“Are you ready to fly solo?” the text read. “Kristen went into early labor so you’re on your own tomorrow!” On a Tuesday in late October I entered Humanities Left at 8am with some knowledge of myths needing to be completed. I was taking over for the 6th grade teacher out on maternity leave. Thinking that time was on our side Kristen and I had met the previous Friday going over the classroom routines and then planned for a week together where I would shadow Kristen and then gradually be released into the world of humanities.
Well, babies have their own timing and Kristen was in Labor and I was standing alone in front of a bunch of sixth graders. What, I wondered, would a three month stint back in the classroom bring? Stomach flipping anxiety? Fun? Would I be able to let go of the classroom at the end of the day or keep my experiences tied into who I was as a person, my self-worth included?
What I found , during that three month stint, finally was a growing sensation that I could finally be myself. Certainly there were rough stints.
One day was especially hard. After a week of teaching, tutoring, and babysitting I burst through the doors of my house practically in tears. “What’s wrong?” asked Swami Ramananda. . As I recalled the daily digest and also expressed frustration at myself for feeling a need for control, he said, “Hmm..can you notice your behavior without responding to it?”
What was it about the classroom then that I felt I had to control others’ behavior? I watched myself one day as I got into a futile argument with a student over paper. Hmm. Would the result of the argument help the objectives of the assignment? Or just prove to this ego that I am the teacher and therefore in “control.” If the argument didn’t go my way then what? Was I not in control?
Taking Ramananda’s advice, I began to watch my behavior. Were there times, when altough I might not agree with a student’s decision, I could let it go? And what happened if I did? As I stepped back, the classroom became it’s own entity in which I was a part but not in charge of.Students come to me for help, and I started to only interfere if I felt that a student needed to be guided back on track to reach the objectives of the class.
More and more I let the class become truly about the students and I as an ally to guide them along. One student in particular if not given specific directions would spend the class gazing at the ceiling or tying his shoe. One day I asked him, “What is it that you need from me to help you feel successful?” The shift from having all the answers to a collaboration with the students shifted the space dramatically.
I will also say that this was a class that allowed for an easy collaboration. The classroom so varies on the personalities that it brings. It’s not always the case that I, or any teacher can so easily step back and let the classroom be as it is.
Children reveal our greatest vulnerabilities. Child professionals and parents have an especially big sensitivity button that when pushed can spill tears, rage, blame, love, hugs, and praise sometimes all in one blubbery sentence! It is easy to put one’s expectations of self-worth, and measures of success and failures on that of a child as they have an easy way of exposing adults for whom they really are. Inside we feel a great sense of pride when these children experience a certain measure of success and a bout of dissapointment when they don’t measure up to one’s expectations.
When a child appears resistant or shows a lack of understanding it is easy to jump into fix-it mode. With what could appear as stalled movements forward fix-it mode can turn into desperation which can spew blame, dissapointment,frustration, and sadness by the adults around him or her.Is it possible that while we are applying all of our knowledge to those that need it,we can also just be by their side and let them know that they are not broken, but loved just as they are?
Connection and empathy are often the most empowering gestures that we can give and receive. The ablity to sit with a student and be with him or her exactly where he or she is in struggle or success is a practice. As authors Michael I. Bennet and Sarah Bennet express in their book F*ck Feelings, “It’s the loving parents of self-hating kids who are genuinely the most amazing, specialest, snowflake parents of all.” In the acceptance of that self-hating child or whatever stage they are in, allowing him/her to just being perfect in their imperfections we are also showing ourselves that same acceptance which, at the end of the day, may (or may not) help us take a step forward.
Sometimes I wonder if my posts are heading more towards, what my aunt would say the “woo woo” side of things. Well if they are, so-be-it! Worrying about the “woo-woo” has prevented me from writing this post for too long. So take a deep breath and bring on your woo-woo!
