regularly scheduled thing. I have a ton of discipline for running, yoga practice, and writing in general, but regular blog posting has thus far escaped me.
Never make excuses.
Okay, I won't. However, I will say this: The List of 100 Things has profoundly affected my life, and I think the reason I don't write about it more often is because it's not always clear to me how it is affecting me, I just know that it is. I do the things on my List and take it all in on a semi-subconscious level. From the beginning I'd been aware on some level of the profundity that would come along with working through the List. I knew that I would change, grow, and in fact I started the List because I wanted to transform in some way. But, also, I embarked on The List in 2012 just to get stuff done. Get stuff done in my own little private life, change quietly, without a blog, alone.
There's a story my mom told me about when I was a little girl.
As the story goes, I was still a baby in a crib, and learning to stand. Like most babies, I would pull myself up by the sides of the crib and rejoice in my accomplishment. But, as my mother has told me, I practiced only in private. My parents watched me through the crack in the door as I pulled myself up, stand, maybe dance a little, my fat little legs celebrating their new-found strength. And then, as soon as I was aware of my audience, I sat down. I wouldn't perform my new trick for anyone until I was solid in my new skill.
I haven't changed much in this regard. Perhaps it is my introverted nature. Perhaps I just like to stay focused without the distraction of others, with full concentration on the task at hand, without worrying about an audience. At some point I realized that nature was limiting. There is no way to take, for instance, yoga classes and not have any one see you. Or swim lessons. Or long distance running. And without readers, there is no way to really become a better writer. Although I have set aside this nature so that I can learn and grow, in many ways I still prefer to master new tricks in my own private room.
And sometimes, as in my excavation of how The List is effecting my life, perhaps I would just prefer to take the easy road. Not even write about it at all.
But The Happiness Project reminded me this week that this blog's purpose is partly for processing. A platform to write about the affect of the List. A place to write through the questions, perhaps, as Rilke says, write my way to some answers.
Unlike The Happiness Project, I didn't start out with categories in mind. Gretchen Rubin started her project from the jumping off point of categories. She examined aspects of her life, and filled her year-long project with exercises that would, in theory, increase her personal happiness. In my List writing, I just allowed my pen to write. Much later, as I worked through it, I realized there were general categories that items generally fell into: Self-care. Learning/growth. Family. Challenging Fun. Laid-back Fun. Adventure. Things like that.
I can't give a book review at this time since I'm only about halfway through, but this book/project does ring a familiar tone to The List. I didn't begin this List project with an eye to increasing my own happiness, but I did begin it with an eye to growing more into myself and the life that I want to live.
Which, I suppose, is a happy life.
As a yoga teacher, in my classes I emphasis the idea of letting go of goals, hoping that my students will always be compassionate towards whatever is going on in their body/mind/spirit on any particular day. In my book there is no "no pain, no gain" mantra. There is compassion, truth, kindness, healing. I tell them pain -- meaning actual pain, not simply the a sensation of discomfort or the discomfort of sensation -- is the body's message that you should move out of the position or situation immediately. I believe compassion is as much a part of the yoga practice as breathing. The discomfort of sensation is often just an indicator of newness - discomfort is where change and growth happen. Sensation reminds us to breathe and soften our resistance. I compare discomfort of sensation to the first day of middle school, or to going through a divorce, or any other of life's calls to evolve, step up, change, accept, breathe.
But I do believe there is a place for ego. There's the mental thing. Years ago, in my own yoga practice, I noticed that I conveniently got "thirsty" just when a pose got hard. I would come out of the pose and drink some water. I was using my thirst as an excuse to bail. In other words, half of the challenge of a physical practice like yoga and running is the mental aspect. If we always stop at the moment just before we reach our edge, where's the growth? Ego is what helps to keep us on the straight and narrow. It is the thing that pushes us past where we've been stopped before. It's the ego that wants to go further, faster, stronger, better. As a runner I feel it all the time. Ego keeps me moving at mile ten when there's still so far to go. Ego gets me across the finish line, with arms in the air, smiling at the photographer.
Well, ego has it's place. Here I am at Truth. Runners World Magazine calls it The 2-Day Rule:
The 2-Day Rule
If something hurts for two straight days while running, take two days off.