I’ve been exploring this idea of surrender this year. If you don’t mind, praying for it, actually. And I’ve been playing with the line between “doing” and “waiting.’ I’ve spent times, dwelling at coffee shops (if you’ve been following my blog you know) and taking time to smell the flowers. I’ve also had super busy weeks filled with activity that leave me exhausted at the end of the day. Both ends of the spectrum have given me great pleasure and stress depending on the moment.
So, this past week there were two instances that rang true for me about what surrender MIGHT mean. The first was during a morning meditation. After our silence, a cassette tape (remember those?) of questions and answers with Satchidananda was played (the guru that founded Integral Yoga). The question from a man in the audience was, “I suffer from acute panic attacks. What can I do?”
Full disclosure, I usually tune out during the tape playing part of the meditation. However, having suffered from incredible anxiety myself and having been exposed recently to two close young adult friends of mine who were also experiencing anxiety attacks I listened in.
“Anxiety comes from expectations,” he said. “So ask yourself what am I anxious about? What am I expecting?” For many of us this is feels like way too a simplistic solution. But when I think about that myself I reflect on what my own anxiety has been around. So much of of it has been about fear of not being able to….or What if I lose….or simply, What if I am not enough..
he goes on to say, “So stop expecting things. Stop having desires.” And then he laughs knowingly. “Or keep desiring and keep wishing. But know if you don’t get what you are expecting or if what you want it’s because God didn’t want you to have it. Blame God for not getting your wants.”
The word God makes many people shudder. Perhaps another way to think about this is that it’s just not meant to be.
It’s only woo woo if you take it as making the choice to stop moving towards your goal. Right now my own life has many different moving pieces that are filled with uncertainty. They often offer glimmers of opportunity that are just barely out of reach. Sometimes they grab hold and take off and sometimes they don’t. The other day, I told a friend, “My schedule this week changed in the span of five minutes.” She commented, “your whole life right now is like dating!” We both laughed.
And yet, as I commented to a housemate, “I’m hopeful and I’m wanting these opportunities to happen. But I’m not going to be miserable if they don’t.” And she said softly, “Surrendering.”
Ahhh. To my desiring, striving, ambitious, and often lazy self-that was a definition of surrendering that I could get my head around: keep on keepin on no matter the outcome. But don’t stop moving forward (even if it feels like there’s a standstill or moving backwards).
There are giants in the sky.There are big tall terrible giants in the sky…sings Jack from the play Into the Woods, a musical that combines all the fairy tales into three acts. The first act all the fairy tales end happily ever after, and in the second…well, explores what would happen if the Giant’s wife came and got revenge.
I was playing this song for my four year old charge. We were at a nearby campus because Dad was working for home and the little girl (who I will call Lisa) requested that we spend time there instead of a nearby playground. The campus was not at all kid friendly. There were no slides or swings, or even big fields of grass.
The song came about because as we sat down to have a picnic (trail mix and bananas), it came into my head and out of my mouth. “What’s that?” asked Lisa. “Oh, it’s one of my favorite songs.” I told her. “Here, I’ll play it for you,” taking out my phone not half hour after dad had said to me, “No media, please.”
Funny enough the previous day I confessed to a friend, “I have to admit; I’m addicted to my phone.” Not as bad as some perhaps, but I do pull it out when I am on the bus, walking down the street, and even at work.. Of course, when I catch myself mindlessly whittling the way the hours on the screen, I feel more tired and disengaged from the people and the world around me. I also think sometimes that having constant and instant entertainment, leaves less motivation for creativity. If we have instant entertainment than there’s no sense of boredom and then no reason to make anything up!
And don’t get me wrong; having an electronic device has been very helpful and useful to me. But I haven’t figured quite how to use the amount of media around me in a mindful way.
Anyway, I felt too, like the “no media” was a good six hour detox and challenge for myself. I certainly feel more present and more connected to what is going around me when it is not in front of me.
“Shoot.” I thought remembering ‘no media’ suddenly. How engrained it is in me! Well, music is different I justified. And we won’t watch the phone. We’ll just listen to it. But as all of us are conditioned to do, Lisa came closer to the phone wanting to see what was on the screen. “We’re just going to listen to it,” I said. And I put the phone face down. She respected that and started to listen to some of the lyrics. “Who’s Jack?” she asked and I started to tell her the story of Jack and the Beanstock. “Does he have a green hat? Did he come out of a hole? What does he look like?”
Pulling out the teacher card I said, “Well, what do you think he looks like?”
She sighed and said, “Can’t you just tell me.”So many of us are conditioned to have a right answer. With media at our fingertips we don’t even have to question or think, as we have the answers right in front of us. But it’s not even media per say. As soon as we read a book or watch a movie we suddenly have an idea of what something is like.
I remember reading the Ramona books as a child. I loved the very primitive drawings that it came with…and figured that Ramona was just a creative mess! She certainly looked like that in the book. When the series came out on PBS, I was shocked to see what she “Really” looked like; she and her family were much more of the all-american type than I would have ever imagined from reading the books.
I told Lisa, “The story has been told so many different times that everyone has a different picture of Jack.” She soon became uninterested in what Jack looked like and more interested in listening to the music again, and figuring out what a giant might look like. I found my own imagination activating as I asked Lisa questions. “Do you think a Giant is as big as that tree? Can they fly?” And suddenly we were looking up at the sky looking for giants. “There goes one!” she exclaimed. The theme of giants continued throughout our time outside with the only spurring of imagination being a song that Lisa could barely understand.
We walked back to the apartment (when we knew that Dad had left) for lunch continuing to be on the lookout for giants.
After a lunch of frozen pizza we proceeded to the living room where after building with train tracks and legos, I felt my energy diminish and I moved onto the couch where my body started sinking into the cushions. I felt the urge to just take a quick glance at my phone. Just for a second. A sneak peak. And as four year olds are very in-tune with when the attention is off of them and somewhere else, Lisa said to me, “Now you build. And I’ll watch you.”
My conscious spoke to me. Sarah, it said, When you advertise yourself as a caretaker you promise the parents to egange their children and be engaged in the activities that they enjoy. So start building train tracks and legos.
I said to Lisa, “Let’s do it together.”
Perhaps because it was too quiet or she just got bored, we put the legos and train tracks away. Suddenly,Lisa was a ballerina and I found myself in a nightmarish version of the Nutcracker where the ballerina could not escape the “bad mice.” We took turns being the ballerina and the “bad mice” (even though it was just one mouse it was still ‘now you be the bad mice”) and then the game turned again. This time Lisa was the ballerina and I was the audience member. Again,my body felt the comfort of the couch as I started to sink down. “This is not good! Quick entertain yourself!”
I remembered, then, my own living room performances as a four year old. I would take out the garbage bag of tutus and other costumes from previous ballet recitals and make my mom sit on the couch to marvel at my amazing talents. To perhaps engage herself (and me) she would make up voices pretending to be different audience members. On Lisa’s couch sat three stuffed animals. I put them on my lap, and much to Lisa’s and (my own) delight, I made them speak to each other and to me. “Oh my,” I thought. “If anyone walked in at this moment…” and as I found myself getting more into the characters:”It is ridiculous how much fun this is.”
The game ended only after Lisa’s dad walked in the door. “Papa! You have to sit on the couch and then all of the animals want to dance with me!”
As a sometimes aspiring and definitely struggling artist I wonder how to make the imagination jump off the page in a way that is engaging and makes sense. I marvel at fiction writers! And yet in the span of a day, two people banned from screen time, thirty years apart were able to make believe and allow giants, bad mice, and stuffed animals come to life.