Two straight days of pain may signal the beginning of an injury. "Even taking five days of complete rest from running will have little impact on your fitness level," says Troy Smurawa, M.D., team physician for USA Triathlon.
The Exception: If something hurts for two weeks, even if you've taken your rest days, see a doctor.
And, yep, I'm at The Exception as well. Doctor's appointment is scheduled for 9:15 tomorrow morning.
When I wrote #57, I had no idea what it could possibly be. But, they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. They also say something about lemons and lemonade. I say, when running gives you injuries, take to the pool.
Now, swimming is seriously out of my comfort zone. There are so many aspects of swimming that concern me: first, there's the breathing issue.
Many, many years ago (we're talking 7th grade) I had a summer of asthma attacks. They started with an upper respiratory infection of some sort that I got at summer camp and were exacerbated by some environmental allergen (tree pollen?) in the upstate New York and Quebec Provence air that summer. The deep coughing fits that marred the end of my summer camp stay were followed by intensely frightening asthma wheezing attacks during my family's Canadian vacation. I still remember the panic of gasping for air, trying to take it in and my lungs just not responding to my desperate need. And then, just as quickly as the whole asthma trouble began, it left. By the next summer I was fine.
Except when I went swimming.
For years I retained no trace of asthma except when I over-exerted myself in the water. I took to floating, to sunbathing, to bobbing up and down, but I would not swim. If I ever felt out of breath in the water, panic set in. So I kept myself calm. For twenty-five years.
Which leads to the second swimming concern: swimming.
Since I have made concerted efforts through the years to stay calm, to not swim, to not over-exert myself in water, I cannot swim. I mean, I don't drown, but I just don't swim. Technically, I know *how*. After all, from the time I was itty bitty until 7th grade, I had camp swim lessons. But for the past twenty-five years I have. not. swum. I just don't do it.
And of course the third swimming concern: bathing suit.
Since I don't swim, I don't have a swim suit. Oh, sure, I have a few of what might be listed in catalogs as "bathing suits" but these two-piece things are not actually meant for moving. They are meant to even out a tan, to stay respectable in a hotel hot tub, and take the kids to the beach. In my pre-kid life, back when I was a freedom loving hippie living at a dance and music retreat on the south shore of Massachusetts, I didn't care about suits at all. Back then the only thing I and the rest of the crew brought into the water was a beer, or a trombone, or flowers for our hair.
But injury calls for courage. Conquering of fears. Dipping feet in the water.
Los Angeles Valley College, as it turns out, is only a few miles from my house and my office. There are open lap hours conveniently set up in the evening, just when I leave work, and also on the weekends. And it's cheap! $45 for a 10-use pass during open lap hours. One day I decided to don my sports bra and bikini bottoms and splash in.
Goggles, as it turns out, are recommended.
Swimming, my friends, is not easy. Each time I got to the end of the lane (25 meters), I had to rest and catch my breath. I had to work hard to keep my eyes clear (didn't yet have goggles) and get from one end to the other. Each time I did, it took a full 5 minutes to breath easy again. And then I'd head back.
Now I have goggles, though still no official suit. My hair is dry from the chlorine. I need that most fashionable of hats, a swim cap. But, this past Sunday I enrolled in swim lessons. I've gone to the pool three times this week and already feel myself getting stronger. I still have to stop every 25 meters, sometimes sooner, but it's more because now I am focusing intensely on form.
It's a relief to walk away after an hour of exertion and not feel pain in my foot. It's also a relief to have an exercise to replace running and spin for a while. Moving my body has become an essential need for my personal happiness. It feels good to confront this long standing fear of water - I can feel it melting away. I'm actually looking forward to going to the pool. Yesterday it was the highlight of my day. Each stroke takes enormous concentration, but I am also trying to bask in the eerie silence as my head ducks below the surface between each breath.
And there is the beauty. I wasn't expecting it. In the evening, the golden setting sun illuminates the pool and the other swimmers in a magical way, water spraying into the air with each kick, the flags above the lanes swaying softly in the air. I might be falling a little bit in love.