“What would you do if you had nothing?” an ex-boyfriend once asked me. I was in the middle of preparing report cards, and training for a half-ironman. I didn’t have a whole lot of time for him, and he was frustrated. Nonetheless, his question gave me pause. I loved being busy. It’s who I was, and without it? I didn’t know. I never stopped to think about what “nothing” was.
Coming back to San Francisco this past December, I felt totally lost and lonely. I had entered a huge urban metropolis that I wasn’t used to anymore. And I was confused by that lostness as I had once loved this city so much. I realized over that month that I was holding onto expectations of what this city was for me before, thinking that I would drop back into the life I had previously and pick up where I left off. Once I started to let go of those expectations I was able to have patience with the ups and downs that come with moving to a new place. But still, I marveled at the busyness of it all. Maybe because I wasn’t part of it. And of course I had just come from living in community where, part of the busy day was consciously stopping to make time for meditation and for conversations at meal time.
So yeah, I was confused…especially because I had been a part of a bigger urban metropolis just 6 months prior. So the fact that it was strange and foreign was strange and foreign. Had I changed that much in just those six months? Was I jealous of all the busyness that I no longer felt that I was a part of? Did I suddenly feel that I had “nothing?”
As it was, my loneliness led me to the Integral Yoga Institute. Having just come from Yogaville, I was rejuvenated with the idea of teaching yoga again and was determined to do so. The Integral Yoga Institute is a center in San Francisco related to the Yogaville Ashram in Virginia. It is situated in an old victorian up on a hill from Dolores Park. At night, when I stand outside on the front steps the sun lights up the sky with different neon colors as it settles over the top of the city. Since I was there, and desperate for housing in a seemingly very expensive city with a housing crisis I thought I would ask about residency as well. “Yes.” They said. And so here I am two months later living in a yoga center with housemates and a community that practice meditation and yoga, and embraces peace of mind and transition.
Shortly after I moved in, I came down with a cold. That ate up quite a few expenses as well as had me laying low for almost a month. Almost no work, no going out, and certainly no signing up for the classes that I had hoped. I was, by nature of the cold, forced to stay home, get quiet and meditate. And meditate. And meditate. It was stressful at first. I am active. I am an ironman! And to sit and watch the busy lives of those around me while I had to sit, drained of energy was indeed frustrating. And then, something happened. I relaxed. I stopped worrying. There was no need. There was no use.
I have heard that if you trust in the universe it will provide. I have some tension with this. How is that not lazy? I believe that if I want something to happen then I need to put the energy out there to make it happen. And yet, once that’s done there needs to be a certain amount of trust that the right thing will bounce back. I think what it comes down to is listening. It doesn’t mean being lazy. It means sitting and listening to that voice inside even if it doesn’t make sense. It means, at least in my case, practicing patience.
So in my three weeks in which I couldn’t do much I sat and listened a lot.I did nothing. I have achieved a certain amount of relaxation that I fear is lethargy, although I am also making sure to keep an eye on that.I am yoga-ing, journaling, involved in a small fun project, discussing, and my favorite, practicing to be a professional coffee shop dweller, an aspiration of which I had in my early twenties.
Simple Pleasures Cafe
I was coming back from my favorite coffee shop, Simple Pleasures, late afternoon one day, after a morning in the foggy part of the city. I called my friend to say hi, and left a message. She texted me back and said, “I hope you get this with your phone dying and all, but I love that you ended your message with ‘I’m walking towards the sun.’
On February 14, 2002 I wrote in my journal, “Floating in the ocean with nothing better to do than stare at the bright blue sky.” This was from the white sands of the beaches in Northeastern Brazil. It was my third year of college and this was my study abroad…I was studying the relationship between ocean and sky. I wasn’t, actually. But there was something that I was trying to grasp in that journal entry that I’m just finally moving towards twelve years later: relaxation.
The road outside my mom’s house. The start of the 40 mile biking adventure from the suburbs to Boston.
In that moment as in other vacation moments I’ve wondered how to bring that “floating” sensation to “every day life” or “the real world.” After leaving Mexico, where I taught 2nd grade for three years, I decided to take the year off from teaching.On purpose, with no job or home in place, I flew to Boston where I floated in between my parent’s homes by bike, by car, and by train. Things just worked out. My dad gave me his old car for the price of a new muffler. I found a job substitute teaching very easily, and out of the blue came the email that my acupuncturist said I would get. Would you like to staff the Basic Yoga Teacher Training it read from my yoga teacher.
The trails in Yogaville
And so I floated to Yogaville, an ashram situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Once there, floating was easy. My “work” was supporting a program that I truly believe in while I too practiced with the students. Work was learning the elements of Integral Yoga again, practicing yoga every day, and meditating. “Work” was getting to know participants and their floating lives, learning and conversing with the other interesting members of the staff. “Work” was hiking the trails,
long conversations in the dining hall with others’, and jamming to poetry and chants. While I was “working” the support and love I felt as a staff was the same that I had felt four years prior when participating in the program itself. Floating felt natural as I found that many participants in the program and others that were living in the ashram were also floating.
The Dunes Trail. Arcata, Ca
From there, I floated to another retreat on the coast of Northern California.. While these two retreats were different they had a very similar effect on me and the message was clear: “Relax into love and you can’t go wrong.” The question among many of us was, “But how do I do that during every day life?”
Something in both places that was said resonated me. “This is every day life.”
San Francisco in the Fog.
Living in community, acting with and discussing what it means to move with awareness. And most of all, learning to live in the in-between, because that is the only thing real that exists.”And yet, that is a very scary place to be, especially when living in a city; a city where“floating” doesn’t always feel acceptable because everyone’s always racing to get on the next train especially me!
Or where there are so many distractions it’s hard to remember what feels true and to remember to give myself the time to stop and listen to the voice of love inside. And being in a city has brought up old anxieties and it’s hard to be patient with myself. I somehow feel that because I just came from these magical places of conscious floaters that I should automatically be different and when I put that should on myself I feel the fear of being in that “in-between” place creep up and from that fear tension grows.
And yet, also while being in this city,I have been lucky enough to float from amazing person to person, including loving family that has let me into their home.
The stories of inspiration, trauma, and love that I have heard are incredible.No one has spoken of perfection or of lack of want. But everyone has spoken with an understanding of the importance of following one’s heart and understanding of that chilling fear when hearing the voice that says, I am lost. And yet, with patience and tranquility the answer of what’s next always comes.
Before I left Mexico, I had lunch with a friend. When I started telling him all of my plans and everything I wanted to do with all of my excitement he said, “Sarah, I see you as lost.” My face fell and I started crying. “You need to have a plan.” he said.
I heard a “but” creeping up inside me. What’s wrong with being lost? It said.
“Yes.” I nodded my head. “A plan.”
“And not just sit around and have long lunches and tea with people.”
“Right.” I thought.
And I left that lunch feeling miserable. Why hadn’t I voiced what I had heard? There was nothing wrong with being “lost.”. And besides, I love long teas! I learned how to do that in Mexico!
Tea Ceremony at Yogaville led by Ray.
Yesterday, I floated from one two hour tea date to the next. I was able to completely be with them in the moment because there was nothing else I had to do. Floating gives me the time to be still so that I can finally hear that voice within me that guides me to either go left, right, or stare at the blue sky while floating on the waves on the white sand beaches in Brazil.
So, we left off in Mexico. In San Gil at the Water’s Edge where I swam 1900 meters in 37 minutes!
And then, things started to get hard. Friends came back to Mexico and it was so so wonderful to see them! But they were all headed back to school. I wanted…I needed something to do and I knew it wasn’t school, but I didn’t know how to start what I wanted to do…and I found myself in that negative cycle of…but if I open door number one then what if door number two won’t open and then I’ll be stuck again and in the same place that I was before, and then there’s no point and… down the rabbit hole. I was completely stuck.
So many wonderful places to go and things to do, and I felt like all the stuff that I had spread all over the room that my friends were kind enough to let me stay were boxing me in.
All My Bags are Packed, I’m Ready to Go
It’s time to leave, Mexico. I heard the voice over and over again say. No, no. Not yet! Just let me figure this out. I pleaded back.
And it wasn’t until I wrote an email to a friend thatI thought I wrote from the depths of my soul that I got a wake-up call. “Sarah!” he wrote me back. “Stop feeling sorry
Alexa (teammate), Mike (coach), and Me in Veracruz
for yourself. You are an independent smart woman. Do something about this! You are not happy. I tried to justify his statements. “Maybe YOU don’t like what I’m doing, but I’m perfectly FINE!” I snapped at him in defense. But I wasn’t.
I spent the weekend at my ironman partner’s Paloma’s house with her and her family.”Go home.” she encouraged. “You’ll see.”
Paloma’s children watching for the dinner guests
Indeed it was the only place that came up over and over again…home, I know, ultimately is where the heart is, but in this case home…meant my mom and my dad.
And so I booked my ticket; . It goes without saying I hope, that I savored that time with the good friends and community that I was lucky enough to have in DF. Here’s a short list of activities:
got in a couple more walks/talks/and healthy food exchanges with a friend whom I’d been running with since arriving in Mexico three years prior.
accompanied a friend wedding dress shopping
held a “see you later party”
attended one more yoga class, and of course
trained for one more triathlon, Veracruz in August.
It was a wonderful weekend, reminding me of why I had started with the sport in the first place. I spent the weekend, laughing my head off with athletes from both Endurance and Fortia,
Endurance and Fortia Together at Veracruz Triathlon
and my coaches, who had become good friends.
Coach Mike, Me, Coach Luisen, Coach Alejandra in Veracruz
Before my final departure in late August, I visited my acupuncturist one last time. “I can’t believe I’m going home.” I told him. “Well why are you going?” he asked.. “I don’t know. Something in my heart tells me that’s where I need to go.” I responded. “Well,” he said. “Go home. Relax. And you’ll get the email or phone call you need in two weeks.”
I’m sure my eyes widened at his words, hopeful and skeptical at the same time. “Could there really be something to this whole follow your heart thing?” I thought. And with that I bid him farewell and headed to Massachusetts on the early morning of August 26th.
It’s 3 am. I can’t sleep, and I’m in the midst of getting over a cold. It started with a sore throat which some might say is a result of not expressing myself; there must be something I want to say, but don’t know how to say it. I’ll interpret it as a lack of keeping this blog updated for the past six months.
And where have I been? All over and under and in between.
What do I have to say? Thoughts are fleeting. I don’t have a story or an entry that can be neatly tied up with a bow, or something with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Isn’t that what we’re taught and what I teach about story lines?
Those are all the reasons that it’s taken me so long to publish something. And yet so much has happened! But where to begin? I suppose, at where, I left off before.
The weekend of May 23rd was the most fun-disasterous-ego-busting-laughing-learn-my-lesson the-hard-way weekend of the year . My friend Kate and I had planned to do a triathlon on the coast of Ixtapa. It really was one of those everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong types of weekends, but so fun that everything worked out in a wonderful way. Here’s a “Fortunately/Unfortunately” synapsis of our weekend:
Start of the race in Ixtapa. Our international crew.
10. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find cheap tickets to the beach.
9. Fortunately we decide to take an overnight bus! And then, Kate finds cheap tickets!
8. Unfortunately, she bought them backwards. And so we have to buy a new set of tickets.
7. Fortunately, they have tickets available.
6.Unfortunately, the return flight is for Monday. This means we have to miss a day of work.
5. Fortunately, we have to miss a day of work to stay at the beach another night!
Suffering at the beach one more day.
4. Unfortunately, our flight is delayed….and delayed…and deeelaaayyyeed. (we spent more time in the airport than on the plane)
3. Fortunately, they gave us food vouchers so we got to eat a pretty good meal at the airport.
2. Unfortunately, we were going to get in after packet-pick up and registration closed.
1. Fortunately, the owner of the race was on our flight and so they kept registration open and when we got our packets just as they closed the doors!
On the physical side of things I had hurt my foot pretty badly the week before. “Tendinitis. Stay off of it for two weeks,” were the orthopedic’s recommendations. “MMmmm. Listen. I have a competition in a week. Let me do that and then I will rest for as long as I need to. And um, listen, I’ll just swim and bike if I need to, and will stay off of it for the run.” I pleaded.
I did realize the ridiculousness of my negotiation. It was as if I was six and my mom and I were negotiating how many more bites of broccoli before I could have dessert…only, I’m 33 and this is not about dessert this is about recuperating from an injury! What patience doctors must have working with athletes! It’s not like I can say to my foot, “Hey..pssst…just heal for now and then you can hurt afterwards.” [although admittedly, I did].
My most important rule about racing is that I cross the finish line with a smile. Races always have their moments, but I do this for fun.
“I really will just do the swim and the bike, and stop there.” I thought to myself. Yeah..right.
Unfortunately, I finished that race… with a grimace on my face. I think I came in last. What a lesson in humility, injury, and letting go. It was a great weekend-cheering on my teammates and spending an extra day at the beach with Kate.
Returning to DF I got a stern lecture from Coach 1, Coach 2, an orthopedic doctor, and my foot might-as-well… in which the message rang clear: OFF YOUR FOOT.
I asked my coach about his thoughts on this race.
“You did an ironman, Sarah. That’s awesome. But your ego made you do this race. And now you want to ride 90km on an injured foot. For what?” [I had just signed a teammate and I up for a ironman in July in which I was going to swim and bike and he was going to run] . Also, cut the bullshit. Start training.”
I was puzzled. “I am training. I’m training every day.”
Still not quite grasping his meaning another coach pointed out to me, “You come here tired and stressed.” Oh ,that’s true.
The thing that no one tells you about the aftermath of an Ironman is how long the let down is going to last and how it manifests itself. I knew that it was going to be hard afterwards. I figured two weeks. Maybe a month at most. And the most obvious part of it probably lasted two months (the first month after everyone wanted to talk about it still, so that was fun!). But then regular life settles in.
Paloma (my partner in Ironman) and I would talk about this periodically. She was able to identify more easily her struggles with the aftermath. “I’m fine.” I told myself. “I don’t have a problem slowing down. I’m still training every day. But I’m good!” Or so I thought.
But really I wasn’t good. I was pushing at everything I was doing; I was afraid that I stopped pushing then I would lose all my strength, gain weight, and god-forbid, have no purpose! Enjoyment and ease of course did not even enter this conversation. I am an ironman. I am a long-distance triathlete. I must teach all day, tutor twice a week, teach yoga, complete a master’s program, and compete 90 kilometers on a bike because that’s what I do.
And so I pushed. I pushed at everything. And without realizing it I was just kind of physically present to whatever was there but didn’t have my whole being into anything in particular. And as a result: I lost strength, gained weight, and wasn’t sure for what I was training. And what pushed me to go and go and go? This idea that I couldn’t stop or else I’d be a total failure….look at all of the people around me and how fast they swim and their workload! Of course I can keep up…I have to keep up!
I finally hit bottom when I was examining yet another option for the summer and on the brink of taking it, I cried to my mom, How can I know what I want to do next when I have not even submitted grades yet. When my apartment is still a mess and I have to move in a week? My whole life I have been rushing to do the next thing and meet the next goal. I just need to be.
After that race in May I started counting my steps.Training was my godsend in the craziness that was going on and I showed up. Not always my fastest times or my “strongest” moments, but I smiled more. Started to become more conscientious of my body, my breath, my attitude, and the other people around me.
In the pool (where I was spending a lot of time since I couldn’t run) my coach badgered me. Every time I did a long distance work out he would say, Much better than Ixtapa, huh? 1500 meters in 32 minutes-not okay anymore.
Endurance sports are about personal bests for me. 32 minutes is an awesome time. So is 40. So is finishing! So is getting in the water and taking a stroke. . Everyone’s goals are different for them. So the time references here are not a general statement for what everyone should/shouldn’t do. For me I only use time as a reference because I know what I am capable of. 32 minutes is slow especially because I hadn’t been able to break that time in open water.
5:30am waiting to go to the start line for San Gil.
Sunday, July 13th I stood on the edge of the lake at the start of San Gil in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro. My race mate walked down to the start with me. I was freezing. It was 6:30 in the morning and the sun hadn’t risen yet.”Oh yeah, even in Mexico it’s cold when the sun’s not up.” I didn’t have a jacket with me.
My job was to swim 1900 meters in under thirty-eight minutes and then cheer on my teammates as they raced 90 km on the bike up a mountain and ran 21km for a strong finish. Nervous. That I’d get the route wrong and get my team disqualified. That I’d be stuck forever with the same speed in open waters even after two months of solid training in the pool practically every day.
Why? I thought. Why do I do this for so much anxiety. I don’t get money for it. Why? Ni modo. Here I am. My teammate who walked down with me to the start said, “You are so brave to swim in this water so early in the morning!” “The air is colder than the water,” I reassured him. And I knew it to. But still what if I was wrong and it took me the whole swim to warm up?
I stood, at my coach’s suggestion towards the front of the pack, ready to jump in at the sound of the race. What if I get run over?Yellow buoys to the right and green buoys to the left. Breathe.
The sound went off and so did we. Counting my strokes, listening to my breath, sighting the buoys. This was just like any other race. This was the pool…find the line, push the hand down in in the water, relax the elbow as it comes across…one, two, three…next buoy.
So why? Why do it? Every time: as I stand on the water’s edge, the stage’s edge, whatever edge…always, why? Am I an adrenaline junkie…? Probably. But then I am there: swimming, acting, being. And then the question becomes always, why wasn’t I here before? All I know in that moment is that I forget about what or why and hear only my heart beating strong.
The cyclist on our team just off the bike
It it only when I pass another colored cap, or when another swimmer passes me does my mind come back and say Yessss! or Shit, what place am I in? …and then it comes back for a split second when the coach is at the water’s finish holding up a 3 and a 7. Panting, slightly dizzy, and disoriented I can only give a thumbs up about ohmygawd37minutes!!! as I sprint up the cobblestones in bare feet to meet my cyclist who is waiting in the relays tent for me so that she can climb the mountain. With all the spectators clapping and yelling animo! I am there giving her a big high five send off as I collapse ready to enjoy the sun for the rest of the day.
Enjoying the sun with teammates.
It is a relief to not climb 90 km up and down a mountain, nor run 21km in the heat of the day. It is so fun to spend the day in the sun with the other athletes on my team and cheer on the cyclists and the runners. And it is then that finally I see the results of my strength; the grin from ear to ear is back and it started the minute my teammates arrived the evening before and continued well into the evening of the race day and pretty sure it stuck when I went to bed that evening.
There will continue to be bad races, annoying training sessions, maybe hopefully no more injuries (please!), internal battles, and ego checks.
Our Awesome Relay!
I sometimes worry about my adrenaline junkie. It’s not very heart-oriented and I worry that because of her I will continue to seek these very highs that then lead to the very lows. But then I think that perhaps actually she is what takes me to that unknown edge even when there is fear and anxiety, and then my heart is what steadies me when I’m there. I never know what’s going to happen at the start of the race. Can’t control it. And that unknown space is the only thing that is real in this life.